§ 4.27 p.m.
§ House again in Committee on Amendment No. 79.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I should like to return your Lordships to the unhappy subject matter before us, that of road accidents, and continue our debate on my noble friend's Amendment No. 79. Since this most controversial proposal was first put before Parliament we have discussed it some 11 times in one House or another. I am as anxious as any other noble Lord to avoid a repetition of all the reasons why I still remain opposed to such legislation. I invite your Lordships to reject this amendment.
In this country we consider it quite wrong for anyone to sell a product on the basis of a false or misleading claim. I believe that that is what is happening here this afternoon. The proponents of compulsion are trying to promote this amendment with a mixture of half truths, selected statistics and, frankly, bald, emotional appeals. I am sure that their motives are of the highest. Certainly neither I nor anybody else in your Lordships' House or probably, indeed, outside, can doubt the absolute sincerity of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford and his noble friends who support the argument. However, at this moment, as in the past, they are putting forward a false prospectus which we should not accept.
First, they have said that the compulsory wearing of seat belts has resulted in remarkable reductions in car deaths and serious injuries in overseas countries where compulsion has been introduced. They quote and have done so quite consistently—and again this afternoon—particularly Australia and New Zealand. But when I asked in your Lordships' House on 20th May for authoritative figures with regard to both of those countries and others it was regretted by my noble friend the Minister that at that time he was not able to provide those figures for New Zealand and Australia. He did, however, produce some figures for West Germany and Sweden. I totally accept that those figures need some serious qualification. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said at that time that they were disappointing figures from his point of view and that a full and proper analysis should perhaps take place. The bald figures that were placed before us were minimal. Yet, since that time—I appreciate, of course, that it is only a short time—no further facts have been put before the country, your Lordships, or indeed, this Committee this afternoon. Certainly those earlier claims that have been made go nowhere at all to justify the general claim that pro 336 ponents of compulsion make. My noble friend the Minister produced no fact, with the one exception of his reference to one report produced by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory.
Secondly, over the years—and, again, I have little doubt that it will be said this afternoon—much has been said about the serious injury figures. Of course, it is right that we should concentrate endeavours in the area of road safety to reduce these figures. But even the official statistics for serious injury figures fail to make it cleat that any road accident casualty detained in hospital is classified as a serious injury, even though hospitalisation is not because of the seriousness of that injury, but very much more often because of the need to observe to ensure that the injury does not fall in a serious category.
I am suggesting that we have been misled in the past and are likely to be misled again as regards figures of this kind relating to the claims that some members of the medical profession make. It is because those claims are so extravagant that I must quote the one which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, in December last year when he was speaking during the course of the Second Reading debate on my noble friend's Private Member's Bill. At col. 910 of Hansard of 15th December the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, said:Equally, it is indeed sad that one with such an extraordinary and outstanding record of bravery in war and service in peace as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, should see fit to table an amendment which to all intents and purposes negatives an attempt to save the lives of up to 1,000 of our citizens each year, to say nothing of the almost equally tragic maiming of 10 times that number".That is the kind of emotional appeal with which we have been bombarded over the years. There is no justification at all for a statement of that fact. There is no fact there. Unhappily, maiming afflicts a great number of casualties in road accidents that involve motor vehicles; but equally, when we think of the class of person who uses the road, only a few will be saved by the compulsory wearing of selt belts. We do not have facts before us; we have assessments and reliable estimates—two descriptions that the noble Lords, Lord Nugent and Lord Underhill, have both used—which are not backed up by any fact. Indeed, earlier this week we spoke about drink and driving, and as a result of questioning the Government listed one figure only on this subject—one fact—that 30 per cent. of drivers killed in motor accidents have an alcohol content which we consider to be on the verge of drunkenness.
If I were to make my assessment, it would perhaps negate what I am suggesting to your Lordships. I shall reserve that for another day. What we have heard are not facts. If the Committee accept what has been said and if they adopt the stance, "our minds are made up; do not bother us with facts", I suggest that we do an injustice to ourselves, an injustice to this noble House, but even more an injustice which we shall perpetrate on all road users. We cannot make a sensible and reasoned judgment on this matter without facts. We have not had a consultative document since Mr. Peyton's consultative paper in the early 1970s. I believe it is the Government's duty to commission an independent inquiry into this matter so that the facts—whatever they may be—can be put before both Houses of Parliament, which can examine them and make a judgment.
337 There is no doubt that there is a weakness in the compulsion lobby argument. It is not proven; it cannot be proven without facts. However, there is one indisputable figure, that there are 20 million vehicle drivers on the roads of our country. There are probably, on a proportion of car and vehicle occupancy, another 12 million passengers. If the Committee accept this amendment, we shall be legislating for some 35 million people without any facts; we shall be creating a new criminal offence. Many of these people may well be convicted, possibly through forgetfulness, because they think that the risk of prosecution is small, because belts make them uncomfortable or distressed, or because they might resent being forced to do something that bears on their safety only, and not on other road users. I do not think that we have the right to do that this afternoon.
Finally, I would remind the Committee that we have been talking about deterrents to accidents. In no way is a belt a deterrent to an accident. If, on a wave of quite unreasoned emotion, your Lordships accept this new clause, I suggest that from the moment it becomes law there is printed on every seat belt:Government warning. This belt does not prevent accidents. Only safe driving can do that".I urge your Lordships to reject this amendment, No. 79, bringing compulsion into an area where the benefits are not proven.
§ Lord Avebury
I shall come to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in a moment. First, I would point out that it was over four years ago that I introduced a Bill in your Lordships' House entitled the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill, which would have had the same effect as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. If one accepts the figures that he gave this afternoon, and if your Lordships had been pleased to pass that Bill in 1977, 2,600 human beings, whose lives have ended on our roads since then, would have survived, and no fewer than 44,000 serious injuries would have been prevented.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, disputes the evidence before us. I regret that very deeply because, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill said, it is one thing to talk about whether or not we are violating individual freedom in introducing an element of compulsion, but it is something quite different to rebut all the evidence which has been produced over not a few years but a couple of decades which has conclusively established that the wearing of seat belts does materially affect the chances of a driver or a passenger being killed, or suffering serious injury.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, complains that no figures have been produced this afternoon. That is only because, as he remarked himself, this matter has been debated in your Lordships' House on many previous occasions and in another place, and the figures have been repeated ad nauseam. But certainly, if he wants to, one could go into the Australian experience. I know that I shall be unpopular for mentioning any figures at all, but just to show the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that there is evidence, may I remind him that when compulsory seat belt wearing was first introduced in Australia it came in the State of Victoria before the rest of the country adopted it?
338 Therefore, one had a comparison between the casualty experience in Victoria and in the rest of Australia which was acting, if you like, as a control group. It was found that seat belt wearing rates increased from 25 per cent. to 65 per cent. outside Melbourne, and to 75 per cent. in the city. The result of that was a drop of 17.7 per cent. in fatalities and 14.8 per cent. in serious injuries, during a time when the rest of Australia suffered an increase in mortalities and serious injuries. I do not want to produce the rest of the evidence, but the noble Lord knows perfectly well that there is a mass of statistics coming not only from Australia and New Zealand but from countries such as Belgium in Europe which show conclusively that the case is established.
Why, after all, would all these organisations seek to mislead the public? Can one imagine such an absurd proposition about the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, the Department of Transport, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and even the Royal Automobile Club—because I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who reminded us that although they are against compulsion they do not deny the fact that the wearing of seat belts is a highly effective means of saving life and injury. So that all these organisations, according to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are engaged in a conspiracy to hide the facts from the public and to distort the deductions that one can draw from this mass of evidence.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for giving way. I really must protest that I did not accuse any organisation of a conspiracy. Indeed, I am a vice-president of RoSPA, and RoSPA know full well that I hold a contrary view. There is no conspiracy with RoSPA or anybody else, and it is quite wrong for the noble Lord to impute that accusation to me.
§ Lord Avebury
What alternative hypothesis could the noble Lord suggest then? He says that there are not any facts, and yet RoSPA, of which he is a vice-president, and all these other organisations I have mentioned, say that there are facts. I have mentioned a couple of them. If the noble Lord really wants to he can go to RoSPA, to the BMA, and he will soon find himself with boxes full of papers such as I have in my office, all pointing to the same conclusion. What the noble Lord is saying in effect, although I agree he did not use these words, is that these organisations are trying to distort the meaning of the figures which have been collected so carefully by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and which have been given to the public so that they can find out for themselves whether the claims that are made for the wearing of seat belts are true.
I think that it is universally agreed, except for one or two people like Sir Ronald Bell and the noble Lord, with the powerful addition recently of Mr. Adams, who take the contrary view. Since Mr. Adams is being so much prayed in aid, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the letter in today's issue of The Times from Dr. G. M. Mackay, the head of the Accident Research Unit at the University of Birmingham. He says: 339Mr. Adams's analysis is seriously flawed in its method, factually incorrect in several instances, and the conclusions drawn do not follow from the data analysed".He goes on to add that Sir Ronald at any rate has introduced the notion that driving behaviour changes for the worse as soon as seat belts are introduced, and that recent research in both Canada and Australia has shown this hypothesis to be wrong, and that drivers do conform to seat belt laws and they actually drive much better than they did beforehand. Certainly this is my experience in countries such as Australia and France, where I have found that the standard of driving has improved over the years and certainly is a very high standard even compared with what it is in this country. I believe that people in this country are as law abiding as Australians or Frenchmen, and that if this legislation were to be passed the incidence of wearing seat belts would increase to the level of 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. which is predicted.
I shall be perfectly honest. I do not wear a seat belt myself. You may say that this is paradoxical. "Why do you advocate wearing seat belts when you do not wear them yourself?" My answer to that is that it shows the necessity for compulsion. I cannot be bothered at the moment, but if there is a law on the statute book that says I must, then I certainly will. I know it is foolish. I know that I should be much better off in my own interest to wear a seat belt, but I think that I am a fairly typical motorist and I am included among the 70 per cent. who are not wearing seat belts at the moment but who would certainly comply with the law if that was introduced.
I very much appreciated the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, who said that it was a good principle that we should compel people to do as few things as possible, and that it was only with the greatest reluctance that he arrived at the conclusion that in the exceptional circumstances of this case, where so many human lives and so much injury is at stake—if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will allow me to say so without accusing me of emotionalism—compulsion should be introduced.
I agree with libertarianism—and the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, spoke almost as a Liberal in this instance —and that laws should make people do as few things as possible. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will remember what Mill said on this subject. He said that the state may not interfere with the freedom of action of the individual except where it is necessary to prevent harm to others. This debate is being conducted on the basis that we are only compelling people to wear seat belts for their own safety, whereas in fact this is not the whole of the truth. If a person can maintain control of a vehicle through wearing a seat belt, he may be able to stop his vehicle from ploughing into a queue of children at a bus stop; he may be able to arrest the vehicle before it collides with some hard object, and thereby save the passengers in his car. It certainly is not true that the only person's life or safety at stake is that of the driver of the vehicle.
I fervently beg your Lordships to let Lord Nugent's amendment go through, because it will in fact yield the huge reductions which are claimed of it. It will not 340 violate human rights or civil liberties, and it will be a blessing to the motorist and to the general public who use the roads in our country. We have debated this matter on many occasions. We have always agreed with the facts, with a few exceptions such as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and it is now time at last that we fell into line with the rest of the world and adopted this civilised practice.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
Whether or not we speak to a false prospectus, whether or not we deal in half truths, whether or not we seek to mislead this House in the opinion of some noble Lords, it should surely be understood in this place, in this Committee, and in this country at this time that we believe what we say; that we have a case that is researched; that we have a case that is based on fact; that those facts have been put many times. In one uncontroversial statement in a highly contentious and emotional contribution to this debate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that we have debated this matter many times. We have indeed.
I see that we debated it on the afternoon of 26th April 1977. I see, too, from the columns of the relevant parliamentary record, that I gave to your Lordships on that day three other dates of significance in my own life and to this amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has put before us. I have a feeling that this House is about to make up its mind and give good leadership to the nation at this time. I want nothing that I say to interfere with the possibility that, when the vote is taken, it will at last come down in favour of the introduction of the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
I appreciate that there are noble Lords who fear the attitude of compulsion, and there are those who react instinctively against the word "compulsion" when it is used. Therefore I want to drop the use of that word from my contribution, which will brief, and to remind your Lordships, as I believe I have every right to do, of three dates in my life in the context of this debate.
At 8.20 on the evening of 28th August, 1965 I was the front seat passenger in a Hillman Minx motor-car travelling down a steep hill called Arnolds Hill into Haverfordwest. Within moments, I was involved, as was my driver and many others, in a multiple car smash that left me viciously and brutally injured, and the results of those injuries are getting worse all the time. I deny any charge of allowing emotion to come into this; I am putting this relatively in the context of the statistics that we can all quote. As I say, I was viciously and savagely injured, and my injuries have got worse every day of my life since then.
In the early afternoon of Tuesday, 7th September, 1965, only 10 days after that event, my father was travelling in the front seat of an older type Ford motor-car that was allowed at that time to have a collapsible back seat. That car was travelling not at the 60 mph that the one in which I was injured was travelling, but at 28 mph, and it was in collision with a car that approached it from the side. My sister, who was a rear seat passenger, was thrown forward by the dynamics—by the physics, not by the emotion of the situation—and she was hurled into my father's back 341 as, by the impetus, he was hurled forward into the facia of the car. His sternum was detached from his ribs and he died in hospital beside me, where he had come to visit me. I deny emotion; that is a fact, as much a fact as any statistic put before your Lordships.
On the afternoon of Saturday, 3rd June, 1972, I was sitting in my car beside an inexperienced driver who applied the brakes at a moment of mechanical failure. The car turned over two and a half times and, as a result, all of us would have been very badly injured if we had not learned the lesson of those other two accidents. We were taken from the car, which was virtually destroyed by what had happened, uninjured because, in my contention—I will argue this with anyone factually in terms of the geometry and solid physics of that situation—had we not been belted, we could not have been other than as savagely injured as I had been some years before.
Professor Adams' thesis has been questioned here and it has been questioned by Geoffrey Grimes. It is one of those unexplained things contributory to this debate. I do not deny Professor Adams the right to make the statements he does; nor do I accuse him of issuing half truths; nor do I believe it contributes much to this debate or to the feeling of the Committee to deal in such accusations. It is only a contribution to a debate which is rolling forward.
As for an issue which has not been touched on in the debate, that of children's seat belts and harnesses, it seems that even wearing an adult brace in the front seat prevents some of the injuries to some of the children so travelling. I go no further than that. I say, as I have heard it said in this House before, that a great deal of work has to be done into studying the design of seat belts, into the structure of cars and into the whole matter of seeing whether we can, without compulsion, find ways of making the motor-car a safer vehicle for the human body.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is a great friend of mine—he and I talk about these things emotionally and unemotionally outside this Chamber—had a father who was a much respected racing driver. I doubt very much whether any racing driver (the noble Lord may ask me to give way and tell me I am wrong; I am prepared to take the risk) would go on circuit anywhere today without wearing the harness which we have come to accept as vital. Indeed, the other afternoon, by virtue of work I do elsewhere, I found myself in a rally car. It was being prepared for the Welsh International Rally at West Park. Pinar Oricola, the Finnish expert who is a champion rally driver, strapped me into the seat beside him so tightly that I was uncomfortable. He placed a helmet on my head and did the same for himself. Then he reached across, shook me by the hand and said, "Good luck". And being a Welsh Baptist, I did not trust only to luck or the seat harness; I asked for help from other quarters as we took off to go round that circuit at 134 mph.
There was no question of compulsion on that occasion, just common sense; the sort of thing we do for our own kids, the sort of thing that once the facts are brought home to us we cannot help but do. Can your Lordships help at this time but take the decision that is sensible and reasonable to take all the precautions we can until we have solved the problems of dynamics 342 and physics and made the motor-car a more reasonable vehicle for the frail human body?
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, we have been given many statistics, but one we have not had—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, can help with this—is how many deaths have been caused by the wearing of seat belts. For instance, what if one drives into a canal or river or one's car catches fire? I understand it is believed that quite a number of deaths have occurred because drivers were unable to get out of their vehicles because they were wearing seat belts. No statistics of that kind have been produced in the debate so far.
I accept that in certain cases the wearing of seat belts can save lives. For example, in the case of a frontal collision, provided one is not driving too fast—say, two cars each travelling at 20 mph giving an impact at 40—then, if one is wearing a seat belt, one will probably be saved. On the other hand, if two cars travelling at 50 or 60 mph collide, one will be killed anyway whether one is wearing a seat belt or not.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I know what I am talking about, my Lords; I used to race cars and I have driven in Grand Prix races. Indeed, one reason why racing drivers are strapped in—remembering that a racing driver will not have cars coming towards him, thank goodness—is for the sake of one's inside because one might strain oneself as a result of the tremendous acceleration when going round corners. Be that as it may, one cannot compare race driving with ordinary driving on the roads.
We must also remember that if one is involved in a frontal accident one can take avoiding action by throwing oneself away from the steering wheel—that is, if one is not wearing a seat belt. A great number of injuries and deaths occur in frontal accident because the steering column goes into the driver's chest. If one can avoid that happening by throwing oneself to one side that is all to the good, but of course if one is wearing a seat belt one cannot take that sort of avoiding action.
If it can be proved statistically that lives can be saved by wearing seat belts then of course the freedom argument does not come into it and we must have compulsion. We have lost enough of our freedoms in this country in the last 20 years or so not to worry about losing a little more if it means saving people's lives, so I would be all for compulsion if the case can be statistically proved and it can be shown conclusively that people's lives are saved. However, I do not consider that it has been proved.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned Australia and the situation there, and it would seem that the case has been proven there, but I understand that in other countries the compulsory wearing of seat belts has not resulted in injuries being decreased. Indeed, I understand that in one or two countries there have been more injuries. Thus, we cannot consider the case to have been proved, and until it has been 343 statistically proved I do not feel able to support the amendment.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Strauss
I wish to intervene for only a few minutes. I have taken a great interest in this problem for over 30 years, ever since the time under the Attlee Government when, on behalf of the Ministry of Transport, I was in charge of its very intensive road safety campaign; and I believe that we did some good. One of the conclusions that we all reached as a result of the campaign, and after the spending of millions of pounds, was that what you can do by education and exhortation is limited, and after a certain stage no benefit results and some form of compulsion is necessary. That was true then, and I am perfectly certain that it is true today.
No one has this afternoon, nor I believe on any other occasion, questioned the fact that the wearing of seat belts does save lives. The total number of casualties among drivers who wear seat belts and are involved in accidents is half of the total of those involved in accidents and who do not wear seat belts. Therefore, today the problem is not really a statistical one; that is accepted by everybody. It is a philosophical problem, and the argument is, "All right, we admit that the wearing of seat belts would be a good thing and would save lives. The RAC agrees with that. But we think that on philosophical grounds it would be wrong to use compulsion to make people do this". We are all very keen not to violate our liberties, the liberties of the citizen; though I must say that among the liberties that we have I do not place very high the liberty to smash up oneself in a motor accident.
The argument that is put forward by those who oppose compulsion is, as I understand it, briefly as follows. If an individual who wishes to be careless and not do what is obviously right or what he is advised to do, involved himself in an accident and is seriously hurt or killed, well, that is his own fault. No one but he is injured or affected and he should not have been so silly, but to compel him to do something which he does not want to do, where the consequences will affect not other people but only himself, is wholly wrong.
I suggest that that is a wholly fallacious argument. If a driver is seriously injured or killed in an accident, he is not the only victim. A large number of people are likely to be affected. Some of these people might be killed because, as one noble Lord said, the driver on losing control of the vehicle, might run into others if he is not wearing a seat belt. But what about all those other people who are involved when a driver is seriously injured or killed? What about the man's wife and children, other relatives, and friends? What about the wife who might have to suffer for the rest of her life in looking after a husband who is incapacitated, mentally or physically? What about the children who can no longer be dependent on their father? Surely these people are sufferers from the faults and stupidity of someone who has not worn a seat belt when he ought to have done, someone who has taken the view, as do so many people, "An accident won't happen to me; it happens to others".
Therefore I suggest to your Lordships' Committee that a serious accident has a rippling effect, it is not 344 confined to the person who is injured. The medical services are involved, with extra strain put on doctors and nurses. Other patients are also involved. Such people might not be able to go into hospital for vital treatment because all the beds are taken up by people who have been seriously injured in motor accidents.
Please do not let us consider this as a question of liberty which affects only the individual concerned; it is nothing of the kind. By the way, it is a violation of liberty that is not so terribly serious. It does not undermine the democratic constitutional practices of our country. All it does at the worst is cause a little nuisance or inconvenience; that is all. Even though some people might unwillingly have to suffer the inconvenience or nuisance, I think it right that Parliament, and today your Lordships' Committee, should on behalf of the community as a whole, say that people who are liable to injure or kill themselves through careless driving, everybody in fact, should be forced to use seat belts so as to prevent wide-ranging injuries, not necessarily fatal injuries, to very many innocent and decent citizens in our country. Therefore I hope that after discussing this problem over and over again—I have taken part in the debate on it whenever I could—your Lordships will take steps to ensure that this reasonable and sensible provision will at last become the law of the land.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Porritt
First, I should like to resume the courtesies of your Lordships' Chamber, which we appreciate so much. As co-sponsor of the amendment I wish most strongly and warmly to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. Whatever might be our views on the subject—and I do not think that they are nearly as contentious as would seem from the debate so far—we would all admire the noble Lord's pertinacity and perseverance in carrying on with this measure from year to year, from session to session; to him it must seem almost illimitable. I feel that today he has at last brought us to a point of decision; I sincerely hope so.
I should like to suggest that the speeches we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Bellwin, and Lord Underhill, were absolutely admirable. They put a point of view which is fair, equitable. There was nothing at all rabid in what they said. They admitted that there is a strong case on the other side, but they put the advantages of the amendment. This is surely what we want. We want to keep cool. Any rabid statements on the subject will do no good at all. As I think has already been said, this is not really a selt belt argument; it is not a medical argument. It is a philosophical argument, it is a moral argument. So let us keep cool about it and see what we can decide.
I would suggest that the amendment is about as flexible as we can make it. It copes, perhaps indirectly and a little vaguely, with every possible objection, except the one which is the bone of contention: the compulsory element in the wearing of seat belts. I am sure that your Lordships' Committee will appreciate that we are already in a state of déjà vu. All the things that have been talked about have been talked about several times before. We have seen it all before, and I thought that we might have begun this afternoon's 345 debate with that very well-known quotation from Henry V:Once more unto the breach, dear friends".Perhaps I may carry on with the quotation, since I feel it is quite apt. Members of your Lordships' Committee might remember that it continues:Or close the wall up with our English dead!All that has happened since we last discussed this subject is that we have been talking around it. We have not got any further, but a decision is undoubtedly overdue. I shall not stress the backing that the proponents of the amendment have. The Committee has heard of all the illustrious bodies that have expressed a view. This is surely a consensus of opinion which we must recognise. These people are not fools, and they have come down heavily in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
I feel that previously we have been dragging our feet. We have not been willing to make up our minds. Although we have definite opinions one way or the other, we have not decided what to do about it. The purposes of the exercise are really extremely simple and quite fundamental. They do not depend on figures, statistics, which, as we have seen this afternoon, can be juggled with quite easily by various people on both sides, in order to use them as they wish. But if the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, wants figures well, heaven's above! whether or not he gets them from the department, I can give him hundreds. He might not believe them, but that does not matter.
I do not believe the figures on the other side very much because I know what figures can do if they are properly treated. The only figures I am interested in are human, physical figures, which have been knocked about by unnecessary road accidents.
The noble Lord also said that I made an emotional speech. I willingly agree to that. It was emotional and dramatic, and it was deliberate. The first time I spoke on this subject I spoke, as I hope I do as a rule, fairly logically, quietly and typically. It got nowhere at all. On the second occasion I painted a glorious picture of blood and thunder as best I could. What happened? We won by two to one. It was not due to me, but that was the atmosphere produced. This is wrong.
