§ 3.26 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. This is the second Transport Bill that I have had the pleasure of bringing before your Lordships. Like last year's Bill, this is a major piece of legislation, containing important reforms, and reducing once again the public sector domination and State interference in the transport industries of this country. I have no doubt that, as in the Second Reading debate on last year's Bill, there will be a stimulating debate today on the privatisation measures in the Bill. But unlike last year's Bill, this one also contains important reforms to the motoring laws and to road safety legislation. 218 These measures too will, I think, give rise to lively debate this afternoon.
This is a large Bill, and it is a diverse Bill, but I make no apology for that. The Government have a right to bring forward their privatisation measures—in this case, the privatisation of the British Rail subsidiaries and the British Transport Docks Board. We know these are politically controversial, but we also attach great importance to the other measures of the Bill, which are less controversial politically. It is, we believe, a balanced Bill. There may be some who argue this afternoon that we should have put the road safety provisions in a separate Bill, but I think it is right that we should find room, even in a crowded legislative programme, for these long overdue reforms. It is the first time a Government have brought forward such major reforms in the road safety field since the 1967 Road Traffic Act.
It may be helpful if I begin this speech with a brief description of the Bill as a whole. There are five distinct parts. Parts I and II contain provisions which will enable private capital to be introduced into the British Railways Board subsidiaries, and into the British Transport Docks Board. Part III is concerned mainly with the abolition of the National Ports Council. It also contains important changes to harbours legislation. These measures will reduce ministerial and other statutory interference in the ports and place more responsibility on the ports themselves.
Part IV of the Bill contains the road safety measures. First, it reforms the so-called "totting-up" procedure for disqualification following conviction for repeated driving offences. Second, it contains measures to deal with the extremely worrying problem of the high number of deaths and injuries suffered by motorcyclists. And third, it tackles the problem of drink and driving. An additional provision added to this part of the Bill in another place is the very important clause on promoting the safety of children in motor cars. Part V of the Bill contains measures to reform the basis of lorry taxation, and to remove restrictions on the powers of certain authorities to recover the full cost of licensing taxis and taxi drivers. It also contains the clause which was added to the Bill in another place relating to the construction of road humps.
Let me turn now, in more detail, to the different parts of the Bill and explain the thinking underlying the provisions in them. The Government believe that businesses, like individuals, should have the maximum freedom to take decisions on the matters of most importance to them. Managers should be able to make commercial decisions free from state intervention, and to face the full implication of those decisions in the market place. Nationalised industries are inevitably subject to Government restraints and Government controls and this has been so under Governments of either political persuasion. But why should those restraints and controls be applied to shipping and port operations, to a hotel chain, or a property business? These are businesses which the state does not need to control, and should not control.
We see no advantage in keeping businesses in the public sector which can do better outside with access to private capital and with freedom from controls and Government interference.
Part I of the Bill will enable the British Railways 219 Board to transfer their subsidiary businesses from the public sector to the private sector. The Secretary of State for Transport announced on 14th July last year that the Government and the Railways Board had identified four businesses in which they could see an immediate prospect for the introduction of private capital. These were Sealink, hotels, hovercraft and non-operational property. These businesses have grown up alongside the railway as services complementary to the main railway business. But circumstances have changed. The ferry services and hotels are no longer the only ones available to the rail traveller, since similar services are now widely provided by the private sector. The businesses themselves, while retaining links with the railway, have developed in other directions, and most of their turnover no longer comes through the railway business. As to the board's non-operational property holdings, these are self-evidently no longer closely connected with the railway. They should, without difficulty, be separately managed or sold and indeed the board currently has a large disposal programme. So these businesses are no longer an integral part of the railway; they no longer serve the same markets and they no longer have the same interests.
Noble Lords opposite may ask why, nevertheless, it is necessary to change the status of the businesses. Why not allow the present situation to continue? The answer is clear. The board's subsidiaries have suffered from being part of the public sector. They are required to behave commercially, yet they are shackled by public sector restraints. They have lacked management attention. They have lacked investment in the past and, quite understandably, the board have decided that in the future a yet higher proportion of their investment resources must be channelled into the railway. Without access to other sources of capital, the subsidiaries will wither from lack of investment. The Government and the board have agreed that we cannot accept such a situation and that the only sensible answer is the introduction of private capital into the businesses. We have jointly developed our ideas and the proposals embodied in this part of the Bill have the full support of the board.
Clause 1 gives the board powers to sell shares in its subsidiaries or to dispose of any part of the undertaking or property of their subsidiaries. These powers will apply to all the board's subsidiaries, not just the four subsidiaries I have already mentioned. The Government and the board have no firm plans at present to introduce private capital into these other subsidiaries. But there may be a role for private investment here, especially perhaps in British Rail Engineering Ltd., and this is something the Government are discussing with the board. Clause 1 also gives the board the power to establish share schemes for employees of its subsidiaries.
Clause 2 provides for Sealink to establish a new subsidiary company and to transfer to it its harbour undertaking. This is necessary because of the extensive statutory powers and duties under local enactments which attach to the harbour undertaking and need to be concentrated in a readily identifiable body. There are also commercial reasons for reorganising the distinct shipping and harbour activities of Sealink, in 220 separate bur related companies. I should stress that it is most unlikely that the board would wish to sell off the harbours separately from the shipping side; it would be strongly in Sealink's commercial interests to retain ownership of the harbour company.
Clause 3 provides powers of direction for the Secretary of State to ensure that the policy is implemented. These are reserve powers. We would not expect to use them, but the Government believe that having agreed that the board should take the lead in implementing the policy, they must protect its position by taking clear and workable reserve powers. Using their existing powers, the board have already set up a holding company, British Rail Investments Limited, to which ownership of the three existing subsidiaries and of the property assets will be transferred. I should further stress that the holding company has been set up by the Railways Board, and it is the Railways Board, acting through BRIL which, if the Bill is approved by Parliament, will be free to find the best solution for each business in consultation with the Government. Before these businesses will be able to escape public sector controls, the board must first surrender effective control to private sector investors. That is, they must dispose of a controlling interest in the businesses to the private sector. These proposals will bring fresh opportunities to the businesses and their staff, the railway itself will benefit, and so will the taxpayer.
I turn to Part II of the Bill. Clauses 5 to 14 and Schedules 2 to 4 deal with the restructuring of the British Transport Docks Board. We have worked closely with the BTDB in developing these proposals, which adopt a rather different approach for the introduction of private capital to that followed in Part I of the Bill. We are not seeking to impose a uniform policy and we have deliberately chosen different ways of introducing private capital into the British Railways Board subsidiaries, as compared with the British Transport Docks Board, or indeed with the measures in last year's Bill dealing with the National Freight Corporation. We have sought solutions geared to the particular needs of the various businesses.
The BTDB are among the more successful public enterprises. Their last audited accounts show a profit in 1979 of £27 million before tax and interest on a turnover of £131 million. They operate 19 ports, including Southampton and Hull, and are responsible for handling about one-quarter of the country's sea-borne trade. Our proposals provide for a Companies Act holding company to take control of a reconstituted BTDB to be known as Associated British Ports, as if it were a wholly-owned subsidiary. This two-tier organisation will ensure that BTDB's business continues within the statutory framework appropriate to the management of the very extensive network of statutory powers and duties needed to run its 19 ports. At the same time, the new structure will offer the business the maximum opportunity to expand and diversify through the holding company, in which investors will be invited to buy shares.
I would make two important general points about these proposals. First, the Government propose to take a 51 per cent. shareholding in the holding company when shares are sold to private investors. This stake will be maintained for the foreseeable future, but not necessarily forever. However, there is no 221 question of the Government using their substantial shareholding to influence the commercial policies of the holding company or its subsidiary, Associated British Ports. The holding company will therefore be placed firmly in the private sector, where full commercial freedom will enable management and workforce to be fully responsible for their own future, without public sector constraints on investment or other matters. Secondly, I would take the opportunity to emphasise that the Government's proposals keep the BTDB's 19 ports together. This will ensure the business continues to draw strength from its happy mix of ports, good management and sound industrial relations. These factors have made a very important contribution to BTDB's successful track record.
Clause 5 provides that from the appointed day the BTDB shall be known as Associated British Ports. On the same day, a holding company registered under the Companies Acts, and which is owned and nominated by the Secretary of State, will be given powers in relation to Associated British Ports corresponding to those of a holding company in relation to a wholly-owned subsidiary. Clause 6 provides for BTDB's existing financial structure to be replaced by a new one, suitable for the launch of the business into the private sector. As from the appointed day, the BTDB's debts to the Secretary of State will be cancelled, and on that day Associated British Ports will issue securities to the holding company and the holding company will issue shares and perhaps securities to the Secretary of State in accordance with his directions. Following the appointed day, the Secretary of State will then own all the shares and securities in the holding company, instead of the existing £81 million nominal value of debt. As your Lordships will appreciate, the cancellation of debts in these circumstances does not represent a write-off without return, but is, in fact, an integral part of the creation of a new financial structure which will enable the Secretary of State to sell shares to investors.
Clause 7 and Schedule 2 provide for the constitution of Associated British Ports, and related matters. The holding company is given powers to appoint and dismiss directors of its subsidiary, like any other holding company in the private sector. The Bill provides that, initially, the directors of Associated British Ports will be those persons who were members of the British Transport Docks Board, immediately before the appointed day. The first directors of the holding company will be appointed by the Secretary of State, as sole shareholder, and he has made it known that those first directors will, in fact, be the same people as the directors of Associated British Ports. Once shares in the holding company have been sold, control over the appointment and dismissal of directors will be in the hands of private investors.
Clause 8 and Schedule 3 give Associated British Ports the powers that it requires for its business. These include the power to operate harbours, provide port facilities, consign and store goods, start or acquire other harbour undertakings, develop land and borrow money. Clause 9 places a general duty on Associated British Ports to provide port facilities at its harbours. This replaces the duty placed on British Transport Docks Board by Section 9 of the Transport Act 1962, and it will mean that, in line with nearly all major 222 commercial ports, Associated British Ports will have a general statement of powers and duties laid down in its legislation. Clauses 10 to 14 and Schedule 4 contain supplementary provisions.
We believe that British Transport Docks Board will do even better in the future in the private sector. We hope to encourage employees to take a stake in that future, through an employee share scheme, when shares in the holding company are sold. No legislative provision is required to achieve this, since the Secretary of State will have the power to sell his shares in the holding company as he sees fit.
I turn now to Part III of the Bill. Clause 15 and Part I of Schedule 5 provide for the abolition of the National Ports Council. The Government's view is that the NPC has played an important role in bringing about a major improvement in the organisation and efficiency of the port industry since 1964, when the council was set up. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, for his personal contribution to this improvement, not only in the analysis of the problems of the ports, which he and his committee of inquiry prepared, but in his chairmanship of the council in its formative years. But we believe the time is now right for responsibility for the future development of the ports to be placed firmly on the industry itself. Noble Lords opposite might argue that there is a need for a central body to oversee the organisation and operation of the industry, but we cannot accept that view. The ports industry themselves have welcomed our proposal, and the British Ports Association is already organising itself to meet the challenge.
Naturally, the decision to abolish the NCP represents a major upheaval in the lives of the council's 60 staff, and the Government are anxious that they are treated fairly. A compensation scheme for staff who are made redundant is already in existence, and Schedule 5 will make the Secretary of State responsible for seeing that compensation and pension payments continue after the winding up of the NPC. As the costs of the NPC have been largely met over the years by the ports, Clauses 16 and 17 and Part II of Schedule 5 provide for the Secretary of State to levy contributions from harbour authorities towards the costs resulting from the winding up of the NPC. But the Government have decided to make a contribution of £1.5 million, spread over a short period of years, towards these costs.
