HL Deb 08 July 1981 vol 422 cc774-812

Report stage resumed on Clause 27.

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 21, line 27, at end insert— ("( ) This section will come into force on such a day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint after he has satisfied himself that seat belts of improved design to suit variable types of user are available for general use.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 56: In thanking my noble friend the Minister for having said that he will accept the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, about having an affirmative resolution, a statutory instrument, to cover the whole of the clause under consideration, I should explain that the nature of my amendment is really to try to suggest to the Minister what may well be included in the statutory instrument when it comes to be put together.

However, there is one feature of Amendment No. 56 which perhaps differs slightly from those which we heard about previously and that is that I am asking that, having got the whole thing together, the Government shall not seek to put forward the statutory instrument for consideration by Parliament until they are satisfied that there is a sufficient range of seat belts to suit all types of user. That is a subtle difference, in that one can see that perhaps the Government might get the whole thing together and be all ready to launch it, but they might not be satisfied on this one point. Users are of varying sizes and shapes and, indeed, cars are of varying sizes and shapes. Cars will range from those which are a century old because presumably the ancient motor cars which would go in for the London to Brighton race will not be excluded from the provisions of the Bill. Therefore, one has to think about all sorts of cars and all sorts of people.

I had an amendment down in Committee which was identical to the one which we are now considering, in relation to the children's clause, which is the next clause in the Bill. I should like to suggest to my noble friend the Minister that what I am about to say and to suggest should be part of his consideration and should apply equally to the children's clause, because children come in all shapes and sizes and, indeed, between the ages of 1 and 14 their sizes change dramatically. That in itself means that whatever he seeks to put into the statutory instrument which relates to this clause would also be relevant to the clause dealing with children. That is why I pressed him on his own Amendment No. 54A, because there might be some factors which were applicable to both statutory instruments.

Therefore, I am saying to my noble friend: please make sure, before this new and (dare I say it?) draconian provision, which I think will be very difficult for the police to apply fairly, is applied generally and by statute, that it is not too difficult for the ordinary chap to provide himself with a seat belt which fits him and his motor car, and which fits his mother-in-law, his seven year-old child and his wife who is pregnant. It must suit the whole lot—and, again, cheaply, because the type of person that one is talking about is the ordinary run of human in this country, none of whom is well off though most of them are better off than most of my noble friends in this House. All the same, we are all pretty poor these days. It is therefore very important that suitable belts should be produced in sufficient quantity and sufficiently simply, but should be sufficiently safe and sufficiently reliable. There is a problem. All those factors must be satisfied and it must be something that can be readily applied and probably flexible enough so that when the mother-in-law is in one seat, the seven year-old child in another and the pregnant wife in a third, there is a seat belt which can be adjusted to cope with all of them.

That is the fundamental of what I am seeking to ask my noble friend to say to me this evening. I want him to say, "Yes, I understand. Yes, I think that it is reasonable that the Government should not enact the final statutory instrument until we are satisfied that the provisions that you have suggested are met."

Before I leave this subject, there is one other factor to which I should like to speak and that is the particular case of the drivers of heavy goods vehicles, because they are in a different category from the family motor car that I have been talking about up until now. Heavy goods vehicles, as your Lordships will well know, have great big high cabs and are not supposed to go more than a statutory speed. The driver is set well back from the window and it is extremely unlikely that even if there were an accident someone would be catapulted through the front windscreen. On the other hand, if you have some of the seat belts which I have encountered and which are demanded for people driving heavy goods vehicles, it might be possible—and I have done this in an ordinary car—for the heavy goods vehicle driver to catch his foot in the seat belt when he gets out. He could then have a six foot or seven foot fall and he could break his neck. That would be a desperate accident, which I would not suggest is at all one that needs to be considered as likely to happen too regularly.

However, I am trying to point out that there is a difference here. It could be that my noble friend when he thinks about this matter may say, "Well perhaps we shall excuse the heavy goods vehicle drivers because they are so very different". But then, he would have a problem of definition, because there are different sorts of heavy goods vehicle. Therefore, to provide a seat belt which is satisfactory to all people and which will suit all shapes and ages and to do so at a price which everybody can afford will be very difficult.

I hope that my noble friend will be able to say to me that at least he agrees with the sense of what I have to say and will make sure that something suitable is incorporated in the regulations and, furthermore, that the regulations will be delayed in their implementation until such time as he is fully satisfied that all the types of criteria which I have indicated have been met. I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, I should like to emphasise one point which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has made, which is that the same car may be driven by a variety of different people and that a variety of different people may be passengers in that car in seats in which it is mandatory to wear seat belts. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to have a variety of different fixings or adjustable seat belts.

The other matter to which I should like to draw attention is that the seat belts should be able to be made safe and comfortable for passengers reclining in the front seat, in order to get some rest and sleep when they are what I think is called "spelling" the driver.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, before my noble friend replies, I should like to say something in general support of my noble friend Lord Mottistone's amendment. This matter has perhaps rather more to do with what my noble friend the Minister had to say in response to the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, when we discussed seat belts at some length. I must say to my noble friend that I was a little disappointed in his response at that time because, if I recall correctly he said, in effect, "This legislation that will probably be on the statute book should give a great boost, a great emphasis to the seat belt manufacturers and designers". I do not believe that it will do anything of the sort. I think that they are far more likely to do as they have done with the motor car industry in the last 10 years, and sit back and say, "Well, there it is, we can just trot out anything that will meet the requirements".

My noble friend's right honourable friend has said quite categorically that if compulsion to wear seat belts is approved by Parliament he, the Minister, will abide by that decision. It appears to be likely that compulsion will become law. I believe that it is now for the Minister to do more than just express the hope that the car manufacturers, the seat belt manufacturers, and so on will meet the demand. I believe that he must apply pressure to meet objections of the kind that we have heard in your Lordships' House over this last month and, indeed, in Parliament over the last five, six, seven or eight years, that they are unsatisfactory, that people do not like them, that they do not understand them, and so on.

When my noble friend responds to this amendment perhaps he will go just a little further and say that they will use more than best endeavours to ensure that objections of this kind are met in the reasonable future at a cost which will enable people to make a conversion. Seat belts are now fitted in motor-cars by the motor manufacturers, at the motor manufacturers' choice; it is no longer at the customer's choice, because cars come with seat belts and if you do not like that kind of belt and want to buy a different sort you lose your money. There is no option. Perhaps that is right. But if people did want to convert to something that is better, in which they feel more comfortable and safer, they should be able to do so.

Obviously, we are two or three years away from imposing upon car manufacturers an obligation to fit a different kind of belt. I believe that it could now be up to the department to exert far greater influence over the design, manufacture and supply of seat belts. It is to that that perhaps my noble friend could direct his answer.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the fact that basically on these amendments to Clause 27 I have had rather a self-denying ordinance does not mean that I am uninterested in what is being discussed. But I have accepted the statement made during the Committee stage by the Minister that all these matters will be the subject of the closest consultation, not only with manufacturers but also with safety organisations, the various motoring organisations and the commercial vehicle organisations. I believe that that will be done. If there is any fear that the manufacturers will drag their feet on this, I hope that the motoring organisations will not, because it is in their interests that something should be done.

I have much sympathy with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, but I have grave doubts as to whether it should be included in the Bill in this way. The last thing that this House must attempt to do is to try to start designing seat belts itself. It is our job to say what is required and I believe that a number of us on Second Reading and a number of noble Lords today have emphasised what is required. If we have the widest possible consultations and if the Minister could look very closely at a later amendment about a consultative document, I believe that that will greatly help in this matter.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I should like to support this amendment because, once again, we return to the undoubted fact of an apparent insensitivity on the part of the pro-compulsion lobby. Only a few days ago we heard that people below average height who had to wear lap and diagonal belts, only risked, and more often than not got, burns across the neck. I am absolutely horrified at the phrase "only got burns across the neck". This is something that is extremely unpleasant and painful and possibly even dangerous. For that reason alone, if for no other I think that we ought to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, I should also like to support this amendment, although it does not go as far as I should have liked. As some of your Lordships know, I should like seat belts to be standardised, but I have a feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will tell me that the manufacturers are either not able or prepared to do that. Therefore, I wonder whether the Government could not consider that this amendment is a very moderate one. if it was accepted, perhaps it would give more members of the public the confidence to wear seat belts. After all, if they wore them because they were not uncomfortable, were easy to put on and even more easy to take off, it would mean that more people would wear them and surely there would be fewer problems for the police. I do not believe that the police could possibly deal with this situation at the moment. They have far too many and far more important matters on their hands than to worry about whether or not we are wearing seat belts.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I think that if I was to set out to try to do all that my noble friend Lord Mottistone requires, we should forget the whole thing. I shall read carefully what he said, especially about a prerequisite for this legislation. I am trying to remember all that he said; it was very impressive, as what he says always is. But in terms of its being practical, if we are seriously to proceed to carry out the wishes of the House, then I do not think that it could get off the ground.

The fact is that seat belt design must, of necessity, be a compromise between the varying requirements of people who are tall, short or whatever, and inevitably Mr. Average wins. But this does not mean that the rest of us cannot wear seat belts. Adjustment of the seat position or belt attachments can make the fit more comfortable to suit individual requirements. As I explained earlier, seat belts must conform to strict safety requirements and, for that matter, many other requirements as laid down by the EEC directive for all new cars. How far at this stage we in this House can, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, embark upon even trying to lay down the broadest type of specification, I do not know, least of all in a discussion such as this.

The point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas is certainly right in its objective and the extent to which the Government, through the department, can in fact influence what is done by the manufacturers and the belt designers, I am not sure. I do not have enough knowledge of it to know. But I would certainly be rather astonished if the department was not concerned with this aspect of safety. If the likely legislation goes through your Lordships' House and another place, obviously it will involve the department in wanting to know much more about the possibilities. In any case, I think that some of the points made earlier in the debate by my noble friend Lord Lucas as regards some of the newer things we are seeing are very relevant. Hopefully, we shall move in that direction.