Let us be quite sensible as to what we are getting at. We know—and nothing can deny it—that the fundamental purposes of this amendment are to try to save approximately 1,000 lives of our fellow citizens every year; and, perhaps just as important, to try to prevent 10 times that number getting damaged and disfigured. Because whatever may be said, and figures irrespective, everybody in a hospital knows that the toll of grief and despair goes on. There is also a vast loss of economic wealth to this country, particularly in the loss of work-days, and very much, as has already been mentioned, by way of the damage that is done to the ordinary functions of the National Health Service. There is no doubt that the vast number of injuries—unnecessary injuries—that occur load up the Health Service to the great detriment of large numbers of more deserving patients.
I think the case for the compulsory wearing of seat belts is incontrovertible, and that it does not depend, 346 as I say, on statistics. It depends on what happens in hospitals and in homes, and the tragedy of it all when it could be stopped. Some of the arguments against the wearing of seat belts have been mentioned this afternoon. Perhaps I may, just to clear my own mind, run through them very briefly. It is said that deaths occur from the wearing of seat belts. Yes, we are not denying that. But how few? I think it was mentioned this afternoon. One in a thousand? It is a risk. Life without risk is not worth living, I am sure your Lordships will agree; and a risk of one in a thousand is a risk we ought to take.
Another interesting argument which has not yet been mentioned this afternoon is the one which concerns deaths from drowning and fire. As a matter of fact, this has taken a slight turn since we last talked about it, because these occur, too. Nobody is denying that; but they are to an even less degree than the number of deaths through the wearing of seat belts. You can never prove these things (how can you prove what happened to a dead person?) but what has had good evidence produced in its favour is that if you are wearing a seat belt in a car that goes into water or bursts into flame, then because you are still conscious and because you are still, we hope, relatively uninjured, then you get a chance to get yourself out. If you are unconscious and damaged, you have had it. So there is something to be said, even in those dramatic conditions, for wearing a seat belt. Let me squash once and for all the myth that if you are thrown out of a car you are safer than being held in it by a seat belt. You are not. The odds are at least two to one against you. That is quite definite, and does not admit of argument.
There has been talk about the enforcement difficulty. The police do not agree with this. They are not worried about this at all. I think that when I last spoke I gave your Lordships the example of what happened in Australia. This, as I have said, is a country worth mentioning because the Australians are a little resistant to legislation as a rule, to say the least of it. They took to the compulsory wearing of seat belts within a year—quietly, comfortably and completely. If you believe in figures at all, the figures are there. The death rate has fallen, and the injury rate has fallen very markedly. I think it is a matter of temperament—national temperament, if you like—but I just cannot believe that the British temperament will not react in the same way, and that in one year the putting on of seat belts, if they are made compulsory wearing, will be, as it is as a rule, completely reflex. Somebody has said already this afternoon that this is so. You automatically put on your seat belt once you get used to it. It will be a week or a month or a few months before you do, but then you do it; and police enforcement is not very important after that.
The difficulty of claustrophobia and other genuine ailments—and I would underline the word "genuine" because this is a nettlebed of trouble—I think has been coped with indirectly in the amendment. The fact that voluntary wearing is not sufficient has also been mentioned. It has been amply proved, of course, that even with the expenditure of millions of pounds on educational propaganda you cannot do better than 347 30 per cent., at the maximum, and that is not good enough.
So we come back to the question of freedom of choice. I think one other fact has come out since we last spoke about this, because it was questioned as to whether it was legally constitutional to pass this. I gather counsel's opinion is strongly on the side of it being legally constitutional, so that is one good point that we need not worry about. It has already been mentioned this afternoon that all that we do in your Lordships' House and in the other place is restrict people. That is what legislation is. Here is a restriction, admittedly; one is not denying it is a restriction. But it is a restriction which is going to do an enormous good to the community. So, surely, it is a restriction we can accept without worrying too much about it. If your Lordships knew that there was a man going around with a loaded revolver who wanted to use it, I hope your Lordships would say that he was a reasonable candidate for restriction. A motorcar is an infinitely more lethal weapon than a loaded revolver. I think the moral is there.
The only other thing I want to say about the restriction of freedom of action is this. Even if you do allow the freedom not to wear a seat belt, it is very often not even a conscious choice that is made. It is made from frustration or carelessness—something else completely. It is not a conscious saying, "I am not wearing my seat belt because I do not want to restrict my freedom". That is not what is said. It is just laziness; it is an unthought-about, unconscious act. Before I sit down, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that any remark I made about the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was not made personally, of course. He is a great friend. It was made in view of the speech that he made the last time we discussed this.
All I feel—and it is a very simple feeling—is that the value of human life is infinitely greater than the value of a freedom to make a choice. I may be quite wrong in this, but it is as simple as that to me. I value life enormously, and nothing else has any value, or has relatively little value, compared with the value of life. I would therefore hope that your Lordships will not squabble about this but will discuss it and come to the definite decision, as I hope will be the case this evening, to give a carefully thought-out, humane, logical and constructive answer to this amendment in the affirmative.
§ Lord Redesdale
Perhaps I may make positively one of the shortest speeches in your Lordships' Committee in support of this amendment. I believe it is of the greatest value. I am surprised, I have to confess, that some noble Lords, for whom I have the greatest respect, should introduce so much emotion to try to counter it. I am very saddened by that. All I would say is this. Nobody is particularly worried that in an MOT test they have to have workable windscreen wipers, workable windscreen washers and rear lights that work. All these things they might object to in terms of a restriction on freedom, but they accept that they are necessary. In fact, wearing seat belts would save many more lives than any of these other "add-ons" to one's motorcar. I believe your Lordships should look at this very carefully before being swayed by the emotion shown by some of those people who 348 feel that the liberty involved outweighs the lives that would be saved.
§ Baroness Hylton-Foster
Having listened to excellent speeches on both sides of this question, I am still not satisfied that I feel I am safe if I wear my seat belt. I should like to say why. It is a personal reason, like that of the noble Lord, Lord Parry. I was in an aircraft that crashed and I could not be got out because the buckle of my seat belt buckled. Had the plane burnt, I should have been burnt to a cinder and not be addressing your Lordships today. I should like to make two suggestions. One is that if we are to have seat belts—and many people wear them and I wear them myself sometimes, although they are not comfortable—I think they ought to be standardised and then we should not have to puzzle how to put the seat belt on, how to take it off, how to make it comfortable; for then it would be the same in any kind of car that one got into.
The second point I should like to make, is that, having been pinned, I think there should be some thought given to a quick release-system. By that, I do not mean simply that the passenger presses something and hopes that the belt is released. I am thinking of something for the rescuer who finds the passenger or the driver pinned underneath part of the car. The rescuer has to be able to get at the top of the safety belt reel and release it in some way. I leave it to others to explain the practicalities. I feel that there must be some way which would enable any rescuer to know at once what to do. It is very frightening to feel that you can be pinned. Some of my friends who wear seat belts carry a knife with them because they realise that the only way of getting out if they were pinned would be for somebody to cut the webbing.
§ 5.22 p.m.
I should like to refer to enforcement. It has been mentioned three times and I feel that the difficulty of enforcement has rather been swept aside. It is irrelevant to compare the enforcement over seat belts with a check when the car is stationary to see whether the windscreen wiper works or not.
This task will fall on the police and add to the daily work of every one of the 125,000 police constables in this country. The responsibility is theirs and nobody else's No one can say that they are not overworked already. We are adding to the labours of this body of men whose work is extremely important at this time. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, was courteous and told me that what he referred to as the police point of view was what he obtained from the three representative bodies of the police in this country. In our case, he said this was the majority view. But there is no real police point of view in this country because we do not have a national police force. The headquarters of these bodies may have expressed a view but we do not know how they arrived at it any more than in some of the TUC decisions where there is a block vote; if I may say so.
Naturally the police would like to reduce the time and effort demanded of them when there are major road accidents, particularly on the motorways; and the same will go for the ambulance and other services. But if we add to their work, as we are adding to it under 349 this proposed amendment, we are reducing the time they have for other duties. Because of the nature of the enforcement task that we are giving them it is going to be uncertain, and therefore unequal, and therefore unfair.
The Germans, who are a very thorough people, faced this problem some time ago. I have been in touch with them when I have been over there. Before they legislated in this field, any police officer stopping a vehicle (for whatever reason) and noticing that the driver was not wearing a seat belt gave him a postcard with a cartoon on it to remind him that he ought to develop the habit of wearing a seat belt, for it would not be long before the law required it. Now they have gone a stage further and have legislated, but there is no penalty. This seems to me a particularly unsatisfactory condition unless it is only for a given term.
While this amendment has been referred to as flexible, if the amendment is accepted and the Minister has to draft regulations there should be some experimental approach so that we can see how it will work in practice. Further, if this rule is to be accepted then the enforcement must be fair and equal. That is the problem which at present no noble Lord who has spoken has faced; and it seems to me that it is one which presents many difficulties.
§ Lord Gore-Booth
I speak, I hope at minimum length, from the position of somebody who has been converted from no seat belts to seat belt, and not through running into anybody or being run into. If you use an automobile for driving, in business or otherwise, around the world a certain amount you will find that you run into differences of practice at this time in the world's history. If you do not have an ability to put on a seat belt—that is, if you do not have one and it is not available—then you go suddenly from a country where you do not need to wear one to a country where you do need to wear one, and you are in a jam which you did not expect. I do not suppose many people are as foolish as that.
If you say that you want to be in the one which has the most utilitarian advantage, it seems to me that there is no competition between the two, because you will need the seat belt somewhere. You will need it when you cross frontiers; you will need it in positions of particular danger and difficulty and the non-seat belt is not going to provide you with that. Therefore, you take away from yourself something which gives you a complete viability round the world and (nobody has argued that this does not happen) some facility which, contrary to all your expectations and all your skills, is going to land you in difficulties, and then you are infinitely better off—and I should have thought this was quite clear from the beginning—if you are provided with a seat belt.
I do not see how you can arrive at any different condition. That is an opinion from somebody who has been converted from one point of view to the other. I most urgently appeal to those people who may still be in doubt that, on this very practical point, the vote must come down in favour of making yourself that much safer than you would otherwise be. It is as simple as that.
§ Baroness MacLeod of Borve
I am against the principle of this amendment and I have been against it since 1972 when the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, introduced it as an amendment to the Road Traffic Bill. He was defeated, I think, on that occasion, not by me but by your Lordships. First, I am against compulsion. All cars, but practically no lorries, are fitted with belts of varying designs. Some work, some do not. But in no case, as far as I can ascertain, can belts be released from the doorposts. It is absolutely essential that they should be to enable the occupant to be rescued following an accident. Some noble Lords this afternoon have thrown out the advice of Professor Adams of London University. Why do we not throw out his advice and take that of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory? I am afraid I am not able to know that. It is one of those matters where politicians can make statistics prove whatever they want them to prove.
Professor Adams, in his own survey, has surveyed Germany, Belgium, Holland and Denmark. All those countries have introduced legislation making belt-wearing compulsory. In all these countries the number of people who died in crashes rose. He has attributed that—and it is open for discussion—to a false sense of security and people taking risks because they were wearing seat belts. We know that that can be a fact.
Why should road users be compelled to do something of which they strongly disapprove? Secondly, it is a waste of police time. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said that so well. Under the terms of this clause or by regulations made by the Minister, many people will be exempted. It seems that under subsection (2)(b)(i) a long-distance lorry driver can take his laden vehicle to the destination unbelted but on returning empty he has to wear a belt. I spoke to a long-distance lorry driver yesterday. I shall not tell the Committee the words he used in his rather vocal vocabulary. But he said that the reason he does not want to wear a belt is that on impact he is frightened of being trapped. If he did not wear a seatbelt he could throw himself across the other seat and save himself from injury.
Under subsection (2)(b)(iii) if you cannot prove by a medical certificate that you are pregnant, a doctor may be persuaded that you suffer from claustrophobia or are obese and will give you a certificate. If a police officer sees you without a belt, he may have to travel some distance before he stops and questions you. You then say that you have an exemption certificate at home. He has to note all the particulars and you have to give the name of a police station at which to show the certificate within five days. A great deal of trouble and goodwill is lost by all parties.
My third reason is that it is not enforceable. Any law which the House of Lords passes that is not enforceable is in my humble view a bad law. We are told that in Australia and Canada, where the system has been introduced, road users on many occasions put on straps over their shoulders but do not fasten them. There are so many infringements that it is quite impossible to enforce the law in those countries. I suggest that the same would happen here. This amendment would be very unpopular, forcing road users to do something they can do anyway, if they believe it to be right by the fact of so many exemptions 351 which may well be a source of discord between the police and the public which none of us wants to see.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Shinwell
The noble Baroness has stated what might be regarded as the classical case against the amendment. She has stated that she is against compulsion. That is what the amendment is all about. I am also against compulsion. I have been against compulsion all my life, and see where it has got me! If I had been more disciplined I might have gone a long way. The same might be said of us all. Why oppose discipline and law and order? We hear about it every day from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor more than anybody else, and rightly so for we would expect it. We all believe in law and order and discipline. We all believe in obeying the law. What is more particular in this context, we all believe in accepting the Highway Code. But is that the compulsion? Does anyone object to the Highway Code? Does anyone object to the green lights, the red lights or no lights at all? Of course we resent it. Of course people resent being ordered about; that is only natural. But unless we are ordered about at some time and asked to do what is expected of us, what kind of society are we going to live in?
We either want a civilised society or one that is not. I regret to have to say—because I have tremendous affection for our country—that I sometimes think we are living in an uncivilised society. One has only to read the newspapers, listen to the broadcasting media, and all the rest of it, and use one's powers of observation to realise what society we are living in. I know that there are bright features. I mentioned one the other day when I happened to be involved in a programme, as it happens, on music when I said I wished they could bring the former Promenade Concerts back in order to demonstrate how bright our young people are if only they can get an opportunity. This is what we want.
I had to leave the Chamber at one stage on request, but I listened to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He showed knowledge, sincerity and integrity and it is almost blasphemy to oppose him. Nevertheless I do so. His case and the case of many others opposed to the amendment is entirely on the lines developed by the noble Baroness. I leave statistics out of it. One can prove anything by statistics. We all know about that. We use them from time to time and then we reject them. We get mixed up with our statistics as indeed the Government have got mixed up with statistics. One day they promise this and the next day they withdraw that. But I accept it and I do not complain about it. There was an election some time ago, and the Government got in. We have to accept it. There was a democratic election; the people of this country voted in favour of the present Government. Dislike it as I do, there it is. I have to accept it. Is that not compulsion? What can I do? If I can accept the Government of Mrs. Thatcher I can accept even seat belts!
Somebody said—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, who made a wonderful speech—that this was a philosophical argument. It is not and it is not an emotional one. It is just a commonsense one. What is commonsense about it? It is not a question of how many lives are going to be saved. How can you tell? 352 It is not a question of that at all. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, referred to enforcement of this amendment. The police will have to be occupied, but they have been occupied all the time because of the accidents that have occurred. They have been looking for people driving without licences and escorting people to be breathalysed. Surely they can, in the course of that operation, ask drivers why they are not wearing their seat belts, and do it in the most polite fashion as is expected of them.
I shall not waste time. There has been too much time wasted on this subject. There has been debate after debate. The time has come to reach a decision. I can understand the revulsion of feeling on the part of many colleagues on both sides of the Committee against the concept of being forced to do something that they do not want to do. I have to suffer it every day of my life. It becomes part of one's life; but one has now and again to realise that there are some things one has to accept.
If the House of Lords decides in its wisdom—and we have wisdom and we have common sense—that this amendment should pass, that is the end of that part of the story. We leave it to the Minister, as the noble Lord the Minister has said, and leave it to the Secretary of State to deal with any regulations that are required and any amendments that ought to be embodied in the legislation, and we do it in a commonsense fashion. Do not use it in too dictatorial or tyrannical a fashion but do it in the way we all expect, and that is in the sense of common sense.
§ Lord Hunt of Fawley
As a practising doctor, I have been interested in seat belts for a long time and I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for the kind words he said about me at the beginning of his speech. I have been away for five months with an illness which has prevented my attending your debates, but I have had every word of them read out to me and I have been asked to make a short speech on how what has been said already fits in with the amendment we have been discussing today. My illness has left me registered as a blind person.
There has been a worldwide campaign for the wearing of seat belts. One of my sons, who is in medical practice in Vancouver, has a notice on the back of his car: "Belt Up and Live". That is a simple way of saying in four words what some of us here today believe. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, said, feelings towards seat belts depend very much upon our own personal experience. In a family which has had one of its members burnt to death by fire in a car because he did not undo his seat belt, members of that family will be against seat belts for a long time. On the other hand, somebody driving along the fast lane of a motorway the other day put the brakes on suddenly, the car behind jammed into him, the passenger's door jerked open and his fiancée was thrown out and spreadeagled in the road, where a passing car decapitated her. That family will be in favour of seat belts always. I believe there are clubs for those who believe that their lives have been saved by wearing seat belts and clubs for those who believe that their lives have been saved by not wearing them. But it is significant that it has been suggested that if this amendment becomes law the Secretary of State might 353 be prepared to compensate anyone who has an accident or who dies as a result of wearing a seat belt. That is in one amendment, but I do not know whether it will be passed.
The main objective of this amendment is to save life and to reduce suffering, but certain secondary objectives will tend to be helpful. It would let motorists know exactly where they stand under the law and also it would assist policemen, magistrates, judges, juries and insurance companies to assess, when a man has had an accident, how much compensation he is to get, depending on whether or not he had obeyed the law and worn a seat belt.
Criticisms have been mentioned, of course. The first is impairment of personal liberty. That is a very important one, but there is no quicker or more permanent way of impairing personal liberty than having a fatal motor smash. We already have all sorts of rules such as driving on the left and obeying traffic lights, speeding restrictions and so on; and we should quite easily become accustomed to a new law if it saves lives.
As regards enforcement, that is important. Absolute enforcement will be quite impossible, as it is in respect of nearly every Act. Partial enforcement will be difficult. There will be conscientious objectors: the family whose friend was burnt in the car may not want to wear seat belts and, as has been said, the police will be overburdened with work and there may not be enough money. Exceptions have been mentioned and are mentioned in the amendment—sensible ones which I shall not quote again—and there is room for more. The important thing is to have a reasonable interpretation of every single case when this law is broken. Of course, it may not be broken: most citizens are fairly reasonable people and I am one of those who believe very strongly that a law will increase the number of people who wear seat belts and that most people will obey it.
There will need to be wise and reasonable interpretation. For instance, a doctor who is visiting some patients in a cul-de-sac in a village—perhaps a long road with no exit and along which there is little traffic—may have to visit four patients in that road and will be unlikely to want to put on and take off his seat belt between every house he visits. For a policeman to come up to him and charge him with a criminal act and summarily fine him £50 would be rather a nonsense and would do the law no good.
Human lives are precious and human suffering can be terrible. Those of your Lordships who have suddenly lost dear ones will appreciate that. The figures may not be complete, but all the evidence from all over the world suggests that the wearing of seat belts helps in reducing fatal injuries and in reducing all that the hospitals have to do in connection with road accidents.
Your Lordships have in your hands this afternoon the power to stop a very great number of deaths and to prevent a great deal of suffering. The noble Lord, Lord Porritt, has said on another occasion that this proposition is a humane one; it is overdue and it is life-saving. I do agree with him entirely, and so does practically the whole of our medical profession. I beg your Lordships to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in his amendment to the Trans 354 port Bill on the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
§ Lord Denham
I wonder whether I may just intervene for a very, very short time. I do not want to stop any of your Lordships from speaking or to attempt to curtail debate on what your Lordships wish to say. I know that the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Howe have been trying to get up for a very long time. But I wonder whether your Lordships on the whole might not feel that after those two speakers have spoken almost everything that could be said has been said on this, and perhaps your Lordships may feel that when those two speakers have spoken it may be time to come to a decision on this very important matter.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
May I just say that I also have been trying to get up for quite a time and so I hope that I may be added to the list.
It will come as no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, to hear that I am totally opposed to his amendment. First, as I have said before, I deplore compulsion in regard to the wearing of seat belts because of the dangerous precedent it would set on interference with the freedom of the individual to assess the risk to himself and to decide whether or not to take it. Once you start this kind of thing there is no logical end to it and you are on a very slippery slope indeed.
Secondly, upon several occasions in the past, capital punishment has been debated and rejected in this Chamber and one of the grounds on which it has been rejected is the danger of executing an innocent person. If wearing of seat belts becomes compulsory, a number of innocent persons will be executed inadvertently by Government action. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and others who have said that it will be difficult and expensive to enforce this legislation and will take up too much police time. I shall not say any more about that.
But before any compulsion is introduced, it is essential not only that the release mechanism of seat belts be standardised, but that their design, in general, should be improved so that the same belt can be adjusted in order to be comfortable and safe for a variety of sizes and shapes of person. You do not always have the same person driving a car or being a passenger in that car. It is not much use to have a belt which is satisfactory only for one wearer, when it may be unwearable, uncomfortable or even dangerous for another. I rate comfort as very important for a driver. An uncomfortable driver can be a careless or even a dangerous driver.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a letter which appeared in The Times on 2nd January last from Miss Gertrude Thomas, who pointed out the difficulties that some very short women experience in wearing the seat belts which are normally fitted to cars. I shall not read out the letter, in order to save time, but it was in The Times of 2nd January this year. That is just one instance of the poor design of seat 355 belts at present. It will take time and research to overcome this problem and, then further time to manufacture better belts and to get them fitted to all cars. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has evidently been very fortunate with his seat belts, but I have had a different experience and a great deal of discomfort from a seat belt which I had to get changed.
To turn to one small detail, subsection (2)(d) of this amendment sounds like an instance of one law for the rich and another for the poor. I am sure it is not intended to be, but some clarification would be welcome. Finally, if this clause is accepted I hope that any regulations made will be by affirmative instrument, so that they can be debated before coming into force. But I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Earl Howe
At last! It is not often that I am last in a traffic queue. But my noble friend Lord Nugent has been directing the traffic so very well, and I am very grateful to him and to your Lordships for enabling me to say a few words this afternoon. Thinking that I might not be able to speak, I have been talking to the motoring correspondent of The Times. I did not ask to speak to The Times; they asked to speak to me and I was able to express some of my views to them.
I should just like to say that I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Parry, and I sympathise with him. I should like to say how very sorry I am to hear that his injuries have got worse. But I should like to suggest—not knowing what caused the accident when he was going down the hill, which makes it difficult for me to comment—that it would be wise of him to be careful about whom he drives with.
I shall be brief and blunt in this debate; I am made that way and I cannot help it. We have debated this subject on, I think, four occasions and on three of them we have had a majority against compulsion. That surely must mean something and should not be ignored. The futility of enforcing compulsion must be realised by everyone. I motor a great deal in South Africa and have done so in, I think, six different machines. There they have a compulsory system for wearing seat belts, but they do not wear them. They pay very little attention. I have never yet seen a South African wearing his seat belt; I have never seen a policeman stop a South African on that account, and I think everybody would be much happier if they had the voluntary system that they had before. I understand that in Canada there is total chaos and they do not know what to do about the wearing of seat belts. Some will wear seat belts and some will not.
So it is stupid to think that we could enforce this law. We could not. The only way of enforcing it would be for a policeman in plain clothes to look in cars at every traffic light and see whether the person is wearing a seat belt. If your Lordships think that legislation is any good if it cannot be properly pursued and enforced, then I am surprised. I do not think so. I fought the speed limit on motorways, and I still do, and I believe that anything which is not popular with a large proportion of the motoring population is wrong.
356 I am quite sure that there will be a rush for doctors' certificates for exemption if this amendment goes through, and I hope that it does not. I know that I am sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is a very eminent doctor, but there will be such illnesses and diseases caused by wearing seat belts that cannot expect to get a doctor's certificate. There are certain things which I will not mention, but we all know what they are, which will prevent certain people from wearing seat belts and they will proably not get a doctor's certificate. The whole subject needs far more research and education through peaceful persuasion.
The RAC, of which I am vice-chairman, is opposed to compulsion. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the RAC. I do not expect that he is a member. The other noble Lord who referred to the AA is certainly a member of that organisation but not of the RAC. They expressed their opinions. But the RAC feels that the voluntary system is much better until far more research has been conducted, and until there has been more education of the motorist. That is as far as we will go. We do not dislike what Professor Adams said. What he said may well be very true.