We have also taken this opportunity to review ministerial functions in relation to ports, as well as those of the NPC, and we have decided on a number of changes. First, a very limited number of the NPC functions will be taken over by the Secretary of State. These are to decide appeals by users against certain port dues, to collect port statistics and to monitor the financial progress of two ports, Forth and Tyne, which have not yet repaid the bridging loans which were made to them from the National Loans Fund. These new responsibilities will not be onerous, and the small additional staffing requirement will be met within existing manpower limits.
Secondly, on the other hand, Clause 18 and Schedule 6 repeal or reduce a number of ministerial functions relating to the ports. They also streamline the pro 223 cedure by which port authorities obtain powers to regulate their ports, and revise a number of maximum penalties under the Harbours Act 1964. A provision added in another place clarifies the powers of harbour authorities to levy combined port charges and the right of port users to appeal against port dues.
In framing these provisions we have recognised that some oversight of the ports industry will continue to be necessary. But where possible, we are returning responsibility to those directly involved in running the individual ports.
Part IV deals with the second main theme of the Bill: the reform of road safety and traffic laws. Clause 19 and Schedule 7 reform the "totting-up" procedure, which is widely felt to be unsatisfactory and unfair. We believe that the new system will be more effective, and encourage a responsible attitude from road users, because it will be seen to be a rational, up-to-date system. The proposal is based on some of the recommendations of the working group, which the Secretary of State for Transport and the Home Secretary set up in November 1979. It is clear that the present system is a blunt instrument, and would be greatly improved by reform.
At present a motorist who commits three endorsable offences within three years is liable for disqualification for at least six months. This system does not distinguish between a bad case of careless driving and a minor speeding offence. A driver who commits three speeding offences is liable for the same penalty as one who commits three potentially more dangerous offences, such as reckless driving. Although magistrates may take into account the seriousness of the offences in considering a plea for mitigation, this itself leads to unfairness and unevenness in sentencing. Motorists justifiably feel aggrieved by this. We propose, therefore, that each of the current endorsable offences should be graded according to their seriousness by the number of points listed in Schedule 7. When 12 points have been accumulated within a 3-year period, disqualification for at least six months will almost always follow.
The points values for the offences have been determined by reference to the average level of fines, considered as a proportion of the average fines imposed for offences carrying mandatory disqualification. Although it may be thought that the logical conclusion of the points system is to give magistrates discretion in the number of points, this would result in many disputes about the relative fairness of the number of points imposed in any particular case, adding a severe burden on the courts. When the Bill was in another place, however, some measure of discretion was considered appropriate for offences under Section 25 of the Road Traffic Act 1972. The nature of these offences of failing to stop or to report an accident can vary very considerably, depending on the nature of the accident. The spectrum ranges from a slight bump or scratched paintwork, to a case where someone has been seriously injured. Schedule 7, therefore, now provides for a band of points, from four or five to nine, so that the minor cases can be treated on a par with, for example, speeding offences, and the most serious ones would be just below the fixed value for reckless driving.
The position of the motorist will be further improved by our proposals, because once any period of disqualification 224 has been served, his slate will be wiped clean of points. Twelve more points would have to be accumulated before a further points disqualification followed, hut, because our aim is to discourage repeated offences, further disqualification within the three years would be for progressively longer periods.
There will be a transitional period of three years during which offenders will come before the courts with endorsements on their licences ordered under the present system. It would be unduly complicated to expect the courts to translate such endorsements into points. The Bill therefore proposes that such endorsements would be treated as equivalent to three points. Previous offenders would therefore gain slightly from this during the transitional period.
Clause 23 deals with the extremely worrying problem of deaths and injuries on the road suffered by motorcyclists. In 1979 over 1,000 people died on Britain's roads; over half of them were teenagers. A further 67,000 were injured. The present casualty rates are quite unacceptable, and it is the young and inexperienced who are the most vulnerable. At present an inexperienced 17-year old can ride a machine up to 250cc, which can he capable of over 100 miles per hour. He need not take a test; he can just apply for a series of provisional licences indefinitely.
Clause 23 does three things. First, it restricts learner drivers to less powerful machines. Secondly, it provides for a two-part test. The second part of the test will be carried out by the Department of Transport's examiners and will be very similar to the present test. However, the first part of the test will be an examination—off the road—of machine handling. It will be carried out by both Department of Transport and training organisations authorised by the Secretary of State for Transport.
Thirdly, the clause limits the duration of motor-cycle provisional licences. This will provide a substantial incentive for motor-cyclists to train and take the test. The clause also introduces "til 70" provisional licences for the ordinary motorist. These proposals are based on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Motor-cycle Rider Training set up with representatives from the motor-cycle trade and industry, local authorities, training organisations and the police, and with subsequent consultations with more than 30 organisations concerned with motor-cycling. There is nothing in these proposals that discriminates against motor-cyclists. Indeed, we have taken very careful account of their views, but in view of the appalling statistics I have quoted I believe noble Lords will agree that these measures are long overdue.
Clause 25 and Schedule 8 of the Bill contain new measures to combat drinking and driving, which is the largest single factor leading to death and injury on our roads. Our aim has been to make the law much more effective without the need to increase the powers of the police; we believe the crucial question is the enforcement of the law. The most important change we are proposing—one that will greatly assist in the ability of the police to enforce the law—is to provide for the introduction of evidential breath analysis in this country. Breath analysis will largely replace the present system of analysing blood or urine samples in determining the amount of alcohol in the body.
As noble Lords will know, we already use breath 225 testing devices at the roadside as a means of checking whether or not a driver has been drinking. We are already familiar with the tube and bag device, but the machines that would be used in police stations will be electronic and therefore very much more sophisticated and effective. Forensic scientists in the Home Office have conducted extensive trials of suitable breath testing machines. These trials have shown that the machines are both highly accurate and reliable as a means of determining the amount of alcohol in the body.
Breath analysis will be a better system for the motorist because he will not normally have to provide a blood or urine specimen and will know his fate straight away. This system will also result in considerable savings in police time. Because this is a new approach we have provided several safeguards for suspects. The most important of these will he the right to request a blood test to replace the result of a breath analysis if this has not exceeded 50 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, which is equivalent to 115 milligrammes for blood. The Bill also closes loopholes which have enabled drivers to escape conviction on technicalities. The Bill breaks the link between the offence and the procedures which have to be carried out to prove the offence. It removes the necessity for an arrest; a person will be able to proceed voluntarily to the police station and give an evidential specimen, although the police will still have the power to arrest and to require an evidential specimen if necessary.
We have also extended the power of the police to require breath tests, so that they may test people who have been driving, or who are or were in charge of a motor vehicle. However, we have not extended the powers of the police to enable them to carry out random tests. There has been some pressure for this but it was firmly rejected in another place as being an unwise and unnecessary extension of police powers which would damage relationships between the police and the public. I am sure noble Lords will agree that we have adopted the right approach in this Bill, by aiming to improve the operation of the drinking and driving laws without recourse to draconian powers.
One further important provision linked to drinking and driving is in Clause 26. This increases the penalty for hit and run driving from a maximum of £100 to a maximum of £1,000. This is an offence which is often committed deliberately, arising from a desire to avoid a breath test. This offence is on the increase and the new level of fines will enable courts to deal with the problem.
As I have already mentioned, an important addition—namely Clause 27—was made to the Bill in another place. The Government were pleased to accept the principle that children should not be allowed to sit in the front of a car unless they are restrained. This follows from advice contained in a report published last autumn by the Child Accident Prevention Committee. However, there are a number of defects in the wording of Clause 27 which we shall seek to put right by tabling a new clause during Committee here. Another addition to the Bill made in another place is the provisions contained in Clause 30 and Schedule10 which will legalise the construction of road humps. 226 We believe this will make a small but significant contribution to road safety, particularly in residential areas.
Clause 31 and Schedule 11 of the Bill contain further measures to make the application of the law fairer, this time in the context of lorry taxation. It is widely accepted that all classes of lorries should at least cover their fair share of public road costs in the motoring taxation they pay. The present basis of vehicle excise duty on goods vehicles is too blunt an instrument for achieving this aim. Our proposals provide for a change in the structure of vehicle excise duty on heavier goods vehicles from the present unladen weight basis to one based on gross weight or train weight and, additionally for lorries over 12 metric tonnes, on the number of axles. This change, which was endorsed by the Armitage Inquiry Report, will enable us to get a much closer relationship between the road cost for different classes of vehicles and the taxation paid. In the long term it will help to reduce road maintenance cost by encouraging the use of less damaging vehicles. The proposed new structure and the tax rates on the new basis will be brought into effect by a future Finance Bill. In revenue terms, restructuring will be, in itself, neutral.
Finally, Clause 33 concerns fees payable for taxi licences in London and certain provincial towns and for taxi drivers. Because of statutory restrictions dating from the middle of the last century these figures cannot be set at a level sufficient to cover the costs of issuing them. The actual cost of these licensing procedures is now more than £600,000 in London alone, but the statutory restrictions on the fees at present limit the amount that can be collected to about £1,500 a year. Clearly this situation cannot continue. The Bill enables the licensing authority to recover, through their licence fees, the full cost of issuing licences. This will lead to a small increase in taxi fares, but in London this is unlikely to amount to more than one-third of a penny a mile.
This is a thoroughly worthwhile and constructive Bill. The privatisation measures are controversial but we believe they present a balanced approach. In framing our proposals on Part I of the Bill we have recognised the continuing link which the subsidiaries will have with the railways and we have secured agreement with the Railways Board on the best way to proceed. In Part II of the Bill we are not seeking to break up the successful British Transport Docks Board; the reconstituted structure we are creating will enable it to be even more successful in the private sector. In this Bill we are simply attempting to ensure the success of these businesses in the future. Finally, we have also adopted a constructive approach with our road safety proposals which we believe will command wide support in the country and will lead to valuable savings in lives and injuries. My Lords, I submit that this is an excellent Bill and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am certain that your Lordships will wish me in the first instance to thank the noble Lord the Minister for the very clear and concise way in which he has explained the many 227 detailed provisions in this Bill. As he said, it is regrettable that the road safety provisions are not dealt with in a separate Bill, but from these Benches I would like first to express appreciation for the fact that the Government have brought forward a number of new provisions directed towards road safety.
There are so many vital statistics and valuable reports on aspects of road accidents and road safety that I will not unduly prolong my speech by referring to them; but should there be anyone who may have doubts about the need for action, such doubts would surely have been removed by the repeat on BBCI on 28th April of the "Man Alive" special programme on road accidents, described as "The Biggest Epidemic of our Times" There may be differences of opinions on the details of the road safety provisions, but I want to stress that although there will be a Front Bench view, nevertheless noble Lords on this side of the House will have a free vote on all the various issues on road safety. In all probability it may be some years before there is another Bill on road safety. Therefore, it is essential that we should get this Bill absolutely right.
My Lords, perhaps I may refer to some of the safety proposals in the Bill. In general, I welcome the proposals for the points system. However, we must ensure that this procedure does not act unfairly. Let me give one or two examples. There should be some variation, I think, between the points for a technical infringement of the speed limit in circumstances where there is no danger whatever to anyone and those where the offence did cause danger to other road users. Another example is that there can be so many degrees of careless driving but each will have five points—precisely the same number as for the most serious offence of driving while uninsured. Therefore, some of these points issues will need to be looked at very carefully.