However, to set down in a Bill a requirement, before which we could not go further as regards carrying out the early express wishes of the House, I am sure is something upon which we should not embark. By way of clarification to my noble friend Lord Mottistone, I should point out that compulsory wearing of seat belts will not apply to heavy goods vehicle drivers. The Construction and Use Regulations apply only to small vehicles. I hope that my noble friend will find that useful.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down and à propos what was said by a noble Lord on the other side, I should like to take the example of a young model earning a lot of money who gets a neck burn. Who will compensate her for the money lost in 10 or 15 years? Will it be the Government, the seat belt manufacturers, the insurance company—who?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if you start from the assumption that seat belts are desirable things to wear, then I might well ask the same question: who will compensate her for the facial injuries that she might suffer as a result of an accident due to not wearing a seat belt?—when the record shows—and is not this what it is all about?—that the likely effect upon her is far more devastating. I should have thought that that was a very relevant point to consider.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, there are two questions to which I should be grateful for answers, which he did not give me. One is what about the ancient vehicles going on the London to Brighton race? The other is does my noble friend intend—it was not clear from what he said—to take account of the points that I suggested to him should be criteria for consideration in some respects in the regulations when they are drawn up, and in other respects as a point to be taken into account before regulations are brought into force? I was not clear whether he was prepared to do that.

Lord Beliwin

My Lords, I am not too knowledgeable about the London to Brighton race. I readily confess that my knowledge of it is abysmal. Therefore, I do not feel qualified to give my noble friend a proper answer on that. I shall gladly look into everything pertaining to that event and write to him. As to his other point, whether we will look at the other points he raised, of course I assure him of that. We take everything that he said very seriously in this whole matter. After all, we are talking about a scene where we are going to be coming forward with regulations in the form that I said earlier, and which will give everyone a chance then to have another go at the detail. I gladly assure him that at that time we shall read what he has said, and should there be anything that we think is practical and helpful—I know his intentions are helpful—then of course we shall take them into account.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, it might be helpful if I give a partial answer to my noble friend Lord Mottistone. The Construction and Use Regulations require that all vehicles after a certain date—I think it was 1964 or 1966—have a statutory obligation to be fitted with a seat belt. Therefore, the 1904 Benz is all right.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister. I indeed thank my noble friend Lord Nugent for his remarks. I am not entirely happy about the situation and may well come back to it at Third Reading. For this stage of the Bill, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye moved Amendment No. 58: Page 21, line 31, leave out ("£50") and insert ("£20").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this amendment on two grounds, and I very much hope that the amendment may find favour in all parts of the House: the Opposition; the Government; the Cross-Benches, and others. The first ground is a comparison of the proposed summary fine of £50 with practice overseas for the same misdemeanour. I hope that the Minister is not going to try to compare the £50 with other penalties in this country for different offences. It is only right that we should compare other countries' fines for the same misdemeanour.

Let us take a few: New Zealand, £4; Australia, Victoria, £18 maximum penalty, £15 for an unbelted child in the front seat; South Australia, £25; Queensland £3 plus one domestic point demerit; Western Australia £10, with a loss of two demerits. Australia is what I have had rammed down my throat on several different occasions when I have fought this fight against compulsory seat belts on no less than four occasions in your Lordships' House, three of which were successful and the final one I took defeat from my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford.

It may seem strange that I should be moving an amendment to a Bill that I have opposed—and I still oppose the principle of compulsion—but that does not matter. I hope that as a good parliamentarian I accept the verdict of this House, and therefore set to to try to improve the Bill. What its fate may be in another place is not for me to forecast. Take Europe: Sweden £20: Norway £5; the Netherlands £10; France varies between £4 and £10; Belgium £7; in West Germany there is no penalty but it is taken into account in court cases. If belting has been so improved by this scale of fines, and found to be adequate in those other countries, why in our country should such a heavy fine be considered necessary?

My second objection to the proposal is the social effects of the £50 fine. The summary £50 fine will in fact become in practice a standard fixed penalty because who, when they are summonsed, is going to have the time and the money, and take the risk, of going to court? Of course they will say it is quicker to pay the fine than contest it in front of magistrates. So they will pay up, according to circumstances, with a feeling of injustice and resentment against the police.

To some motorists £50 may well be the breaking point as regards their ability to go on running a motorcar; the family car run on a close margin. A fine of £20 is bound to be a sharp and unpleasant reminder of the law, but it may be more than that. It may cause a man to say to his wife, "I am sorry, dear, I must lay up the car because I just cannot afford the petrol, the tyres, the tax, the insurance, all of which have gone up, and this is finally the straw that breaks the camel's back". I do not see owners being more careless about being belted for £20 than they would be for £50. I think they will be just as careful. After all, £50 is not easy for anyone to find, and in many cases £20 is also far from easy.

I have already spoken of rising costs. None of us wants to push the marginal budget motorist over the edge, for those motorists do exist today. I say to noble Lords on the Opposition Benches who claim—although I do not agree, but that does not matter—to represent the poorer section of the community more than this side, that those who have small motor cars will be the ones who will suffer if £50 is the penalty. Public relations with the police will be harmed. I would appeal to all noble Lords here tonight, irrespective of party, do not let us in this House appear vindictive to the less well off car owners. On the grounds of comparison of this country with foreign countries and social fairness, I ask for £20 instead of £50, and hope that the House will, if it goes to a Division, support me in the Lobby. I beg to move.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, a fine of £50 was put into my Private Bill last December because it was the same as the fine for the related offence in Section 33 of the 1972 Act of a breach of the wearing of a protective helmet by a motor-cyclist. As the whole structure of my original clause was on the same basis as that provision, it was natural to insert the same fine of £50. I have had no advice that that level of fine has been found onerous in practice. Of course, I have no doubt that the magistrates' courts have never levied fines at that level; undoubtedly where there have been breaches of the motor-cycle helmet law the fines have been at a very much lower level.

I must recognise the powerful appeal made by my noble friend Lord Balfour that £50 is too much. I agree it is a fairly hefty fine, and my noble friend made out a cogent case in comparison with other countries to show that it would be higher here. I am reasonably neutral on the matter and I shall need to hear what my noble friend Lord Bellwin says before making up my mind. Possibly the first offence could be set at a lower level—say, at £20, as Lord Balfour suggests—with subsequent offences at £50. I thought I should give the House the provenance of the £50 figure; it is the same as is to be found in existing legislation for a somewhat similar offence. Certainly, however, we do not want to make it unduly onerous, and I suppose that if somebody caught for not wearing a helmet was fined £50 for a first offence, he would have good reason to complain. Having said that, I await to hear the view of the Government on the matter.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I hope I am not talking out of turn in reminding my noble friend Lord Nugent that Schedule 4 to the Road Traffic Act 1972 refers to twenty pounds, or, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, three months or fifty pounds, or both". So perhaps my noble friend has not copied the provision in the Act to which he was referring, except in the highest figure that was listed, rather than the first offence figure of £20, which seems to accord with the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfour.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I feel I should comment on the matter if only in view of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, about representation on this side of the House. The attention of noble Lords must be drawn to the fact that in the next clause there is a fine of £50 in relation to children's seat belts, and I cannot see any amendment having been tabled to deal with that, although it represents almost the same offence. It makes one wonder whether that is tied up with the fight against the general principle of the wearing of seat belts. Like the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, I am prepared to be guided by the Minister on this. A penalty must be sufficient to deter, and when it is suggested that a fine of £50 might be the last straw for someone on a low income who is running a car, there is one obvious answer: observe the law. It is as simple as that and one would think that all those who believe in law and order on the Benches opposite would rapidly support that principle.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I support the amendment, not because I believe a lower fine would make the clause any less objectionable in principle but because the fine proposed in the Bill is so way out of line with that prevailing in other European countries. If we exclude the extremes of Western Germany, where there is no fine, and Denmark, where there is a quite unusually high fine (a maximum of £100), we have a European average of £7.50, almost one-seventh of the fine proposed in the Bill. If we include West Germany and Denmark, the average rises to £22, but if we include the Scandinavian countries not in the EEC, Sweden and Norway, the average still works out at less than £22.All those countries on balance have a somewhat higher standard of living than ours and the maximum fine there is equivalent to £17 or £18 in our terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the next clause, which deals with children. There is perhaps a case for the state being a little harsher in protecting children, although personally I believe the amount is too high there. In any event, so far as adults are concerned, I do not see any reason why we should exceed the European average. if we must have the clause at all, there is absolutely no case for the figure in the Bill and I shall therefore support the amendment.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, I suggest we should have a flat rate fine of £10 or £20, which seems much more suitable to the offence, or a maximum fine of £50 because there still are people in this world to whom £50 is, relatively speaking, peanuts.

Viscount Cross

I too support the amendment because £50 is far too high; £20 would be quite sufficient, my Lords.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am surprised at some of the remarks that have been made. If £50 as a maximum fine—and it must be stressed that we are talking about a maximum—is considered to be too high, I must say that I know from experience of the Road Traffic Act that the number of occasions when, in my many years as a magistrate (I never liked doing the Road Traffic Act part of it) maximum fines were imposed were very few indeed. Frankly, I cannot remember a single instance when that happened.

Nevertheless, it is surely right that a maximum should be included in order to cater for repeated offences and for certain situations. That is the reality of it, rather than to assume that £50 will represent the standard fine. In any event, look at the whole list given in the Bill; there is a maximum fine of £100 for failing to comply with a traffic direction, for failing to stop after an accident or for not giving particulars or making a report. When, I ask, would a fine of £100 be imposed in such cases? I should have thought that normally such fines would be imposed only in cases of repeated offences or certain blatant offences that occur in certain situations.

We must look at this figure of £50 in that context. With respect to my noble friend Lord Balfour, to talk of £50 as being the breaking point, leading to the possible laying up of a car, is going rather far. Fifty pounds is the maximum fine for not wearing a crash helmet. That applies to motor-cyclists, who I would not have thought were at the higher earning end of the community. I wonder how many of them have to lay up their motor-cycles because they are fined for not wearing a crash helmet.