I drive a great deal. My father was a racing driver and I did a little racing myself. Both of us knew a great deal about driving. My father had a very serious accident at Brooklands, right in front of me, and was flung from his ERA on to his head. He was badly injured, but he lived. They did not wear seat belts in those days. When my wife went under a petrol tanker, she was not wearing a belt. She flung herself to one side, the steering wheel was pushed back to where she had been sitting, but she survived.
The noble Lord, Lord Porritt, whom I greatly respect, spoke very well tonight, as he did when we last debated this subject. He told some bloodthirsty stories then, and I told him that I could quote equally bloodthirsty stories about those who wear seat belts. Shortly after the last debate I was asked, to my surprise, whether I would speak on "The Week in Westminster". I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, would be the first choice, but I was and I said what I wanted to say about the subject.
Some of the points I have made may have been slightly irrelevant, but speaking last gives one an opportunity to say quite a bit. I feel that there should be a three-point fixing system on the door pillar of each car. Motorists come in all sizes—tall, fat and thin—and you sometimes get a little man at the wheel of a car. The seat belt can then slip and cut his neck. If you have a three-point fixing system—I hope that the Minister will pay attention to this—it will help enormously and will cope with all sizes of driver. Such measures should be considered before we blast full tilt into this compulsory measure. There are a whole lot of reasons which I shall not mention, but I hope very much that there will be consultation with the RAC. I do not know what one thinks about motor coaches. Will you have to be strapped into a motor coach? Will passengers on trains also have to be strapped in? All this follows in a logical manner from what we are talking about.
No matter what we do, anything that moves at speed will prove to be a risk, depending on the way in which the vehicle is driven and on the skill and experience 357 of the driver. I have spoken to numerous motorists, including surgeons, who do not wear seat belts unless they want to do so. One said to me the other day, "I will wear a seat belt if I want to, but nobody will force me." People say that if a seat belt is in a car, they will wear it if they so wish. That is the real answer to compulsion. Wear a seat belt if it is in the car, and if you so wish. If you do not wish to wear it, then do not. As I said, the whole subject needs far more research.
My noble friend Lord Nugent, far from being a bulldozer himself, is a charming, gentle, quiet fellow. I know him very well indeed. He is president of RoSPA; he is my vice-president and I am vice-chairman of the RAC. But I feel that he has been bulldozed by RoSPA, by the press and by other media into moving this amendment. He will not agree, but that is what I say. This is not the right way to get your own way. We are all entitled to our strongly held opinions and experience. The more I see force exerted in this respect, the more I want to oppose it. In this beautiful country of ours, surely there must be something still left to the motorists' choice. I shall certainly oppose this amendment, which is expected of me as vice-chairman of the RAC. It would mean further legislation for the motorist, who is already harassed by so many rules and regulations, not all of them very sensible.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I think the feeling of the Committee is that we have spoken for long enough. I hope noble Lords on the other side will accept that we have had a very good debate; it has been going for 2½ hours. I do not propose to reply to any of the points which have been made. Every aspect has been covered and I am sure that the Committee is now ready to vote.
§ 6 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 79) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 132: Not-Contents, 92.359
|Aberdare, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Collison, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Colville of Culross, V.|
|Ardwick, L.||Craigavon, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Darling of Hillsborough, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||David, B.|
|Banks, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Denbigh, E.|
|Beloff, L.||Denham, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Denington, B.|
|Bessborough, E.||Dowding, L.|
|Birk, B.||Dundee, E.|
|Bishopston, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Boston, L.||Elibank, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Elton, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Ferrier, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Fortescue, E.|
|Byers, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Chelmsford, Bp.||Galpern, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Gardiner, L.|
|Garner, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Gore-Booth, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Reay, L.|
|Hall, V.||Redesdale, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Rhodes, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Richardson, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Roberthall, L.|
|Hunt of Fawley, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Romney, E.|
|Jacques, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Janner, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Sandford, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Seear, B.|
|Kearton, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Segal, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Sherfield, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Shinwell, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Sidmouth, V.|
|Longford, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Somers, L.|
|Lovell-Davis, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Stedman, B.|
|McCarthy, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|McGregor of Durris, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Mais, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Mar, C.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Underhill, L. [Teller.]|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Noel-Baker, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L. [Teller.]||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Wigoder, L.|
|Oram, L.||Willis, L.|
|Pargiter, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Parry, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Perry of Walton, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hale, L.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Harris of High Cross, L.|
|Avon, E.||Hartwell, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Hooson, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Howe, E.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Hunt, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Brownlow, L.||Jessel, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Knutsford, V.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Long, V.|
|Cross, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.]|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Luke, L.|
|Davidson, V.||McFadzean, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|de Clifford, L.||MacLeod of Fuinary, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Mansfield, E.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Marley, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Ferrers, E.||Merrivale, L.|
|Fisher, L.||Monson, L. [Teller.]|
|Freyberg, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Gainford, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Norfolk, D.|
|Grantchester, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Greenway, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Grey, E.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Peart, L.||Stone, L.|
|Penrhyn, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Rawlinson of Ewell, L.||Teviot L.|
|Rugby, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Tryon, L.|
|Saint Oswald, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Saltoun, Ly.||Vivian, L.|
|Shannon, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Sharples, B.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Simon, V.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Spens, L.||Yarborough, E.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)
I understand that Amendments Nos. 79A to 81 have not been moved. I therefore call Amendment No. 82, standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve.
§ 6.9 p.m.
Baroness Macleod of Borve moved Amendment No. 82:
After Clause 26, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Use of lights on motor-cycles
. The following section is inserted after section 16 of the 1972 Act—
16A. It shall not be lawful for the driver of any two-wheeled motor-cycle of whatever engine capacity to ride the vehicle on the public highway unless the front headlamp and rear tail light are illuminated at all times; and if a driver rides a motorcycle in contravention of this section, he shall be guilty of an offence.".").
§ The noble Baroness said: I move this amendment in the absence of my noble friend Lord Kimberley. In the 12 months ending last September, serious injuries to motor-cyclists had risen from 19,810 in the previous year to 21,600. Deaths rose from 1,167 to 1,200 in the same period.
§ As most of the accidents occur during the first two years of riding and as most of the motor cyclists are young people, it seems that something must be done at once to try to reduce these figures. As a keen motorist, I am very aware that motor-cyclists are far too often quite invisible, whether overtaking or oncoming. They usually drive fast, sometimes weaving in and out of dense traffic. This is not unlawful. As it is probable that they do not drive a car, they have no idea of the hazards that they create for themselves and for motorists.
§ I am aware that the ministry and connected organisations have tried to persuade motor-cyclists to wear light coloured clothing in an effort to make them visible on the road, but I do not believe that this would ever reduce the accident rate. Conspicuous clothing can mean anything from a coloured armband to a waistcoat, and is not enforceable. A light at the front and rear of a motor-cycle, whether dipped or fully on and on cycles of whatever cc capacity would, I am sure, lead to a reduction in the number of accidents.
§ Last weekend I travelled more than 300 miles on the motorways of this country and I took specific note of the motor-cycles that I saw on the road during that time. I saw a great number of motor-cycles, and was delighted to observe that all but three of the motorcyclists had switched on their headlamps. It means 360 that the use of lights is catching on, and if made a law it would also be enforceable. There may be a problem for the users of 125 cc motor-cycles but this can be easily overcome. No motorist wants to have an accident involving a motor-cycle because the motorcyclist is so unprotected, but until we make a law ensuring that motor-cyclists are seen accident figures will continue to rise. I beg to move.
Lord de Clifford
I entirely agree with this amendment. I think it is highly desirable that motor-cyclists should use their headlamps. I am not very much in favour of motor-cyclists because in traffic they do some extraordinary things which so far as I can see are masterpieces of knitting. The question I should like to put to the noble Baroness is this. What happens in respect of mopeds? Not all mopeds have a method of producing light when they are stationary. It would be practically impossible for this provision to be applied to all mopeds; for example, when they stop at traffic lights. Their lights would go out, and they would just have to treat their mopeds as if they were bicycles and push them. This matter should be looked at again with regard to mopeds, but apart from that I am entirely in favour of the proposal.
§ Viscount Cross
I also should like to support the amendment put by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, as I believe that it would make a very great contribution to road safety. I have just one qualification and that concerns the brightness of the lighting. I personally find that a very bright motor-cycle headlamp, whether on dipped beam or full beam, can be distracting when the motorbike is travelling towards one; so bright that one cannot see other traffic or a pedestrian crossing the road. If the headlamp is reflected in one's rear view mirror, again it is distracting. If the light was no more powerful than the sidelights which are illuminated on a Volvo when it is in motion, then I think it would be quite sufficient. One could see the motorbike coming and this would be of very good assistance.
The Earl of Denbigh and Desmond
May I, as one of the motor-cycling Members of your Lordships' House just say that there has been much controversy among the motor-cycling fraternity as to whether the compulsory use of headlights and tail-lights should be implemented or not. In certain areas I personally have used headlights, but I am in possession of a motorbike that is fitted with an electric starter, which has no means of manual starting. If one uses such a bike about town, a lot of stopping and starting together with the use of the headlight means that eventually the battery goes flat. Unless the law is changed with regard to the number of ampere hours charged in motor-cycle batteries one is going to find a lot of people pushing very heavy machines around town.
Also brought into debate is the question of whether it is the duty of the motor-cyclist to make himself seen? People emerging in their vehicles from intersections are one of the biggest causes of accidents involving motorcyclists and one is led to ask: Is it the duty of the motor-cyclist or of the other road user to make sure that the road is clear? I am of the opinion that the 361 present law is clear and that it is the duty of the other road user and not of the motor-cyclist. It is not the duty of the motor-cyclist to ride around looking like a Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, making himself obvious to every policeman who wants to try to "do" him for travelling faster than 30 mph.
The law should make it the duty of people to make sure that they behave safely and not put all the duty on the motor-cyclist to announce his presence in any shape or form. On the other hand, a motor-cyclist should ride in a manner in which he can take avoiding action or slow down if someone emerges from an intersection—but that is all in the Highway Code, for one reason or another. An Act making it compulsory to use headlamps on a motor-cycle would create enormous difficulties for the motor-cycle industry, some of whose motorbikes are not necessarily required to be fitted with headlamps—such as cross country bikes which are occasionally used on the road and vintage motorcycles in particular.
§ Lord Bellwin
There is no doubt that motor-cycle conspicuity, or the lack of it, is a problem. I therefore welcome my noble friends' initiative in putting down an amendment which gives us an opportunity to discuss this important subject. Research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory suggested that some 78 per cent. of accidents involving motor-cycles also involved another road user, though it was unable to impart blame; 68 per cent. of those accidents occurred at junctions, roundabouts or private entrances. More than half of the other road users involved told the police afterwards that they had not seen the motor-cyclist, and this proportion remained the same when the other road user was also a motor-cyclist.
Further research has shown that, when other people's awareness of motor-cycles is improved, for example by the Department of Transport's "Think, Bike" publicity campaign, the number of multi-vehicle accidents involving motor-cycles at junctions falls significantly. But I do not believe motor-cyclists should rely solely on this sort of exhortatory measure for their own protection. They can and should do something on their own account to make themselves more conspicuous.
The question then arises: How can motor-cyclists best make themselves more conspicuous? Work in the United States has shown a reduction in the number of multi-vehicle accidents involving motor-cyclists at junctions in those states where the use of headlamps by motor-cyclists during the day is required. But work by the TRRL into the relative merits of different conspicuity aids has demonstrated that a pair of special daytime running lamps is significantly more effective even than a single powerful headlamp, and that the headlamp on a small motor-cycle or moped is of no value at all as a conspicuity aid.
The Government have, therefore, stated that they will shortly consult interested parties on draft regulations which will require all new machines to be fitted with a pair of these running lamps. I should just explain that these are neither sidelamps nor headlamps in the accepted sense, but somewhere between the two in terms of size. They will be mounted on the front in a pattern similar to that adopted for direction indi 362 cators, and emit a white diffused light. The Secretary of State does not intend to require motor-cyclists to use them, since it is clear that many would object very strongly to any form of compulsion in this matter. But the lamps would normally be wired to come on with the machine's ignition and it is hoped that most motor-cyclists will avail themselves of this very effective aid. The Secretary of State has in mind an operative date of 1st April 1983 which will allow manufacturers adequate time to improve the generating capacity of the smaller machines. It is not proposed to require the fitting or use of any additional light at the rear since there is no evidence to suggest that the daytime conspicuity of motor-cyclists from behind is a problem.
My main comment, therefore, is that the Government are tackling the problem but in a slightly different way which research has shown to achieve more effective results. What we are proposing to do does not require main legislation, which is why the proposal is not in the Bill. I should add that there are a number of other subsidiary reasons why we would be unhappy to accept the amendment. The most important of these is that it would effectively ban many of the smaller sizes of motor-cycle, as was mentioned by my noble friend a few moments ago, and, in addition, there would certainly be no great technical difficulty in developing machines with increased generating capacity—but what about those already on the road? They cannot be adapted and would be unable to comply. The amendment duplicates existing legislation, in as much as the use of headlamps and tail lights by motorcycles in conditions of poor daytime visibility and at night is already compulsory. It is also defective in not applying any penalty to the new offence inserted in the 1973 Act: this would require an amendment to Schedule 4. It also refers only to public highways, although the lighting requirements of the 1972 Act apply on any road to which the public has access, whether or not a highway.
These, however, are details. On the principle of the need to improve motor-cyclists' conspicuity we are entirely at one with my noble friend Lady Macleod. In the light of the assurances that I have given that we are tackling the problem in the way that I have described, which I hope she will feel is a very meaningful way—perhaps, if I may say so, even more than she had dared to hope—I hope she will feel able to withdraw the amendment. Certainly I have indicated that we are not only alert to the problem but that we are moving ahead to do something about it.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
May I ask the noble Lord the Minister a question before he sits down? I am not quite sure that I have understood everything that he has just said, but I would ask him whether, before Report stage, he will consider the proposal to make it obligatory on motor-cyclists to have a rear light. I believe rear lights are of the very greatest significance. Many years ago, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport I had to pass through the House of Commons a Bill making rear lights compulsory for pedal cyclists. I was most vigorously opposed by the National Cyclists' Union, who assured me that they would end my political career if I persisted in what I proposed. I persisted, the Bill was passed, the lights were made compulsory, my political 363 career did not end but I believe a great many pedal cyclists' lives were saved.
§ Lord Underhill
I was inclined to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, but having heard some of the criticisms made by experienced motor-cyclists I think it might be advisable for the Minister to be prepared to look at this again to see whether or not some adjustment could be made and perhaps he could table an amendment. When the Minister said they would look at this for new machines I was a little heartened, but then I was disheartened when he said there would be no compulsion. I do not want it to be thought that I am a member of the compulsion lobby; but for the Minister and his advisers to look at this matter, and then to say that we shall have these two lights on the machine but there will be no compulsion to use them, seems to be rather a nonsense.
My noble friend Lord Noel-Baker referred to the rear lights on pedal cycles. I was one of those who foolishly opposed rear lights. I mentioned this in a previous debate. That was in the 1930s and I took part in a demonstration of thousands of cyclists and we tried to develop a logical argument against the use of rear lights on cycles. When I look back I realise that it was madness and now I believe that people who oppose this will be mad as well—if I may use that word in this noble House. I should like the Minister to say that arguments have been put up, but that they will have a closer look at this matter, with both the motor-cycling and the manufacturing interests, but not merely with a view to having these extra lights on new machines while having no compulsion about it.
§ Viscount Simon
Before the noble Lord replies to that, I should like to add one other point. It seems to me that, in the further consultations which the noble Lord is going to have with the interests concerned, it is important to bear in mind, particularly if he is following the voluntary path, that one reaches a stage where a large number of motor-cyclists have these facilities and use them and the more there are the more dangerous are the few who do not. That is a point which should be borne in mind in these consultations.
§ Lord Bellwin
Perhaps I may cover the points before my noble friend Lady Macleod replies. First, may say to the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, that I understand that regulations will be introduced to make rear brake lights compulsory on all machines. We have recently consulted on the draft regulations and that is in hand, so I hope he will be pleased about that. With regard to the element of compulsion, perhaps I may state clearly what is intended. New machines will in fact compulsorily be fitted with the new kind of lamps I have mentioned and they will be wired into the ignition. It will be possible, if someone wants to go to the physical trouble that is involved, to disconnect them. At the present time the intention is that that is something they should be able to do. As I say that, I must admit that I cannot quite follow why that is the intention and I should want to take it away and discuss it further because as I stand here I could not give an explanation for the reason for that. I shall want to 364 look at that point again, which I hope will make my noble friend happier than she seemed to be after the earlier reply which I gave.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
I am most grateful to my noble friend for all that he has said and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and to the noble Lord opposite. It was my uncle, a former Lord Hampton, who introduced into this House the compulsory wearing of helmets for motor-cyclists many years ago. He felt that by that he had saved the lives of many young people who were riding motor-cycles. One hundred and fifty thousand new motor-cyclists are coming on to the road every year. Those motor-cyclists are young people and the only reason why I introduced this amendment was to try to save some of their lives.
My noble friend has told us that in future the new motor-cycles will have lights on them. So long as they are seen by the motorists, that is the main point, because we cannot see the motor-cyclist coming up behind us. In view of what my noble friend has said, and also in view of the fact that he has said he will consult with the Minister and come back to us again, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 27 [Children to wear seat belts]:
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone had given notice to move Amendment No. 83:
Page 21, line 5, at end insert—
(3) This section will come into force on such 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: In view of the amendment to be moved by my noble friend the Minister, No. 83A, which I think covers my amendment, I do not propose to move it.
§ [Amendment No. 83 not moved.]
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 83A:
Leave out Clause 27 and insert the following new clause:
§ ("Restrictions on carrying children in the front of motor vehicles
27.—(1) After section 33 of the 1972 Act there is inserted the following section—
33A.—(1) Except as provided by regulations a person shall not, without reasonable excuse, drive a motor vehicle on a road when there is in the front of the vehicle—
§ (2) It is an offence for a person to drive a motor vehicle in contravention of subsection (1) above.
§ (3) Provision may be made by regulations—
- (a) excepting from the prohibition in subsection (1 above the driving of vehicles of a prescribed class or the driving of vehicles in such circumstances as) may be prescribed;
- (b) defining in relation to any class of vehicle what part of the vehicle is to be regarded as the front of the vehicle for the purposes of that subsection;
- (c) prescribing for the purposes of that subsection the descriptions of seat belt to be worn by children and the manner in which such a belt is to be fixed and used.
(4) In this section—
regulations" means regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section; and
seat belt" includes any special chair to which the belt is attached.".
§ (2) In Part I of Schedule 4 to the 1972 Act (prosecution and punishment of offences) after the entry relating to section 33 there is inserted—
|"33A.||Driving motor vehicle with child in the front not wearing seat belt or under the age of one year.||Summarily.||£50||—||—||Sections 181 and 183 apply".")|
§ The noble Lord said: The addition of this clause to the Bill was welcomed by the Government as a significant step forward to reduce the risks for children travelling in cars. However, as I mentioned during the Second Reading debate, there are a number of defects in the wording of the existing drafting, which is why the Government have tabled this new clause.
§ Of course, no two draftsmen will produce the same clause describing the same provisions, but essentially the Government's new clause makes only two changes. We feel it would be more appropriate for the clause to apply to children below 14, rather than 13, as this is the age they become legally responsible for their own actions. We have also ensured that there are adequate regulation-making powers, so that various types of restraint can be used, and that problems like two-seater cars or cars which are not required to fit seat belts are adequately covered.
§ This brings me on to the matter which I know some noble Lords and Members in another place were concerned about. During Second Reading we discussed the findings of research done by the British Standards Institution for the Sunday Times. I explained that the Secretary of State would study this work and report back on his findings. He has now done so, and I think I can do no better in trying to be helpful to the Committee than repeat that statement.
In response to a Parliamentary Question from fain Mills, MP, on Friday, 5th June, the Secretary of State replied:—
I am grateful to the Sunday Times for making the results of their tests available to me, and for the concern they have shown to add to the factual evidence available to us on the very important issue of children's safety in cars. Having examined the test results very carefully, I have concluded that they do not in any way invalidate the advice of the Child Accident Prevention Committee that even small children are better protected in accidents if they are restrained, even by belts which are not specially designed for them. But the tests do underline the better protection afforded by properly designed child restraints.
The tests carried out for the Sunday Times used two childsize dummies, one representing a three year-old child, the other a ten year-old. In films of some of the tests, the dummies were shown to be thrown against or to slip under the adult seat belt in ways which would apparently have caused chest, stomach or neck injuries to a real child. If such results were repeated in real life, parents would naturally have serious reservations about using adult belts for children of this age.
There are two reasons why such results may not be representative of real accidents. First, the dummies used in the tests were designed not to be entirely representative of the average child, but to exaggerate the roundness of the pelvis, which makes a
child most likely to slip under a belt. This is done to ensure that specially designed child restraints are as proof against this tendency to slip as manufacturers can make them. In fact in tests of adult seat belts using adult dummies it is not uncommon for the dummy to slip under the seat belt, and yet that seldom happens in real accidents. Similarly, the apparent neck injuries to the dummies would be significant—in the absence of accident data—only if the dummies had been specially designed to model the performance and physical structure of a real child's neck at the relevant age, which they were not.
Second, the accident evidence which relates to children under eleven wearing adult seat belts although admittedly limited does not support the suggestion that risk of injury from the belt itself outweighs any protection it may offer. In a Swedish study which looked specifically at this problem of a total number of 252 small stature adults none of those wearing seat belts suffered more than very minor injuries such as a friction burn on the neck from the webbing. Out of 76 children over 6 wearing adult seat belts in the front passenger seat only 13 per cent., were injured. And the rate of injury was the same for children between 6 and 11 as for those over 11. Australian work supports the view that a correctly adjusted three-point belt seems to offer good protection even to very young children.
This was the accident evidence which convinced the Child Accident Prevention Committee that a child was less at risk when restrained by any approved form of restraint, including an adult seat belt, than when travelling unrestrained. I see no reason to dissent from that conclusion. However, it is clear from both the accident evidence and the Sunday Times tests that the better a restraint is adapted to the size of the child, the better the protection offered.
My conclusion is that an adult seat belt gives a significant measure of protection to young children and that it would not be right to ban them from the front seats of cars so long as they are at least so protected. This is especially so as in many cars there is no form of restraint at all in the back.
The ideal is, of course, the use of a restraint appropriate to the characteristics of each particular child; that cannot be achieved by legislation, but I shall be issuing guidance to parents on the types of restraint which appear to offer the best protection to children of various ages and sizes".
§ I have gone to some length to quote that statement in detail because it is a matter of concern, and I think it proper that I should explain, as did my right honourable friend, exactly why he has taken the stance that he has. I hope this does indicate, and your Lordships will be reassured, that the Government are satisfied that these proposals will ensure that the risks to children travelling in cars are reduced. I hope your Lordships will accept the proposed amendment. I beg to move.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees
There is an amendment to this amendment, No. 83B, which we will now take before we return to the main amendment.
§ 6.38 p.m.
Lady Saltoun moved Amendment No. 83B as an amendment to Amendment 83A:
Line 10, at end insert )"; unless that child is either—
§ The noble Lady said: I have put down this amendment because I, as a mother, have had some experience of driving babies in a motor car when I was alone with them. I know that when the baby is in the back I am unable to concentrate fully on driving because I am worried as to whether the baby, which I cannot see unless I turn round, is all right. If I can have the creature in the front beside me I can glance at it frequently, without taking my eyes off the road for longer than it 367 takes to glance at my driving mirror or speedometer, so my mind is at rest and my mind is, therefore, on the road.
§ In addition to this, research done in America and reported on by the Child Accident Prevention Committee has revealed that the second safest place for children, after restrained in the back, is restrained in the front. Unrestrained in the back, which this clause would appear to advocate, comes third on the list. Therefore, I suggest on two counts this amendment would contribute to the safety of babies in cars. I beg to move.
§ Lord Underhill
I have great sympathy with the amendment just moved. I also have great sympathy with the amendment that would have been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. Before the Minister replies, there are one or two points I should like to make on the new clause which the Minister moved, which I think is a great improvement on the original clause, and I fully support the principle behind the new clause 27.