There are doubts also as to the wisdom of the proposal that the slate be wiped clean following a disqualification. As the Minister has rightly said, the intention of the system must be to deter the habitual offender. I would suggest that any points in excess of those required for a disqualification should be carried over to be added to any other offence which may be committed within a specified time after a disqualification. Consideration may need to be given also to the position of drivers of heavy goods vehicles in relation to the powers of their licensing authority following a disqualification.
There will be unanimity among your Lordships on the need for action to deal with drinking and driving. The statistics, I think everybody will agree, are absolutely alarming. However, there must not be a reliance solely upon the new breath-testing apparatus. A driver should have the option of providing a blood or urine test according to the circumstances in all cases, and not the limited one referred to in the Bill. It is also absolutely essential that the procedure should be uniform throughout the country. The Secretary of State is to have power to bring forward regulations that would change the prescribed limit of alcohol if he considers it necessary. That would appear to be wise; but before any change is brought before Parlia 228 ment there should be the widest possible consultation with representative organisations, and that should be written specifically into the Bill.
The new provisions relating to motor-cyclists are generally welcome, and I echo the assurance that there is no desire to prevent young persons taking to motorcycling. My own two sons and daughter, when they were young, all rode motor-cycles, but I must say that they did so responsibly. But the figures of motorcycling accidents are appalling, and surveys show that some half of all such accidents involve young persons. Government Ministers have rightly emphasised the importance of training, and the impression may have been given that this is part of the new provisions. However, that is not so, and it would seem that there is to be reliance upon publicity for voluntary schemes.
A complete novice may obtain a provisional licence and go straight on to the road. This is different from the position of a learner-motorist, who must always he accompanied by a competent and responsible person. Either something concerning training must be written into the Bill or the Minister, in the course of our Committee stage, must be able to satisfy your Lordships that arrangements to be made for training are fully adequate. This is a matter which might well be considered in detail in Committee. I welcome the proposal for road humps, particularly as the clause is an improvement on the Private Member's Bill initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to which your Lordships gave approval at the tail end of the last Session.
There is one important omission from the road safety provisions. So far as I am concerned, I deeply regret that there is no provision for the general wearing of seat belts. A Private Member's Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, received a substantial majority from your Lordships. It is unfortunate that an amendment which covered those principles was not reached in another place, and it is hoped that this will be remedied during the Committee stage in this House. In fact, I hope the Government will give their approval to such an amendment, particularly as the principle involved is accepted by the inclusion of Clause 27.
The Sunday Times article on the wearing of seat belts by children may have caused some concern in relation to the provision in that clause, but—and the Minister mentioned this matter—I was impressed by the research carried out by the Child Accident Prevention Committee and the information in its report, which was published in July of last year. We shall await with interest the report of a survey on this matter which, it is understood, is being carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory; and, of course, we shall await a further statement from the Minister on an amendment which he suggests will be brought forward in Committee.
There will be opportunity for the matters raised on this clause to be considered before the Secretary of State introduces an order designating when this provision is to come into force, and I trust that before then the department will have meaningful consultations with manufacturers regarding the supply of suitable restraints for children of various ages, including when riding in rear seats. In fact, there is considerable pressure that children should ride only in rear seats, 229 but that, of course, would need to be linked to the question of the supply of suitable restraints at a price which most people can afford.
Reference has been made to the taxation of goods vehicles, and, in general, we agree with the principle. But, again, there could be some unfairness in relating the weight estimates to the goods actually carried, and we shall seek to have this matter discussed during Committee.
We now turn to those other parts of the Bill which reflect the Government's unfortunate doctrinaire attitude in their relation to the public sector. Bill after Bill has been brought forward in this Parliament to dismantle or drastically to intervene in public industries. Noble Lords have before them at the moment the Forestry Bill, with provision for the disposal of Forestry Commission land; and also the Bill to interfere similarly with telecommunications and the Post Office. Now we have this Transport Bill, which seeks to deal similarly with the subsidiaries of British Rail and also with the British Transport Docks Board. As far as the British Rail subsidiaries are concerned, it is not just a question of introducing private finance, because power is given to the Rail Board not only to dispose of shares in any of its subsidiaries but also to dispose of the whole or part of any of them. Although the Bill states that this power is to be exercisedin such manner as they think fit",any disposal of shares will require the consent of the Secretary of State. But the same consent is not required for the disposal of the whole or part of any subsidiary. From my reading of the Bill, parliamentary approval will not be required for the disposal of any particular subsidiary.
Then, in Clause 3 there is repeated the same authoritarian power as in other Bills brought forward by this Government. The Secretary of State is given power to give directions to the Railways Board for the establishment of subsidiaries, and also for the sale of shares in or the disposal of a subsidiary. Really, it is not sufficient to say that this is a reserve power. It is a power that will be in the Bill for any Secretary of State to use. Moreover, there is no provision that any such direction shall be subject to parliamentary approval. If the Secretary of State says that a subsidiary must go, then that will be it; and British Rail, under the Bill, must follow any direction given to it.
There is nothing in the Bill which limits the subsidiaries to which these provisions relate. As the noble Lord said, the present intention is that it will be confined to the four subsidiaries: the hotels, Sealink, the Railway Property Board and the hovercraft. I should like to look at two of these. Sealink, with which I had the pleasure of travelling during the Easter Recess, operates 48 ferries and 11 harbours and last year had an operating surplus in its shipping services of £2.6 million compared with £9.7 million in 1979, but the harbours maintain a surplus of about £4 million.
In 1979 there was a combined surplus of 13.5 per cent. on the capital employed, which I do not think is a bad return compared with many other concerns. Despite what the Minister has said, I would say that Sealink, in particular, is closely related with the present activities of British Rail, and I would query 230 the reason behind the direction in Clause 2 that Sealink must set up a separate subsidiary company for its harbours. There is no assurance in the Bill that the harbours will not be transferred, maybe to the new company, which will take over from the British Transport Docks Board; neither is there any assurance that Sealink's shipping subsidiary could not be disposed of.
Why is there this provision in the Bill to dispose of shares in the British Rail Property Board and even, possibly, for its full disposal? In 1980, there was a net surplus of £34 million on lettings of property and this was no less than 20 per cent. up on the previous year. From all its operations during 1980, the Property Board contributed £67 million to the Rail Board's corporate finances. In fact, over the last four years no less than £155 million has been contributed to British Rail from the property operations. It is sheer madness to dispose of any part of this undertaking. It is so successful that surely it is sensible economics to retain this subsidiary in the hands of British Rail. Sir Robert Lawrence, chairman of the Property Board as recently as 7th April, said:But it should not be forgotten that once land is sold its income or its potential income is lost to the railways for ever. We have sold property which in a different climate we might have retained for its growth potential.The powers of disposal in the Bill are not confined to these four subsidiaries. In fact in another place, on 13th January, the Secretary of State said (col. 1245):The use of these powers is not confined to the businesses I have mentioned. The powers are equally applicable to the Board's other subsidiary activities. We have at present no plans to introduce private capital into these other businesses. However, there may be a role for private investment here especially perhaps in British Rail Engineering and this is an issue which I shall want to consider with the Board at a later stage.In view of that, we should look very carefully at the engineering subsidiary. This operates 13 workshops which construct and maintain British Rail rolling stock and equipment. In 1980, its output reached a new record level and productivity rose by 5.7 per cent. No less than £220 million of its supplies were obtained from the private sector outside British Rail. Why should we consider this subsidiary for the sale of shares or for eventual disposal? The other subsidiaries, to which I will not make further reference, are Freightliners Limited and the British Transport Advertising Limited; and the very successful Transmark, the consultancy body, is also doing well.
The 1980 report of British Rail in referring to this Bill said:…the guiding principle in the legislation is that there will he new freedom for investment outside PSBR, if the level of BR shareholding is below 50 per cent. We must face the fact that we cannot continue to control these subsidiaries and also attract private capital.That statement can hardly be said to be an enthusiastic welcome for the proposal. It is more like a shotgun wedding. It has been made absolutely clear—and the Minister referred to it today—that should BR have at least 51 per cent. holding in a subsidiary, any investment will come from within the external financing limit. When BR has a minority holding, generally they will be free to go to the market for finance without this being part of PSBR. But even that is not certain; for Ministers have stated in another place that this will 231 depend on the distribution of other shareholdings and trading relationships as the board in such circumstances might still be able to exercise de facto control over the company; it would then still be classified as public sector and borrowing and investment would still be controlled by the external financing limits with borrowing still counting against PSBR. If there is any doubt, the Secretary of State put it clearly in column 1245 of the Standing Committee:…if these businesses are to escape public sector borrowing requirements, the Board must surrender control of the businesses.To many of your Lordships it must seem incomprehensible that the external financing limit and PSBR can act in this way.
I would ask this. If the provisions in this Bill are approved, will BR retain all the monies accruing from the sale of shares in the various subsidiaries. The Government have given no undertaking that such receipts will not be taken into consideration when fixing the external financing limits for the subsequent years. The Government, in fact, seem to have given warning that they will take this into consideration.
With regard to Part II of the Bill, which relates to the British Transport Docks Board, the Secretary of State said:We are not seeking to break up the business."—and that was confirmed by the Minister this afternoon—We are not seeking to sell off the most profitable assets. We are offering the opportunity for the business, as one company, to thrive in the private sector and to be free of public sector constraints.Just what are those public sector constraints? As has been said, the BTDB operates 19 ports, important ones, and according to the 1979 report (the latest available to me) there was a profit of £27 million, before tax, as against £30 million in 1978 despite the oncoming recession. The return on capital was 15.1 per cent. Again, that would be agreed to be a favourable return. Over a period of 10 years the board has had total profits of £168 million and has built its reserves from £8 million to £86 million. Since 1972 it has generated from its operations sufficient finance to meet an investment programme of £108 million. It raised over £13 million for this purpose in 1979. Therefore, the powers in the Bill can have little to do with enabling the Docks Board to develop efficiency and profitability. Its record justifies what I have said.
The Secretary of State said at Second Reading in another place:I should like to pay tribute to the management and workforce for the successes over recent years.He added that the board has a strong management team and generally sound industrial relations. Why, then, should we interfere with this very successful public sector undertaking? The Minister has explained that the new concern, Associated British Docks, is to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of a new holding company. The Government have said (and it was repeated this afternoon) that they will retain a 51 per cent. interest in the holding company; but that is not written into the Bill. If this is the intention of the Government, then this is something which should be put into the Bill during the Committee stage.
Then the Government have stated that even if they 232 retain a 51 per cent. interest they will not exercise policy in any way. I ask: Why not? The Government's attitude really would mean that a minority private sector holding would in effect have control of the holding company which would have a majority public stake. I cannot see any sense or reason in that. On re-reading the Committee stage in another place, I find that the initial sale of up to 49 per cent. of the shares in the holding company will not benefit that company or the new Associated Docks Board. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, on 3rd March, after stating that the present Docks Board's debts to the Government would be extinguished, said (at col. 733 of the Commons Hansard):Thereafter, the Minister will be able to sell 49 per cent. of those shares and securities, and the proceeds of the sale will go to the Treasury or to the Consolidated Fund, and will return to the taxpayer".They will not go to the holding company or to the new Associated Docks Board.