I take the point about comparisons with other countries. I cannot help recalling that when answering a Parliamentary Question not long ago I told noble Lords that the effect of compulsion in those countries had been relatively small. Indeed, in the case of West Germany, I remember saying that there was no fine at all. So perhaps one should not wonder too much about the fact that the fines there have not had a strong impact in compelling people to wear seat belts. I confess that one is in some difficulty in arguing this case with great vehemence because as we have said all along, the Government take a neutral line on this matter. However, we have reached the point where the House has decided that it should go into the Bill, and it having been decided that there should be compulsion, then even those who are strongly opposed, including my noble friend Lord Balfour, must accept the present state of affairs. As he himself fairly said, he is only anxious to ensure that what we have should be the most workable basis. I believe that in £50 as a maximum we have that. The likely average fine will obviously come out at a much lower figure than that. In any case, at the end of the day the obligation is upon the car user to obey the law, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. Surely that is the nub of the matter?

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord the Minister sits down, will he not agree that your Lordships' House is a revising Chamber and that it does have a right to amend at Report stage any decisions taken at Committee stage?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I have been saying that all day. I have been saying how right it is that we should consider where there should be exemptions. Certainly we have spent some hours today talking about just that. Of course, my noble friend is right to make his point in his own very able way. All I am saying is, putting this amendment in the context of all that we are seeking to do with seat belt legislation, that I consider that the £50 maximum will not have the adverse effect that my noble friend fears it will.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, could not the question of the maximum fine be left until the regulations are drafted?

Noble Lords: No.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply, but in my view he has been entirely unconvincing. The noble Lord did not say one word to justify the scale of penalties as compared to those in foreign countries. He spoke about the maximum and then said that one could rely on the mercy of the courts not to extract the maximum. There is no security for the motorist there. If the noble Lord wants to squeeze the poorer motorist off the road, he is doing his very best tonight by sticking to the £50 fine. I personally cannot accept that and shall ask your Lordships' House to express its view on whether the fine should indeed be £20 or £50.

8.43 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 58) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 34; Not-Contents, 47.

Balfour of Inchrye, L. Loudoun, C.
Barrington, V. Macleod of Borve, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. McNair, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. [Teller.] Monson, L.
Mottistone, L. [Teller.]
Brownlow, L. Moyne, L.
Caithness, E. Nunburnholme, L.
Cathcart, E. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Cross, V. Rochdale, V.
de Clifford, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Drumalbyn, L. Simon, V.
Erroll, E. Strathcarron, L.
Freyberg, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Henley, L. Thurso, V.
Hylton-Foster, B. Vivian, L.
Inglewood, L. Wade, L.
Killearn, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Avon, E. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Balogh, L. Chelwood, L.
Bathhurst, E. Craigton, L.
Bellwin, L. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Belstead, L. David, B.
Bishopston, L. De La Warr, E.
Blease, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Elton, L. Northchurch, B.
Faithfull, B. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Ferrier, L. Orkney, E.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Peart, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Phillips, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
John-Mackie, L. Rankeillour, L.
Kaldor, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Kinnaird, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Lee of Newton, L. Stone, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Sudeley, L.
Long, V. Swinfen, L.
Lyell, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Underhill, L.
Marley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.51 p.m.

Viscount Cross had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 58A: Page 21, line 31, leave out ("£50") and insert ("One penny")

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 58A, which appears in my name on the Marshalled List. Like my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye—

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Drumalbyn)

My Lords, it appears to me that this question has already been decided by the House. I do not think that the House would wish to go back on its opinion. Does the noble Viscount still wish to move his amendment? The amendment is not moved.

[Amendment No. 58A not moved.]

Lord Balfour of Inchrye had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 59:

Page 21, line 35, at end insert— ("(4) No regulations shall be made under this section in relation to—

  1. (a) different provision for different classes of vehicles; or
  2. (b) those exceptions mentioned in subsection (2)(b) above; or
  3. (c) proposals for the extension of the compulsory wearing of seat belts,
unless a draft of such regulations has been laid before, and been approved by, a majority of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to make only a few remarks before I ask permission to withdraw the amendment. I believe that the affirmative resolution procedure has a constitutional importance beyond the particular Bill that we are discussing. We all want to preserve the power and right of Parliament over the Executive. Unless Parliament has a right to consider and debate matters which affect the welfare of millions of people in this country, it cannot do its job. Parliament is often hamstrung in doing its job by the negative resolution procedure, upon which I need not elaborate to noble Lords in this House.

This Bill was a bad Bill in the beginning because there was not one mention of the affirmative procedure; it was all going to be done under the negative resolution procedure. In fact it was going to be government by ministerial decrees, not by this House and another place. All of us are grateful that the Government have accepted the affirmative resolution procedure.

I repeat that the Bill was a bad Bill in terms of attempting to give to the Minister those powers which he would have been given had the Bill not been altered. However, there was a very late repentance; or was it the red light in the Lobby that caused the change? I do not know, and it does not very much matter, because now the Minister will be able to have the consultations that he said in the Second Reading speech he was going to have. In the Second Reading speech he said that he was going to have consultations, but no one would know the result. He himself would make the decisions, based on the executive advice that he received. Now every Member in this House will have an opportunity to express a view on matters which affect so many millions of people.

I always want to help the Minister if I can, and in order to do so I should like to mention one or two things that we look forward to hearing about in the regulations. For instance, we shall want to hear about exemptions. We shall want to hear more about the classes of vehicles, such as delivery vans. We shall want to hear more about what constitutes a short journey—whether it is just around London, or whether it includes London to Brighton. We shall want to hear something more on the legal position of a driver in relation to his passengers. What is the driver to do if his passenger becomes unbelted? Is the driver to stop his car on a motorway? What is he to do? We shall look forward to hearing about matters like that in the regulations.

At the moment we have no less than four amendments dealing with the affirmative resolution procedure. Fortunately the Government, through the agency of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, have come up with a comprehensive amendment, following some alterations and no doubt some deep thought—I put it no stronger than that—on the matter.

The amendment to which I am speaking refers to classes of vehicles and to the regulations, and it seeks to limit the power of the Minister to extend compulsion. I am glad to say that all those points are now covered. Other noble Lords will have to say what they wish to do in regard to their amendments, but I am content to support my noble friend Lord Nugent, and I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

The Deputy Speaker

The amendment is not moved.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 21, line 35, at end insert— ("(4) The Secretary of State shall be empowered to arrange for compensation to be paid to any person driving or riding in a motor vehicle whose death or injury is caused by the wearing of a seat belt and where there are no rights to recover such compensation from any other person or organisation.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 60, which empowers—I stress the word "empowers"—the Secretary of State, to arrange for compensation to be paid to any person driving or riding in a motor vehicle whose death or injury is caused by the wearing of a seat belt and where there are no rights to recover such compensation from any other person or organisation". Let me explain the purpose behind the amendment. Never before in peacetime has Parliament considered forcing a citizen to put his life at risk—and by the term "peacetime" I do not include the late 'forties and the 'fifties when National Service was in operation. It has been admitted that people are killed—all that is in dispute is the actual number—as a result of wearing seat belts or that lives are saved as a result of not wearing them. From the Opposition Benches we have heard much about anaesthetics, vaccination and immunisation. All these things are strongly urged upon people, but the whole point is that none of them is compulsory. The ultimate decision is left to the individual; he is not forced to avail himself of these things, no matter how urgent the promptings from members of the medical profession or others. So, in a sense, the measure that we are considering tonight is revolutionary and therefore requires revolutionary safeguards for the citizen. If the state is to force an individual to put his or her life at risk, the state should be prepared to compensate the individual if he or she suffers as a result of the compulsion.

I tabled a similar amendment at the Committee stage, but, due to pressure of time, it was not debated. That amendment effectively required the Secretary of State to arrange for compensation and it was suggested that there might be certain obstacles of a technical nature. I do not believe that that is so. Every single day the courts apportion blame, adjudicate and decide who is responsible for a given accident, and award compensation. The safeguard that I have built into the amendment is to empower the Secretary of State to arrange for compensation. If, in the event, it turns out to be technically impossible, then he is under no obligation to do so; but I am sure that if it were possible, if this amendment is agreed to by the House, he would wish to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I really do not think we add a great deal to the debate by indulging in extravagant language, and to say that the proposals are forcing citizens to put their lives at risk—really, my Lords! Anyhow, my note here says, so I will say, that the Government are wholly neutral on the issue of compulsory seat belt wearing itself, but we are not similarly neutral on this amendment, which we could not accept.

The arguments against the introduction of compulsory wearing of seat belts certainly include claims that there are occasional instances where a person may be worse off for wearing a seat belt. This has been said today, it was said on Second Reading and it has been said many times. But it is generally accepted that if there are such instances they are very heavily outweighed by the great bulk of instances in which wearing a belt reduces or prevents injury. It is even more generally accepted that it is the soundest of advice to drivers and front seat passengers to wear their belts at all times.

If Parliament decides to raise what is at present accepted to be sound advice to the status of a legal obligation, it will have done so after full consideration of all the relevant arguments, including the ones towhich I have just referred. In that event I can see no justification for imposing on the Exchequer an obligation to provide compensation if in a given case it were to be established that a person had in fact suffered through compliance with the law.

I say that as a point of principle. In practice, there would in any event be very great difficulties. The mere fact that a person was injured could not in itself on any argument qualify him for compensation, since very many seat-belt wearers suffer injury and some, indeed, are killed, such is the severity of the accident in which they are involved, without there being any ground for suggesting that they would have been better off unbelted. Even to show that the injury was caused by the belt would not suffice, because it is still highly probable that without the belt worse injuries would have been suffered. So it would be necessary to demonstrate that the injuries he actually suffered were worse, to a measurable extent, than the notional injuries he would have suffered had he not been wearing a belt. It seems to me that in practice such a calculation would rarely, if ever, be capable of being proved. One could say much more on the philosophies of this, but I do not think it advances us very much so to do. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord has said that the number of cases where seat belts did good heavily outweighed the number of instances where they did harm. I have never denied this. None of us who are opposed to compulsion has ever denied this. The point that I made, which I do not think has really been taken in, is that this is the first instance in peace-time when the Government have compelled people to do something which may positively injure them. The fact that it may not happen very often makes no difference; it is a unique situation, and requires unique remedies, or, at any rate, unique safeguards by way of compensation.