The three points mentioned in subsection (3), which are going to be dealt with by regulations, I feel sure will give full opportunity—and I hope the department will take it—for the fullest consultation with all bodies concerned, the motoring organisations, the accident prevention bodies, and, as I said on the main seat belt proposal, also the manufacturers of equipment. At second Reading I urged that before the Secretary of State introduces an order under this clause there should be meaningful consultations with manufacturers regarding the supply of suitable restraints for children of various stages, including when riding in back seats. I mention that because I believe it is essential that we should give consideration to that matter.
The question of suitable restraints for children when riding in rear seats is very important. There is a great deal of pressure for saying that children should be debarred from riding in front seats at all. A number of continental countries have that provision. For the very reasons which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has mentioned, I believe that that could be a dangerous course to follow. All children do not behave themselves well when left on their own on the back seat. Those of us who are parents know that that is the case. Children unattended on a back seat and not wearing any restraint could be a very serious distraction to a driver, particularly when the driver is the only adult in the car.
Therefore, I hope that it will be kept in mind that, should there be any person who prefers not to have a child on the front seat properly belted—as would be required by the new clause—to have children in the back seat unattended and unrestrained could be as equally bad a danger as having them in the front seat. Therefore, I believe that there should be adequate child restraints for all ages, properly approved, suitable both for front and rear seats and, what is even more important, manufactured and sold at a price which will encourage people to use them. not only as they will have to do compulsorily on the front seat, but voluntarily on the rear seat, if they wish to have children there.
§ Lord Mottistone
I think that this is the moment for 368 me to make a few remarks. I am very much in favour of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun's amendment. I think that it is an admirably sensible addition. Taking up the point which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has just made, I can tell your Lordships that, interestingly enough, last Friday I found myself in traffic in London behind a car with three children in it aged between seven and 10 years in a line on the back seat, and with a lady driver in front without anybody alongside her. For about 10 minutes or so, it was fine. She was driving along and paying a great deal of attention. Then one of the children must have said something, because from that moment on she became a positive danger. She was always looking over her shoulder to one child or the other. She did not start when the traffic started and I became so fascinated that I nearly ran into her, and that would have been a disaster.
It is very important that we get the balance right. If that lady had had a child beside her strapped in, it is just possible that she could have chosen the child that she could have slapped, and have stopped whatever was going on. I mention that, because as I understand it, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is seeking to put a child in the front if it is suitably strapped in and I would entirely agree with that.
The other point that I should like to cover—and it is quicker to do it this way—is that I welcome very much the Minister's amendment and particularly Section 33A(3)(c). However, I noted in his speech—and I am talking on this matter now while the matter is fresh in my mind—that when he read out the statement of his right honourable friend in another place, he concentrated on the safety of the children and never once in his statement did he talk about the comfort of the children. We all know that even adults when travelling long distances, particularly if the seat belt fittings do not quite suit them, can find it very uncomfortable. I suggest that it would be quite intolerable on long journeys for children between the ages of one and 13—which is the age range that we are talking about—to have to stay strapped in unless they have a seat belt that really suits them and which is very comfortable. Therefore, perhaps I could suggest to my noble friend the Minister that he incorporates within the safety aspect, which is the overriding need, the requirement for comfort in the design of alternative fittings.
I should like to draw to my noble friend's attention —I shall not read it out, although I might have done so if the Minister had not adopted my amendment—a most interesting letter in The Times of 28th May, from a Mr. Harry Simmonds, who makes the point which my amendment sought to do, and which the Minister's new equivalent paragraph does in providing regulations to control the type of fittings. It is well worth reading that letter. Interestingly, I do not know Mr. Fowler, and the letter was written after I had put down my amendment, so it shows that there are some great minds that think alike.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
I should like to ask two questions. Now that we have passed Amendment No. 79, am I right in thinking that it will still be necessary for children in the back seat to wear straps; in other 369 words, this is in addition to the amendment that we are now discussing?
Secondly, I should like to draw attention to the words:Except as provided by regulations a person shall not, without reasonable excuse, drive a motor vehicle on a road when there is in the front of the vehicle…Those words are not in Amendment No. 79, the amendment that we have passed. I ask my noble friend and also my noble friend Lord Nugent, whether it would not be much better to include those words in subsection (3) of the main amendment that we have passed, which says:Any person who drives or rides in a motor vehicle in contravention of regulations under this section"—and then insert:without reasonable excuse shall be guilty of an offence".I am sure that that would make the amendment very much more acceptable.
§ Lord Auckland
I do not wish to revert back to Amendment No. 79, because that was very widely discussed. However, as an honorary vice-president of RoSPA, I strongly support the amendment which my noble friend has made to the Bill. I should like to ask my noble friend—and this really relates to my noble friend Lord Mottistone's amendment—how quickly will we get a design of seat belt, particularly for children, which comes within the proper Government regulations? Will the Road Research Laboratory, or whatever organisation it is which deals with this matter, consult with the seat belt manufacturers? It is very important, having passed Amendment No. 79, that we get as soon as possible and especially for children, particularly in the front seat of cars, seat belts which really are safe and which, as my noble friend rightly said, are also comfortable.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
I should like to know whether before the Report stage, we can consider again the suggestion which I understood the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to make, that there should be compulsory provision of seat belts for children in the back seat. If I recall rightly—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—on Second Reading he said something to the effect that it would be a desirable arrangement to have scat belts for children on the back seat, but that it would be too expensive. I submit that expense is not a consideration that should be taken into account in such a matter. If children sustain injury in the back seat, as they sometimes do, it may result in brain damage, in facial disfigurement or in being crippled for life. That is a handicap to the child and perhaps a burden to the public purse which could be avoided if the right seat belts were found for children for the rear seat. I ask the Minister to consider that matter again.
§ 6.50 p.m.
Lord de Clifford
I must agree with the principle of both these amendments. We may return to the subject of enforcement. I may be wrong, but I think that these amendments have been drafted with urban areas and with those who travel long distances in mind. My mind goes to the lady who collects children 370 to take them to school. She starts at the bottom of a hill in a small village and sweeps up the road, probably ending up with seven quite well behaved children, because the children know what will happen to them if they are not well behaved. I am also thinking of vehicles, such as Land Rovers, during harvest time when children ride in both the front and the back. They can be well behaved or not, but that entirely depends on the farmer in question. My noble friend Lord Bellwin and his advisers can probably find an excellent solution to this, but this is a matter that niggles me slightly.
§ Viscount Cross
I have every sympathy with the amendment moved by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, but I understand that children restrained in the back of a car are safer than those restrained in the front. On the point which I think that my noble friend Lord Mottistone was about to make concerning anchorage points, under the construction and use regulations will my noble friend the Minister ask the Secretary of State to ask the manufacturers to provide the necessary four anchorage points on the floor in the back of the shooting-brake type of car, hatchback, or station wagon, whatever you like to call it?—because they are necessary in order that children may be safely restrained on the rear seat by seat belts manufactured for that type of car.
§ Lord Bellwin
First, I should like to speak to the amendment moved by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and say that we are very sympathetic to it. I recall her raising the matter on Second Reading. Since then we have talked about it and I am pleased to be able to inform the Committee that the Government do not object to the principle behind this amendment. Some suitable devices for carrying babies on the front seat of cars are on the market and I understand that one such device—it may, indeed, be the one which the noble Lady has in mind—is affectionately called a "love seat" The mind boggles. If the Committee has no objection to the use of such restraining devices for the front seats of cars, then the Government will correct any drafting errors that there may be in this amendment and bring it back on Report. I am grateful to the noble Lady and I hope that she will be gratified by my response. I shall try, if I can, to cover the many points made by your Lordships as follows.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
If my noble friend will forgive me for intervening, I wanted to speak about the main amendment but I expected to do this when we came to debate the Government amendment, after we had debated the noble Lady's amendment, which is the usual course. Can my noble friend adopt that more usual practice? We could deal with the noble Lady's amendment and then return to the substantive amendment.
§ Lord Bellwin
I am not sure whether I am in or out of order, but I was trying to say that in these two amendments together I wanted to make the response 371 which I did to the noble Lady. On the other hand, my noble friend is probably right that if we were to proceed by my answering all the points, most of which were made on the previous amendment, my noble friend would miss his opportunity.
I was about to answer a number of the points that have been made, some of which are covered in both amendments. If I may, I shall answer the points that have been made and then it will be up to my noble friend, if he wishes—we are in Committee—to come back and comment and I will try to respond to him. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about consultation and gladly assure him that it is the wish that there should be as much consultation as possible. That is what we intend to do. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Mottistone for the way in which he has dealt with this particular issue, both within and outside the Committee. As always, he is most helpful in these matters.
I listened to his point about the comfort of children with some interest, but I am not sure what might be done to help. I should have thought that it was up to the individual parents to try to ensure that they had restraints which were most appropriate for the individual child, so as to maximise the comfort. One could quickly think of a situation where a child of 10 or just under 11 years of age might be more comfortable with one kind of device than would be a child of, say, two or three years of age, who would need a different type.
Obviously, this whole new area of devices of this kind will come into much greater focus if, in another place, a decision, following that taken today, moves for compulsion generally. This leads me to the point made by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn—and I am sorry if these answers seem to be blending into each other, but they do in any case. At present it is not compulsory for children sitting on back seats to wear seat belts. One can think of a number of reasons why that might be very difficult to enforce: not least the reason that my noble friend Lord de Clifford mentioned. I thought that the instance that he gave of picking up a number of children was very practical. My goodness! how would one ensure that they were all properly strapped in? This is a problem. Nevertheless, the whole matter is being brought out into the open again and it is none the worse for that. Therefore, quite clearly, I cannot give undertakings. I say again, who knows what will flow from this decision? We shall have to watch it very carefully indeed.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My point can be summed up by the question: For the purposes of the new Clause 33A, is a child a person? If so, it would certainly appear that Clause 33A requires children to be strapped in when a car is being driven. It says:persons who are driving or riding in motor vehicles…".Presumably the person driving the car would be responsible for the children under 14 years of age being strapped in. In the light of the amendment that has been made, it seems to me that this point needs further consideration.
§ Lord Bellwin
That point is fair enough. I am just wondering, arising from what transpired earlier. What 372 other matters may now require to be considered. As I stand here at this moment in time I do not know. I would only repeat that the matter will now come under the closest scrutiny and we shall have to wait and see. It may be that if there is anything to be done in the short-term, we shall come back with it on Report; otherwise, hopefully, at that stage we shall be able to give more detailed replies than I am able to give now on this matter.
My noble friend Lord Auckland asked how quickly a seat belt could be designed especially for children. He asked whether researchers would consult with seat belt manufacturers. I am sure that, following the decision today, seat belt manufacturers will be happy to look at this whole matter. It has many implications for them. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, was anxious that there should be compulsory provision for children in back seats. Part of the answer to him was the difficulties raised by my noble friend Lord de Clifford. Clearly this whole matter—I say hopefully for the last time today—will require much further thought now.
I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Cross on the point about the universal anchorage points appropriate for all child restraint systems, that I am informed that that is not possible because they vary considerably. I am told that the new EEC requirements for using the lower adult anchorage points hopefully will cover this. It may be helpful for him if I say that the construction and use regulations already cover child restraint systems. Child restraint systems have to meet a British standard or the EEC requirement. Rear child restraint systems usually require anchorage points separate from the ones for adult belts, and only the latter will be compulsory in new cars from 1982. The cost of installing the rear child restraints can therefore be expensive and perhaps not easy to install. While I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, made when he said that cost really should not come into this whole matter, I think it is not just cost, it is the practicalities as well. I sit down after making the point that I feel that this is one issue which has been thrown into the melting pot for a lot more consideration than it may have had hitherto.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for what he has said. In the circumstances I should like to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
It would be discourteous if I did not speak. In fact it was in the closing remarks of my noble friend that he answered what was really underlying the questions I was going to put. I take it from what he said that the euphoria of this afternoon's decisions will not cloud the department's views as to what is now desirable. A great number of points were raised this afternoon; a number of other points have been raised on this new Government clause.
It is essential that we get it right, or get it as near right as we can. It would be wrong if I did not tell my noble friend that I have, with colleagues on both sides of the House, a number of amendments down for 373 Report stage with regard to the seat belt question. I believe that a number of the views that are going to be put then, a number of the decisions that might be made, have some bearing on Clause 27. That is really what I want to say. We cannot go charging off on implementing Clause 27 just as it stands. It seemed inappropriate to set down a lot of amendments to Clause 27 which in itself was another amendment. So we might have to come back to that at Report stage.
While the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, says that cost must not be too important an element, I take the point of view that I think the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, does. Any device, any restraint system that may be devised and approved has to be within the purchasing power of Mr. Average, or we are going to have trouble with enforcement, and we are going to build up an "anti" feeling about this whole question which we have been talking about all afternoon. I urge my noble friend to ensure that, when the department make known their precise and detailed requirements to meet the noble Lady's requirement of a suitable and approved restraint system in the front seat for the under ones and other children, he bears this very much in mind. I think he said earlier that he would bear all these things in mind. That is what I wanted to say à propos this amendment. I am sorry if I have it in the wrong order, but my noble friend will appreciate that we have got a little confused in taking two or three things together. It seemed to me the right way to get back on normal course.
§ Lord Bellwin
I do not think my noble friend has got it in the wrong order. I myself was concerned that I might be getting it in the wrong order, but I hope I did not in the end. I will take careful note of what my noble friend says. I am also well aware that earlier in the day, before we had the major debate on the first issue, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and others helpfully withdrew their amendments but reserved their right—well, they had the right anyway, but they said they would come back at Report stage if they wished. I presume the same applies to the points made by my noble friend Lord Lucas. When other proposals come forward we shall expect to discuss them properly in the usual way.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Baroness Denington moved Amendment No. 84:
After Clause 27, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Regulations for the immobilisation of vehicles
§ .—(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for the immobilisation of vehicles in circumstances where there is reason to believe that they are being or have been permitted to remain at rest on a road in contravention of any statutory prohibition, restriction or requirement respecting the waiting of vehicles:
§ Provided that this section shall extend only to such areas as the Secretary of State may by order specify and he may by order exclude the application of this section to any offence.
§ (2) The power of the Secretary of State to make regulations and orders under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
§ (3) The exercise by any authority or authorised person of the powers under this section in accordance with the regulations shall not render the authority or person subject to any liability in respect of the loss of or damage to any vehicle immobilised, 374 or to the contents or fittings of any such vehicle or in respect of any other loss or damage sustained by the person responsible for the vehicle.
§ (4) Regulations under this section may make provision generally as to the use of immobilising devices or equipment and the conditions under which they may be so used, and in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, may make provision with respect to any of the following matters—
- (a) the type and nature of the device used and the conditions under which it may be used;
- (b) the persons authorised to fit and remove such devices;
- (c) for requiring a notice, informing any person responsible that the device has been fitted, to be attached to the vehicle;
- (d) for prohibiting the fitting or removal of the device or notice by unauthorised persons;
- (e) the removal and disposal of the vehicle if not claimed;
- (f) the appropriate charges in respect of the immobilisation of the vehicle which may be recovered from any person responsible;
§ (5) Regulations or orders of the Secretary of State under this section may be varied or revoked by subsequent regulations or orders of the Secretary of State.
§ (6) Any reference in this section to a vehicle which has been permitted to remain at rest includes a reference to avehicle which has been permitted to remain at rest before the coming into force of the provisions contained in this section.
§ (7) If and so long as the use of a device to immobilise a vehicle permitted to remain at rest on a road is in accordance with the regulations made by the Secretary of State, then the device and the vehicle immobilised shall be treated as not constituting an obstruction to the highway.
§ (8) In this section, "statutory" means contained in, or having effect under, any enactment.").
§ The noble Baroness said: We have in this country a system of parking controls and regulations that have been instituted to enable the police to see that our traffic can flow—a difficult problem in urban areas with old road patterns and enormous numbers of vehicles. It is felt that the proposal embodied in this amendment, which is really to cover the action of the police and to help them in their task of immobilising vehicles, would help to deal with the problems that I hope to demonstrate to your Lordships.
§ The economic cost of traffic delays to industry is very considerable. This is a factor that encourages me to move this amendment. It is one of the factors that have made it attractive for industry to move out to new locations in the new towns and elsewhere, and importantly it inhibits industry from opening up in the decaying inner city areas. Everybody on all sides of this Committee and elsewhere is concerned with this particular problem. This amendment has in its small way a bearing on the importance of our economic performance for renewal of our inner city areas.
§ I should like to give your Lordships some facts. To control the inner London parking area the police said in evidence to, I think, the House of Commons Transport Committee that they nedeed 4,000 wardens for an acceptable level of enforcement. The highest level of wardens, and therefore of enforcement, that they ever had was in 1973 when they had 2,100 wardens. Then we came to 1977–78 when public expenditure cuts were imposed and a ceiling of 1,500 wardens was required to meet the needs of the whole of the inner London parking area. Since then the top level was been raised to the point where they are 1,200 short on the desirable number of 4,000. But, actually, the 375 number of wardens in post has risen from 1,100 to 1,200, and therefore overall we are really 2,800 short on the number we should have to try to keep London's traffic moving. That is the crux of this whole issue because it must be kept moving in the national interest.
§ A considerable number of the worst parking offenders also offend in other respects. The information I am giving I have received from the police. These offenders are difficult to trace and identify. They are the people who do not inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea that they have a car—the obligation is on the owner to inform Swansea—so there is no record of the owner of the vehicle. Or sometimes they give a false name and address, so that when the police or wardens, through their system, contact Swansea to try to trace the owner, they cannot trace them because they are non-existent or bogus. The same sort of people—they all come under the same category of the type of people who make the amendment necessary—have no current licence; one can use the expression "cowboys" to describe them, and they are the people we are after. We do not have enough police and warden manpower to have somebody standing by a vehicle day and night until somebody turns up to drive it away; that would be an extremely extravagant action to attempt to take.
§ I am told that about 1½ million fixed penalty notices are issued each year in the Metropolitan Police district. About 800,000, or only 53 per cent., actually pay, and of the remaining 700,000, 500,000 turn out to be unenforceable; they are foreign and diplomatic cars and so on or vehicles whose owners are unknown or cannot be traced. Of the 200,000 who have not paid but are enforceable —we come to another extraordinary factor—the courts can handle only 50,000 a year; apparently no more can be got through the legal processes and it appears that after six months, if a case has not been heard, it falls and the person escapes any possible fine. Thus, 150,000 people escape scot free. Indeed, I am wondering whether anybody will ever pay their fines again when, or if, my remarks are published in the press because the chances of getting away scot free appear to be exceedingly high.
§ I have been speaking so far about illegal parkers who escape any penalty. A check was made by the police in the West End, in Mayfair and Soho, and out of 2,746 vehicles illegally parked, over 2,011 already had fixed penalty notices on the files unpaid. Of those, 77 diplomatic vehicles actually had 428 on file unpaid and one person had 53 outstanding. I am, therefore, talking about people who go on and on offending and take no notice of the regulations, the law or anything of that sort. The highest number for a non-diplomatic car for one vehicle was 40. Another survey was conducted in Kensington and Chelsea and it threw up comparable figures; the highest number there for an ordinary civilian offender was 40 unpaid outstanding tickets. Quite a few people had between 30 and 40. Clearly, therefore, there is a number—it depends whether one calls it an exceedingly high number or not; it is not such an exceedingly high number of very naughty people, but certainly a lot of people do not pay at all—people who should not be allowed to get away and flout the law and continue with what can only be described as completely anti-social behaviour.376
§ That is only part of the picture. I am sorry to delay the Committee, but I feel that I must give your Lordships the picture as it has come to me. That relates to those who get a ticket. It is estimated that because of the shortage of wardens, four out of every five vehicles illegally parked in Central London are not ticketed. The total number of illegally parked vehicles may well exceed 7 million. Thus, only just over 10 per cent. of illegal parkers suffer the consequence of their action.
§ I come to the question of possible remedies. Increasing wardens' strength certainly would improve the situation, but let us be realists and accept that money is tight. I do not think it is possible to calculate on the likelihood that the police will get their 4,000 wardens in the foreseeable future. Certainly the police have the power to tow away vehicles, and they tell me they remove about 300 a week. It takes on average three-quarters of an hour by our police force, who are not lowly paid, to carry out the operation; as I say, using expensive manpower. They deal mainly, if not almost entirely, with the dangerously parked vehicle, because that simply must be removed, but not with the offender who persistently parks illegally and inhibits the flow of London's traffic or slows it down, and we are all aware how a single car can jam up a whole street.
§ Whether we have any hope of seeing the throughput of court cases speeded up I have no knowledge, nor how long it would take before any new procedures in that direction could operate. But, even if such matters were improved, it would not deal with the deliberate evader; the person who, as I have explained, cannot be traced. I submit there is a serious problem here and that we should try to do something about it. If we cannot solve it entirely, at least let us do something about it.
§ The amendment would give the Secretary of State power to make regulations to permit the police to take new action to deal with the problem by allowing them to fix clamps to immobilise offending vehicles and so enable the offenders to be identified—because they would not be able to remove their vehicles without being found; they would have to turn up in due course By drastically reducing the likelihood of getting away with it, it is felt that it would reduce the actual incidence of illegal parking, and that is greatly to be desired.
§ The Metropolitan Police have investigated various devices that could be used and the only one they find acceptable is the clamp called the Denver shoe. It does not damage the vehicle and it is no danger to children playing near the car. I have been told that the Dover local authority—apparently have had problems there—thought about a device called a spiked collar, but apparently that is dangerous to children and something the police would not consider at all. So it is the Denver shoe we are talking about and I might mentioned that it is used in America and on the Continent, and I have not heard that it has caused any great trouble or resulted in uproar anywhere.
§ I believe that there is raised the query that a driver might return to his car, try to move it and damage it, not knowing that there is a clamp on the wheel. I have spoken to the police about this point and they say that they are aware of it. It is essential to see that the person whose car it is does not get in and try to move it. The police have already carried out con 377 siderable research. The police would put a sticker on the windscreen so that the driver, on getting into the car, could not possibly drive it away simply because he could not see out. Research has been carried out into special adhesives with which to stick on the sticker and ensure that it is rainproof and vandal proof. But obviously the police would have the secret of how to remove the sticker; they would not leave it to the driver to have to struggle with that problem.
§ The procedure would be that the vehicle would be identified by a warden and the immobilisation team would be called out. The team would lock a clamp on to a wheel and the notice on the windscreen would inform the driver that it was locked on his car. It would state where he had to go. He would meet the police and no doubt have a very nice little conversation with them. They would satisfy themselves about him and get all the information that they wanted. Then, on the walkie-talkie, they would instruct the warden, or whoever it was, to unlock the vehicle. The driver would return to the vehicle and would be free to drive it away, having, one hopes, learnt his lesson.
§ That really is it. It is quite simple. It is meant to catch the anti-social and the persistent offenders, those who have a number of fixed penalty notices for parking offences and who ignore them and flout the law. This point can be checked by the wardens who have a personal radio. They can check with Swansea to ensure that they are catching only the real offenders. There is no intention to proceed in this way against every car that is parked where it ought not to be parked. I suspect that occasionally we are all offenders in that we park our car where we should not park it, rush off to do something, and return holding our breath. The police or the local authorities are not after that kind of person, but rather the persistent offender who has a very bad record.
§ I understand that I am supported by the AMA and I have received a letter from the ADC. The council at Dover is worried about problems there with foreign vehicles and it believes that this proposal would be helpful. Even the Freight Transport Association wrote to me stating that it hoped that its vehicles would not be touched, but it thought that this was quite a good idea.
§ Among the bodies from whom I have heard, apparently it is only the AA that is horrified about the proposal. It says that it is a draconian measure, but I think that is rubbish. It says that the problem has arisen only in Greater London, which is not true. It also states that it results from the failure to make adequate provision for the car. If by that the AA means building new roads or carrying out road widening, with all that that involves, then I consider it a silly observation. The association also states that the problem arises from the failure to provide sufficient funding for a proper level of enforcement. Well, it does in part, but we all know the situation that the country is in at present. It states that the provision is defective in that no responsibility whatsoever will be borne by any authority for any liability in respect of damage or loss to any vehicle, its fittings, or its contents, arising from the use of the clamp. I cannot imagine what damage a clamp would do to the contents of a car.