Then there is the strange situation that the holding company is to act as a Company Act company. Its docks subsidiary is to also act similarly; but at the same time the subsidiary must operate as a statutory body in accordance with powers given by Parliament to the various ports authorities which make up the board. I have read all the lengthy debates in the Standing Committee in another place on this issue and I am not satisfied with this particular and peculiar two-tier contradictory set up. Although the Secretary of State has given an assurance that the new Associated Docks Board will not be broken up, we find that paragraph 6 of Schedule 3 states that the board may develop any of its land:with a view to the disposal of any right or interest in the land or, as the case may be, the buildings or any part of the buildings after the development is carried out".That means that there is to be no power to develop unless there is to be a disposal. I would ask the noble Minister to correct me if I am wrong.
There is another anomaly: the new Associated Docks Board is to have additional powers for the carriage of goods by road, to act as ship's agent, to develop land and to construct and operate pipelines. These extended powers were denied to the present public sector board despite its commercial success, as I have outlined.
The last part of the Bill with which I wish to deal is Part III. As the noble Lord the Minister said, this provides for the abolition of the National Ports Council. This was set up in 1964 as an independent body to advise the Government, and it arises from the recommendation of the Rochdale Committee which carried out an inquiry into the ports industry. I have looked through the latest available report of the council for 1979. This gives an indication of the wide scope of the work which has been of immense value to successive Governments since 1964 and to the ports industry. Under the Bill, this work now becomes the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
It has been stated that this work must in future be undertaken by the British Ports Association, which is the organisation of port users. I consider that to be an unwise and undesirable set-up. Unless there is something hidden in the schedules which I have missed, 233 I cannot see that this transfer of the responsibility from the Secretary of State is mentioned in the Bill. It has been reported that the Ports Association became responsible as from the 1st April for research and training, which are at present two of the responsibilities of the Ports Council. If that is correct I question why this has taken place before your Lordships have even considered the provisions of the Bill and of that part.
At present, port users have the opportunity for appeal to the Ports Council against charges levied by the various ports authorities. That procedure will end and appeal will be to the Secretary of State. But the Secretary of State will have the shares of the holding company vested in his name. Charges levied may affect the profitability of the company, yet the same Secretary of State is to be the authority to consider appeals against charges.
In this connection, there is a monopoly situation arising with some ports authorities concerning charges for other services to those which are mentioned in the particular part to which I have referred against which there is no right of appeal. The British Waterways Board and their private sector users are concerned with arbitrary charging by some authorities. We shall seek to have this clarified during the Committee stage.
As the Minister said, in our view the proposed abolition of the National Ports Council presents an opportunity to establish a statutory National Ports Authority. Today I would suggest that in view of the position of our ports that is more than ever necessary. It was a recommendation of the Rochdale Committee which the Conservative Government at that time decided not to implement. I hope that we can move the Government from their doctrinaire intervention in publicly-owned bodies covered by the Bill. I hope also that the provisions in the Bill for road safety will be given adequate time in this House, because I am certain that these provisions—welcome as they are—will deserve the utmost consideration. I hope that your Lordships will be given that opportunity.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, from these Benches I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for his explanation of this Bill in his usual clear way. I confess that I am still considerably confused about Part II of the Bill. I hope that as the Bill proceeds through the House I shall have a little more light thrown upon that subject. As the noble Lord said—and as is obvious—the Bill deals with a number of quite separate matters of varying importance. As there are a great many names on the list of speakers, and we have other business to follow, I do not propose to deal with all the matters and I shall only speak about some which seem to me to be of considerable importance.
May I begin with Part I. Here I must say that I am taking a different view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. When the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was going through your Lordships' House in the last Parliament we said from these Benches that we thought that the proportion of industrial investment in the private sector, the proportion of the total investment, was too high and that it should not be increased. Of course, when that Bill became the 234 Act of 1977 it was substantially increased so we take the view that the total proportion of industrial investment in this country in the public sector is definitely too high. For those reasons, we would not object to some adjustment in the opposite direction if it can be done without damage—let us say in the case of British Rail—to the main business of the railway.
I think that Clauses Nos. 1 to 3 are drawn extraordinarily wide. I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that I do not like Clause 3 at all. It seems to me that British Rail should dispose of their interests in their subsidiaries if they want to. I certainly do not think that a Secretary of State of any party—even the Liberal Party when the time comes—should be allowed to tell British Rail that they have to sell this, that or the other. I hope that we can do something about Clause 3 in Committee.
There is another point which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, did not mention and which the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, rather skated over when he was presenting the Bill. It is not only a question, as I read this Bill, of the board being able to dispose of the whole or parts of the present subsidiaries, but there is a curious clause—it is subsection (3)—which says that they can create new subsidiaries of any part of their undertaking. Then, of course, if the noble Lord the Minister has not given way on Clause 3 it will mean that the Secretary of State can require them to make new subsidiaries and to dispose of them. It seems to me from the present wording that if the Secretary of State were so minded—I am sure the present Secretary of State would not be—he could say: "What about the London-Edinburgh line of British Rail? Let us make that a subsidiary and then dispose of it". He would not do that with regard to the London commuter services because those services would be impossible to dispose of; but it is so widely drawn that I should have thought it needed to be looked at again.
To return to the narrower issue of the existing subsidiaries, it seems to me there should be no disposal unless that is agreed by the board of British Rail. The noble Lord said that discussions with British Rail had gone on and that they had seemed to be in agreement with these ideas. I should like to ask the noble Minister whether he could put his hand on his heart—because I know his heart is in the right place—and say there has been no pressure on British Rail to agree and that there has been nothing said along the lines of, "If you do this, we shall be able to do this, that and the other." This is a terribly easy thing and I an afraid that Governments of all parties have been a little bit apt from time to time to "lean" on the nationalised industries. I do hope that that can be cleared up.
I also hope that the Minister will be able to confirm a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—that the proceeds of sale will be freely available to British Rail to spend as they like and that they will not count against the cash limit. Otherwise it seems to me to be a very poor deal indeed for British Rail. I recognise that they need capital desperately for the development of the railway service and, if the result of selling subsidiaries at a favourable price will enable them to get ahead quicker with the necessary capital investment for the railways, I would not myself see any objection.
235 The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke of the profitability of some of these subsidiaries. Of course, if they are so profitable it should be possible to sell them at a very good price. To my mind, the only question really is if they are making a profit on the sale price—not on the present investment—of so much, is that more or less than the railways would have to pay if they wanted to borrow the money afresh? But, again, the issue is a little more complicated than that because their borrowing is limited by this famous public sector borrowing requirement. So, provided they get a good price for anything they sell, it does not seem to me that this is really doing any harm to British Rail, always assuming that it is the board of British Rail which decides whether a thing is worth doing.
As regards the particular subsidiaries that have been mentioned, I would wish to refer only to Sealink. I have a good deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. I wonder whether the British Rail Board sincerely believe they should dispose of their interest in Sealink and, above all, whether they should do that at the present time, because the cross-Channel ferries have been going through a very difficult period. Sealink's profits were considerably less in 1979 than they were in 1978 and I suspect they will be less still in 1980 than they were in 1979. So in the exercise of their own discretion I very much doubt whether this is the moment at which British Rail would want to dispose of Sealink, even if in the long run they wanted to do so. The timing of any such sale is of enormous importance and that applies especially, though not only, to Sealink at the present time.
I do not see the purpose of setting up this separate port company and, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, I certainly hope there will be provisions which will ensure that the shipping interests of Sealink and the harbour interests part are kept together, because there is no doubt that in operating a service of this kind, as is done by Sealink, having control of the harbour as well is enormously important for the efficient running of the system.
Finally, on Sealink I would just say this. It would be a great pity if at the end of the day we found it was no longer possible for people to book a rail-sea-rail journey, co-ordinated together from England to the Continent or to Ireland, as the case may be. It seems to me a great pity to separate from the railway company things which were built up naturally by the railway company in order to secure plenty of rail traffic. I know that now a great many people going to the Continent go by car and use other ferries apart from Sealink, but I hope British Rail would still want to maintain the valuable railway services between London and other parts of the country and the Channel ports to connect with ships. Also I should have thought that it would be a great pity if by any chance the disposal of Sealink were to lead to a breakdown in the co-ordination of those services.
If I may now turn briefly to Part II, I confess I find the financial arrangements extraordinarily complicated. I half understood, when the Minister spoke, what the Government are getting at but I do not see why it is necessary to create this holding company and then another company. That seems quite unduly 236 complicated. There is another very peculiar provision, which is that the holding company can in certain circumstances—this is Clause 13—substitute for itself another holding company. I cannot understand what on earth the purpose of that can be and perhaps when the Minister comes to wind up he will be able to throw a little more light on it. Incidentally, there is a curious discrepancy there because the Bill says in, I think, Clause 13(5) that the substituted company which is nominated to take over from the holding companymay not be nominated…unless it is controlled by the company designated under section 5(3);"—that is to say, it has to be controlled by the original company. This is no doubt some very complicated financial provision and I do not understand the reason for it; but, while the Bill says that it must be controlled by the original holding company, the Explanatory Memorandum says that it must be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the original company, which is not the same thing. Perhaps the Minister would be good enough also to clarify that point, although it may well be a Committee point rather than one to be pursued now.
The other question I wanted to ask the noble Lord is this: Associated British Ports is the operating company and I should like him to confirm, if he will, that that company will still be subject to Section 9, I think it is, of the Harbours Act 1964: that is, control of its investments in development over a certain figure by the Secretary of State. I ask the question because in another place, on Tuesday, 14th April, Mr. Clarke, the Parliamentary Secretary, was asked about this difficult question of the 51 per cent. held by the Government. He said:It will be a private sector company, free from ministerial controls and from Treasury restraints". [Official Report, Commons; col. 212.]I only want to confirm that it will not be free from the ministerial controls which apply to all other ports, under Section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964.
If I may leave Associated British Ports and come to Part III, I am very sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, is not here today. I know that he would have liked to take part in this discussion. I have a very obsolete interest to declare, because for a very short time I was a member of the National Ports Council and I felt that it did—and does now—a very valuable job. The noble Viscount recommended in his report something with teeth in it, as he used to say—a national ports authority. On that, I think at the time I differed from the noble Viscount.
But it is certainly true that, in spite of not having any teeth, the National Ports Council has been a very useful body indeed, although in my view it failed to do one thing during all the time it has been in existence; that is, to produce—which was one of the original ideas—a national plan to look at the ports of the country as a whole. I know that many noble Lords, many people in the country and, I think, many of my noble friends are very suspicious about plans. But I think that that is partly a misunderstanding of what is meant, because what I, at any rate, mean is what I think is sometimes called in these discussions an indicative plan. It is not a plan which everybody is expected slavishly to abide by, but merely a target plan so that people, in developing their own ideas, see them working 237 within the plan. It always seemed to me that the National Ports Council should have tried to produce some kind of plan of that nature.
It is now proposed to abolish it. Its work is to be carried out, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, partly by the Secretary of State and partly by the British Ports Association, which is not—if I may humbly correct the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—an association of port users; it is an association of port owners and operators. I do not know how well it will do the job as compared with how it was done by the National Ports Council. We shall see. I doubt whether it will be any less expensive. Indeed, if the object of abolishing the National Ports Council is to save the Government money, it will certainly work in the opposite direction, because the National Ports Council was financed by levies on the ports and, so far as I know, cost the Government nothing at all. The Government will now have to increase the part of the Department of Transport which deals with these matters, to perform the functions which were performed by the National Ports Council.