The onus of proof would be on the person injured, or his next-of-kin if he or she were killed; it might well be difficult to prove, but it would be up to them. It is rather interesting to note that Sir George Young, a junior Minister in another place, said in a broadcast on 14th May: In the final analysis it is up to an individual to decide how much he drinks. Our task is to encourage"— I emphasise the word "encourage"— a responsible approach". What a pity that he was inconsistent (because he is a pro-compulsion person so far as seat belts are concerned) with regard to seat belts, given that smoking is statistically 83 times more dangerous than driving without a seat belt.

I think the public expect Parliament to protect their rights, and I therefore do not think that this amendment it should simply be withdrawn. It may be that not many of your Lordships will support me, in which case there will be no need to go into the Division Lobbies; but I, at any rate, do not feel inclined to withdraw this amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 60ZA:

Page 21, line 35, at end insert— ( ) An offence under this section of this Act shall not attract penalty points nor involve obligatory or discretionary disqualification".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 60ZA, and, with the leave of the House, I will speak at the same time to No. 60ZB, which is an alternative. Again, Amendment 60ZA was one of the amendments which drew a large response from those noble Lords I consulted on the matter, in the sense that they very strongly favoured it. Amendment No. 60ZB goes rather wider, and I can see that there might be a few objections to 60ZB which would not apply to 60ZA.

It is not the intention at the moment, I understand, either of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, or of the Government, that disqualification should be an incidental penalty for failing to wear a seat belt. Certainly the present Minister of Transport would never contemplate such a move. But we cannot, of course, know what future Ministers of Transport in perhaps a more extremist Government might not wish to do at some point; and, although it is always possible for a future Road Traffic Bill to be brought in which would effectively make the non-wearing of seat belts subject to penalty points and therefore ultimate disqualification, if this amendment were carried it would be necessary to delete this subsection and it would therefore come to the attention of Parliament in a way which merely slipping something surreptitiously into schedules would not ensure. It is therefore a safeguard, and I think a very necessary one.

I should like to point out that of the 14 European countries and Australian states from which I have details, in only three cases—that is, three Australian states—does the non-wearing of seat belts attract, or can attract, penalty points. But it does not do so in the rest of Australia, and it does not do so in any European country, whether within the EEC or outside it. As I say, I do not believe it is the intention of either the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and his friends or the Government as a whole that this should ever become a disqualification offence, but just to dot the i's and cross the t's I would be very glad if this amendment could be accepted.

As to Amendment 60ZB, this covers a slightly wider field and it would mean that each prosecution would stand entirely on its own without reference to any previous prosecutions. I personally prefer this, but I can see that it might be resisted: there might be some pro-compulsion people who would like previous offences of non-wearing of seat belts to be taken into account. Unless I were to get plenty of support on this I would not press it, but I do feel very strongly about Amendment No. 60ZA. I do not really see how anybody else could object to it, and I hope it will be accepted by the House.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, speaking first of all to Amendment No. 60ZA, I feel that this amendment has value only as a declaration of intent and, as such, would not be binding on successor Parliaments. If Parliament subsequently should decide that it wished to make the offence of failing to wear a belt simply one for disqualification and points, it could do so by primary legislation—which would also delete this amendment. This amendment would not have any impact on subordinate legislation, as we shall not have the power under Clause 19 to add offences to the schedule of those attracting points. Furthermore, the Secretary of State has no power to make an offence subject to penalty points or disqualification by regulation. Therefore, there really is nothing on which this amendment would bite. It really does not come off the ground, if I can put it that way.

As for Amendment No. 60ZB, again I cannot see the purpose of the amendment. I doubt whether it would achieve a great deal. That is why we cannot support it. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, made was a fair one. This was when he was talking about one offence and then of subsequent offences, and so on. Certainly that is what happens in practice. I should have thought that was the proper way to proceed.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, says but not with his conclusion. He rightly says that it will require primary legislation to remove such a subsection and this, of course, could be enacted. He also said that this proposed subsection would be a declaration of intent; but what is a declaration of intent? It shows what is Parliament's intention at the time that the Bill is enacted and it would be taken into consideration by future Parliaments when they come to look at these things and decide what is to be done, whether this offence or that might become a disqualification or a penalty-points offence in future. If it is written into the Bill, as I believe it should be, it will be just that little harder for a future Parliament to remove it. The attention of noble Lords and of honourable Members of another place will be drawn to it specifically, otherwise it would be less certain. If it were not written into the Bill, it could be rushed through without very many people noticing. I think this is an important point. As I said, about 90 per cent. of noble Lords who wrote to me were strongly in favour of this one. I think that I would be doing them an injustice if I withdrew it. I therefore do not intend to do so.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 60BZ not moved.]

Clause 28 [Restrictions on carrying children in the front of motor vehicles]:

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 60A: Page 21, line 36, after ("inserted") insert (", after the section inserted by section 27,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if I may speak also to Amendment No. 60B, these are minor technical amendments ensuring that we do not put two clauses, numbered 33A, into the Road Traffic Act 1972. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 60B: Page 21, line 38, leave out ("33A") and insert ("33B").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alport)

My Lords, if Amendment No. 61 is carried, I cannot call Amendment No. 61A.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 61A: Page 21, line 44, leave out from ("regulations") to end of line 1 on page 22.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, In moving this amendment, I will, if I may, speak also to Amendments 62A and 62C. Your Lordships will recall that, during the Committee stage of this Bill, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, moved an amendment designed to enable children under the age of one year to travel in the front of vehicles. I gave an undertaking to bring this amendment back on Report with the drafting checked. These amendments are the result. They will enable the Secretary of State to specify the kind of device in which children may travel if the driver wants them to be in the front of the car.

Our intention is that we shall specify that the under one year-olds must use prescribed devices, and these will be ones appropriate to their physical condition—that is, their size and their inability to sit up. For children over one we shall prescribe the various kinds of restraints including the adult seat belt that may be used and it will he for the parents to decide which is appropriate to their particular needs. We shall, of course, also be issuing guidance to parents on the types of restraint which appear to offer the best protection to children of various ages and sizes. However, there would clearly be very great problems on enforcement if we were to insist on children over one wearing only the restraints most appropriate for their age, size and weight. I might add that there are a growing number of child restraints on the market which are suitable for children of various ages and sizes. No one restraint is ideally suited or adjustable for all children, but between them they cater for all ages and sizes. The manufacturers are of course, primarily concerned with promoting the safety of the child but they are also very much aware that an uncomfortable child will not want to be restrained. They therefore pay great attention to comfort, and restraints are increasingly being upholstered, or lined with sheepskin et cetera.

I am glad to see that the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is able to be with us. There was one point where she was not likely to be so, and I wrote to her and told her that we should honour our undertaking. In moving this amendment, I am speaking also to Amendments Nos. 52B and 62F. I beg to move.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the immense amount of time and trouble he has taken over this group of amendments, which I feel sure will do a lot to ease the problems of young mothers. This includes writing me a letter which the Post Office failed to deliver and talking to me on the telephone at some length.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 62A, 62B and 62C:

Page 22, line 6, leave out ("the driving of") and insert ("children of any prescribed description,")

Page 22, line 15, after ("children") insert ("of any prescribed description")

Page 22, line 20, leave out from ("includes") to end of line 21 and insert ("any description of restraining device for a child and any reference to wearing a seat belt shall be construed accordingly").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to Amendments Nos. 62A, 62B and 62C, and perhaps I may move them en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 62D: Page 22, line 23, leave out ("33") and insert ("33A").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment with Amendment No. 62A. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendments Nos. 62E and 62F:

Page 22, line 25, column 1, leave out ("33A") and insert ("33B")

Page 22, line 27, column 2, leave out ("or under the age of one year").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord John-Mackie moved Amendment No. 63: After Clause 28, insert the following new clause:

("Facilitating overtaking

. On a single carriageway road any vehicle which by reason of its speed or by reason of any state of driving causes to collect behind it five or more other vehicles shall at the first suitable opportunity draw in and if necessary stop in order to allow the following vehicles to overtake.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the amendments standing in my name. I remember when I went first into the other place a late Member saying to me, "You will sweat blood and tears all day working on your speech and then when you make it, you will look round and see your best friends leaving the House". I do not even have a noble Lord behind me at the moment—and I have waited here all day. I should like to say that I put this in the road safety part of the Bill because it is a safety amendment and an important one.

About 36 years ago, I was in California studying forestry, going into an area in a coach with a party on a not particularly winding road. I sat by the driver. After a few miles he drew into the side of the road to let cars pass him. When he did it a second time, a few miles further on, I said to him, "That was a nice gesture" He said, "Gesture be damned! It is a by-law in California". That was at that time. Since then the vehicle population in this country has grown and grown. During this period I have seen all over the country slow vehicles holding up traffic and causing frustration. I am sure there is hardly a motorist in your Lordships' House who has not been held up in this way and who has not ultimately (if he has had an appointment that he cannot afford to miss) taken risks to get past and taken risks later by going faster to reach his destination. There have been accidents and I live in an area where there are the kind of roads that I have described—single track roads—and we get this situation quite often.

As the years have gone on and I saw this happening, I wrote to three Ministers of Transport. The first was to Mrs. Barbara Castle. I got a dusty answer from her, probably because she did not drive a car. Then I wrote to John Peyton. I think that the officials simply looked up the answer that I received from Mrs. Castle and changed the top and tail because it was practically the same. The third time, in 1976, I received a little better change out of the Minister, then John Gilbert. What I should like to do is make what John Gilbert wrote to me mandatory. It was: In the proposed new Highway Code, which was published last year as a green paper, we are going to insert the following: on narrow or winding roads or where there is a lot of oncoming traffic drivers of large or slow moving vehicles should be prepared to pull in and slow down or stop as soon as a suitable opportunity occurs to do so to give faster vehicles a chance to overtake".