§ As I have tried to explain to the Committee, the 378 police are very conscious about the possibility of damage and they feel certain that they can deal with this particular problem. I hope that the Committee will realise that there is a problem here and that the amendment is a way in which to try to deal with these very naughty people—I do not know what other word to use to describe them. I hope, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for whom I have very great admiration, will be sympathetic towards the amendment and to what it is trying to achieve. I beg to move.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I hope that the Committee and my noble friend will reject the amendment. There are two real reasons for suggesting that it is quite inappropriate. First, there have been no consultations whatsoever with the users of motor vehicles—through the RAC, the AA—so far as any Government intention to alter the law is concerned. With regard to the locking up of a motor vehicle by way of a device, not for a minute do I believe that it would work. We have been dealing with parking problems for years and years. In 1956, during the passage of the Road Traffic Act, my noble forebear had exactly the same problem, and we have not advanced so far as to resort to the locking up of people's property in this way.
As the noble Baroness said, the economic cost of an obstruction is great, but it would be that much greater if motor vehicles were to be locked up and remain in situ until someone can be found to unlock them, whether physically or in any other way. I can foresee much difficulty involving the users of the motor vehicle, the police and/or other authorities. The noble Baroness seemed to suggest in her preliminary remarks that traffic wardens should be given even more powers, but I fear that we cannot wear that one. Yes, I agree that we have a parking problem and an obstruction problem, but this is no way in which to deal with it, and I urge my noble friend to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
I wish to echo what my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has said. We have been unbelted and now we are being clammed up. In fact the noble Baroness put the case against her own amendment at the very beginning of her remarks. The amendment is concerned with regulations for the immobilisation of vehicles, and yet she has been talking about traffic flow. What would happen if a vehicle was immobilised in the rush hour? If a car breaks down it can be taken out of the way, but if a clamp is applied to the wheel of a car parked in the wrong place in the rush hour the car might remain there for a very long time and traffic problems would be greater than ever.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
I understand that the idea behind the noble Baroness's proposal is, among other things, to secure the more effective enforcement of traffic regulations, and I understand that the Metropolitan Police are very keen that the law should be amended so as to permit the use of immobilisation devices to be tested, and I understand, too, that the Planning and Communications Policy Committee of the previous administration at County Hall supported the proposal.
379 Naturally, the Government wish to secure the most effective practical enforcement of traffic regulations. That is why in November 1979 my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport set up an interdepartmental working party to review certain aspects of the law on road traffic. The objectives were to devise means of relieving the courts and the police of some of the burdens imposed by road traffic offences, and to achieve a better system for the administration of justice in this field.
The working party, the report of which was published for consultation on 20th May, paid close attention to the problems of enforcement and made a number of recommendations which are intended to assist in the improvement of the enforcement of parking regulations. The Government have already accepted a number of the working party's recommendations and have it in mind to accept others, subject to the views expressed as a result of the consultation on the report. So I think it is clear that the Government are concerned about the very real problems caused by illegal parking (to which the noble Baroness made reference) which is of course the problem which this proposal to use immobilisation devices is intended to tackle.
I suggest that we need to consider the pros and cons of immobilisation devices very carefully before making up our minds on what would be an innovation so far as this country is concerned. First of all, in what circumstances would such devices be used? I think that it is clear and is accepted by both the Metropolitan Police and the GLC that immobilisation devices could not be used in situations such as the kind that my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux just mentioned, where cars were parked in such a way as to cause danger to other traffic or to pedestrians, or where they were causing serious obstruction. To use clamps to prevent the offending vehicle being moved in such circumstances would obviously be counter-productive. Vehicle removal would continue to be the appropriate response. I am sure the noble Baroness would agree with that.
So we need to consider the value of using immobilisation in other cases of illegal parking. The operational simplicity of clamps would allow them to be used more widely than towing away, and I understand that the Metropolitan Police believe that this would be a valuable and much-needed deterrent to illegal parking. Immobilisation would also provide a direct means of dealing with parking offences by some foreign visitors, on whom the fixed penalty system has little impact. But, of course, there is a frequent turn-round in foreign visitors, so the impact of the lesson will be reduced.
I have much before me here which goes on in a similar vein, but I think it would sum up best if I were to say that the Government are considering this whole question—the one which the working party on road traffic laws did not consider as part of its examination of the whole subject of enforcement of traffic regulations. We believe, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, would agree with me on this, that a decision should not be taken on immobilisation in isolation without deeper consideration of all the issues that are involved. If I were to assure her that the Government, in considering this matter, will take very careful note of what has been said today, she may feel able, perhaps, 380 not to press the amendment at this time.
§ Baroness Denington
I thank noble Lords for what they have said. I naturally do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He knows there is a problem, and he is a bit negative about it. I think he is in a position to help us all, and ought to help us all, to be a little more positive, because he must recognise that there are some (I use the word again) very naughty people who ought really to be made to recognise the law and to be socially behaved. He nods, and I thank him for doing so. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his approach. Yes, I will withdraw this amendment—of course I will—if I feel that it has given this matter an airing and perhaps given us a little impetus to think along lines of, yes, a package deal, but something that must be done, because I think the situation is not a good one.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Denham
I suggest that this might be an appropriate moment for the Committee to adjourn for dinner until eight o'clock.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.33 until 8 p.m.].
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 84ZA:
After Clause 27, insert the following new clause:
§ "Persons entitled to drive when licence applied for.
.—(1) After section 84(4) of the 1972 Act (under which a person may drive a vehicle without a licence if he has previously held a licence to drive vehicles of that class and has applied for and is entitled to obtain such a licence) there is inserted—
(4A) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that subsection (4) above shall also apply (where the requirements of that subsection are otherwise met) in the case of a person who has not previously held a licence to drive vehicles of the relevant class.
Regulations under this subsection shall, if not previously revoked, expire at the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which they came into operation.".
§ (2) In the words in parenthesis in section 199(2) of that Act (exceptions from the duty to consult before making regulations), after "section" there is inserted "84(4A) or".").
§ The noble Lord said: I wonder whether, in moving this amendment, I may speak to Amendment No. 84B? It is perhaps late in the passage of this important and diverse Bill through Parliament to seek the agreement of this Committee to the addition of one further clause to its provisions. It is, however, a very important clause, as I shall explain, and I hope noble Lords will acknowledge that and feel, as I do, that trespass on the limited time allocated to the Bill in this House is amply justified. The purpose of the clause is to give my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport power to make regulations to allow people who have applied for their first provisional licences to start learning to drive provided they have put in their application to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea before they have received their licence, as the law currently requires.
§ The clause was tabled yesterday by my right honourable friend, who explained in a statement he then made why it is so necessary. Many noble Lords will have had the opportunity, I hope, to consider what he said. Over 200,000 applicants for first-time provisional licences are held up because of industrial action at the 381 Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea. They are mainly young people wanting to start to drive for the first time. Many of them will have been looking forward to this for a long time with keen anticipation. I am sure that many noble Lords will themselves remember how important it was to them to begin to drive and how keenly disappointed and frustrated they would have been if they had not been able to do so, not through any fault of their own, but because of some failure in the licensing administrative system.
§ That is certainly the present fate of over 200,000 people, and while the computers at Swansea remain inactive, the number is rising at the rate of about 30,000 a week. By the end of this month the number will probably have reached 300,000. Moreover, I must say to noble Lords that even if normal working resumed next week, and regrettably there is no immediate sign of that, it would be many months before the large backlog could be cleared. Nor is it simply a matter of disappointing so many people. That in itself is bad enough. My right honourable friend and his department have had many, very sad, letters from or on behalf of young people who have bought vehicles in anticipation of receiving their licences but who cannot drive them. There are those too who need to have licences for their jobs or for employment they were hoping to obtain. So there is not only frustration, there is real hardship for individuals. And it does not stop there.
§ The driving schools have begun to feel the pinch. My right honourable friend has had discussions with their representatives—the Motor Schools Association, the British School of Motoring and others—who requested to see him to explain their difficulties. They have put it to him very clearly and strongly that the economics of the driving school business, particularly for small driving schools and instructors, are such that a reduction of 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of hours of tuition per week can bring bankruptcy. Some 17,000 people are actively employed in driving tuition. Many of them are self-employed, engaged in one-man businesses, depending for their livelihood on people starting to drive and needing tuition before taking their driving tests. Representations have also been received on behalf of the motor agents who are finding that sales of vehicles, particularly the smaller motorcycles and mopeds, are beginning to fall significantly.
§ Why are we in this position? As the law stands, the first-time driver cannot start driving until he receives his licence. What the new clause seeks to do is to give my right honourable friend the power to make regulations allowing those people to start learning to drive provided they have sent their application to Swansea. That will bring the position of the first-time driver into line with that of someone who has previously held a licence. A licence holder who is not medically unfit to drive or disqualified can continue to drive for a year once his renewal is in. That is the effect of Section 84(4) of the Road Traffic Act 1972. So what we are seeking to do through this new clause is not in any way revolutionary. There is the precedent of the driver who needs to renew his licence. We are not in fact proposing to go as far for the first time applicant as Section 84(4) provides for the existing driver who needs to renew his licence. His position is safeguarded permanently by that subsection.
§ The new clause does not go that far for the person 382 applying for his first provisional licence. It provides power for the Secretary of State to make regulations, and any regulations which he makes under it will last for only a limited period, no more than a year. The power is thus provided not as a permanent change in the law, but for use in special circumstances, such as those which unfortunately exist today where there is an unusual and unreasonable delay in dealing with applications for first licences.
§ Some noble Lords feel that the clause could have gone further and provided for new drivers the same permanent provision that applies to those who are renewing licences. There would indeed be little risk in that from a road safety point of view. Experience shows that we can expect to reject only some 600 applications for first licences each year on grounds that the applicants are medically unfit to drive or are disqualified. That compares with about 1.4 million applications for first licences which are granted. Put another way, the number of rejections represents about 0.05 per cent.
§ The Government, however, have decided that the regulation-making, more temporary, power for use in specially difficult situations is, on balance, more appropriate. The regulations will have to be laid before Parliament and there will thus be opportunity for Parliament to consider the circumstances in which a Secretary of State for Transport decides to use the power. I should make clear also that there is no question of changing the basis on which a new driver is entitled to drive. We are concerned here only with when he may start driving. First-time drivers will still have to meet the usual conditions about minimum age and health and they must not be subject to disqualification. They will have to display "L" plates, always drive under supervision and not drive on motorways until they have passed the usual driving test.
§ I can advise the Committee that my right honourable friend intends to make the necessary regulations as soon as the Transport Bill is enacted. In this way, the delay which the people concerned would otherwise have suffered will be reduced very considerably. Furthermore, the power will be available for future use should the issue of licences be long delayed for whatever reason. Noble Lords will appreciate that we are thinking here not only of situations such as the one which exists today with the Swansea computers out of action because of the present Civil Service industrial action. Computers can cease to function for a variety of reasons and other problems can arise. I believe that this is a power which should be available to help people who want to drive and who in reality should be entitled to do so, but who cannot through no fault of their own. It is indeed fortuitous that faced with that problem as we now are, we have this Transport Bill before Parliament which can provide an early means of dealing with it. This new clause is vitally important to many thousands of worthy people, many of them suffering real and quite unwarranted hardship. We have the opportunity to help them. I ask noble Lords to take it, to approve this amendment and add the new clause to the Bill.
§ Lord Underhill
May I say briefly, without going into the disputes which undoubtedly have led to this situation in Swansea, that I am in agreement with the 383 provisions of this proposed new clause and clearly recognise that the longer the position is delayed we will have not only 200,000 already held up but that the backlog will be immense. Therefore, I support the Government action in this matter.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 84A:
Page 73, line 31, leave out ("of").
§ The noble Lord said: The additional wording added to Section 101(4)(a) by paragraph 9 of Schedule 9 contains an unnecessary word. This amendment removes the intrusive "of" from that wording. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 29 [Commencement of Part IV]:
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 84B:
Page 21, line 13, at beginning insert ("with the exception of section (Persons entitled to drive when licence applied for),").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 29, as amended, agreed to.
§ 8.10 p.m.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 85:
After Clause 29, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Liability of railway companies to make good damage to crops by their engines.
§ In section 1(3)of the Railways Fires Act 1905 and in section 2 of the Railways Fires Act (1905) Amendment Act 1923 for the words "two hundred pounds" there shall be substituted the words "three thousand pounds".").
§ The noble Lord said: I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee and in the interests of brevity if I speak to Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 and the consequential Amendment No. 104. This matter is perhaps not exactly pertinent to this Transport Bill, but this is the only opportunity we have had of introducing it. It arises from British Rail giving up a number of supporting lines which have over recent years been taken over by railway enthusiasts and people of that kind who tend to run steam locomotives.
§ Under the Railways Fires Act of 1905 and the amendment of 1923 there is provision for railway companies to be liable for damage caused to agricultural land or crops. This is in respect of fires arising from sparks or cinders emitted from any locomotive engine, but only up to a maximum of £200. In the past few years there have been a number of cases—notably the Bluebell line in West Sussex, the North Norfolk Light Railway and the Severn Valley Light Railway—where damage has been caused and there has been some difficulty regarding compensation.
§ Cases have been taken and discussed at the department. This has been discussed with the department 384 since early January this year. To date no satisfactory outcome of the discussions has been arrived at. It seems sensible that under this Bill we insert a new clause which will increase the liability from the £200 as set out in the 1923 Act, to something a little more appropriate in today's times. In Amendment No. 85 there is the substitution of £200 for the sum of £3,000 which the National Farmers' Union think is more appropriate.
Amendment No. 86 is an alternative in that it gives power for the Secretary of State to fix the sum. We say:
such sum as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State by order".
That is the effect of these two amendments. They are options. Amendment No. 104 is consequential to that. I believe that there is a just case at this time to recognise that values have changed, that no longer can a farmer look to somebody as big as British Rail and it is going to be some smaller company. It would seem sensible therefore that smaller companies be aware of such damage that might occur were they negligent or unfortunate in causing such damage. That is what is behind these amendments. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mottistone
I should like to support my noble friend in his amendment. The principle behind his amendment was established back in 1905. One can really see why it was a serious problem for farmers and something special needed to be done at that stage. It was updated in 1923 but has not been revised since. There are some very small and tourist-only steam railway trains operating at the moment. However, there is a great enthusiasm for old steam engines. There is the great museum at York, and, if members of the Committee have not done so, I thoroughly recommend a visit. These trains are taken out and steamed round the country. I know that British Rail wants to go electric and one must not look too far ahead but the oil will run out and no doubt when it does people will find a way of converting coal to oil and perhaps that will not make a difference. However, who is to know that steam engines—which are very efficient machines in their own bases—might not come back again over the centuries?
What my noble friend is saying is: 1905, 1923 and 1981—a 60-year gap. Let us get this in line with inflation and establish a figure. One of his amendments says let the Secretary of State update it as time goes on. This is obviously a serious matter for those farmers who have the good or bad fortune, as one may look at it, of having steam trains operate on railway lines nearby. Therefore, they should get the compensation that their fathers did before. This could keep going over the generations and if in the next century steam comes in much more than it is at the moment at least the Act will provide a basis for a sensible and reasonable compensation measuring up to what our forebears thought was reasonable for farmers in their day. It is an excellent idea and I hope that the Government will support it.
§ Lord Swinfen
I should also like to support this amendment. If one considers a field that cereals were normally grown in in 1905 and 1923, the straw alone 385 on those fields today would probably be worth very considerably more than £200. If by any chance a crop is burnt with the grain still in it—which is possible—the value would be high indeed. Added to that, the size of field through modern farming techniques has been considerably increased in large parts of the country. Once a fire gets going it will spread throughout a field particularly on a dry, warm and rather windy day without any chance of control. I think that the Government should accept one of these two amendments and perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will indicate to my noble friend Lord Lucas which one they are prepared to accept.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
We recognise that the present limit of liability of £200 is too low. Today's equivalent of £200 as it was in 1923 is approximately £2,800. The figure suggested in the first of my noble friend's amendments is not so far out. I should perhaps make it clear that, but for the Railway Fires Acts, it would be difficult for railway companies to be held liable for damage to crops by fires caused by sparks from railway engines. The reason for this is that they could plead their statutory authority to operate a railway. In other words in this particular case privileges are removed from this particiular statutory undertaker.
The Acts, in effect, restrict this defence to cases of damage over a specified limit (when proof of negligence would be needed in support of claims). But the present limit of liability of £200 is as I have said far too low; it was, after all, fixed nearly 60 years ago by the 1923 Act. I am happy, therefore, to be able to say that we welcome in principle the opportunity which these new clauses present to put the matter right.
Although British Railways have very few steam locomotives now, the number of independent preserved railway companies with steam locomotives is steadily increasing, and these operate mainly in summer when the fire risk is highest. The problem of fires caused by such locomotives is tending to grow and is of serious concern to those affected. We have every sympathy towards landowners who lose their crops as a result of fires caused by railway engines.
I know that preserved steam railways, which would be mainly affected by this measure, have very limited financial resources, but no doubt they would be able to provide for an increased amount through additional insurance cover. However, the drawback with this clause is that it specifies a figure which might need to be increased again in a few years' time. We therefore prefer the approach adopted in Amendment No. 86, which has not yet been moved of course. This would enable my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport to prescribe the figure by statutory instrument. We think the approach adopted by the second amendment provides a flexible and reasonably simple answer to this problem. However, in our view this clause would need some redrafting. It is not usual to proceed on the basis of an affirmative resolution of either House, normally an affirmative resolution of both Houses is required. We would propose that the appropriate procedure for these statutory instruments should be by negative resolution in either House. I am therefore happy to be able to accept in principle the second suggested clause, and on that basis I would ask my noble friend Lord Lucas if he would be willing 386 to withdraw both clauses at this stage, on the understanding that the Government will introduce a new clause at Report stage along the lines of the second Amendment, No. 86, with the necessary redrafting which I have just described.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I am much obliged to my noble friend the Minister for what must be considered a totally satisfactory answer. I can do no more than accept his advice and his promise of a Government amendment at Report stage. While I am talking to this matter, may I add that I am sure my noble friend on the Front Bench will accept that, were the noble Lord, Lord Wise, here, he, the farmer, would have moved the amendment. It is only because of my noble friend's illness that he is prevented from attending. However, with my noble friend's assurances, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 85.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 86 not moved.]
§ Clause 30 [Road humps]:
§ 8.22 p.m.
Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 87:
Page 21, line 26, at end insert ("after he has satisfied himself that practical experience throughout the United Kingdom has clearly shown that road humps cannot be made ineffective when drivers develop special expertise by constant practice.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State an opportunity to look more widely at the practical effect of road humps. As I understand it, the present part of the Bill relating to road humps is based to a large extent, from the technical point of view, on the Transport and Road Research Laboratory's Report No. 878. Reading that report, one realises that they took a lot of trouble. They tried it out and then after a period of eight months they tried again. As a result of that they judged that the scheme would be workable.
§ However, they do not seem—and I should like to be reassured by my noble friend if I have got this wrong—to have taken a rather wider look within the United Kingdom to see whether there is not much more practical experience with road humps in other parts of the country. I am thinking particularly of Northern Ireland, where sadly they have had not 10 months but 10 years of experience in using road humps in order to restrict the driving activities of the IRA. The main purpose of my amendment is to invite the Secretary of State to look at the experience in Northern Ireland because I am assured by people who have been there and who have businesses in Northern Ireland that in fact the road humps now are not nearly as effective as they were in the early days; this is because most drivers who use them regularly, such as van drivers, salesmen, and perhaps the IRA, learn to negotiate the humps without appreciably losing speed.
§ So the point of the amendment is to ask that, before introducing this section of the Bill, my noble friend and his honourable and right honourable colleagues will look into the Northern Ireland experience to see whether it is really worth while to introduce this system. It seems to me that quite soon everything that people 387 thought would reduce speed for all the purposes that one can understand, will not in fact be effective in the case of those who are experienced in their use. I beg to move.
§ Lord Underhill
I am all in favour of the Minister and the department carrying out the utmost consultations possible, but I wonder whether this amendment is necessary because in the schedule there have to be regulations put forward by the Secretary of State which will cover the whole question of humps—their size, placing, type and everything else. It would appear to me that before that is done the Minister could make all the inquiries he wants. I recall that when the question of road humps was considered in Standing Committee in another place reference was made to the experiments which had been conducted and a number of Members of Parliament, not confined to one particular party, voiced the complaint that had been made by certain residents when those humps had to be taken away since they were only there for the purpose of a temporary experiment. So if it is true that there are clever drivers who find they can negotiate these humps in such a way as not to lose speed, then that is something the Secretary of State and the department can take into consideration when drawing up regulations.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I have a good deal of support for this amendment of my noble friend Lord Mottistone. I do not think I am quite so implacably opposed to road humps as I was last summer, though I still have grave reservations about their efficiency. I can drive over road humps with a skill that I learned when I was a rally driver. It is not very difficult, and one can get up a tremendous speed if one wishes. I think to some extent that answers the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who accepts that it can be done by those who are practised. Indeed, it is quite a popular sport, among young gentlemen with motor-cycles and mopeds, to ride at these things pretty damned quickly—a burst on the throttle, a lift of the front, you sit well back on the machine, the front wheel goes well up in the air and you ride over the hump on the rear wheel alone. It is a great sport and I have seen it practised on Sunday afternoons just outside Winchester. So I rather think my noble friend Lord Mottistone has certainly put forward a point here which deserves a good deal more attention than perhaps has been given to it so far.
There are alternatives to road humps for reducing speed, and one of the things one might just as well mention here and now is the device that I have recently seen in a road just outside Wembley—I think it is Whitton Road West—where steel posts are set up in the road just about large enough to permit a light car or light van to go through. The posts themselves bear witness to the inaccuracies of steering in that they are coloured red, blue, yellow and other colours of assorted motor-cars. But in the middle of the road is a light, wooden, single-spar gate, which would enable an emergency vehicle to go through at speed without causing any real damage.
If one argues: "That's all very well, but what about the commercial vehicles that have to use the road?" I am suggesting that if we accept what we were told 388 last summer regarding road humps, these would be in roads intended to be used as play streets where there would be unfenced gardens and where children might come into the road without care, and of course the intention was also to stop motorists speeding through residential areas of this kind to take a short cut. It was never suggested that heavier lorries might use this short cut. But, if a furniture removal van or a lorry was on a proper journey, it would not be impossible for the gate to be opened. Therefore, it seems to me that there are a number of ways in which the same objective could be reached, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Mottistone has suggested one that deserves very careful consideration.
§ The Earl of Avon
I am very happy to be speaking in this Chamber again about my old friends, the road humps. We had quite a lot of discussion on them last year, which I enjoyed very much. My only sorrow is that I think we lost at the last hurdle. I am rather surprised that this evening your Lordships are treating the subject as a challenge to speed, because the whole idea of road humps is that they are not a challenge to speed, so much as an opportunity to stop people from speeding. To take up the point of my noble friend Lord Lucas, the idea of a road hump is that it should be an alternative in the armoury of the people who are looking towards road safety. We are not trying to take away steel posts or barriers. What we are offering is a new alternative, which everybody who is interested in road safety feels is necessary.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone suggested in moving this amendment, partiularly with reference to humps in Ireland, that drivers can learn how to skim over them at high speed. This is indeed possible if the humps are narrow ones—a foot wide or less—and if the drivers are unconcerned about damaging their suspension. We did not talk about how fast you can go over them and still have your car intact on the other side. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory made extensive studies of hump designs before undertaking any experiments, and these included looking at road humps in Ireland and elsewhere. They were well aware of what has been going on in connection with road humps, not only in Ireland but in Europe as well.
They looked particularly at the safety of two-wheel riders and this is why they started to experiment with much wider humps. These wider humps are 3.7 metres wide at the base and are not the narrow ones which they have in Ireland. As the House will recall from when we debated this method before, these experiments proved successful. The humps were safe and they could not be sped over. It is this now proven design of hump which will be specified in the regulations which my right honourable friend will make under the clauses of this Bill.