So far as Parts IV and V are concerned I do not want to say very much. These are matters which we shall want to examine very carefully in Committee, and I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said. But I hope that we shall have long enough in Committee to deal with these matters. I agree with him that this should be dealt with on an entirely nonparty basis. The Government will, no doubt, secure some support from noble Lords who sit behind them. But I hope that they, too, will see that this is a matter on which many people hold views one way or the other, and that a liberal assembly like this ought to decide things on their merits, and not because they emanate from a particular party. I hope that my noble friends, and the noble friends of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will take the same view when decisions come to be made. I do not want to speak any longer, because I have spoken long enough. We shall, of course, be giving this Bill a Second Reading so there is no point in prolonging this debate. I have mentioned some matters on which I think we should have a discussion in Committee. With that, I bring my remarks to an end.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord. Lord Bellwin, on setting out this Bill with great clarity at some length, which was quite justified. My only complaint is about his use of the word "privatisation", which I am horrified to see coming into the ordinary bureaucratic speech. I wish to protest very strongly against it. Otherwise, I thought that it was an admirable speech. I should also like to congratulate my quondam friend Lord Underhill on a very fine discussion and a very serious argument of a Bill, with a lot of which he agreed and with some of which he did not. I thought it was admirably done.
From what my noble friend Lord Ashby the other day called "our perch up here", it is very important, if we are given the courtesy of an early place in the speakers' list, that we should not think it necessary to make a major speech dealing with the whole Bill, and I shall follow the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in not 238 doing so. I want to refer to only one or two aspects of the Bill, and I hope quite shortly.
There are one or two surprising omissions to which I shall come, but just to summarise I strongly support the new regulations for motor-cycles in Clause 23; and the safety provision for children in cars is extremely sensible, as are the new safety regulations in general. I am glad that the Government have refrained from enforcing random tests. I am also glad that they have increased the hit-and-run penalty from £100 to £1,000; and I should not mind if they made it £10,000. I have spent long enough being driven about in Northern Ireland to realise that humps are a good thing, so I am glad that they are in. With those approvals, I shall now turn to one or two other points.
I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about the BTDB and about the National Ports Council, but I shall not discuss these at this stage. We up here do not take a doctrinaire view about any public enterprise disposing of certain of its assets for business reasons. I follow the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in that. But we do object to such a course if it is on purely doctrinaire grounds, and we suspect that to be the case in this Bill. We know that British Rail needs large sums to bring itself into the 'eighties and has impressive plans for doing so. We also know that British Rail has precious little chance of getting the necessary development money out of this Government. So what could be more businesslike than selling off certain peripheral businesses which do not make vast profits, but which are highly capitalised, and using the sale money to develop and make more efficient their major business?
But as has been suggested by the previous Opposition speakers, dealing with the Treasury is not at all like that. It was never clearly stated on Second Reading in another place and was not made quite clear by the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, today, but it seems clear to me that British Rail's borrowing powers will be reduced by the amount of any capital sales that it makes. I wish to repeat the direct question which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, put to the Government: Is this the case, or is it not? If so, evidently, the sales cannot be justified on ordinary business grounds. As the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will remember only too well, the Treasury did this to him over museum charges. His argument originally was that museum charges would raise £2 million for the museums, but it soon became clear that the Treasury would scoff the lot and the museums would not benefit in any way. I think we have an exactly parallel situation over this and I wish to make it absolutely clear that we demand an answer, with no equivocation.
So much for the profitability of sales. My next point concerns heavy lorries. The Armitage Report came down firmly in favour of heavier axle rates and recommended increases almost as great as those recommended by the EEC. Also, the Armitage Report in Chapter 10, which is extremely hard to believe, stated that the environmental effects of heavier lorries would be less serious than the environmental effects of existing sized lorries because there would be more weight carried in fewer vehicles and, therefore, fewer vehicles would be going through narrow roads. It is a very impressive argument. I find it extremely hard to believe but it may be true. In any case, I 239 welcome the fact that the Government are going to equalise, or attempt to equalise, the taxation as between lighter and heavier lorries and not have the light ones paying for the heavy ones, which is the position at the moment.
This brings me to a point which worries me. At the moment, the Armitage Report tells us that British Rail carries 69 per cent. of the coal and coke in this country and that road haulage carries 31 per cent. This is already a fall for British Rail of 3 per cent. over the last 10 years. I believe in railways, having run military traffic on other people's railways in France, Germany, Italy, Iraq, Iran and Egypt during the war. I have a love of railways. I have an understanding of what they are good at and some understanding of what they are bad at. What they are good at is long distance heavy haulage. What they are bad at is distribution. The point about coal and coke is that it does not require distribution because invariably the recipients have sidings. So the trucks can go into the sidings. It is perfectly clear that over the next 10 years there is going to be an increase in coal haulage. There is no doubt from the energy point of view that there will be greater use of coal by industry, and I assume that there will be greater use of coal by power stations.
The main point that I want to make today is that if we are going to allow heavier lorries on our roads we must make it absolutely certain that they do not seize this increase in coal transport, which is one of' the things that may make the whole future of British Rail very much more stable than it has been recently. I am worried about the environmental effects, apart from anything else. Even though there were no difference in costs, there is no doubt that the movement of coal by rail is environmentally far more innocent than the movement of coal by heavy lorries.
Here we may come up against the new Cobden and Bright school in the Conservative Party who, so far as I can see, believe in absolute freedom for everybody to do anything. What business decides is right. I am very worried that the existing Government will not have the determination to intervene in a case of this kind and see that the proper thing is done: that coal is diverted, either on financial or other grounds, to rail and is not picked up by the heavy lorries. I do not expect the noble Lord to tell me what are the Government's views on this. I am afraid that they would be quite different from the views of those of us up here. We are interventionists. We believe that in certain circumstances you have got to see that the right thing is done. We believe that it will not be done if you do not intervene.
Those are my major points. Regarding Part I of the Bill, we cannot support the Labour spokesman's threat which was made in another place to revoke such legislation if that party is returned to power. One of the reasons for such popular success as our associates on this Bench and outside have had is that from the beginning we have set our face against the humiliating and ridiculous see-sawing of policy resulting from the present two-party system. We shall have no part in any such nonsense.
I spoke of two omissions. The first is seat belts, about which both noble Lords spoke. I hope that 240 there will be an amendment concerning seat belts. We shall certainly support it. The arguments are absolutely unanswerable. Secondly, it is very odd to have a Transport Bill which does not refer to the major problem of transport in all civilised countries; namely, the gradual seizing up of the towns by cars. I shall not develop this point. We all know that it will take a number of years to put right. First, you have to stop cars being parked on the side of the road; secondly, you have to build car parks; thirdly, you have to persuade local authorities who have control over much of this to do what you want; fourthly, you have to try to stop single driving and the rest. It is a very difficult problem. However, any Transport Bill which does not mention it at all is to me a disappointment.
Having said that, we shall of course not oppose the Second Reading. I agree with the noble Lords who spoke before me: we shall try to tidy up a number of things in Committee.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, who made such an interesting speech and who raised a number of interesting points in a most stimulating way, with most of which I agree. In the interests of brevity, in my own speech I must resist the temptation to follow him. Instead I must stick to the few remarks I want to make.
Before I start my own little speech, I should like to congratulate my noble friend, as did the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, on the speed and lucidity of his excellent speech which covered this vast range of topics. Those of us who are interested in motoring would award him a free certificate as an advanced motorist for the skill with which he whizzed round the bends—not literally, but metaphorically.
The major points in the first part of the Bill have my support in principle but I shall resist discussing them now. My speech will be directed entirely to Part IV of the Bill which deals with road safety. I should declare my interest as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I warmly congratulate my noble friend and his colleagues on fitting road safety legislation into the programme. We all know how intensely the pressure bears on the legislative programme and how difficult it is to fit road safety into it. I congratulate my noble friend on getting it in. Even if it is rather like a slice of ham between two slabs of bread, nevertheless, he has got it there. The fact is that road accidents are still appalling in their number. There are still about 6.000 deaths per annum, and there are still about a quarter of a million injuries per annum. This carnage on the roads is so awful that all of us must be continually concerned about it.
My three points will be on the wearing of seat belts, drink and driving and motor-cyclists. I say a warm welcome to all three because each one of them will make a valuable contribution to reducing the loss of life and limb. With regard to the compulsory wearing of seat belts, I welcome Clause 27 which makes compulsory the wearing of seat belts by children up to the age of 13 if sitting in the front seat. Indeed. I welcome the principle of the compulsory wearing of seat belts in any form. I hope this indicates that my noble friend, 241 having accepted the principle, may be willing to go a little further with an amendment which would protect the whole of the adult population, not just children under 13. Here I must thank most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for their robust support of this cause. I hope and believe that noble Lords generally may feel that the time has come when this should be put on the statute book.
As noble Lords may know, in another place a new clause which would have made the wearing of seat belts compulsory was tabled for the Report stage but it was a casualty under the timetable Motion and so failed to be considered; but as there are now majorities in both Houses in favour of this important measure, I trust that noble Lords generally will feel that the time has come, first, that we should debate it on Committee stage—and I will table a new clause so that we can—and I hope very much that your Lordships will feel that this is such a tremendous saver of life and limb that we really should put it on the statute book. I will resist the temptation to go further into that field now and will wait to adduce the arguments (which are pretty familiar) on Committee stage.
Returning briefly to Clause 27, I am of course aware of the anxieties which were aroused by the Sunday Times article with regard to the wearing of seat belts by children in the front seat, but I understand that the child accident prevention committee, who have given a good deal of expert study to this, feel confident that the wearing of any seat belt by a child in the front seat is a valuable protection, even if it is not perfection. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who said that the right solution is for the children to sit in the rear seat and to be belted there, but not many cars could provide for that, and so maybe we have to accept what is a practical solution. I am informed—and this will perhaps console him—that what my noble friend is proposing to introduce is the norm in Australia and New Zealand and it works satisfactorily. So he will have my support and I look forward to seeing his amendment in due course.
Turning now to the provision with regard to motorcyclists. Clause 23, I warmly welcome this. As has already been said, the casualty rate among motorcyclists is distressingly high: some 1,100 deaths per annum and some 66,000 injured—and usually pretty seriously injured. The fact is that a young man or a girl on a motor-cycle—usually a young man—is 30 times more vulnerable than a driver sitting in a motorcar. We have only to see them careering through the traffic with immense brio to understand the fearful hazards that they are running and the great danger there is that they will end up in some collision where they will he seriously hurt, possibly fatally.
So I welcome Clause 23. It will restrict the beginner to less powerful machines, as my noble friend has said, and it will make the provisional licence of limited duration. Now, as we are all aware, many motorcyclists go through the whole of their motor-cycling career with an "L" plate on the back and never take the test at all. In future there will he the two-part test, part of which will he taken on the training ground off the road, and I am quite sure that the extra disciplines that the motor-cyclists will get will stand them 242 in good stead when they have to deal with traffic on the road.
I had something to do with this training business 25 years ago in the Royal Automobile Club, who were pioneers in setting up a training scheme, and I know how valuable it is. Today it has grown to quite substantial proportions. The figures are interesting. The RAC/ACU scheme, which is the RAC and the industry together, have 310 training centres, and the national training scheme has 257; that is 567 altogether, and I think there are about another 50 local authority centres. So there are a little over 600 altogether and a great many splendid public-spirited voluntary helpers who go along and help at those centres. I should think that this provision would be adequate for the two-part test, but of course the ideal solution, where every beginner motor-cyclist would be required to take a course of training off the road in a training centre, is not yet possible because the capacity is just not there. But I hope that my noble friend will be able to say that this is a priority of the Government to continue putting money into it and to put more money in, so that the training centres can be increased in number until eventually we reach the position where all beginners may have a compulsory training period off the road before they go on to the road and encounter the dangers there.