That was put into the Highway Code. I wonder how many of your Lordships have seen it or taken a note of it. That was in 1976 and I have seen no improvement whatsoever in the driving of slow vehicles. I have many farm tractors on the road myself and all my men are instructed to carry out what I am proposing today. I am thinking of heavy vehicles such as diggers and so on. I see no improvement at all since this matter was put in the Highway Code in 1976 or 1977. That is why I should like to make this point mandatory.

The objections I received from the various letters from the Ministers of Transport were mainly two: nowhere to draw in and one could not enforce it. I have never heard anything so stupid in all my life! I have recently taken a look at the situation on the roads I am talking about. I live just off the road between Harlow and Waltham Abbey. Between the end of my road and Waltham Abbey I have counted a number of places where a big heavy vehicle could draw in on either side of the road. There are four on one side and five on the other. Where any slow moving vehicle, like a farm tractor or a digger, could draw in there are 11 on one side and 13 on the other. I drove to Stoneleigh the other day to the Royal Show. As my wife does not like motorways, I took the byways. I amused myself counting these places and there was a place every mile and sometimes less. It was ridiculous that the advisers to the three Ministers could not have tried to look at the situation.

With regard to the point that it could not be enforced, think of all the stealing that goes on or think of the number of murderers who go free! How do you enforce speed limits? There are policemen with cars and so on. If one wants to enforce it one can do so. I have been sufficiently enraged that I have wanted to stop a driver and enforce it. it is quite ridiculous that one cannot enforce something like this.

I have talked to hundreds if not thousands of people about this and I have never heard anybody who would not agree with it. It can be done. There is nothing political about it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, must accept it and make it mandatory. I have therefore much pleasure in moving my amendment.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, may I briefly support the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie? I live in a part of the country where it is difficult to pass on the roads. They are narrow, but there are passing places. I see the point and entirely agree with it. I commend it to my noble friend as something which could be reasonably accepted, particularly as we understand that it is already in the Highway Code. But it needs to be in the statute because then people will pay attention.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell us how on earth anyone could enforce this. Which motorist is going to stop the vehicle and say, "Move over"? I should like to know.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I think I said how it could be done. If there is a police car on the road—and there has to be a police car on the road before you can get speed limits enforced—and so on, just the same as any other law is enforced. If there are people there willing to report, you do not necessarily need to pass the people; you take the number of the vehicle. There are a hundred ways that you can report something and enforce it.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I think everyone would sympathise with the problem which the noble Lord has raised. I should have thought that just about everyone who drives a car has at one time or another felt so frustrated at being in this situation, many many times, if it comes to that. So there is no lack of sympathy with the philosophy that the noble Lord has expressed, I would certainly hasten to assure him of that. But while I can understand the intention, the problem is in being able to accept his solution.

We control road traffic partly by laying down laws which must be obeyed and partly by providing advice which should be followed as a matter of good practice. We do so on the basis that movement by road is too complicated to try to control it by law in minute detail. To try to do so would be self-defeating and succeed only in bringing the law into disrepute. That is why a great many matters are covered not by law but by the Highway Code. I suggest that this is one of them. Rule 41 of the code states, On narrow or winding roads, or where there is a lot of oncoming traffic, drivers of large or slow moving vehicles should be prepared to pull in, and slow down or stop, as soon as there is a suitable opportunity to do so, to give faster vehicles a chance to overtake". This seems to me to say very much the same thing as the noble Lord's new clause. But, if the noble Lord still maintains that inclusion of such a provision in the Highway Code does not go far enough, I would say three things. First, I think it is taking us into an undesirable area because we could no doubt find people who would like each of the other 184 rules in the Highway Code to be made into a specific law.

Secondly, because no penalty is provided, I doubt if the new clause would have any stronger effect than the code itself. The rules in the code do not of course have the force of law but Section 37 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 states as follows: A failure on the part of a person to observe a provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind, but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under this Act, the Road Traffic Act 1960 or the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or to negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings". Lastly, I believe that the clause as drafted would give rise to so many difficulties of interpretation for drivers and the police as to create as many problems as it might be expected to solve. What for instance does "any state of driving" really mean? So while indeed sympathising very much—who would not, having been on the receiving end of what the noble Lord mentions?—I fear I cannot undertake to take it further and I hope that he will not think too badly of yet another Minister who says something not too unlike what he has been hearing for so many years now.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, but I also feel, with my noble friend Lady Macleod, that enforcement would be extremely difficult. My experience of country roads is that the worst trouble is caused by tractors. The other day I was held up for a long way by a tractor which had gone into town and was bringing back a load of fertiliser on a trailer. That is against the law. But I do not think it could be enforced there. How is it to be enforced?

I do have one suggestion to make, which is that if the noble Lord feels as strongly as he seems to, he might consider asking the NFU or the agricultural magazines, and so on, to highlight a request on the following lines: "Please, tractors, be sensible; draw in and let people go past!".

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, is very persuasive and very nice, but he has not really satisfied me. It is the same old story. I am no lawyer and I took this almost word for word from the Highway Code, in order to get my drafting as good as possible. The words "any state of driving" have nothing to do with an offence. It is simply a case of having five cars behind him. I am thinking particularly of people on a narrowish road, who believe that nobody has any right to go faster than about 25 mph and who say, "You can jolly well follow me, and like it or lump it". So I do not think that that is good argument.

I am amazed that people say that something cannot be enforced. There are so many laws in this country which are not enforced, and this would be so much easier to enforce than a lot of others. The numbers who exceed the speed limit must be legion, compared with those whose cases are taken up. So the argument that this cannot be done is not a good one. I shall not push the amendment, but if, in three years' time, I do not see an improvement, I shall be back. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 9 [Consequential and minor amendments of Road Traffic Act 1972 and section 56 of Criminal Justice Act 1967]:

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern) moved Amendments Nos. 64 to 69:

Page 75, line 20, after ("and") insert ("penalty")

Page 75, line 27, at end insert ("penalty")

Page 75, line 29, after ("or") insert ("penalty")

Page 75, line 31, after ("any") insert ("penalty")

Page 75, line 34, after ("or") insert ("penalty")

Page 75, line 36, after ("or") insert ("penalty").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these amendments are all for the same reason that I gave in respect of Amendment No. 14. My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford moved Amendments Nos. 69A and 69B:

Page 76, line 51, after ("12(2)") insert (", 33A").

Page 77, line 1, leave out ("or 12(2)") and insert (", 12(2) or 33A").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these two amendments to the schedule will have the effect of making all regulations affecting Clause 27, which is the compulsory seat belt clause, subject to affirmative resolution. I should just say one word in defence of my noble friend, in answer to the powerful attack which was launched on him by my noble friend Lord Balfour, who told my noble friend that this is a bad Bill because it makes no provision for affirmative resolutions on this matter. I should remind my noble friend Lord Balfour that the Government are innocent, because they did not put the clause into the Bill. We have put the clause into the Bill.

I could be held guilty of not putting down an additional amendment providing for affirmative resolution. I did not do so, because it seemed a rather clumsy affair and I thought, "Let's get the principle settled first". But in my private Bill which I moved in the House last December, I had provision, as my noble friend Lord Balfour will remember, for affirmative resolution. So that is the way in which the matter evolved. Therefore, the Government must be held innocent and I hope that they will, at least, be found relatively innocent.

The way in which this works is that the amendments will amend Section 199 of the 1972 Act, which governs Clause 33 and, therefore, Clause 33A now, which is the compulsory seat belt clause. Section 199 provides in subsection (3) for the negative procedure and in subsection (4) for the affirmative procedure. The effect of these two amendments to the schedule will be to remove this part from subsection (3) and to put it into subsection (4), so that all regulations which are to be made in this respect will have to be affirmative. That is rather a layman's explanation. They are not the kind of elegant words which the parliamentary draftsman would prefer for what he regards as an elegant bit of work, but I think that that gives the sense of it. I know that it fulfils the wish of the whole House. My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it is only fair to say that one is indebted to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford. However, as the amendment appeared only this afternoon, one might ask him why he took the advice of the Government—he may prefer to ask our noble friend the Minister—to go through this rigmarole to achieve what we are all—namely, the five of us who put down amendments in so far as the affirmative resolution is concerned—looking for rather than accept the more simple Amendment No. 71—

A noble Lord: Or 55.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, Amendment No. 55 is rather narrower than Amendment No. 71 which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I put down. I am sure he would not tell us anything which was not the case, so I am prepared to accept what my noble friend Lord Bellwin said at the beginning of today's debates, what he said in private conversation yesterday, and also what his noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said in private conversation some three days before: that this will meet the requirement. However, it appeared in print only at about 2.30 this afternoon. Therefore, as I am not a parliamentary draftsman, nor even a lawyer but am advised by other people, although I accept totally and with grateful thanks what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said in moving the amendment, I have to say that I must reserve the right to come back at Third Reading if it does not do every single thing which my Amendment No. 71 sets out to do.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the reason why this amendment was acceptable to the Government and why the other amendments were not acceptable was because they were defective, in that they did not remove 33A from the negative procedure. Therefore, it would have been subject to both the affirmative and the negative procedures. That is why this amendment is acceptable.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, with the leave of the House may I briefly explain to my noble friend that I have not been quite so guilty as he makes out? My first shot at this was to put down the same clause as was contained in my private Bill, which applied affirmative resolutions to only part of the provisions in Clause 27. When my attention was called to this point, I proceeded to amend that new clause. Whenever one amends a new clause which was originally drafted by parliamentary draftsmen, inevitably one gets it wrong. So parliamentary draftsmen found fault with it.