My noble friend has suggested that the experiments ran for too short a time for firm and final conclusions to be reached. There was pre-discussion and their term was dictated by Parliament. When the power to permit hump experiments was under consideration, a requirement was inserted—against the then Minister's advice—that the humps be removed after 12 months. Thus no trial humps could remain in place for a longer period. That requirement had none but undesirable 389 effects, the worst being that public money had to be spent on rendering roads, the safety of which had been improved, less safe again by removing the humps.
However, we have no reason to suppose that their effectiveness would have diminished within a few years. Certainly, it is most unlikely that the effectiveness would diminish appreciably within the time in which the cost of the humps could be recovered in costs of accidents prevented. My noble friend may be interested to know that an efficient road accident investigation and prevention unit can now reckon on thus covering the cost of its remedial works, on average, in two years from the time of construction. In fact, some counties, which have developed great expertise in this field, are now actually recovering the average of these costs in one year.
I see no reason to require the Secretary of State to conduct further experiments. All else apart, funds for research are restricted and it would be quite uneconomic to spend public money on a repeat of successful experiments; which, incidentally, were conducted in Scotland as well as in England. It would be regrettable, too, to delay for such a reason the benefits which humps can bring, and which some local authorities are looking forward to securing and quite a few people to having. I hope that with that explanation my noble friend Lord Mottistone will agree not to press his amendment.
§ Lord Mottistone
I am, indeed, reassured by my noble friend Lord Avon, that the TRRL looked more widely than just at their own experiments. I appreciated the point he made about Parliament having restricted the length of those experiments. I take it absolutely from him that they looked at Ireland and, indeed, elsewhere in the world. With that reassurance, I feel we can accept the fact, though perhaps we shall come back to Parliament in 10 years' time and see whether this has been effective, or whether everyone has been doing what my noble friend Lord Lucas suggested, which sounded much more like a steeplechase than motorbike riding. I thank my noble friend for assisting me and, with that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 30 agreed to.
§ 8.35 p.m.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 87A:
After Clause 30, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Evidence of speeding offences.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department may prescribe by regulations the procedures to be undertaken when using radar meters or other technical devices to obtain evidence to support prosecutions of drivers in respect of alleged speeding offences").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I suggest that here we have something which is of great seriousness. We spent a lot of time on Monday discussing the values and the deterrent effects of penalty points. We discussed at very great length the question of the penalty points to be awarded in respect of speeding offences. It was suggested by some of us and agreed by some others—perhaps not agreed by all; and we did not test it that evening—that there are different cate 390 gories of speeding. There is the unfortunate lapse of attention which takes people two or three miles over the limit, and there is the hell-bent reckless driver who is trying to see whether he can do 100-plus on a motorway. Whichever view one takes, that debate certainly brought speeding into some prominence.
§ This amendment is designed to ensure that rules and regulations for the mechanical and electronic devices which are used by police authorities for measuring speed are used with uniformity up and down the country. The amendment requires that the Secretary of State and the Home Office prescribe by regulations the procedures to be undertaken when using these technical devices. We want this legislation to avoid a repetition of recent instances, where alleged speeding offenders were acquitted owing to the improper and incompetent use of radar guns. The rules and regulations for the use of such devices are currently left to individual police authorities, and I am suggesting that that is not equable. Different authorities—and I point no finger at any particular authority—have different standards, and this seems wrong.
In another place on 31st March this year, a Question was asked of the Home Department whether guidance would be given to the police on the use of the radar guns—Muniquip—following a successful appeal. The Minister's reply, in a Written Answer was:
No. This is a matter for chief officers of police, and the operating instructions, which have worked satisfactorily since 1978, will be reviewed in the light of this case to see if any amendments are necessary."—[Official Report, Commons, 31/3/81; col. 52.]
That was the official answer at that time. I admit that it was only in March.
I noted that the motoring correspondent, Mr. Colin Dryden, to whom I referred on Monday in another context wrote about this in the Sunday Telegraph of 7th June. I want to quote two short pieces from his article. He wrote:
So far, the Home Office has passed the buck to the individual police forces, leaving it to them to decide whether to go on using radar guns. The police chiefs (judge and jury in their own case?) have decided that radar guns are fine when used in accordance.…
et cetera. Mr. Dryden says:
Presumably smart defence lawyers will now have to seek to prove that vital sections of the Hand-held Radar Speed Detection Device Operating Manual were not being complied with by the Pc at the material time. The situation is far from clear and is unsatisfactory".
In March 1981 a motorist successfully appealed against his conviction at Newport Crown Court and his honour, Judge Pitchford, made certain recommendations. The Traffic Committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers asked a working group of senior police officers to examine the implications of the judge's comments. We have not arrived at a satisfactory conclusion. It appears to me that the different police forces will still interpret the manual in their own way as to when the device may or may not be used. This amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State sets down the regulations and the procedures to be undertaken when using these devices. I beg to move.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
I am equally aware of the question and answer given in the other place earlier this year. Chief officers of police are responsible for law enforce 391 ment in their areas, and on technical matters related to road safety are advised by the Traffic Committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers who seek such expert technical advice as they think necessary. I must tell my noble friend that they all have the same advice so that afterwards they do not act differently. It is not for a bad reason. The system has worked satisfactorily (my noble friend made some play of penalty points about which we talked on Monday, but there is no change) and the Government do not think in relation to radar meters that this is a task which central Government should undertake, with all the extra resources that this would demand. In our view, the situation would not be improved.
There are six different types of radar meter or other speed measuring devices in use by police forces in England and Wales, and others are being evaluated by the Association of Chief Police Officers. To prescribe by regulation the procedures for a device would be seen as formal approval of that device, and would mean Home Office evaluation of it. This would involve considerable cost and more staff. And if the operating and evidential procedures were prescribed by regulations, the whole business would become very elaborate, and would (as in drink and driving cases now) involve evidence by Home Office scientists in at least a proportion of cases. Drinking and driving is an arrestable offence with normally much more severe penalties, and we think it is right that the breath testing devices should be certificated. But in the case of speed measuring devices we think this is a matter not for central Government but for chief officers, who are responsible for law enforcement in their areas, and for the courts which must be satisfied that the evidence is valid and accurate. After due consideration, I hope that my noble friend will not feel that he has to press this measure and make it a responsiblity of the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. It would be churlish of me to say that I do not find it satisfactory. Perhaps it would be more fair of me to say that I do not find it entirely satisfactory. My noble friend has repeated the same kind of argument which we heard on Monday with regard to points. He said that the point is quite low, whereas in the case of drinking and driving it is much higher and the penalty is very much higher. Therefore, we must have a different kind of machinery and different kinds of controls. That is an argument of quality, not of principle. If we are going to have the principle, I think we must have the quality right.
Road safety is contained in this Bill, the biggest one since the late 1960s, and I do not believe that we can lightly dispense with this kind of thing. The whole of our debate this afternoon has focused on safety, on saving lives and injury. When we pass laws and make regulations we have got to make sure that the general motoring public are prepared to go along with them. There have been a number of cases—Thames Valley, the Welsh one, Tayside—where it was thought that the machinery was incorrect. I do not think I misunderstood my noble friend when he said that a number of different devices are used by different police forces. I believe we have got to standardise so that there is general acceptance.
392 I understand the answer which my noble friend gave about the resources which are available to us today but when resources are more available what do we find: we find a great spending splurge, with lots more staff so that we can put right all the wrongs of previous years. If there is a wrong, I believe we have got to put it right, and this Bill gives us an opportunity to put it right. I believe that there are injustices. May I ask my noble friend whether or not he could be a little more helpful to me. I do not want to prolong the debate but I am not prepared, just because it is late on a Thursday night, to allow what I believe to be an important matter of justice just to go by. Could my noble friend be a little more helpful to me?
§ The Earl of Avon
I mentioned that money was a factor but I did not base my case on it. It is a question of levels of enforcement. The Traffic Committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers has concluded that the handheld radar devices now in use by police forces in the United Kingdom are accurate when used in accordance with the operating instructions and by officers who have been properly trained. The extra guideline recommended by the judge in the Gwent case is now going to be incorporated in the operating procedures, though not strictly necessary on technical grounds. The ACPO will ensure uniform procedures and the present instructions for Muniquip will be improved. I hope that that answer will give my noble friend a little more confidence.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Indeed it does. It gives me a good deal of confidence. To close the matter, may I say that I hope my noble friend and his right honourable friend will keep in the forefront of their thinking when talking about motoring offences, penalties, the methods by which we enforce legislation, the real problems which can occur. The question of law enforcement, particularly in this field, is one of public confidence. It is so often a public relations exercise and we do not want to set motorists against the police. No way do we want to do that. If the motoring organisations and motorists themselves believe that there are restrictions to be observed, that will go a long way towards ensuring that the things we are all after—such as deterrents and fixed penalties—will run smoothly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 10 [Road Humps]:
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 87B standing in my name I believe it might be helpful if I also spoke to Amendments Nos. 88A and 88B. All three amendments return to the subject of road humps. Originally we wished to ensure that road humps were allowed to be constructed only in or on roads to which a 30 mph speed limit applied. That objective appears to have been achieved in the Bill, with the exception of 393 provisions which allow the Secretary of State to continue authorising the construction of road humps in other areas.
§ One might be fairly sure that the present Secretary of State would be sensible about these matters; I am conscious of what was said by my noble friend Lord Avon just a few moments ago as to where road humps were to be constructed and what their prime purpose was. Nevertheless, other Secretaries of State might be tempted to install humps in what I might consider to be unsuitable places—for example, on motorways. Last summer I raised a question about road humps in Scotland and it was my noble friend Lord Avon who said that the workings in question were not road humps but were rumble strips.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My noble friend said that road humps had one set of dimensions and that rumble strips had a different set of dimensions. I want to be totally assured that the Secretary of State can in no way, through the experimental clause in the old Act, allow humps to be put down on other roadways. I am happy that the highway authority cannot do so but I am not entirely happy about the position in respect of the Secretary of State, I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth for explaining his amendments because, as I believe he is aware, the wording of his amendments does not make tremendous sense. It is true that the only experience we have had with road humps so far is in connection with roads subject to a 30 miles per hour limit. At present we are not planning any experimental humps on roads not subject to 30 mph limits, but we are not legislating for just the next year or so and do not know what road safety needs may arise in future. We cannot show that it is impossible that road humps—perhaps of a design and subject to requirements different from those in urban areas—could benefit safety on lengths of road which do not meet the criteria for a 30 mph limit.
Because no case has yet been put to us I can only speculate on such possibilities, but it seems not inconceivable that such a requirement could arise in the case of a country park, on unfenced pasture land, or even in a village on a main road badly affected by through traffic exceeding 30 mph. In the Government's view it would be quite wrong to exclude any possibility that humps—which, as I have said, might have to be of different conformation and subject to different requirements from those applicable for 30 mph roads—could be tried out as a possible solution to safety problems. No less would it be wrong to preclude the Secretary of State, should he undertake such experiments and find them successful, from authorising highway authorities with a similar problem to install humps subject to whatever conditions the Secretary of State would wish to impose in the light of such experiments.
If all powers to install humps were tied to a 30 mph limit it is likely that highway authorities would impose such limits, regardless of normal speed limit policy, simply to qualify for humps. It would be difficult in such circumstances for the Secretary of State to 394 say to them, Nay. I do not think it right that those responsible for road safety should be forced into such disingenuities in order to promote road safety. This is the case on which the Government are resting, and although I have a slight suspicion that it will not satisfy my noble friend I am sure he will appreciate that, due to the ineffectiveness of his amendments, it would be better if he withdrew them at this stage and reintroduced them on Report, when we could take issue with them again.
§ Lord Underhill
Before the noble Lord the Minister sits down, will he confirm that I am correct in believing that under paragraph 2, 90B, of Schedule 10, even where the Secretary of State himself wishes to construct a road hump—whether on a 30 mph limit road or elsewhere—he has to obtain the consent of the highways authority or, in the case of Greater London, that of the Greater London Council? If that is so, that provision would go some way to meeting the point which the Government have put forward.
§ The Earl of Avon
I believe the answer to that question is, Yes, but I will certainly let the noble Lord opposite know if it is not.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My noble friend says "Good", but I do not know whether he means that. In the early part of my noble friend's response he spoke about what might happen in the next few years. While this may be an enabling provision, it does not enable matters to go on and on ad infinitum. I am desperately afraid of the thin end of wedges and his reply suggested to me that this was the thin end of a wedge. My noble friend argues that some little village might decide that it wants to have humps in the road to stop holiday traffic rushing through—and were my amendment adopted they would be so prevented—and would apply for a 30 mph limit, which it has every right to do, and thereby be enabled to put humps in the road.
If my noble friend's mind is working in such a tortuous way in this matter, goodness only knows how hard-pressed local traffic engineers out in the shires are coping, because the pressures on them are absolutely colossal.
I totally accept what the Government's present intentions are and I appreciate that the regulations are a negative procedure. In the light of what my noble friend has said I would also readily accept that my amendments may be defective. In fact, my noble friend was kind enough to discuss them with me yesterday when he pointed out the errors in my drafting. However, I explained what I was after and this evening my noble friend has given me the answer, although I am not totally reassured by his comments. It may be something of a platitude to say at this stage that I will read tomorrow in the Official Report what my noble friend has said and will then consider what I should do at a later stage—but I have to tell my noble friend that that is precisely what I should like to do, because I do not feel that I have taken full cognisance of my 395 noble friend's answer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 88:
Page 76, line 17, at end insert—
("( ) Elsewhere than in the area of Greater London a highway authority shall not exercise its authority in accordance with subsection (1) above without the agreement of the relevant district council.").
§ The noble Lord said: In Greater London the boroughs are the highway authorities and the Greater London Council is the traffic authority; therefore the boroughs may construct road humps but the consent of the GLC as the traffic authority has to be obtained. But we have a different situation outside Greater London, where the county councils are both the traffic and the highway authorities and under the Bill they have the authority to construct road humps. I think all noble Lords will agree that the construction of a road hump is very much a local matter and this has been recognised by the Government.
When a Private Member's Bill was before the Standing Committee in another place this was emphasised by Mr. Kenneth Clarke, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport when, on 28th June 1980, he said at column 12 of the report of the Standing Committee:
But I certainly commend the practice whereby the boroughs, or the districts where borough status has not been taken, normally come forward with proposals and their wishes are closely heeded by the county councils. Districts or boroughs should be closely involved in decisions about where to put road humps because there is a local context to any such decision".
I am certain that still remains the view of the Government. At least I hope it does, and there is no reason why it should not. I think all noble Lords would agree that it is absolutely unwise for any county council to proceed with a road hump without the agreement of the district council concerned. That is all that the amendment seeks to do: that before a road hump is constructed by the county council as the highway authority it should receive the assent of the appropriate district council.
§ I will not weary your Lordships much longer on this but you will all know large counties—let us just take Devon, which comes to my mind. For some reason or other it is felt that there ought to be a road hump in Lynton and the county council meeting in Exeter is the body that is going to decide. There is no compulsion that they must consult Lynton as to whether a road hump should be put there. That is absolutely ridiculous. This ought to be written into the Bill; it should not just be left as something that we hope will be carried out. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
Perhaps before I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on this amendment I might just say that I was correct in the reply which I gave him at the end of the last amendment.
This amendment would give district councils a power of veto over highway authorities' hump construction proposals. I have to say that I do not think the 396 proposal is really justified. District councils have no statutory responsibilities for highways, for traffic or for road safety. All these responsibilities, for non-trunk roads outside Greater London, have been conferred by Parliament on county councils. The example which I have been given and which I like is that they are responsible even down to cattle grids. For trunk roads the authority responsible is the Secretary of State.
I am aware, of course, that county councils may, if they wish, enter into agency agreements with their district councils under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972, including agreements whereby these functions are discharged by districts. I think probably this is what my honourable friend in the other place meant in the passage quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, just now. These, however, are matters between the individual authorities themselves. They do not affect the statutory responsibilities given to the counties by Parliament. Not only the highway responsibility (to which the hump construction power would properly belong) but also the related traffic and road safety responsibilities are theirs, and we can see no case for allowing district councils a right of veto over the way counties exercise their responsibilities.
In this connection I should like to make a general point which I seem to remember making previously during the discussion on road humps. Several amendments to Schedule 10 seek to impose on road hump construction proposals restrictions quite different from, and much heavier than, those that attach to other highways, traffic management and road safety operations which may be much more far-reaching in their effect. I am bound to say that the Government can see no grounds for these. Hump construction powers will simply add one more power which highway authorities can use to make the road safer. Some of the alternatives are costlier and have far more impact than humps, yet the use of them is not limited by the restrictions that the amendments to this schedule seek to impose. District councils have no right of veto over the making of one-way streets, the banning of right turns, road closures or the banning of traffic in favour of pedestrians in whole areas. Why then should they suddenly be allowed to veto humps?
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, suggested that because in London the Greater London Council have the right of veto of borough or common council hump proposals, district councils outside London should have a similar veto over counties' proposals. We do not recognise this precedent. Clause 90A(2) reflects a situation unique to London. Only in London are the highway and traffic responsibilities split; on non-trunk roads the borough or common council is the highway authority and the GLC the traffic authority. Thus the GLC could, without its veto right, find its performance of its statutory duties as traffic authority handicapped by a borough's installation of humps in the performance of its highway function; but this situation has no parallel outside Greater London, where all relevant responsibilities are statutorily vested in the county councils. With that explanation, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will not wish to press this amendment.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Can my noble friend say 397 whether he would have the same objection where the Bill required the highway authority to consult with the district council? Obviously then the power of veto to which he has referred would not apply, and yet it would give the district council a reasonable voice in what could be a fairly contentious matter, particularly were the decision made some 60 or 70 miles away from the place of action.
§ Viscount Hanworth
I do not think the Minister fully appreciates that from the motorist's point of view humps are objectionable. They may be necessary but I fear that there will be a fatal tendency, particularly from a local point of view, to put them in when they are not justified. It is no good asserting that it is all a safety precaution. One may think that in fact in many circumstances it does not do anything for safety, except being a convenient method of reducing the speed to almost nothing; and very often, without sufficient warning, quite apart from that, there might be considerable damage to somebody's car. I and many other noble Lords are afraid that there might get to be a habit of putting in humps locally, which is very nice for local people no doubt as long as you do not live in the road, which are really a menace and a danger. That is the reason why we wish to tie this down to an extent which so far the Government seem unwilling to accept.
§ The Earl of Avon
If I might reply to those two remarks, to my noble friend Lord Lucas the consultation requirements will be dealt with in regulations. I am also a driver of a car and have driven for some 30 years in London. I have seen road humps in London during the experimental time. I have also seen the making of one-way streets, the banning of right turns, road closures and the banning of traffic for the benefit of pedestrians in whole areas. The other four have been just as annoying as road humps to me. I really do not see why you should differentiate between them in this particular case.
§ Viscount Hanworth
I must come back on that. There is a very big difference. The others are inconvenient, but unless you have adequate warning, and if you get these humps distributed all over the place, you can very easily do considerable damage to your car if you are caught unawares.
§ The Earl of Avon
There will be proper road signs and if you obey the road signs you will not be caught unawares.
§ Viscount Hanworth
The Minister must realise there are too many road signs on the road and there are occasions when these signs can be missed, particularly if the humps are put in unreasonable places.
§ Lord Underhill
I must make it clear, in the light of what the noble Earl, Lord Avon, has said, that when we discussed the previous road hump Bill I did not move an amendment to this effect; I had one down on the Marshalled List, but I withdrew it for certain reasons of which the noble Earl is only too aware. Therefore, it has not been tested before your Lordships. This is one of these cases where a statutory responsibility 398 overrides sheer common sense. As the Minister has said this matter will be dealt with in regulations, I give notice now that if I cannot move this amendment because of the statutory responsibility of the highway authority, I shall consider putting down an amendment at Report stage to provide in the schedule that there shall be the necessary consultation with the district council. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 88A and 88B not moved.]
§ 9.6 p.m.
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 89:
Page 78, line 15, leave out ("such") and insert ("the national association of local authorities and such other").
§ The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if, with Amendment No. 89, we take Amendment No. 91 which deals with a somewhat similar principle. Both these amendments relate to the regulations about which we have heard from the Minister, which will deal with the construction and maintenance of road humps, their nature, dimensions, location and spacing, and also the placing of relevant signs. Although there is provision in the schedule that before making such arrangements the Secretary of State shall consult with such representative organisations as he thinks fit, the amendment proposes quite definitely that in the case of England and Wales the national associations of local authorities shall be consulted, and in Scotland the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
§ I think the point has already been made that the question of road humps is of vital importance to local authorities, and before these regulations are drawn up, on something which is entirely new, except for the experimental period we had in certain areas, the relevant local authority associations ought to be consulted, and this is a matter that I propose in this amendment should be written into the schedule. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
This is, of course, something with which we have much sympathy because it is something we consider we do. This amendment is also almost a hardy annual, in that I believe the principle has been put in varying forms in various legislation by both parties over the years.
To take this amendment in detail, there is first the difficulty on purely technical grounds. Amendment No. 89 refers to "national association of local authorities", whereas in England there are four such associations, for county, municipal, district and local councils, which with the London Boroughs Association and the Greater London Council are invariably consulted on any of our draft regulations. I imagine the amendment intends to cover all these. Secondly, on wider policy considerations these amendments are unwelcome, because they seek to vary the form always used in legislation dealing with consultation on proposals to make regulations. There is good reason for a formula which specifies no consultees at all. For one thing, if one starts specifying, where does it stop?
As I have pointed out, there are in England six local authority bodies to be consulted. There is another—a committee, not an association—in Wales. 399 There are, moreover, literally dozens of other organisations that have a reasonable expectation that they will be consulted, as indeed they will be. Once specifying begins, there is an understandable fear that non-specification may mean non-consultation, or that the views of the non-specified will carry little weight. Attempts to specify exhaustively every organisation which it would be proper to consult would be impractical. Last year, for instance, the Department of Transport, when drafting the new traffic signs regulations, consulted more than 70 bodies, including as always the local authority associations. Furthermore, even if an exhaustive list were written into the legislation, it might not remain effective for long. New bodies with relevant interests come into existence; existing ones disappear, or, sometimes, change their names.
Could we really contemplate revising every few years every measure that provided for specific consultation on regulations, in order to keep specification up to date? Even if it were thought the standard formula should be changed, a minor provision of this kind is perhaps not the right context for that consideration. I believe that the existing approach is the only sensible one. With those assurances I hope that I may have relieved Lord Underhill's mind.
§ Lord Underhill
I must apologise for the omission of the word "associations" and the inclusion of the word "association". I meant it to be "associations". We must put that down to the fact that we on this side of the Committee have to do our own typing of amendments.
It is always difficult to reply to what seems to be a sensible, logical answer, when frankly the Government agree with what I want. Why not put it in the Bill? I have had to deal with this issue as regards the Transport Bill in 1980. I just cannot understand why, when the Government say that they will consult with these bodies, we cannot have it written into the Bill. There might be another Secretary of State who might not want to consult. Every time we move an amendment like this one, everybody thinks of the present good, decent, trustworthy Secretary of State. But Secretaries of State can change. Therefore, we ought to write into the Bill what we feel ought to be done. It is clear that the Minister tonight will not agree; therefore I shall look carefully at what he has said and see whether or not, either in the same form or some other form, we may come back on Report to this issue. I think that logic is on the side of the amendment. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No 90:
Page 79, line 15, at end insert—
("90EE. A statutory instrument containing any regulations under Part 1 of this Schedule shall be subject to a resolution approved by both Houses of Parliament.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No 90, and with the leave of the Committee I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 92. I hope that on this occasion I shall have more success because this is, I believe, an even more reasonable amendment. As mentioned when considering the previous amendments, 400 there is provision in the schedule for the Secretary of State to make regulations in connection with the provision of road humps. As far as I can see—and I have read the schedule three or four times—and unless there is some hidden provision elsewhere in another Bill, there appears to be no provision for the regulations to come before Parliament
§ Road humps, as I said on the previous amendments, will be something entirely new except for the experiments which have been conducted in a few areas. It seems to me that these regulations would be of such importance, dealing with all the points which are laid down in the schedule which will have to be dealt with, that they should come before Parliament. What the two amendments propose—one for Scotland and one for England and Wales—is that the statutory instrument containing any regulations shall come before Parliament and be subject to a resolution by both Houses. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
So far as I understood the noble Lord's amendments, they were to substitute the affirmative resolution for the negative resolution. They are actually subject to the negative resolution at the moment. I was not sure from the noble Lord's remarks whether he realised that.