Finally, on drinking and driving, I welcome Clause 25. Drinking and driving is undoubtedly the potential cause of most road accidents, and there is no doubt that there has been a slackening in the observation of the law in recent years. Clause 25 will make a useful advance in strengthening the police powers. I think it is about right, although I look forward to hearing that I am sure will be tabled at Committee stage, which will be a Blenner-Hassett recommendation. I am inclined to think that may he going too far. The relationship between police and public in this field is a very sensitive and a vitally important one and I am inclined to think that the Bill has got it right, but I look forward with great interest to hearing those debates on the Committee stage. As other noble Lords have said, we are going to have a long and interesting Committee stage; I look forward to it and I hope that usually I shall he supporting my noble friend on the Front Bench.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who always puts his case so persuasively and so gently. As one of the prospective victims of the compulsion amendment which he proposes, I know he will forgive me if I find myself unable to emulate his gentleness. A week ago I had not intended to speak in today's debate, proposing instead to wait until the Bill reached the Committee stage. However, since that time there has been evidence in the press of what appears to be a skilfully concerted campaign—and I am certainly not accusing anyone in this House of being involved in it—to bamboozle the public, together with those Members of both Houses of Parliament who are not closely in touch with the situation, into believing that compulsory seat belt wearing for adults is virtually an accomplished fact—that it is as good as signed, 243 sealed and delivered and that all is over bar the shouting. I can assure the press and the House that this is most decidedly not the case and that those who attempt to force their fellow citizens, and specifically their fellow adult citizens, into the straitjacket of compulsory seat belts will be fought vigorously at every single stage of the Bill—and afterwards, if need be.
Furthermore, if the pro-compulsion camp does not show rather more signs of flexibility and compromise than in the past I fear the fight may become a very bitter one. I very much hope that this will not happen. The second group of people who need to think very hard about the consequences of compulsion are the Government. We know that the Minister of Transport, Mr. Norman Fowler, has fought extremely courageously to retain our traditional freedoms, despite considerable criticism and indeed vilification and that the Prime Minister has supported him (as one would have expected her to do, particularly in view of frequent Conservative election pledges concerning the freedom of the individual). Nevertheless there are rumours that siren voices are trying to persuade the Cabinet that in view of persistent paternalist pressure it might save a good deal of trouble if the Government were to capitulate to a small section of their party and allow a free vote when this Bill reaches the Commons, the reasoning being that any outcry at the imposition of compulsion would be short lived and that by the time of the next election, two or two-and-a-half years hence, all would have been forgotten and docile motorists would be meekly conforming with the law.
This is a misconception which the Government should disabuse themselves of very rapidly. When we last debated this matter, shortly before Christmas, the noble Earl, Lord Avon, speaking from the Government Front Bench, revealed to the House that in South Australia there had been no fewer than 7,000 prosecutions in 1977 for failure to wear seat belts. There is no reason to suppose that British opponents of this law are any less angry or determined than their Australian counterparts. So translated into United Kingdom terms one can envisage 306,000 prosecutions per annum, or approximately 1,260 every day that the courts sit.
Even as things stand, many motor-cyclists who do not wish to wear helmets opt for prison rather than pay their fines. The number of motorists likely to take this course will, naturally, be very much greater because there are so many more of them. The issue will, therefore, be very much in the public eye at the time of the general election, especially as there has been no mandate for compulsion; it appeared in no election manifesto published by any political party, understandably so.
It may be argued that those opposed to compulsion have nowhere else to go, as the saying goes, since the Conservative Party is the least illiberal one we have got, the other three main contenders all being more coercive and collectivist in this matter, with a few shining exceptions among individuals in each of them—in the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. Well, this may be so, but nevertheless I would expect many lifelong Conservative voters to abstain altogether if this measure goes through, and 244 many others to vote for the Liberals or the Social Democrats out of pique.
The reputation of this noble House should also not be overlooked. Many hundreds of thousands of people throughout Britain regard this House as the ultimate defender of their liberties. This reputation will plummet if this House now turns round and metaphorically, and perhaps not only metaphorically, imposes shackles upon people, particularly in view of the absence of any mandate from the electorate. The consequent loss of reputation may not seem to matter all that much now, but in a few years' time things truly be very different.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, when he speaks of defending the liberty of the individual does he include in that the liberty to damage other people or possibly to kill them?
§ Lord Monson
No, my Lords, certainly not. I am all in favour of laws which prevent individuals from harming third parties. It is laws which protect people from themselves that I object to and so many other people object to. If I turn now to the question of child safety, it is not to change the subject. I shall have quite a bit to say about Clause 27, which deals with children wearing scat belts, in Committee: I would only say now that if it goes through unamended it will effectively outlaw that valuable institution known as the "school run", whereby parents living in a certain street or a certain village take it in turns to pile five, six, seven or eight children into their cars and run them to school each day. The abolition, or the virtual abolition, of this useful custom will involve many tens of thousands of parents in considerable expense and hardship, particularly where working mothers are concerned.
However, let us disregard that for a moment and let us accept for the sake of argument the contention that Clause 27 will save the lives of a certain number of child passengers in cars each year. At the moment it appears that 70 such passengers, child passengers, are killed, and even if all of them were front-seat passengers, which of course is not the case, we can take it that only one-third, that is to say, 23, would be saved if Clause 27 goes through as it stands; that is the generally accepted proportion of front-seat drivers or passengers whose lives are saved by the compulsory wearing of belts. Let us then return to the proposal to make seat belt wearing compulsory for adults. When we debated this matter before Christmas the noble Earl, Lord Avon, speaking for the Government, said that all the arguments on this question had long since been heard. With great respect, the noble Earl was wrong.
A couple of months ago Mr. John Adams of London University produced a fascinating and thoroughly researched paper which confirmed in detail what commonsense, intuition and observation have long made obvious to many of us, namely, that the sense of security conferred by the wearing of seat belts subconsciously encourages motorists to take more risks and to drive with less care and attention; so in countries where compulsion has been introduced there is no net saving of life as compared with countries 245 without compulsion. Any saving of life among drivers and front seat passengers is counter-balanced by an increase in fatalities among other road users.
And this was borne out by the BBC programme on road safety to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred. Having started off by showing graphically the efficacy—the undoubted efficacy, which I do not deny—of seat belts in reducing injuries in head-on collisions, the programme continued by admitting towards the end that every safety improvement which made the driver feel more secure subconsciously encouraged him to drive faster and more recklessly. How does this conclusion affect the safety of children to which I referred earlier?
In 1975, the last year for which I have been able to dig out figures, a total of 374 child pedestrians—and by "child" I mean those aged 14 and under—74 child pedal-cyclists and seven children who were motor-cycle pillion passengers—a total of 455—were killed on our roads. It is safe to assume that 99 per cent. of those killed were involved in collisions with vehicles. Would it not be a tragedy, and ironic, if a well-meaning attempt to save the lives of adult passengers—and I do not deny for a moment that it is well meaning—resulted unintentionally in a counterbalancing 23 extra deaths (5 per cent. extra) among child pedestrians and cyclists as a result of motorists in a hurry having been led to believe that the seat belts which they have been made to wear will automatically protect them and make them immune from accidents?
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
My Lords, I venture with respect, to congratulate the noble Lord the Minister on introducing this Bill and on the lucid and persuasive speech which he made for its introduction. I want, if I may, to speak, as the last two noble Lords have done, on what I regard as the gravest of the social evils by which our nation is afflicted today; I mean the tragedy of death and mutilation on the roads.
On Monday of this week a fellow citizen announced that he would make a tour of the country, a 1,000-mile journey, in a wheelchair, not, I think, Land's End to John o' Groats but another project which he had devised; it is a sponsored tour, and he hopes that his sponsors will enable him to raise the great sum of £100,000. He is in a wheelchair because some years ago he was run over by a motor-car, and has never walked again. If he raises his £100,000 he will buy 100 wheelchairs like his own and give them to other victims of the car who, like him, have been crippled for life in road accidents.
It moves me to two reflections. First, what might our fellow citizen, with his public spirit, his physical endurance and his motivation, have achieved for the benefit of the nation if he had been able to lead a normal life, to carry out the work which would have been open to him? That is how we should measure the loss from the road accidents which afflict us. Secondly, his 100 fellow victims are only a small fraction of those who are crippled by motor-cars every year that passes. The basic figures—and I recall them again—are devastating: 6,000 deaths every year, approximately 20 every working day, and 84,000 serious injuries, 200 every working day. To the victim and his family serious injury can be graver than death itself—it 246 can mean living death for many people who are so destroyed.
Of the 6,000 deaths, 1,200—one in five—are due to driving by motorists who are drunk. One-third of all the drivers who are killed are found to have drunk too much alcohol. I ask your Lordships to consider the true gravity of these facts. A driver who drinks and then goes on his journey having had "one for the road" or perhaps two, three or four, feels no special sense of guilt. He takes it lightly. But I put it to your Lordships that in reality his guilt is equal to that of a man who deliberately plans a murder and then goes out and incontinently commits it. He knows that if he drinks he may well kill someone. It may be said that he has no intention of doing so, but he ought to have that thought in the very forefront of his mind.
I find the present provisions of the Bill most inadequate as regards this very grave aspect of this social evil. A rich motor driver with a large, fast car is not much deterred by the thought of incurring a fine of even £1,000 if he kills a child. I believe that the punishment should be not a fine, but long terms of imprisonment. I believe that the prospect of imprisonment would alter the whole thinking of the driver who drinks. It would produce a most significant result.
In my view the same is true of drivers who kill children. Again, the basic figures are appalling. My research gives me a figure which differs widely from that of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The figure which I have for the latest year for which I could obtain a figure is 14,000 children killed and 13,000 seriously injured. I believe that it should be the duty of every driver to have in the forefront of his mind the thought that he must take every conceivable precaution to allow for children's errors. It is very easy to say that the children themselves are often to blame—of course they are. Children panic; they run into danger when they might easily escape. But the driver ought to drive with such precaution that he is not led by children's errors to commit injury to them, or even death.
I turn to accidents in which very heavy lorries are involved—lorries of more than one and a half tonnes unladen weight. The figures that I have are that 1,000 people are killed per annum in collisions with heavy lorries and that 18,000 are gravely injured. This is a very serious matter and one as regards which the Government should, I venture to suggest, do much research. I confess that I do not have any recent information. But in the last year in which I was a Member of another place, the chief constable of my city made a special inquiry into all the lorries that passed through the place. He stopped the lorries and tested them for mechanical defects. Unless my memory deceives me, he found that no less than 60 per cent. of the lorries had some mechanical defect and 25 per cent. were so gravely defective that he refused to allow the drivers to drive on until they had been to a garage for repairs. Again, if my memory serves me correctly, he found that a number of the drivers were being paid by the number of journeys they accomplished—an open invitation to reckless driving. As I have said, I have no recent information on these points. But I draw attention to information of long ago in order that the Government may take the matter up and examine with care what I have said.
I turn to seat belts and, with all respect to the noble 247 Lord, Lord Monson, I venture to express the liveliest regret that the Bill does not make seat belts compulsory for adults as well as for young children. Indeed, I find it absolutely amazing that the Government have been able to bring in a Bill without making seat belts compulsory. In my view the case is proved and proved again. I was personally convinced when my friend, Dr. Sir Roger Bannister, told me that his life and that of his wife had been saved by their seat belts. He broke both of his legs. He was not able to run for a number of years—a grave loss to him and to his children—but the seat belt saved his life and did a great service to our nation because he is pursuing a most eminent medical career.