That amendment appeared yesterday morning, Tuesday, on the Marshalled List and therefore it had to be removed. With great speed we got out this new amendment, and it was on the Marshalled List first thing this morning. It was put down overnight. I agree that it was very short notice, but that is the explanation. I am sure my noble friend would agree that, if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has any misgivings when he has had a further chance to study it, he can certainly come back at Third Reading.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, having got over the technicalities, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for adding this clause and for giving us the affirmative resolution to support his particular amendment, with which I do not agree. However, it has given us a good chance to have a bash at it again later on. I thank my noble friend very much.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 70: Page 77, line 14, at end insert ("and in the fifth and sixth columns of the entry there are inserted respectively" Discretionary" and "Obligatory").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential upon Amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 22. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31 [Commencement of Part IV]:

[Amendment No. 71 not moved]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 23, line 12, at end insert— ("(3) A Consultative document or "Green Paper" explaining the intentions of the Secretary of State for Transport concerning the statutory requirements to wear seat belts shall be submitted to each House of Parliament at least three months before an order is made to bring into force the provisions of section 27 of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment standing also in the names of my noble friend Lord Mottistone and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I want to say that we understood earlier this afternoon that my noble friend the Minister was kindly disposed towards what lies behind the amendment. Briefly—I do want to be brief—we discussed some facts and some figures during the Committee stage and my noble friend was rather bereft of information at that time with relation to results in other countries. We have moved on; we have had discussions about the Adams thesis, about what seat belts do and do not do; we have had a number of discussions from this side of the House with members of the medical profession and I may refer to the remarks made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, with regard to my comments about the British Medical Association and doctors. In fact, I think the noble Lord misunderstood me.

We come then to a mass of regulations which are going to be laid before Parliament. We are coming to a totally new kind of law that some people—and I am one of them—call an infringement of liberty. I believe that because of the general position with regard to relationships between police and people which can and do spill over to relations between police and motorists, it is vitally important that the public are made fully aware of what the Government's intentions are and how they arrive at those intentions. I do not believe it is good enough to pass a law and leave it at that. I believe it is necessary that they provide a consultative document. We have to remind ourselves, my Lords, that the last document on seat belt wearing was produced during the reign, as it were, of Mr. Peyton, the Minister of Transport, back in the 'seventies. There has been no other governmental document of a consultative nature setting out proposals. There have been a number of Private Members' Bills and I believe it is necessary to ensure that the people are carried with the law, when it becomes law.

The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, spoke about enforcement. The compulsory wearing of seat belts will only be enforced by self-enforcement. Therefore, everybody has to know all about it and everybody has to accept the general principles, which I believe can only be outlined in a consultative document. Therefore, I believe it is incumbent upon the Government to produce such a document at such a time, prior to regulations being laid before Parliament, so that all parties and the public at large have a chance to make comments. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, if I might support my noble friend's amendment, to which my name is also added, as I understand it perhaps the sense of this amendment will be accepted by the Minister but not the text. When he comes to take note of the text, I do not agree with one feature of it which says three months' warning. I think we must give the public more than that. Three months would be fine if you were dealing with the likes of us or trade associations or people like that, but the public is going to need more time to absorb this. It is quite a draconian imposition on them, whatever you may think. I think they are going to have to get settled down to it and know what is in mind in good time. So I should like to suggest to my noble friend the Minister that six months would be a better figure when he comes to think it all out.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I have my name on the next amendment, and as my noble friend Lord Mottistone has mentioned six months, I would add my general support to this amendment.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, it seems to me that through all these debates Ministers only have half an idea of the difficulties of enforcement. Of course, it is going to be difficult for them to discover what these problems are in this country, because we have, naturally, this distinction between the legislature and the executive. If they are in any doubt about the problems which are going to arise, I suggest that our Ministers should swallow their pride—because it will be very difficult to get any police force in England to agree with them about this and furthermore they will of course be easy to identify—and should go to the capital of one of our neighbouring countries and go out with the police where this legislation is now in effect. They should be taken out and shown the difficulties on the ground. At the present moment in this country, it is not possible to do that because the law is not yet in operation. I have a little practical experience behind me in saying this, and I am certain that there is a great deal of difference between imagining what happens and what happens in practice.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I had been given the impression that this amendment was acceptable, unlike the impression gained by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I think he is wrong, if I may say so, in his criticism of the three months period set out in the amendment. The three months period is only the period during which Parliament can study the regulations. There is nothing to stop the Minister subsequently allowing a period of grace after the regulations are voted upon before bringing the law into operation. I think it is vital to have this amendment, whether it is acceptable as it is, which I hope, or whether the noble Lord will produce something very like it. We have had a full discussion tonight, but, as always, the proceedings of this House do not get very widely reported. A lot of the discussion has taken place after the papers have gone to bed and so on. It may be that the other place does not always take all that much note of what we say. A lot of cogent points have been made from all sides, I think not enough to make it unnecessary for some Green Paper or consultative document to be produced at a later stage. I hope very much this amendment will be acceptable.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, as one of the very few speakers completely in favour of the seat belt clause, may I say that I support the principle of this. All the way through I have taken the view that the more consultations there are with all the bodies concerned, and so long as there is the affirmative procedure for the regulations, I believe a lot of the criticism can be allayed. Therefore, if the Government can see their way clear, if not to accept this amendment at least to accept the spirit of it, I think it would help towards that.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I do not want to go over this again. I would only be repeating exactly what I said earlier. The amendment needs checking and altering for drafting purposes. Although we think it adds little to what we would do anyway, nevertheless we have no objection in principle, and we will bring it back in a form which I am sure will be acceptable to all those in favour of it.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I do not think I shall adopt the same principle that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, adopted in having your Lordships accept his amendment requiring the Government to amend it later. I think I would sooner rely on my noble friend's assurance that he will propose something next week at Third Reading which will meet the principle contained in the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Schedule 10 [Road humps]:

9.50 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 74:

Page 78, line 17, at end insert— ("( ) Elsewhere than in the area of Greater London a highway authority shall exercise its authority in accordance with subsection (1) above only after consultation with the relevant district council.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, during the Committee stage I proposed that a county council, which is the highway authority outside Greater London, should not proceed with a road hump without the agreement of the relevant council. It was pointed out to me by the noble Earl, Lord Avon, that a highway authority had statutory responsibilities and that a district council could not possibly have the power of veto on this matter any more than it had power of veto on any other road safety or highway matter. The noble Earl in a letter kindly confirmed that in greater detail.

It was on the basis of that criticism that I withdrew the amendment, but it still remains that the construction of a road hump is very much a local matter. Ministers in the other place accepted that it was a local matter. They hoped that the initiative would come from district councils. All that I am providing for in the amendment is that before a highway authority outside Greater London proceeds with the construction of a road hump, it shall consult the relevant district council.

I know that it may be argued that that sort of consultation is inevitable. But if we look even through the present Bill we find that there are a number of clauses where there is provision laid in the Bill for consultation with a particular organisation. I believe that in this case, seeing that everyone agrees that a road hump is a local matter, there ought to be laid in the Bill this mandatory requirement for a county council to have consultation with the relevant district council before it proceeds, even recognising that the county council has the right of the last decision. I bee to move.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in this amendment. The noble Lord emphasised that it is the local authority's business to see that they are right. I would like to emphasise the point which I made on Second Reading and refer your Lordships to page 79, Clause 90C(1)(b) where it says that there are also: other persons or bodies as may be described by regulations made by the Secretary of State". It is important, I think, that when local authorities are considering the position, in the form and so on of road humps, there should be proper attention paid to the representation of bodies concerned with it. The same applies to page 80 and Clause 90D(3) where it says: such representative organisations as he thinks fit". Again, as regards Scotland I would refer your Lordships to page 82 which is Schedule 10, paragraph 6(1)(b), where it says: such other persons or bodies as may be prescribed by regulations". I would also refer your Lordships to the top of page 83. I urge that care is taken that when the design, positioning and maintenance and so on, of road humps are taken in hand, authorities such as the Pedestrians' Association should be consulted by the local people before the design is settled.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, it is nice to be talking about road humps again across the Floor of the House after spending a few hours on seat belts. It is also nice once again to be against the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, although I am sorry that my persuasive powers both in speech and in letter have not yet persuaded him to drop this particular point.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier made the point very well as to why we do not need this amendment. He referred to those places in the Bill where it says, in point of fact, that the Secretary of State will discuss these matters with these bodies. It does not spell out the district councils as such because, as I have tried to say before, once we start trying to spell out one body which has to be consulted we have to list them all. We think that it is much better to leave it in the way in which it is drafted at present.

We have debated the question of consultation a number of times and I really have considered most carefully the arguments of those who favour spelling out in the main legislation the person or bodies who should be consulted about proposals to instal road humps. But the provisions for consultation contained in Clause 90C or Schedule 10 empower the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations the persons or bodies who should be considered. These provisions are modelled on the precedent established in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 for traffic regulation orders. The provisions of that Act, like the provisions of Schedule 10, impose a main legislation consultation requirement only in respect of the police, and provide for other persons or bodies who should be consulted to be specified—and here is the point—in regulations made by the Secretary of State. They have been shown in practice to be adequate and acceptable, and, since the considerations likely to arise in connection with road humps are very similar to those arising in connection with, for instance, one-way traffic or parking restrictions, it seems entirely appropriate to follow the 1967 Act precedent. I have said before that the Government see no reason to vary long-established precedents in respect of road humps, and this is still the opinion of the Government.

The contents of the regulations will themselves be the subject of consultation with representative organisations—once again, Clause 90C(6) requires this to be done. The Association of District Councils will be among those consulted and it will have every opportunity to express its views as to who should be given, in the regulations, a prescriptive right to be consulted about road hump proposals. So, equally, it comes upwards from the Association of District Councils just as much as downwards. I might add that the Association of District Councils itself has never asked for district councils to be given a main legislation right to be consulted on hump proposals. This may well be because it knows it will be consulted on the draft regulations, in the usual way.