§ Lord Underhill
Perhaps I may intervene for a moment. For my own benefit, would the Minister tell me where the question of the negative resolution is referred to? There is reference to regulations.
§ The Earl of Avon
I think that I shall have to come back to the noble Lord on that point, but I can assure him that they are subject to the negative resolution.
§ Lord Mottistone
Perhaps I can assist my noble friend. Is it not Clause 30(2) which contains the relevant negative procedure?
§ The Earl of Avon
I thank my noble friend for that interruption. Section 325(2) of the Highways Act, 1980—the hump section—is additional to the 1980 Act; but I still think that that probably does not clear up the matter and I will clarify it.
§ Lord Underhill
I hope that the Minister will try to clarify it. If his point is correct, naturally I shall not press the amendment further later. But in the present circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.20 p.m.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 90A:
Page 79, line 17, leave out ("in or").
§ The noble Lord said: I cannot quite let road humps slide by without asking for some explanation of this rather extraordinary description in the Bill of humps being "in" or "on". I should have thought that a hump was "on" the surface of a road. I ask my noble friend whether "in" or "on" is not somewhat confusing. Is it not perhaps a legacy of the days when we spoke about humps and depressions?—humps being "on" and depressions being "in". The object of my amendment is to remove the "in" so that we do 401 not get things going down into the road, but stay with humps that will be on top of the road. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
This brings me back to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, when I had problems with whether eggs were "in" or "on" a nest. I assure the Committee that there are absolutely no problems about this; there is nothing that the Government are trying to hide.
The profile of a road hump would always be a convex curve above the normal level of the surface of the highway. But its installation may take various forms. It could involve simply laying a pre-formed hump, suitably bonded, on to the surface of the highway, or construction on site, wholly or in part, with the hump perhaps fully set into the surface of the highway for added strength. It is this latter one where we need the "in". It could even, if undertaken as part of a highway surface reconstruction, involve humping as part of the highway surface as reconstructed. The method would depend on the circumstances and on the materials to be used for the hump. I think that it is wholly appropriate that installation either in or on the highway be allowed for in the definition of a road hump. With that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I am delighted that my noble friend can assure me that there was nothing sinister. I had a horrible feeling that something was to be hidden in the road underneath the hump, but he assures me that that is not so. All is to be revealed on the hump on the surface in due course. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 91 and 92 not moved.]
Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 93:
Page 82, line 15, at end insert—
§ ("Alternative provisions
§ . Whenever the Secretary of State or the local highway authority propose to construct a road hump under the terms of this Schedule, they shall give careful consideration to the likelihood that its purposes will be better served by barriers of appropriate design to suit the road to restrict the width of the effective roadway. Such barriers should be constructed so as to be capable of being removed by officials of the local highway authority for special reasons.").
§ The noble Lord said: As can be seen by your Lordships, this amendment asks that careful consideration should be given to alternatives to road humps. Rather like the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, as a motorist, I have an instinctive dislike for road humps. I think that they will be a confounded nuisance and, indeed, where they already exist, they are. I do not think that they make me drive any better and I do not think that they are any safer, but so be it.
§ The alternative that one has seen in London of a road narrowing device seems to me to be very much better. My noble friend Lord Bellwin kindly wrote to me on 20th May as a result of this debate on Second Reading, and he made very clear the fact that this alternative would be available in appropriate places. I have tabled this amendment to give my noble friend an opportunity to give the Committee and the world 402 the benefit of the splendid second paragraph of his letter of 20th May. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I should like to support this amendment because in the interests of car springs, surely it would be better to have a barrier on either side to narrow the width of the road. One would have to slow down anyway, but one would not hurt one's car springs. I think that that would be a far better arrangement than these horrible humps.
Lord de Clifford
I should like to support my noble friend's amendment as well. I have only had one experience of a road hump and I passed it, much to the annoyance of a traffic warden, before I even knew it was there. I was going into a police switch which was a dead end, and they had a notice up, which was concealed by scaffolding, which did not permit us unless we had arrived there before 9.30 a.m. It would have been simpler had there been a barrier, so that one would know what was happening rather than going over a road hump which one did not even notice. One of the things that local authorities do not realise at the present moment is what road humps are. They put them up generally at a height which they think makes a hump. In this case there was no hump. But a barrier like this would have produced the right result without having to go to the expense of a hump.
§ The Earl of Avon
I am sorry that my noble friends are so anti-humps. Perhaps if they had pushed prams along the pavement and wanted to cross a road they might have preferred to have a hump than to have to go down a kerb. Perhaps if they lived near a dangerous corner where there is lots of squeaking of wheels they might rather prefer that a car slowed down before because there was a hump. However, I understand that most of my noble friends are more accustomed to being behind a driving wheel than behind a perambulator.
The amendment would in effect tell authorities to consider before constructing road humps whether an alternative would serve the same purpose. But this is something any competent highway authority would be doing anyway—such advice would be almost too obvious for issue. Authorities do not in this context start with a solution—except perhaps in a new road or new estate construction; they start with a problem. There may well be other possible answers to the sort of problems road humps could solve. Indeed, we can all think of quite a number. There could for instance be solutions by traffic management means; banning turns, for example, or one-waying the street, or even closing it. There could be other remedies by way of highway engineering. The road might for example have sharp artificial bends created at each end, or it might be zig-zagged along its length.
A combination of traffic management and highway engineering measures might offer a suitable answer. The measures potentially suitable will depend on local circumstances, and the highway authority must, having identified them, evaluate them to choose the best. Cost, including cost-effectiveness in terms of accident reduction, will be a most important factor here. There may however be other relevant factors, which will carry particular weight if the costs of two or more possible 403 solutions are much the same. Possible effect on traffic movement is obviously one. Another is possible environmental effect, and here I have in mind not so much visual effect as effect in making life a bit easier and happier for local people. The barriers my noble friend proposes would probably bring no such benefits.
I should also like to bring out one other matter. Any local authority on being consulted by the highway authority about these things will take into account local problems and local opinions. This is really the point of getting the local people's advice before you go ahead with something. Should the residents in any way not wish for a road hump, I am sure that that would be really and truly considered. I have not quite realised the second paragraph written by my noble friend Lord Bellwin to the noble Lord, but I hope with this explanation too he will be convinced that his amendment is unnecessary.
§ Lord Mottistone
I get the gist of what my noble friend has said. The second paragraph of his noble friend's letter was indeed much more succinct, much more to the point, and much more convincing. I wrote back to my noble friend Lord Bellwin and said that I thought it was so good that I was putting down this amendment so that he might convey the gist of that in answer to this question. Somehow the machinery within his department, with the greatest possible respect to it, seems to have failed to take cognisance of this point. I am sorry for your Lordships because you would much rather have heard the second paragraph than what my noble friend Lord Avon has just declared to you. However, it is true that, although it is not the gist of it, because it is three times as long, the sense is vaguely the same. That is, people will use their common sense and we will not be littered with humps, and where road narrowing is better, we will have that. That is the gist of my noble friend's letter and, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 31 [New basis of vehicle excise duty for goods vehicles]:
§ [Amendment No. 94 not moved.]
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 94A:
Page 21, line 41, at end insert—
("( ) The gross weight referred to in Tables 1 and 2 of Schedule 11 for the purpose of determining the duty payable shall be the maximum gross weight at which the vehicle can be legally operated for the duty period for which vehicle excise duty is paid. This gross weight, if less than the maximum gross operating weight for which the vehicle is designed, shall be prominently displayed on the vehicle in a manner which shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State by regulation.").
§ The noble Lord said: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for allowing me to put the case, as it were, and for withdrawing his Amendment No. 94, which was all but identical to mine, and perhaps we may have the benefit of his support in due course. 404 I wish also to thank my noble friend's department for having assisted me with some statistics which they endeavoured to gather. They obviously took an immense amount of trouble, though unfortunately the statistics were not convincing either to them or to me to the extent I had hoped they might be. Nevertheless, they have been helpful in putting the case.
§ I will not delay the Committee because I spoke on this issue on Second Reading. I would remind your Lordships that the problem is that lightweight goods—that is, lightweight in proportion to their volume, like many biscuits and cakes (your Lordships know that I have an interest in biscuits and cakes which perhaps I should declare again) and crisps and, in another sense, furniture—occupy in a standard heavy goods vehicle the full size of it by volume but very much less by weight than the vehicle is designed and basically plated for. The problem arises where such vehicles are used extensively by manufacturers, particularly food processing manufacturers with perishable goods.
§ Under the new rules for taxation in proportion to gross weight (coupled with the fact, as has been said earlier, that the overall balance of the taxation will be shifted to put it more in proportion to the amount of damage vehicles can do to the roads; therefore lighter vehicles will have less taxation and heavier-ones more than is currently the case) companies which use standard vehicles for standard products—which in the case of cakes and biscuits is, roughly speaking, about two-thirds of the weight of the plated value; in other words, a 32-ton vehicle will have probably only 20 tons of cakes and biscuits within it—could, over a period of time when regularly using such vehicles, be at a substantial financial disadvantage if they are having to pay the tax on a 32-ton vehicle when in fact they are carrying only 20 tons. What is more, it is not fair because the gross weight of the vehicle is that much lighter than the weight they are paying tax on.
§ Hence, the object of the amendment—and, with permission, I am speaking not only to my Amendment No. 94A but also to No. 94, which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has not moved, and Nos. 95 and 96—is to give the Government the opportunity by regulation to allow for what is colloquially known as down-plating, so that a vehicle which is to all intents and purposes a 32-tonner has very large letters written on the side of it. This was an issue in the Commons which was not really taken up fully. The Commons dealt with the matter thoroughly in Committee and at that time the Government were fundamentally sympathetic to the idea though, as I shall develop shortly, had reservations about its practicability.
§ However, having said that, I should like to make clear to my noble friends on the Front Bench that, as I see it, the down-plating would have to be displayed in letters about 3 ft. high, stating "20 tonnes", so that any policeman or Government official responsible for these matters could see at a glance that the vehicle was so marked. Perhaps he would become suspicious because of where he happened to see the vehicle. For instance, it might have written on it "Huntley & Palmer's Biscuits" but be coming out of a steel factory That would be surprising. The policeman or official might be suspicious and so could then take in the vehicle and have it check weighed. Likewise, if it bore a large marking stating "20 tonnes" and was 405 clearly down on its axles, bearing even more than 30 tonnes, the policemen or official could be suspicious and have it taken in for checking. The whole idea is that vehicles should be very well marked. Of course it would not pay Huntley and Palmer's to get themselves a bad name. Quite apart from the fact that the company would not be allowed a down-plating taxation certificate for the vehicle for the following year, it is beyond comprehension that a well-established company would risk damage to its good name and credibility by trying to cheat.
§ So I now turn to the example of the chap who is a general haulier and who periodically carries biscuits. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who knows this type of haulier much better than I do, would say that most of them are very reputable, and if they are to have a vehicle that will carry biscuits on Day 1 and steel ingots on Day 2 they will not bother to get a special down-plating reduction on their taxation level. They will go for the heaviest weight for which they normally use the vehicle. As I understand it, some of them will find themselves regularly using vehicles for particular jobs on a contract basis, in which case they will take advantage of the situation and will do their down-plating and live up to it.
§ Now there could be the lunatic fringe. We always have that problem in your Lordships' House, that there is a danger of legislating—
§ Lord Mottistone
I shall not be diverted. It applies equally to our colleagues in another place. There is a danger that the Government might be so worried about not causing too much trouble for the police and their own officials that they try excessively to safeguard against the lunatic fringe; and it is here that one must judge and weigh up the situation.
The department of my noble friend the Minister discovered for me that, very roughly speaking, 9 per cent. of the total of heavy goods vehicles in the country carry perishable foodstuffs. Of course some of the perishable foodstuffs are overweight and these are balanced by other products, such as furniture (which I mentioned earlier), to which the same problem applies. So perhaps in this respect we can say that there are involved about 10 per cent. of all vehicles. Let us say that of those the vast majority are operated by honest traders, trying to do their best. They want to try to work within reasonable financial limits. They do not want to be at a disadvantage under the new taxation system, and they are going to do the thing properly. Perhaps 0.1 of 1 per cent. of all the vehicle operators will cheat. That is probably a risk worth taking. The Government are not going to lose very much tax because, after all, we are talking about a down-plating at the most of only two-thirds; and as I say, the vast majority of people will operate within the rules.
I hope that if the Government cannot accept my amendments as they stand, they might be able to propose their own alternative in order to try to make the situation fair. As was said in another place by the Secretary of State, the object of this proposal is to have a neutral taxation system which is fair to all— 406 fair to the lightweight vehicles and in proportion to the damage done to the road. I am saying the same again: let us make it fair and make it still in proportion to the damage done to the road. The 32-ton vehicle taking 20 tons does equivalently, shall we say, two-thirds the amount of damage to the road. Let us be fair right across the board and introduce this system, which of course would be optional. People would take it up only when they thought that they could operate within it sensibly; and if they did not, and if they had variable loads, they would not do it. So let us see whether we can have a system which is going to make it fair for all and sensible and usable by those who need it. I beg to move.
§ Lord Underhill
It may be that I should say a few words on this to indicate that I did not withdraw my own amendment because I did not support the proposition so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. It is clear that I was wise to leave it to Lord Mottistone to move the amendment, because of his close interest in this matter and, frankly, of his coming so closely in touch with it in his everyday commercial contacts. Then it might be asked: Why did I trouble to put down an amendment in the first place? I have no commercial interests. My interest is that of equity, and that was the interest of my honourable friends in the other place who put down a similar amendment at both Committee stage and Report stage. It is on the grounds of equity that I hope the Government will listen to the case which has been so ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone.
It must always be kept in mind that at the end of the day haulage charges are reflected in the prices of goods in the shops. I know this has been mentioned (I believe Lord Mottistone mentioned this at Second Reading) but it is worthwhile reminding other noble Lords what the Freight Transport Association have said. They have quoted one company which, under the present procedure, pays £70,000 a year in excise tax, but which under the proposals in this Bill will pay £280,000—four times as much. Nobody can suggest that this is equity, when they are not transporting goods of a weight which would warrant that huge tax. Therefore, on the grounds of equity alone I think the Government should take a careful look at this proposition.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has said, the Government Minister was not unsympathetic, and I decided to put down another amendment mainly in the light of the two reasons that the Minister gave why his sympathy could not stretch to accepting the amendment. His first reason for not doing so was, he said, because there has to be rough and ready justice. Frankly, an issue of this kind, which can be dealt with by a simple amendment, as Lord Mottistone has pointed out, should not be left to rough and ready justice. I think Lord Mottistone has explained quite clearly that a simple amendment would enable only a tiny few to get through the net, and that is far better than allowing rough and ready justice to be applied in the case of excise tax in this matter.
The other reason for not accepting it which the Minister in the other place gave was, he said, this problem of enforcement. I believe noble Lords will have listened to what Lord Mottistone has said. The problem of enforcement is one that is really not a 407 problem at all. It may enable just a few people to get through the net, but the companies concerned here are going to be reputable companies. They are going to be companies who use these vehicles only for the delivery of these light goods. Therefore, there is no reason at all why the amendment which has been proposed, and to which I give my complete support, should not be accepted by the Government. If they cannot accept this proposal in the actual words of the amendment, I hope they will decide to take the matter back and then bring forward another amendment in the spirit of what is intended in this one.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Perhaps I may give support in principle to my noble friend's amendment; and may I compliment him on the expert manner in which he deployed his argument? It really was rather splendid. I think he should join those of us who have more work in haulage, rather than stay in the biscuit business. However, what the noble Lord said I believe to be quite correct but it is not as simple as that. As far as the rigid vehicles go, this is quite understandable because his large sign can be displayed. There is a constancy about a rigid vehicle. When you come to articulated vehicles and road trains, there you enter into a veritable forest of confusion. I think I can only describe it in that way.
I am going to apologise here and now to the Committee because I shall have to read some of the remarks I want to make because it is so complex that otherwise I could get it wrong. I do not want your Lordships when you read my words tomorrow to say, "The chap did not know what he was talking about. He had it round the wrong way". I want to concentrate for the moment on articulated vehicles. Currently the idea is that there is a continuation of the present system whereby an articulated vehicle is taxed at the total unladen weight of the tractor portion and the heaviest trailer, except that in the new system all this will be based on gross weight rather than unladen weight. On the face of it that appears to be all right, but it could be extremely unfair, and I believe probably quite unworkable, because the gross weight of articulated vehicles varies with a number of other factors and not least the axle spread. For example, an articulated vehicle's weight is determined by the distance in metres between the rearmost axle of the drawing vehicle and the foremost axle of the trailer, and where the distance is less than three metres on a four-axled vehicle the gross permitted weight is some 26,400-odd kilograms; but the plated gross train weight would probably go to 32 tonnes.
Looking at the schedule on page 82, line 41, Table 1:Goods vehicles of a gross or train weight not exceeding 12 metric tonnes",the description is an "articulated goods vehicle"; The factors determining the rate of duty: train weight of vehicle. The first question to which one must get an answer is, what is the train weight? Is it the gross train weight on the plate or is it the weight to which the vehicle is working and is limited by virtue of the trailer that it is then drawing? If it is the former, then some 30-foot trailer operators probably will be paying a good deal more than they ought to because their vehicle is probably plated at 32 tonnes gross vehicle. If it is the latter, then the tax payable will probably change day by day as a different trailer is being used.
408 The point that my noble friend made is that if you are getting a contract operator some days he is carrying biscuits, other days he is carrying steel and other days he is carrying something else: obviously he will use a variable unit. This is the whole point of articulated lorries. Sometimes it is a big one for large loads and sometimes a small one for heavy weights. The number of axles on the vehicle and trailer has an effect on the tax payable. There is probably no doubt that the draftsman of the legislation had this in mind in Table 2 of the schedule. This axle spread has an effect as I have described and it is not catered for at all in the legislation.
What this boils down to is—not to depart at all from what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, or my noble friend said—that there is more in this than meets the eye, that the concept of tax on gross weight is fine so far as it goes, but it has not been thought right through. We have the construction and use regulations which have a bearing on the restrictions of axle spread, and that again has a bearing on taxation.
Not to prejudice the future, it is a fact that multipurpose vehicles have a bigger role to play in the haulage industry in the transportation of goods, in the extension of the factory production line, than ever before. By their use, we reduce the number of vehicles in use. We reduce the objections—or some of them—to the heavy goods vehicle industry. So we cannot not now permit a taxation system that is going to penalise a multi-unit operator who will then turn back to "rigids" because the taxation levels can be lower. Neither do we want to encourage motor vehicle manufacturers to build down unladen weight vehicles to meet the kind of criteria that my noble friend was speaking about because this is harmful in terms of international marketed vehicles. They have to be of one kind. One cannot allow the buyer to be faced with the inevitability of buying a vehicle of a given unladen weight which per se has a plated weight when he is not going to use it because he is going to look for something else which I believe could be more dangerous.
Having made that extremely complicated contribution to my noble friend's amendment, may I say to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale that I do not want an answer nor do I wish to get too involved in an argument about weights, axle spreads and so on this evening. I am going to suggest that he takes away this matter and has another look at it, because it is a big problem.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I am perfectly prepared to accept that the weight of my argument goes up and down depending on the time of night I am speaking and what I am speaking about. Having said that, perhaps I may turn back to the amendment. In logic and equity, there is some force in the arguments that we have heard today—some force, but I am afraid still not enough to convince me. I shall go into the reasons for this in a minute. If I may first stick strictly to the amendment, the Bill has already the flexibility to deal with a down-plating provision should we require it.
I would draw the attention of the Committee to Clause 32(3)(a), which enables the Secretary of State to substitute different definitions for the gross weight and the train weight of a vehicle which is laid 409 down in Clause 32(2). This provision means that the Government can continue to listen to the down-plating argument so that a scheme of the type discussed today can be introduced if necessary. I should be delighted if that explanation on the amendment will satisfy the Committee but I have no doubt that it will not.
The Committee will expect me to put the other side of the coin to that so ably explained by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, backed up by other noble Lords. We must not lose sight of the fact that the basic purpose of vehicle excise duty is to raise revenue. There is a limit to the degree of fine-tuning which can sensibly be imported into the tax system. As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said in another place, where this issue was being debated during earlier stages of the Bill's passage:There is bound to be a certain element of rough and ready justice as between operators and vehicles because we have to work on averages, and no system can be devised to reflect every variation between vehicle operations".That comes from the report of the Committee proceedings, col. 31 on 31st March this year.
The essential feature of a down-plating provision is that it would allow an operator to decide his own tax liability in the light of his own operating circumstances. It would mean in effect a voluntary plating arrangement solely for VED purposes. Against this, the proposals in the Bill take the plated weight as determined for construction and use purposes. That weight is clearly understood, unambiguous and, unless there are physical changes to the vehicle, permanent. I hope my noble friend Lord Lucas would appreciate that point. Therefore, there can be no doubt in anyone's mind what the duty liability for that vehicle should be.
I have no doubt that the majority of companies would not seek to abuse a down-plating provision, but a less scrupulous operator who, for example, was temporarily short of cash might find the temptation too great. He could simply declare a low operating weight, thereby making a substantial saving on his tax liability, and run the risk of being caught at a higher operating weight. In moving this amendment, my noble friend Lord Mottistone suggested that this might apply to 0.1 per cent. in the transport of goods for the food industry, but although I have not had time to do any sums I would estimate that this is something in the region of 7,000 vehicles—and that is no small number, as I am sure he will agree.
My noble friend's series of amendments is partly addressed to this issue. He has provided for the vehicle's taxable weight to be prominently displayed on the vehicle. Certainly there is absolutely no doubt from his description as to what he intends, but it would only partly solve the problem. It would of course suggest to the enforcement authorities which vehicles might be worth stopping. However, the vehicles would have to be check-weighted to verify whether or not an offence had been committed. It has been argued that such an arrangement would simply be an extension of the present work of the police and enforcement agencies in checking that a vehicle is not overloaded for construction and use, that is safety, purposes. This is not quite so.
The fact is that an experienced enforcement officer 410 can spot which vehicles are likely to be overloaded for safety purposes, for example, by the way the load is distributed. But there would be no way of assessing visually whether a down-plating operator was cheating with vehicle excise duty. An operator could be exceeding his taxable operating weight but still be well within the maximum carrying weight of the vehicle. Enforcement staff, therefore, could not visually identify likely tax dodgers. In short, a system of voluntary down-plating would mean a new type of enforcement activity, with vehicles which would not otherwise be stopped for road safety purposes being checked for an overloading offence.
These are the counter-arguments I promised your Lordships. However, I should make it clear that the Government have not finally ruled out the possibility of providing for down-plating when restructuring is implemented. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has made this clear in another place. As he noted in the earlier debates on this aspect of the Bill, there are other issues which are relevant to the final structure and to the duty relativites between one vehicle and another.
In particular the department is reviewing some of the factors on which road track costs are calculated in the light of representations from the interests concerned. This means that the incidence of road track costs could have altered somewhat by the time the change to a gross weight basis is implemented. We must also bear in mind that it is for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to decide just how the tax scale is graduated between different classes of vehicle and when, in a future Budget, he will introduce it.
These aspects will all need to be borne in mind before final decisions are taken on the structure. It will be evident from my remarks that the Government are not convinced by the down-plating case and remain sceptical about its case both in equity and enforceability; but we shall continue to consider it and will certainly bear in mind the views expressed by your Lordships today.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked me a question about gross train weight. Taxation will be based on the gross train weight of the tractor vehicle; that takes account of the weight of the trailer. Also, gross train weight takes account of the axle spacing of the vehicle. The gross train weight is the maximum for the vehicle. Some trailers, however, must be used at other than the maximum weights prescribed on the tractor. In short, the operator can use a tractor with a mix of trailers. He must tax it according to the gross train of the tractor. My noble friend demonstrated the use to which such a fleet might be put. Although I must confess that I do not understand it too well, I hope that that will mean more to him than it does to me.