The case is proved by the experience of other countries. Would your Lordships believe that Britain, Ireland and Italy are the only countries in Europe where seat belts are not compulsory? Would your Lordships believe that the Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport, made a report not long ago in which he calculated that a 100 per cent. wearing of seat belts would mean the saving of 1,000 lives a year and the saving of 10,000 serious injuries? Deaths and injuries result from head-on collisions. Indeed, 70 per cent. of all road accidents are head-on collisions. I venture to think that on financial grounds, if on no other grounds, the Government would be well advised to introduce this reform.
I add to proposals for heavier punishment and the compulsory use of seat belts others of my own. Let me say at once that in principle punishment is not an efficacious deterrent to crime. Even the death penalty has proved a very inadequate deterrent to the crime of murder. But I believe that for rich motor drivers a five-year term of imprisonment would be a prospect that would deter them, when a fine of £1,000 would mean very little.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the cost of road accidents. The Government are making cuts in public expenditure and on almost every use of public money that is of social value. They are cutting grants to students to such effect that students are being forced to choose between books and food, and there are reports of students who, on choosing books, have developed scurvy as a result of malnutrition. By cutting the incidence of road accidents the Government could save far greater sums of public money than they can by stopping grants to students. The cost is approximately £1,000 million a year for the police, the courts, the hospitals, the doctors, the damaged vehicles, the vehicles that are totally destroyed, and all the rest. If you can make a significant reduction in death and injury by the measures that I have proposed, you will save a great deal of public money; but more important, you will reduce the grave burden of physical suffering of the victims and the grave burden of the mental anguish of their families and friends.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, may I say with very great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, that although his speech was both touching and delivered in that style (with no notes at all) that we have all come to admire, I cannot agree with the sentiments which he expressed. There is just one figure in our 248 debate on this Bill, which will continue for some little while, upon which I question him. He mentioned the man who is driving an electric wheelchair on a sponsored drive as a result of which he expects to raise £100,000. The noble Lord said that if he raises that sum of money, that sum will be able to provide 1,000 wheelchairs.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, my understanding is that these are German-made wheelchairs and that they cost nearly £2,000 each. I think that it is rather important that, when we are talking about figures, we get the right kind of balance.
I want to turn to the earlier part of the Bill and, like others before me, congratulate my noble friend Lord Bellwin on his masterly exposition in explaining to us the various parts of the Bill. I should like to say here and now that Part I, that part dealing with British Railways, has my total support. I believe it is absolutely essential that we have a successful and an efficient railway system, and I believe that any business—particularly a business run in the interests of the public sector by the public sector's money—should be relieved of all peripheral activities so that its investment and its other resources can be properly devoted to its main task—in this case, that of running a railway and a railway system.
What I have to say is not contrary to anything that I have ever said before with regard to transport. I look forward to the day when the railways are modernised and more efficient, and are carrying even more passengers than they are today and even more freight than they are today because there are—and it was the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who so succinctly put it—bulk goods (he mentioned in particular coal) and there are dangerous and other sensitive materials that can be carried by rail and are so unsuitable to be carried by road.
But let nobody share a view that might be expressed that this Bill singles out one mode of transport against another. I was, frankly, surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, brought in those matters more properly associated with a debate on Armitage. We are not debating that. There is nothing in this Bill that suggests or presupposes Government action along the lines that the noble Lord suggested, that of bigger lorries.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I am worried that when the time comes there will not be Government action and I think there ought to be.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, perhaps we can join forces at a later date on another occasion.
It is with exactly similar feelings that I approach Part II of the Bill which deals with the British Transport Docks Board. Although my noble friend Lord Bellwin spelt out the success story there, I believe that if the interests of users and of those who work in the ports can be more closely drawn together, it will be for the benefit of the whole service. Much praise has been given to some ports, particularly Southampton. In 249 general, I share that view, but I must say that the people at Southampton Docks have for a number of years been running a campaign which is known locally as the dock drivers registration scheme, whereby the dock employees will say who shall use the dock. We cannot have that sort of thing.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Ferrier has misunderstood; it relates to who drives the lorries in and out of the dock, not who is employed as a stevedore or a dock worker.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, it is not quite hereditary. Perhaps I might ask my noble friend what is so wrong with the hereditary principle in some areas of our society.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, if by the measures contained in the Bill we can draw the whole success force together, I think that we could do away with, or certainly minimise, some of the restrictive practices. Of course, it follows, does it not, that the abolition of the Ports Council must come about, which I also welcome?
I turn, as have noble Lords before me, to Part IV of the Bill dealing with matters relating to road safety. It was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who early in his speech referred to the "Man Alive" programme and to casualties on the roads as an epidemic. I am glad that he picked out that word because an epidemic is an illness. It covers a range. It is not one specific ailment or one specific disease to which that programme referred. I take it that he used that word in that sense.
Clauses 19, 20 and 21 deal with the disqualification provisions with Parts I and II of Schedule 7. There is little doubt that we shall be discussing this in much greater detail at Committee stage. I did not notice any reference in the schedule to an offence which might qualify for the points system, that of driving a motor-car or motor vehicle without a valid test certificate; nor indeed a points penalty offence concerned with driving a motor-car with either a false certificate or indeed a falsified driving licence disc. In parenthesis, I might ask my noble friend—perhaps not for answer today—whether he is able to provide a reasonably up-to-date figure of the amount of tax revenue lost, since the rate for the road fund licence went up to £70, from those who do not renew. It might be an interesting figure within the context of whether an offence relating should qualify as part of the disqualification process.
I also see particularly that the two offences relating to drinking and driving carry 10 penalty points only. At first sight they would certainly appear to be less adequate to deal with this growing problem. I wonder why, upon a conviction, there is not an instant disqualification, be it even for one month only? I would shink that it would have a salutary effect. I am more teriously concerned with the drink element of accidents 250 than perhaps are others of my colleagues who think that seat belts are the answer. Can my noble friend on the Front Bench tell me exactly how many fatal and serious road accidents involve a drink element? I am led to understand that it is about 40 per cent. reported, with another 20 per cent. which are not reported.
There again in that "Man Alive" programme to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred it was revealed that some doctors do not think that it is their duty to reveal that there is a drink element in the condition of a patient brought in as a result of a road accident. The doctor feels that this is a matter of confidentiality between doctor and patient. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Porritt, at Christmas time when he was talking about the doctors' responsibility with regard to accidents. I say to myself, somewhat cynically, "My goodness, the profession wants it both ways". They want to preserve their doctor-patient responsibility, confidentiality, in the hospital situation and yet they can come and tell us what we are to do with our own lives and how we are to do it. I shall be taking this up at Committee stage when we discuss the clause of my noble friend Lord Nugent.
I suspect that drink is probably the most important single factor in road accidents and it is upon reducing the number of accidents that we must focus our minds. Figures have been bandied about the House of the casualties, the maiming and injuries, and so on, as the result of accidents. If 40 per cent. of road accidents are caused by drunkenness and we get that matter right, we shall vastly reduce road accidents, the death and serious injury. If noble Lords quote Australia and New Zealand, I suspect that they are quoting hearsay and estimates. I have yet to see authoritative figures. If this is the basis upon which they are going to argue for compulsion of seat belts, I say to them that they are chasing a shadow. They will step on it, they can step around it, but never are they going to grasp it.
In the absence of my noble friend Lord Strathcarron, may I touch for a moment on the motor-cycle issue. He was to have spoken. I know that he, like myself, and like other noble Lords, is very concerned about the loss of life, particularly among youngsters. While welcoming the general provisions contained in the Bill with regard to this matter, there are some matters which I know he will wish to discuss in greater detail and set some amendments to.
Clause 27 dealing with child safety belts I believe is really quite well-intentioned, but again there are a number of unanswered questions. I would find it difficult to accept that we are going to find the answers within the course of the next four weeks. It may be that the full social consequences of accepting a clause of this nature will prove fairly disastrous to us.
I want to touch quite quickly on Part V. We have discussed road humps before. Perhaps the less said about them this evening, the better. I shall want to ask some questions on this subject at Committee stage. On the vehicle excise duty changes, I believe there are some anomalies, particularly concerned with the lightweight bulk carrying vehicle, the user of which will have to go for a heavyweight vehicle, and there could be some anomalies which we can examine later.
Lastly so far as the Bill is concerned, I find it somewhat disappointing that in Clause 33 we are dealing 251 with the taxi trade and yet still have to reserve the general position until such later time as the consultative document is out. My noble friend Lord Bellwin may remember that in 1980 when we discussed the Transport Bill taxis came into the debate, and at that time we were going to defer decisions because a consultative document was going to be published. If I have a point of criticism on this Bill may I assure my noble friend that that is probably the only serious one that I have—that I have not got the document.
Finally, seeing my noble friend Lord Avon on the Front Bench, may I ask him whether he will take to his noble friend our Chief Whip the plea that we are given sufficient time—a sensible time; I do not mean just adjournments during dinner—to deal, in Committee and other stages, with this most important piece of legislation.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Denington
My Lords, I rise to make one or two comments on Parts IV and V of the Bill, but mainly because it might be helpful to your Lordships and to the Minister to say that I have already put in the text of a new clause which I think would go in Part IV of the Bill. It might be helpful if I briefly indicated the purpose of it and its origin. The origin of this new clause is the Greater London Council. I suppose that, as I was for some time chairman of its transport committee, they came to me. I believe that they have also contacted other Members of the House, but I have actually put in the text. The provision would provide that—the police or an authorised person shall have the power to attach wheel clamps to cars where there is reason to believe that they are being, or have been, permitted to remain at risk on a road in contravention of any statutory provision, restriction or requirement respecting the waiting of vehicles".In other words, where a car is parked in a spot where it has no business to be parked—according to the markings on the road and the regulations—clamps may be fixed to immobilise the vehicle so that the driver cannot remove it. That would not apply to a vehicle parked in a dangerous position; as we know, in those circumstances the police may tow it away.
There are people who park where they should not park and they do it repeatedly, not once or twice but to the point where they get a couple of tickets and even a pile of tickets, yet never pay the fines. The courts are overworked and the people about whom I am speaking cause a great deal of trouble to traffic wardens, who are already 40 per cent. under strength. This proposal is designed to get those people to behave in a socially responsible way and the GLC feel that wheel clamps is the best way to achieve that. The clamps may not be removed until they pay the fines; I think that is the idea, and it would be a salutory lesson to them. It is essential that when regulations are made -when lines are painted on the road and indications given to drivers not to park in certain places—they are respected because they are designed to enable London's traffic to run, and I therefore hope the amendment will receive support. I thought it would be helpful to the House to know the background to the proposal.
I welcome the proposals relating to motor cyclists. Like the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, I hope that without 252 delay it will be possible to have every one of them trained before they get on to the roads. I happened to switch on television recently and see a programme about motor-cyclists' helmets. I was horrified to see demonstrated helmets—it is shameful to think that they are on sale in the shops—made of a light plastic material which on impact immediately shatter. The youngster who buys such a helmet, apart from wasting his money, thinks he has security when he does not have any. His parents are no doubt comforted by the thought that he is wearing a helmet, but the type of helmet demonstrated on television would be quite useless in an accident. I am wondering whether it would be possible to introduce regulations saying that only helmets with the seal of approval of, say, the TRL should be on sale.