My Lords, I hope that this explanation makes it clear that there is simply no need and no justification for singling out district councils on the one hand and road humps on the other for special and unique treatment by inserting a right to be consulted on hump proposals. They know that they will be consulted, through their association, about the contents of the regulations, including the consultation provisions. I hope that this will perhaps persuade the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that the point is covered in this legislation, and that he will not press his amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, 1 am grateful to the noble Earl for the various assurances that he has given. It is always interesting that, when I look at the actual wording of the Bill, I find in Schedule 10: the chief officer of police for the area in which the highway concerned is situated shall be consulted. One would have thought that one could have slipped in there: the chief officer of police and the relevant district authority". That would have cleared the matter quite satisfactorily. Nevertheless, I accept the assurances given and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 75:

Page 83, line 32, at end insert— ("(5) In this paragraph and in paragraphs 8 and 9(1) below, and without prejudice to paragraph 9(2) below, the expression "highway" includes any road over which the public have a right of way.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment defines "highway" to include any road over which the public have a right of way. As drafted, at present these paragraphs would permit road humps to be constructed in Scotland only on roads which are maintainable by a highway authority. In England and Wales they can be constructed under new Section 90E, inserted into the Highways Act 1980 by the Bill, on highways not maintainable at the public expense. This amendment rectifies the anomaly. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 76: Page 83, line 34, leave out ("constructed under paragraph 4 or 5").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is part of the same group. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 77: Page 83, line 35, after ("and") insert (", in the case of a road hump constructed under paragraph 4 or 5 above,").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is part of the same group. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 78: Page 83, line 39, leave out ("the highway authority") and insert ("any person").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is part of the same group. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 79: Page 83, line 46, leave out ("mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)") and insert ("applicable in the case of a road hump constructed under paragraph 4 or 5 above").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this, too, is part of the same group. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

10 p.m.

The Earl of Avon moved Amendment No. 80: Page 26, line 8, at end insert ("and the sums so determined shall be such as appear to the council to be sufficient in the aggregate to cover in whole or in part—

  1. (a) the reasonable cost of the carrying out by or on behalf of the district council of inspections of hackney carriages for the purpose of determining whether any such licence should be granted or renewed;
  2. (b) the reasonable cost of providing hackney carriage stands; and
  3. (c) any reasonable administrative or other costs in connection with the foregoing and with the control and supervision of hackney carriages.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I shall, with the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to some extent cover his Amendment No. 81 when speaking to Amendment No. 80. During the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke very movingly on behalf of the provincial taxi trade. He explained its anxieties and its difficulties when confronted with a licence fee which it considers unduly large. The Government agreed to look again at the provision which will empower district councils to charge economic taxi licence fees. In particular, we undertook to consider making it explicit on the face of the Bill that the level of such fees may only be such as is necessary for the district council to recover its reasonable costs. That is the purpose of the Government amendment now before us.

May I explain a bit further? The days when hackney carriages were licensed in order to raise revenue for the Government have long since disappeared. Licensing now exists to protect the taxi-using public from unsafe vehicles and unsavoury drivers. While it is clearly right that the taxi-user should pay for this, there can be no question of the licensing authority being allowed to make a profit. My Lords, I believe that any authority making a profit could be successfully challenged in the courts on the grounds that it was acting ultra vires. Nevertheless, because of the fears that have been expressed, I propose to put the matter beyond doubt. The amendment therefore makes it clear that a district council may not charge a taxi licence fee greater than is necessary to recover the reasonable costs of inspection, administration and supervision and of providing taxi ranks.

I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would like to go further. In particular, he wanted some form of appeal to an independent arbitrator. This has been looked at very carefully since we discussed it in Committee. The arguments put forward by the noble Lord have been considered but I regret that I cannot accept them. I shall not delay your Lordships by repeating what was said in Committee. I point out merely that this question must be considered in the context of the Government's overall policy of freeing local authorities from unnecessary restrictions. The whole purpose of this clause is to remove such restrictions. There would be little value in doing that merely to reimpose others.

My Lords, I am conscious of the fears of the provincial taxi trade that they will be unable effectively to challenge an unreasonable licence fee. Nevertheless, the Government believe these fears to be unjustified. As was said in Committee, the Government are sure that if the trade is aggrieved it will have no hesitation and no difficulty in making its views known to the council. As has already been said, it may appeal to the courts. It may also approach the district auditor, whose duty it is to verify that, when a local authority compiles its accounts, different sections of the public who may be affected by them have been fairly treated. Any local government elector whose interests were affected by the level of a licence fee could challenge the local authority's accounts at audit. The auditor would be obliged to hear him, to establish how the costs compared with the fees charged and, if he found the latter excessive, to report to the local authority. If the authority then declined to reduce its fees, the applicant would have all the necessary material for a strong case in the courts. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, this amendment will be welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and also to the whole House. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I fully agree that it is desirable to debate my Amendment No. 81 along with Government Amendment No. 80. As has been pointed out, the Minister undertook to take a look at the clause and to ensure that excessive fees should not be charged by a local authority, and I am grateful that we have this amendment before us. But I notice that the wording of the amendment, except for four words at the end, is exactly the same wording as appears in Section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. It is that wording which is causing difficulty with the taxi trade, and about which they have been complaining.

We have the word "reasonable". We had a discussion this afternoon as to what "reasonable" is. The taxi trade can find great difficulty in getting information from a local authority as to whether their charges are reasonable by asking them for a breakdown of the costs, and district authorities have refused to give that information. I remind the House of what I said at Committee; I have a copy of a letter with me now from a district authority, which I shall not name, refusing point blank to give the information. So if a local authority does not give the information it is going to be extremely difficult for any representatives of the taxi trade to find out whether or not the charges being made are reasonable in the light of these three provisions in the amendment. Naturally, I shall not oppose the amendment, because it is a step in the right direction, but it does not really take us any further unless there are provisions for appeal.

I reminded noble Lords in Committee—and this is the point of my Amendment No. 81—that there should be some appeal over an objection to the district council, because the district council is the body which is to lay down the fee, and therefore the taxi trade must appeal to the very body which is laying down the new fee. Even if the Government feel they cannot go beyond that—and we are suggesting in this amendment not the traffic commissioners, as on the last occasion; I accept the criticism about that—is it not a fact that there should be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, who should arrange for independent arbitration?

But even if the Government cannot move in that direction, may I ask the noble Earl to say what will happen to the quite large number of district authorities who are working under the 1847 legislation? We are not saying there should not be an increase in licence fees, because the present fee in those cases is trivial, but for those operating under the 1847 Act there is no right of objection or right of appeal anywhere, not even to the district council, so the 1847 authorities will be left high and dry compared with those operating under the 1976 legislation. While my amendment asks that in both of those cases there should be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, if the Minister feels he cannot accept that, I would ask the Government at least to bring the 1847 authorities up to the same position as the 1976 ones, inadequate though that may be.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about the 1847 authorities. I should like to look into that and I shall of course read with interest in Hansard his comments on the subject. We believe that district auditors are the body who can force district councils to provide the information. If the noble Lord will give me the information he has, I will follow it up to see whether or not in fact it works. That is probably the easiest way of seeing whether or not the pudding is proved.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 82: After Clause 35, insert the following new clause:

("Grants to assist the provision of facilities for freight haulage by inland waterway

.—(1) Where it appears to the Secretary of State that it would be in the interests of any locality or of all or some of its inhabitants for facilities to be provided in that locality or elsewhere for or in connection with the carriage of freight by inland waterway or the loading or unloading of freight carried or intended to be carried by inland waterway, he may make grants in accordance with this section towards the provision of such facilities.

(2) Grants under this section shall be made towards capital expenditure which is to be incurred in providing such facilities, and the facilities may, without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, include cargo carrying craft, inland waterway terminals, depots, access roads and equipment for use in connection with the carriage, loading or unloading of freight.

(3) Grants under this section shall be made in pursuance of an application made to the Secretary of State by the person who intends to provide the facilities and shall be supported by evidence that the Navigation Authority have given that person their approval for the provision by him of the facilities to which the application relates.

(4) The Secretary of State may, in making a grant under this section, impose such terms and conditions as he thinks fit.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will not go into the details of this, but only comment that what we are asking for here is that there should be the same permission to the Secretary of State to give grants for freight facilities on inland waterways as is now provided for the railways under Clause 8. Everybody seems to feel that this is desirable and the Minister has kindly intimated to me, on behalf of the Government, that he is prepared to accept the amendment. With the permission of the House, therefore, I will not go into the detail of the matter but merely thank the Government for meeting us on this important point. In making those comments I have been speaking also to Amendment No. 89.

Lord Ferrier

I support the amendment wholeheartedly, my Lords, because it is important, in view of our channel tunnel problems, that the inland waterways of this country should be expanded to the utmost so that in the years to come, long before any Channel tunnel is built, there will be pick-a-back arrangements so that British barges can go to Bulgaria via the Rhine and Danube.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, if it is, as I know it is, the wish of your Lordships that this clause be added to the Bill, the Government will gladly accept it and will further ensure that an appropriate Money Resolution is moved in another place. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, my noble friend Lord Ferrier and others who have brought forward this very constructive provision, which we are glad to accept.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 83: After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:

("Fires caused by railway engines

.—(1) In section 1 of the Railway Fires Act 1905 (liability of railway companies to make good damage to crops caused by their engines) at the end of subsection (3) there are inserted the words 'or such greater sum as may for the time being be prescribed by order made by the Secretary of State'; and after that subsection there is inserted the following subsection— '(3A) An order under subsection (3) above shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.

(2) In section 2 of the Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923 the words 'not exceeding the said sum of two hundred pounds' are hereby repealed.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I will, with permission, take at the same time the consequentials, Amendments Nos. 85, 86 and 87. The House will recall that in Committee on 11th June, the Government accepted in principle a new clause tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth amending the Railway Fires Acts. I mentioned then the need for some redrafting. This has been provided for by the new clause now before your Lordships. The clause would enable the Secretary of State to prescribe by statutory instrument the limit of compensation which railway companies are liable to pay without proof of negligence—what one might call "the limit of absolute liability"—for damage to agricultural land or crops by fires caused by sparks from railway engines.