§ Lord Mottistone
I am both slightly pleased and slightly disappointed at my noble friend's reply. I thought it was a little unfortunate that he had to fall back on the rough justice argument particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, had reminded him of it. It is all very well to speak about rough justice. People who try to operate and make a success of their business, and do not want to have to pay a penny more than is 411 necessary—otherwise, it only comes off the poor unfortunate customer—are not doing this for fun. Rough justice is all very well, but if you are talking about 10 per cent. of the heavy goods vehicles of the country, it is a bit rough if they are badly off. So I hope my noble friend will persuade his department to be a little freer and try to have a thought about commercial operation.
It is all very well sitting in Whitehall, pushing papers together and writing out briefs to Ministers. But to put up all those little log jams and say: "Of course, we sympathise. But there are so many difficulties that we could not put it into effect", is so uncommercial. We are talking about a commercial operation, and about how people can earn money for this country, not only by selling cheaply to the customers of this country, but by exporting goods. I was at a meeting with the Customs yesterday. We are trying to do something as economically as possible and not to be held up with bureaucracy, with people trying to protect the police from too much trouble. God help us! We are in a commercial country, which depends on good commercial results. We have to put that first. Until we do put it first, we shall not succeed in getting this country on its feet. I ask my noble friend to try to make sure that his advisers and his fellow Ministers understand that this is a matter of trying to make sure that the job can be done as economically as possible in given circumstances. It is as simple as that.
The little good point is that my noble friend told me that he thinks that he could introduce down-plating and perhaps he could even do what my noble friend Lord Lucas wants under Clause 32(2)(a). If that is so—and I have to take his word for it—that is jolly good. Substituting different definitions will allow him to do all that my amendment seeks to do. So we have at least got our foot in the door, because the Minister said that. We now have to attack and try—God help us !—to convert the total Whitehall machine into a commercially minded and oriented body. We must try. The country will go to the dogs if we do not succeed. That is the problem.
I am delighted to have the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on my side in this matter, because noble Lords opposite do not have a very good reputation for understanding the commercial realities of life. It is jolly nice to think that they have this understanding of a commercial reality, and let us hope that we stick together. However, with a slender promise of Clause 32(2)(a) being a way through and, I hope, an understanding by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, if not by his advisers or anybody else, that he will try to do something to understand what we want and to grasp the commercial implications, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. But I may come back again on Report to underpin what I am trying to do.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 31 agreed to.
§ Schedule 11 agreed to.
§ Clause 32 [Interpretation of s.31 and Schedule 11]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 not moved.]
§ Clause 32 agreed to.412
§ Clause 33 [Charges for licensing of cabs and cab drivers]:
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 97:
Page 24, line 8, at end insert—
("(3A) The fee chargeable under subsection (3) above shall not exceed twenty five pounds or such other sum as a district council may, subject to subsection (3B) below from time to time determine.
(3B) If a district council determine that the maximum fee specified in subsection (3A) above shall be varied, subsections (3) to (5) of section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 as amended by the following subsection of this section shall apply in relation to licences issued under the said Act of 1847 as they apply to licences issued under the said Act of 1976.
(3C) Section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 shall be read and have effect as if in place of subsection— (5) there were substituted the following sub-sections—
(5) If objection is duly made as aforesaid and is not withdrawn the district council shall set a further date, not later than two months after the first specified date, on which the variation shall come into force with or without modification made in accordance with subsection (5A) below.
(5A) Forthwith after setting a further date under subsection (5) above the district council shall refer the objection to the Traffic Commissioners and the decision of the Traffic Commissioners made after considering the submissions of the district council and of persons or bodies which in their opinion are representative of the taxi trade within the district shall be final and binding.".").
§ The noble Lord said: I am sorry that at this time of night I shall have to explain the precise reason and intention behind Amendment No. 97. This clause relates to the charges for licensing of cabs and cab drivers. The Bill provides for the possibility of increased charges. Subsections (1) and (2) relate to the Metropolitan area and provide that the Secretary of State must give approval to any new sum which may be proposed. Although there are matters of concern with regard to charges in London, as the taxi trade always has the opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State the amendment does not seek to deal with the clause in so far as it relates to the London area, particularly as the Secretary of State, as I have mentioned, has to give approval to any new sum which may be proposed. However, subsection (3) provides for a changed procedure outside the Metropolitan area.
§ No change is proposed in the case of district councils which have adopted the provisions of Section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. That Act lays down maximum charges and provides also that these may be varied by the district council concerned. Where the licence fees are increased, the only opportunity for appeal is for objections to be made to the district council—that is, to the same body as proposed the increased fees. There is no opportunity for appeal to the Secretary of State or to any independent body. In the case of these particular district councils, any increase in fees does not require the approval of the Secretary of State. That procedure surely is inequitable. There is need for the taxi trade to have the opportunity to appeal to an independent body.
§ When we look at the case of the district councils which have not adopted the provisions of the 1976 Act but which continue under the Town Police Clauses 413 Act 1847, the position will be even worse in terms of the clause which is now before your Lordships. As drafted, the Bill will enable those councils—and there is a very substantial number of them—to fix increased fees. I am not arguing that there may not be a case for increased fees. That is not the issue. But the approval of the Secretary of State for an increase will not be required in the case of those councils which are operating under the 1847 Act. There is no provision for any objection even to the district council, which of course there is at present under the 1976 Act. It is therefore clear that even on that small, narrow point, justice demands that there must be some amendment to the Bill.
§ There is real cause for concern. Some district councils have decided on increased fees in accordance with the 1976 Act, and some of them have done this in a most arbitrary way. Some councils have not even enabled the taxi trade to obtain information to allow them to decide whether or not to put in an objection. For example, a large increase in the licence fee was proposed by one district council and was eventually implemented. When the taxi trade association requested a breakdown of the costings of the licensing department to decide whether or not to make an objection, their request was refused. I have with me tonight a copy of a letter from that council which says that it had been decided not to furnish the required information. Surely that is against all reasonable practice. It makes a mockery of any opportunity to object and even of consultation. I am assured that a similar attitude is experienced in other areas.
§ The amendment proposes that the licensing fee outside the Metropolitan area shall not exceed £25 or such other sum as the district council may decide. Should a district council decide to vary the sum, it is proposed that there must in all cases be an opportunity to appeal. This would apply to all councils whether or not they operate under the 1976 Act or the 1847 Act. It is proposed in the amendment that the right of appeal should be to the Traffic Commissioners, as I do not have the slightest doubt that the Secretary of State will not wish to have this additional responsibility placed upon him. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will see the equity of the arrangement that is proposed in the amendment, but if the Minister considers that another body of appeal might be more appropriate, that would be acceptable, provided it was an independent body.
§ In short, the amendment seeks an opportunity to appeal to an independent body in the case of councils operating under the 1976 Act; and that the same opportunity be given where the council still operates under the 1847 Act. I would remind your Lordships that under the clause as drafted, in the case of those district councils operating under the 1847 Act there will be no appeal at all—not even a limited appeal to the district council as under the 1976 Act. On the grounds of equity this matter does deserve consideration and I beg to move.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
This amendment and the clause to which it relates should be seen in the context of the Government's firm conviction that the level of public spending and the burden on the taxpayer and the rate 414 payer should be reduced. One way of putting that policy into action is to ensure that local authorities are not prevented from charging sufficient fees to at least cover the cost of the services they provide. For this purpose, however, it is not enough merely to sweep away long out-dated maxima, such as the five shilling maximum for a taxi licence under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. We must go further than that and remove all unnecessary restrictions on the powers of local authorities to charge such fees as may be necessary.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would take us in the other direction. The noble Lord proposes a complicated procedure of public notification and the consideration of objections whenever a district council covered by this Bill wishes to set a fee of more than £25. This procedure would, by its very nature, take longer and be more costly. The losers would be the taxi trade, who would have to bear this extra cost. Even if this were not the case, inflexible statutory requirements such as those proposed by the noble Lord would be wholly inappropriate. District councils can hardly fail to inform the taxi trade of proposed increases in licence fees, and if the trade is aggrieved it will, I am sure, have no hesitation and no difficulty in making its feelings abundantly clear. I appreciate that the procedural proposals which I have just criticised already appear in Section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. I can see that the threshold of £25 could be defended in 1976, since the cost of taxi licensing was unlikely to exceed that sum. The same is no longer true today.
I now turn to that part of the noble Lord's amendment that would provide for arbitration by the Traffic Commissioners. I appreciate that the noble Lord has the interests of the taxi trade at heart and I sympathise with his objectives. None of us likes paying extra for anything, and the prospect of providential intervention is always appealing. I am therefore sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but I hope that when he has heard the many reasons—some important, some less so—he will be persuaded as I have been that the amendment should be withdrawn.
I have already said that the ability of local authorities to charge fees to cover their costs should not be artificially restricted. Arbitration by the Traffic Commissioners would do just that, and even if this were not the case the noble Lord's proposal would have serious resource implications. It would increase the burden of work upon the Traffic Commissioners, not to mention their costs. Noble Lords will notice that the amendment makes no mention of who is to bear the cost of arbitration. The intention would appear to be that the costs should be borne by the long-suffering taxpayer.
This proposal would also mark a new departure in taxi policy. There are many provisions in taxi legislation for a right of appeal to the courts, but nowhere do the Traffic Commissioners appear. To introduce them into the taxi field solely for the purpose of arbitrating on taxi licence fees would be a strange anomaly indeed. Furthermore, to do so at this stage, shortly before my right honourable friend the Home Secretary issues his consultation paper on taxis and hire cars, would be to jump the gun. This is neither the time nor the place for that.
415 The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has expressed anxieties that the Bill as drafted would enable local authorities to charge fees greater than they need to recover their costs, in other words to make a profit. I wish to make it quite clear that this is not the intention. The discretion to fix fees without regard to any arbitrary ceiling does not allow a fee to be fixed at a level greater than the reasonable cost of administering the system, taking one year with another. A local authority fixing a fee at such a level could in my view be challenged in the courts on the grounds that it was acting ultra vires.
Nevertheless, I do not wish to discount the worries of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and of the taxi trade. Therefore, if it will satisfy the noble Lord, I will undertake to look again at the clause with a view to making explicit what I believe to be already implicit, namely, that excessive fees shall not be charged. I will also read carefully what the noble Lord has said and the great concern which he expressed about appealing to an independent body. He seemed to feel that that was of major importance and I will certainly be glad to think again about that. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will not seek to proceed with his amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
I should like to make just a few points on what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, has said. First, I must make it absolutely clear that the amendment is not saying that there should not be the exercise of due economy; it is not saying that there should be no attention given to the saving of finance. That has nothing at all to do with what I have said. It is not even saying that there should not be an increase in licence fees. Obviously with the pitifully low fee that is charged in the areas operating under the 1847 Act there is need for something to be done.
I appreciate that the Minister has said that he is prepared to look at the question of limiting the increases: that would go a long way because at the moment there is nothing in the Act at all which stops that. In London, of course, there has to be approval by the Secretary of State and therefore we are not dealing with London. We are quite satisfied that the Secretary of State will watch the position there, but outside London we have this problem. We are not even saying that the £25 which is mentioned in the amendment should be the figure. It says £25 or such other fee as the district council may decide. Therefore that is all right.
The Minister also said that there is no intention under the Bill that the council shall fix a fee above the cost of the department. That has been the worry reported to me by the taxi trade. If they cannot get the information as to the costs of the licensing department, and know whether it covers costs that they should not be trying to get from the taxi trade, how can they decide whether to make an objection? And the objection is that going to the very body which refuses them the information surely is undemocratic and inequitable, and that alone should be looked at.
The other important point is that even if we said "All right, leave it as it is in the 1977 Act—the objection only to the district council" that does not apply in the case of those operating under the 1847 Act. 416 They have no grounds for protest at all because there is no provision in the clause for that. Therefore, there are still grounds for looking into this matter. It is rather strange that I should be in the position, first, of supporting fair and equitable taxation in the case of commercial enterprises with their haulage and now I am supporting proper and fair treatment for the commercial enterprise of the taxi trade. Therefore, this side of the Committee seems to be doing its job effectively tonight.
I will read what the Minister has said. I appreciate that he will look at one or two points but I shall be grateful if he will look at the whole of this case because I think there is a sound reason for one or two changes to be made. On the basis of what the Minister has said I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ 10.20 p.m.
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 98:
After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Revision of Highway Code
§ . Section 37 of the 1972 Act shall be read and have effect as if in subsection (2) thereof after the word "may" there were inserted the words "after consulting such persons and organisations as he thinks fit".").
§ The noble Lord said: Perhaps I can take with this also Amendment No. 99. This question is dealt with by Section 37 of the 1972 Road Traffic Act and it relates to the Highway Code. At present the Secretary of State may make alterations to the code, but any such revised code must not be issued until any proposed alterations have been approved by both Houses of Parliament. This necessitates the allocation of parliamentary time and this may explain why sometimes there is some gap between the issuing of one code and a revised one later on.
§ The first amendment seeks to provide that the Secretary of State shall consult such persons and organisations as he thinks fit before making any revision. I hope the Government will not resist this amendment, because they are almost the same words as the Government have insisted shall be retained in the schedule relating to the road humps. Therefore, I am not trying to do anything new; I am trying to put into this one the same words as they have said must be left and not interfered with in the schedule for road humps.
§ The second amendment proposes what in effect is the negative procedure. Parliament will have the opportunity under the amendment to decide that the alteration be not made, but unless any Member seeks to propose a resolution within a period of 40 days the alterations will be made and the revised code issued. These two amendments are put forward, particularly the second one, with the intention of being really helpful. Time and time again I have insisted on certain matters being subject to affirmative resolution, but, in this case, the Highway Code is not making law; it is setting out guidance for the benefit of the public. To get a revised code as regularly as is desirable is something we surely ought to aim at. I believe that both the AA and the RAC would support this. I beg to move.417
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on this amendment, to which I have put my name. It is a pity that the two amendments to which I have put my name have both come up at this unfortunate late hour. The first one, which we dealt with the other day, we shall no doubt come back to at a later date. I think this amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, can do nothing but be helpful to both Houses of Parliament, with regard to the time aspect, as well as to the Government getting other legislation through in the time in which they wish to. I support the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in this amendment.
Lord de Clifford
May I support these amendments. I will not add anything to what has been said about them, but I should like to ask the Government, when they come to revise the Highway Code, that they shall not make it bigger and bigger. At the moment it is starting to get so large that people who have to learn it and use it, particularly those who are just starting to drive, tend to find great difficulty in getting through the volume of it. It would be much better if we could try to condense it.
§ The Earl of Avon
I noticed the wording to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, drew my attention, and thought it must be a point he carefully put down to get the sympathy of the Government, which indeed he has on this, and we very much appreciate what he has put before us. I am grateful for this opportunity to explain the Government's position on the whole question of the procedure for revising the Highway Code.
First, on the question of consultation, which is the subject of the new Clause 98, it is of course the case that successive Governments have made a practice of consulting widely among those who can best offer advice on the revision of the code. Indeed, on the occasion of the last revision, the draft revised code was published in the form of a Green Paper. This served two purposes. It gave both Houses of Parliament an opportunity to debate the revised code, and it provided the general public with an opportunity to offer comments and observations. It is, of course, extremely unlikely that any future Secretary of State would fail to recognise the importance of seeking the views of all interested organisations and of the public before revising the code, irrespective of whether there was a statutory duty for him to do so. I think, too, that he would seek an opportunity for parliamentary debate on any changes of substance.
I turn to the second amendment, Amendment No. 99. This would change the procedure for laying a revised version of the code from the affirmative to the negative resolution procedure and, as the noble Lord knows, that is something that I am always in favour of. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has explained, the purpose behind this is to enable revision of the code to be made in a less cumbrous and time-consuming way. This is all very well as far as it goes, but there are other, perhaps more important, changes in the procedure which we might envisage to enable the code to be kept up-to-date more easily without having to wait until a general revision of the code. For example, it might be sensible for the kind of editorial 418 changes which merely reflect changes in legal requirements which have already been enacted by Parliament, or clarified by developing case law, to be incorporated by the Government when the code is reprinted, without the need for separate parliamentary approval. From time to time Parliament could then address itself to a more substantial revision. A change of that kind might ensure that Parliament's legitimate interest in the drafting of this important document is protected while avoiding unnecessary procedural delays.
The Government are looking at this whole problem and will make firm proposals as soon as possible. This is not, I suggest, an urgent task, because, as noble Lords will recall, the last revision of the code was fairly recent and the next major one we would imagine is some way off. So we totally accept in principle that there should be consultation about the revision of the Highway Code and that it is desirable that it should be made easier to keep the code up to date between major revisions, but the Government would like to put forward their considered proposals at a later date taking on board the points made in this useful discussion this evening, including the point raised by my noble friend Lord de Clifford. Therefore, in point of fact, to sum up, in the first case in practice, and in the second case in thought, we are almost a step ahead of the amendments which the noble Lord has moved this evening. I hope, bearing that in mind, that he might be prepared to withdraw them.
§ Lord Underhill
I am grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation and naturally, if the Government are going to give attention to this whole question and maybe even improve upon my amendment, I welcome it, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 99 not moved.]
§ 10.28 p.m.
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 100:
After Clause 33, 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: I beg to move Amendment No. 100. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the wide support of the names at the head 419 of this amendment. Section 8 of the Railways Act 1974 provides that grants may be made to cover 50 per cent. of the capital cost of the provision of facilities for handling freight. They cover items such as sidings, handling equipment, access roads and rolling stock. The grants are made to the body which will be providing the facilities, and grants have been made of immeasurable value both to the handler of the freight and to British Rail. I know that the Government are anxious to see the commercial waterways fully developed and only recently your Lordships approved a Bill to increase the borrowing powers of the British Waterways Board.
§ This amendment seeks to provide that the same Section 8 grants as are now available in connection with freight facilities as regards rail shall be made to those using the commercial waterways for the carriage of freight. Perhaps I may mention one example, the improvement to the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation for which the Government made finance available. The development of the traffic on this waterway will require investment in wharves, craft and handling equipment, and firms interested in developing freight traffic on this waterway have made inquiries already about the possibility of grants being made available.
§ The amendment is fully supported by the National Waterways Transport Association, and one private haulage and warehousing firm has urged support for the amendment and has explained that, where proposed transhipment facilities were adjacent to the railway, it was possible for them to obtain grants towards establishing the necessary facilities, but where they are adjacent to the waterway, such grants were not available. This will not involve a considerable sum of money, and it will possibly enable our freight waterways to be developed to the fullest extent and to provide facilities for those who are involved in transporting freight. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this amendment. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Kinnoull
I should like very warmly to support the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and to congratulate him on the magnificent work that he has achieved in the long stage of this Committee, where he has moved about 80 out of 100 or so amendments, only equalled by my noble friend's replies. But this amendment asks this question of the Government: do they really believe in the waterways? Do they really believe in the network that we have? Do they really believe in a way of removing five lorries from our roads and replacing them with one barge, or which will help take some of these juggernauts off our roads?
As the noble Lord has said, this amendment is supported by responsible bodies outside this House. It does not demand a large annual sum; it leaves the annual sum to the Government. But in my view it would bring in parallel sums and, indeed, would give the Waterways Board a great fillip if it was thought that it was being handled or dealt with in the same way as the railways. I hope that my noble friend can give an encouraging reply.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
I should like most warmly to support this amendment. Our waterways traverse most of the country. The majority of them 420 were constructed in the 18th century, with a few in the early 19th century. There has been some improvement in tourist services on the waterways, but the freight services have been rather neglected. Of course, it is an extremely cheap way of transporting heavy goods. It is not very fast, but it is a useful form of transportation.
Some of the canals are in rather a bad way, and although my next remark may not be strictly relevant to the amendment, I have often thought that through the medium of a Government agency some of our young unemployed might be employed, at the correct wage, to improve our waterways, to dredge some of them and to make them navigable. I support this amendment. To a great extent these waterways are a wasted asset in relation to the movement of freight.
§ Viscount Hanworth
I should like to support this amendment, and to say that it seems perfectly logical that these waterways should be put on the same footing as the railways. I can quite understand the Government's reluctance to agree to this because of the matter of finance. On the other hand, the grants are discretionary and it would do a very great deal to promote this use of our canals and rivers for increased load-carrying.
§ Lord Bellwin
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, and other noble friends and noble Lords who have spoken, that the Government have considerable sympathy with the views that have been put forward, but the fact is that the clause is outside the scope of the Bill. It would not be appropriate to take up the time of the Committee on this occasion to debate the arrangements for the transportation of freight by water. I can, however, say that the Government are aware of the desire of those responsible for our canal system to increase this freight traffic as much as they can. This is a general objective with which the Government are in sympathy.
We have been considering for some time the possible extension of the rail freight facilities grant to waterways and the Armitage Report recommended that canals should be eligible for these grants. The Government are considering the Armitage recommendations as a whole. I am sure that your Lordships are aware that there has been a general desire that the recommendations should be looked at as a package, and that the Government should not proceed with individual recommendations in isolation. That in fact is what we are doing. I ask your Lordships to please be patient while we come to decisions on that. Meanwhile, I have to say again that, in that I am advised that the clause is outside the scope of the Bill, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
I am grateful for the advice given by the Minister. What I shall have to consider with my noble friends is whether or not to put down a similar amendment and also extend the Title of the Bill, as we have already done on one occasion tonight in so far as we have brought in the railways and compensation in connection with the burning of crops which had nothing to do with this original Bill, but the Title is going to be extended. This is such a commonsense transport 421 issue, the Government have so much sympathy for it, that I shall help the Government by putting down an amendment and also extending the Title. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 101:
After Clause 33, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Railway etc. byelaws: increase in penalties
§ (3) Any byelaws made under this section may provide—
- (a) in the case of byelaws made by virtue of subsection (1) above, that any person contravening them shall be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding £200 for each offence; and
- (b) in the case of byelaws made by virtue of subsection (2) above, that any person contravening them shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50 for each offence and, in the case of such a contravention which continues after conviction, to a fine not exceeding £10 for each day on which the offence so continues.".").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 101, the new clause as printed on the Marshalled List. This clause, although it may be a little difficult to understand at first reading, is really extremely simple. All it does is to raise the maximum penalty which a court can award on summary conviction for breach of the railway by-laws from £50 to £200, which is in accordance with today's thinking as the appropriate level. Further, when this point was raised in another place during the Committee stage the Government made it clear that they had great sympathy for this proposal. I therefore hope that it will not be thought necessary for me to explain it all at great length. If I had not seen a nod, I might have thought it was necessary.
§ I would only say one point about this in addition. These penalties for breaches of by-laws have a rather curious history. The 1962 Act, from which we start, is a public Act of Parliament. The 1975 and 1977 Acts, which lifted the maximum penalty from £25 to £50, were private Acts of Parliament. Beyond that there are two sorts of by-laws, one dealing with the railways and the other dealing with Sealink. Sealink in fact has never had any by-laws, but none the less it is felt that the power to make by-laws should be retained. That is why we have two paragraphs in this new clause. The following amendment, No. 103, is no more than consequential repeals which are consequential amendments. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bellwin
It is a great pleasure always, not one I get too often, to be able to accept the amendment, which I hereby gladly do. The nod was as good as a wink on this occasion, and I am pleased to thank my noble friend for moving this amendment, which we accept.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 34 to 37 agreed to.422
§ Schedule 12 [Repeals]:
Lord Bellwin moved Amendment No. 102:
Page 86, leave out lines 22 and 23.
§ The noble Lord said: This is a purely technical amendment to remove a piece of duplication in the repeals schedule. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 103:
§ Page 89, line 45, at end insert—
|("1975 c. xxix.||The British Railways (No. 2) Act 1975.||Section 21.|
|1977 c. xii.||The London Transport Act 1977.||Section 13(1).|
|1977 c. xvii.||The British Railways Act 1977.||Section 14(1).").|
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.
§ In the Title:
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 104:
Line 14, after second ("licences;") insert ("to amend the law relating to the liability of railway companies to make good damage to crops by their engines;").
§ The noble Lord said: In view of my noble friends' earlier assurance, I need not speak to this amendment at length now. However, perhaps well before 8th July, when we will come to this matter again on Report, my noble friend will let me have the Government's views on the suggestions contained in my amendment, so that I may give proper consideration to the matter and so avoid the possible worry of putting down an amendment on Third Reading, something which we both wish to avoid.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I never like amendments, and most certainly I shall do as my noble friend suggests.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.