I should like to re-emphasise something which I said in Committee—that the Railway Fires Acts do not confer privileges on railway companies. On the contrary, they limit the extent to which a company might successfully plead immunity from liability from fires on the grounds of their statutory authority to operate a railway. In effect the Railway Fires Acts invalidates such a plea in cases where claims for damages do not exceed a specified sum—at present £200. Proof of negligence would be expected in support of claims beyond that amount.

I am sure we all fully sympathise with landowners who lose their crops through fires caused by railway engines. I know that the problem is not nationwide but this is of no comfort to those who are affected, and the problem is gradually growing as the number of preserved railways increases year by year. I believe that we all recognise that a limit of £200, which dates from 1923, is now completely inappropriate. In fact—as I recall that I said in Committee—that limits present-day equivalent would be of the order of £2,800. But if we inserted such a figure into the Acts it might become out of date within the next few years, and we could find ourselves in a situation similar to that in which we find ourselves today. Therefore, the Government welcome the proposal by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth that in future the amount should be prescribed by order by the Secretary of State. However, in our clause we have provided that the statutory instrument should be subject to negative resolution in either House instead of being subject to affirmative resolution in either House (which would be unusual) as has been suggested by my noble friend. In addition we have applied the provision to Northern Ireland. The other amendments, as I have said, are simply consequentials.

The new clause enables the existing figure of £200 for "absolute liability" to be retained until the Secretary of State prescribes a new figure. It would, of course, be premature to raise the figure immediately, because consultation with interested bodies on what the new figure ought to be will be needed—but we do not expect that that consultation will take very long. The Department of Transport was in touch with interested parties last year on this matter and we envisage that, since this subject will be by no means new to those bodies, they may be able either to confirm the views that they expressed not so long ago or to update them quite quickly should they feel this to be necessary. The Government consider that the new clause and amendments offer a sensible solution to a long-standing and awkward problem. We are extremely grateful to my noble friend and I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, it would be churlish if I did not express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale for setting down this amendment. I should also like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord for his letter of 23rd June, following the short debate on this matter at Committee stage. During that debate my noble friend accepted the principle that he has just reiterated, and as he so rightly said, he agreed that the figure of £200 at today's value was worth something like £2,800. However, at Committee stage there was no suggestion that the defects in my amendment included that of putting in a figure. Indeed, in the letter which my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale has written to me, he states: You will see that they leave the existing figure of £200 but include provision to increase that sum by order, subject to negative resolution. It would, of course, be premature to raise the figure in the new clause as consultation would be necessary before the order is made, but that should not take long". I am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I shall remind your Lordships that I have notes here that go back some time. One of them goes back to the 18th October 1955; another to 20th March 1956. I have letters from all the years since then and more particularly from this year where this amount of money has been discussed. No agreement has been reached and no agreement is going to be reached. It is no good the department saying that this should not take long. It has taken over 25 years to get to this stage.

I must say to my noble friend that I shall put down an amendment at Third Reading in order immediately to revise the figure, because there is no reason why it should not be revised. The matter has been discussed by all the interested parties for months and months, for years. Altering the sum will not alter the sense of the amendment put down by my noble friend. It is only fair to your Lordships and to my noble friend to say that that is what I shall do, for the reason that I have given. I believe that the department has dragged its heels quite long enough. We could deal with the matter now. We can insert a figure, subject to revision by the Secretary of State by means of negative resolution as it becomes out-of-date. There is no need to stay with a base figure of £200. We can bring it up-to-date, and then if it gets out-of-date again as the years advance, there is adequate provision within the amendment for revision.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, do I understand from the statement of the noble Lord the Minister that the sum of £2,800 will soon be out-of-date, and that either the Government expect to lose the forthcoming election fairly soon, or they are unable to control inflation? What other explanation do the Government otherwise have for the statement?

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I, too, welcome this amendment from the Government, but at the same time I support what my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has said. Is my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale aware that the cereal harvest is already ripening and that the greatest period of danger from fire is almost upon us for another year? I feel that it should not be difficult to bring in an order increasing the amount fairly quickly, and that would certainly give comfort to a number of railside farmers. Before we leave this matter, perhaps my noble friend can tell the House whether or not fires started by electric trains are also covered under the Railway Fires Act 1905, or whether the Act covers solely those fires started by steam trains.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, if I may first respond to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I would say that I am reminded of a saying on the West Coast of Scotland, where I spent most of my summer holidays as a child. The saying is: We think better later. That applies to my letter. I hope that when my noble friend has read what I have said and what I am about to say, the same will apply to him before he rushes to put down an amendment on Third Reading. I am also reminded that at the Committee stage I said that I never like amendments at the best of times. However, that is enough said on that matter.

I believe that the Secretary of State would want to consult interested bodies before he prescribes a new figure by statutory instrument. To act without consultation would be unusual. It is true that the Department of Transport has already discussed this matter widely with those concerned—and I agree with my noble friend here. It has taken 20 years—again I agree with my noble friend. But that was not in connection with a statutory instrument, which the new clause provides for. Furthermore, it was nearly a year ago, and views and circumstances might have changed. Indeed, at this moment I do not know whether any new amateur railways have been set up this year. But the fact that discussions have taken place fairly recently should facilitate formal consultation. I should say that this is likely to be a problem only in the summer months, and by the time the Bill becomes an Act—if it does—most of the summer will have passed; and so the urgency is not quite as great as my noble friend led your Lordships to believe. The Government further feel that it would be reasonable to expect that a new limit of absolute liability for damage to crops by fires caused by sparks from railway engines will be operative by next summer. My noble friend behind me asked whether we were talking only about steam engines. My advice is that fires caused by railway engines apply to any engines.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked whether the Government expected to lose the next election. Really! Of course the Government do not expect to lose the next election; but what gave point to his question was the rate of inflation. This Government have never said that we would achieve nil inflation within the lifetime of one Parliament, and we still stand by that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 84: After Clause 36, insert the following new clause:

("Amendment of Schedules 7 and 8 of Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981

.In the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981

  1. (a) in Schedule 7 (consequential amendments), paragraph 24 is omitted;
  2. (b) in Schedule 8 (repeals)—
    1. (i) in the entry relating to the Transport Act 1968 the words "In section 145, subsection (2)" are omitted, and
    2. (ii) in the entry relating to the Transport Act 1980 after the words "In Schedule 5, Part I" there are inserted the words "(except paragraph 13)" and for the words "the Minibus Act 1977 and the Transport Act 1978" there are substituted the words "and the Minibus Act 1977 and paragraphs 2 to 4 of the entry relating to the Transport Act 1978.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, might I also speak to Amendment No. 88 and say that I regret it is necessary to trouble your Lordships with this new clause. Unfortunately, it has emerged that the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, which passed through this House in February of this year, contained three very small but important errors. Briefly, Schedule 8 to the Act repeals three provisions which are not re-enacted but which are in fact still needed. The clause I am moving tonight strikes out those repeals and makes a minor consequential amendment to Schedule 7. As such, it is purely formal and makes no substantive change in the law.

I will not bore your Lordships with the details of the three provisions concerned, but I can assure your Lordships that the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 could not properly be commenced with these three errors uncorrected. The Act consolidates the bus licensing provisions of the Transport Act 1980 with those in the Road Traffic Act 1960 and a number of other relevant statutes. 1 am sure your Lordships would not want to frustrate the worthy cause that is involved here, and will be indulgent in putting right what really are regrettable errors. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, the next two amendments have been wrongly marshalled, and the next amendment I have to call is No. 85.

Clause 38 [Extent]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 27, line 6, at end insert— ("(bb) section (Fires caused by railway engines);").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a consequential amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Nugent of Guildford moved Amendment No. 84A:

Page 27, line 15, at end insert— ("(3) An Order in Council made under paragraph 1(1)(b) of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 which contains a statement that its purposes correspond to those of sections 27 and 28 of this Act shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament instead of the order or a draft of the order being subject to the procedure set out in paragraph 1(4) or (5) of that Schedule.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the effect of this amendment will be to apply Clause 27 of the Bill to Northern Ireland. I had made such a provision in my original private Bill, but we seem to have been adding bits and pieces gradually to catch up in respect of this public Bill for it to have the same effect. The effect of the amendment will be to make it possible to make an Order in Council for Northern Ireland so that they can have the benefit of compulsory seat belts.

Very briefly, I can tell your Lordships that the case for doing so in Northern Ireland is even stronger than it is here. The rate of road accident fatalities in Northern Ireland per motor-car is something like double the rate here. We know that the deaths due to terrorist action since the civil disturbances began amount to something over 2,000–2,121—but during that period, so grim is the toll on the roads, that the fatalities amount to 3,479, which is getting on for double. So there is a very serious incidence of road accidents and, therefore, road fatalities and serious injuries.

I gather that the Royal Ulster Constabulary have indicated that they are in favour of introducing compulsory seat belt wearing; the road safety lobby are very much in favour; and the medical profession, led by that admirable surgeon William Rutherford, are very much so indeed. I will not explain the mechanics of it, which can be confusing, but the effect is quite clear. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, my noble friend has tabled this amendment in order to ensure that when this Bill is returned to the other place honourable Members there should be able to include Northern Ireland in their discussions on Clause 27. This seems surely both sensible and courteous, and on that basis I should like to welcome the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Repeals]:

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 86:

Page 91, line 26, at end insert—

("1923 c. 27. The Railway Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923. In section 2, the words 'not exceeding the said sum of two hundred pounds'.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is consequential upon Amendment No. 83. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 87:

In the Title: Line 14, after second ("licences") insert ("to make provision with respect to railway fires").

The noble Lord said: Again, my Lords, this is consequential on Amendment No. 83. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 88: Line 14, after second ("licences") insert ("to amend Schedules 7 and 8 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 89: Line 14, after second ("licences") insert ("to make provision for grants to assist the provision of facilities for freight haulage by inland waterway").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is consequential upon Amendment No. 82. I have thanked the Minister for accepting Amendment No. 82 and I am grateful for his arranging in another place for the Money Resolution.

On Question, amendment agreed to.