I admit that when we last voted on the compulsory wearing of seat belts I voted against compulsion. I believe I did so because I have always had a horror of being in an overturned car that has caught fire, unable to escape because I am wearing a seat belt. Having thought more about it, and having studied the various reports to the best of my ability, I think I was wrong, and if there were a vote now I would vote in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. In this connection, a difficult problem concerns young children sitting in the front of motor-cars, and unless a harness can be devised that is capable of fitting all shapes and sizes of children, irrespective of age, I think we should legislate that children must be kept in the backs of cars.
I live beside a private road which has road humps, and they are most effective because whereas people used to drive at speed down our road, young children can now play there on their tiny tricycles quite safely. However, there must be notices telling motorists of the road humps. Especially for drivers who are not familiar with road humps, the humps should be painted white or some other colour—yellow should not be used-which will show up at night. I recall seeing a taxi—the driver had obviously never been down our road before—proceeding at too fast a pace for road humps and the heads of the passengers hit the roof of the taxi as it went over the humps. Such impacts cannot be good for vehicle exhaust systems, let alone the heads of passengers. By all means have road humps in appropriate places, but let us ensure that they are painted white so they can be readily seen. A notice at the end of the road saying, "Beware humps" is not satisfactory; drivers need to see precisely where the humps are.
I welcome the proposals for making changes in the vehicle excise duties relating to goods vehicles. We should be concerned not just about damage to roads caused by lorries, particularly heavy ones. We must be aware of the shaking of houses, exhaust fumes and noise. The constituency in Islington which I used to represent was a lorry route all night long. Beautiful scheduled Georgian houses along the route were shaken to bits, apart from the residents who could not sleep for the noise and were being poisoned by the fumes. A couple of weeks ago I was in the little town of Buckingham, which I had never visited before, and I was horrified to see the great intercontinental lorries making their way down little streets, just managing to get between the two narrow pavements, almost touching 253 the lovely old buildings on each side. I beg the Government to do more to provide by-passes for such small towns, which are being ruined.
I conclude by pressing for something to be done about the 20-year-old saga of the M25 to relieve London. To my personal knowledge, this proposed relief road has been in progress for at least 20 years; we were told that it would be completed by 1978, then we were assured it would not be later than 1980. Today, great sections of it have not even been started and I am not certain that even the inquiries have been held. For London, this is a most urgent matter.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, like others, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bellwin for the clear way in which he introduced this stage of the Bill. I too welcome the Bill because, as has been pointed out, it is far too long since we had a chance not only to debate but amend the law relating to road safety, and it may be many years before we get another chance to bring our road safety rules and regulations up-to-date to cope with the new environmental and technological age in which we live. I am sure that we can give the clause relating to road safety a good airing in Committee.
I should like to speak in the main on one aspect only; that is, the drinking and driving aspect. Here, I must declare some sort of interest or involvement, since I am one of those who have been "done", albeit fairly. The drinking and driving regulations must once and for all be laid down clearly-one rule for all throughout the United Kingdom; no differences, no loopholes, clearcut. If you are caught with excess alcohol in your bloodstream while in charge of a vehicle, there should be no mitigating circumstances, no matter who you are, or what you are. If you go out for an evening and are going to drink, you should leave the car at home and go by taxi. Some people would say that in some areas there are no taxis. In that case you get either your wife or your girlfriend to drive, and take it in turns.
As I said, I was caught, and I make no bones about it—and I did not at the time. I pleaded some reasons as to why I was in the state that I was in, but I knew that I was in the wrong, and like others I thought that I could get away with it, but I was ready to face my penalty.
Many people might not realise the fact that once you are convicted of a drinking and driving offence and have paid your fine, there is still more to come. Not only do you suffer the humiliation of not being allowed to drive for one or two years, but when you do get back your licence having been a passenger and suffered as I did, since I am one of the world's worst back-seat drivers when being driven in my own car, somehow or other your insurance company knows about your conviction, and when you ask for your new insurance certificate, having got back your licence you have a nasty surprise in store. Although you keep your no claims bonus, you have to pay a hefty premium, as well as having to bear a large excess charge if you should be involved in an accident. This is still not the end. If, for some reason, your car is off the road and you wish to rent a self-drive car, again you will be out of luck, as the majority of, 254 if not all, car rental companies will not rent a car to you for five years from the date of your conviction.
As I have said, there should be one law to apply for the whole of the United Kingdom. As was said in column 1262 of the Official Report on Second Reading in another place by Mr. Enoch Powell—and I quote:…it is wholly anomalous that there should be different codes of law in different parts of the kingdom. Whatever arguments may be put forward elsewhere, a motorist in any part of the United Kingdom should clearly be under the same law and subject to the same penalties in the same circumstances".As the law stands at present, in my view that is not the case.
Since I was convicted I have been very careful of my drinking and driving habits, but reading the papers as one does, I have noticed and heard of many cases where people manage to escape conviction, even though they were charged—some because they were able to afford a solicitor (I do not say that in any detrimental way) who found loopholes in the manner in which they were arrested; some on a technicality in the law; others because they were able to show some hardships, for business or other reasons, that they should not lose their licences. But in all cases they were able to escape their sentences, although they had an excess of alcohol in their bloodstreams. That is why the law relating to drinking and driving should be fair—fair to all in the United Kingdom, up and down our country; one law, one law for all. As Mr. Kenneth Clarke said in another place on Second Reading, at column 1327—and I quote:We wish to simplify it, clarify it, remove needless technicalities and, thereby, to make it more difficult for the guilty to get off by means of silly technical defences".That I welcome wholeheartedly. It is only right that it should be one law for all.
I regret that under the Bill as it stands it is no longer the intention to allow the driver the option of providing a blood or a urine sample in case the breath-alysing machine is out of operation; and here may I say that these arrangements should be mandatory all over the country, so that we have a fair system. Furthermore, I strongly feel that the Minister of Transport should hold consultations before changing the prescribed level of alcohol, as in Schedule 8. These are two aspects which I feel should be changed at Committee stage. As for random testing, I think that it is right not to give the police more powers.
Moving on briefly to other points in the Bill, I agree entirely with the points system, which is surely better than the present "totting up" system, but I am not happy about the way that the points are allocated in Schedule 7. I feel that some of them should be higher; my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has mentioned this. As for a regular speeding offence, I feel that this should be dealt with differently. I should like to see it treated by means of an on-the-spot fine, if possible, as that would relieve our courts of some of the pressure, since they are somewhat overcrowded. Failing that, the offence should be treated by means of a fine, or in some other way, but not as currently proposed.
Having had experience of the new system, I am glad to see the provision for changing the points system 255 subject to parliamentary approval. But surely if the Minister is to get parliamentary approval for these changes, he should also have consultations and parliamentary approval for the change in the level of alcohol in a driver's blood. Therefore I hope that we can change that, too, at Committee stage.
I have one other point—that is the new clause relating to children in the front seat of a vehicle, and the wearing of seat belts. I know that this subject touches sore points with many noble Lords and people outside, but I really do feel that this is a very bad clause. I think children under 12 should be banned from the front seat altogether, as in other countries. However, I shall listen to and read in our report other noble Lords' views on this subject. In conclusion, I welcome the Bill. As it stands at the moment. I feel that it is reasonably fair, and I am sure that by the time we get it onto the statute book it will be even fairer.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, for the very lucid and easy way in which he has explained this very difficult Bill to the House this afternoon. I should also like to say that with her usual customary common sense manner, the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, with both feet on the ground, has suggested what I consider, and I believe my colleagues on this Bench also consider, is a very useful new clause, and I am sure that when the time comes we shall find ourselves able to support her from this Bench, behind her.
British Rail is facing a massive financial crisis, and as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has said, we are not necessarily opposed to the sale of some of British Rail's subsidiaries. But if any of those subsidiaries are sold off at a reasonable and fair price, will the Treasury agree that the proceedings of the sales will be added to the external financing limit of British Rail? If not, the sale of the subsidiaries will not assist British Rail in its present financial crisis, and it will only worsen the position if such sales are used to reduce British Rail's call on the National Loans Fund.
The Secretary of State so far has refused British Rail's investment proposals, although money is urgently needed for track maintenance, structure renewal, better and more modern signalling systems, and indeed new rolling stock. In these days of recession one would hope that the Government would see the sense of providing for capital renewal and improvements on our railways, and perhaps even agree, without undue delay, to Sir Peter Parker's demand for capital to electrify the railways. That would surely be a sensible use of some of our oil revenue, and it would improve the services for both passengers and freight. It would also provide employment and revitalise the railway system.
British Rail's investment budget is already less than half of that of most European rail systems. The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, spoke about freedom of control by Government. Yet in Clause 3 of the Bill the Secretary of State is increasing his stranglehold on British Rail by denying it the right to sell its subsidiaries, other than with his consent; and the Bill also gives to the Secretary of State the power to direct British Rail, when, and in what circumstances to sell.
256 I cannot help being reminded of the time when the noble Lord and I faced each other across the Dispatch Box, arguing about the draconian powers given to another Secretary of State in the Local Government and Planning Act. A responsible body such as British Rail really ought to be allowed to manage its own affairs. Instead, the Secretary of State proposes to take unto himself the powers to give British Rail detailed instructions as to how to deal with the most important aspects of its business. In my view the Government's approach is wrong and arbitrary. It would make sense—especially today—if the Government would agree to increased investment in public transport as a whole and in British Rail in particular. Both the private and the public sector would benefit if British Rail's investment proposals could be approved quickly; not to do so makes neither commercial nor economic sense in today's situation. If the Government do not accept Sir Peter's proposals then the only avenue open to British Rail is an even higher fares policy and the inevitable consequential drop in the number of passengers using British Rail.
Other speakers have dealt in detail with those parts of the Bill relating to ports. I just want to register my concern at the suggestion to abolish the National Ports Council. I know that as a body it lacked teeth, but over the years it has provided research and development of port activities and has given legal and financial advice on port matters to successive Ministers. We all know the problems which are facing our docks today, particularly in London and on Merseyside. This is no time to get rid of a competent advisory body. The British Transport Docks Board has also been a highly efficient business concern and has produced a good level of profitability. It has introduced new methods of efficient working into the docks, and I believe we should acknowledge that. These bodies have created healthy competition between ports in this country, but the real competition still comes from continental ports. When the Minister replies, can he tell the House whether the proposed British Ports Authority undertake overall port planning, and will he also say whether the Government envisage that that authority will also be expected to take over eventually the Port of London Authority and the Merseyside ports?
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, if the noble Baroness will give way for a moment, I do not think there is any such thing as the British Ports Authority in the Bill. There is, however, the Associated British Ports.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I also welcome the attempt in the Bill towards improving road safety hut, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I believe it would have been much better if there had been a separate Road Safety Bill as such rather than include these matters in Part IV of this Bill. Road safety is not a question of party politics but of life and death, and it is not something that should be included in a highly controversial Bill dealing primarily with denationalisation.
We have not yet reached the point where the roads in our towns are one immovable traffic jam; but as the loss of public transport, the closure of lines and the 257 withdrawal of services continues, more and more people—especially those in rural areas—are driven to using the roads and thus to create more problems of road safety. I too am concerned about fatalities among motor-cyclists, and I speak with some feeling since I have been a motor-cyclist for many years. I share worries expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, with regard to training. I should like a legal requirement for organisations licensed to conduct the proposed test to do so only after the candidate has undertaken an approved training course. I should also like the department to lay down the essential requirements to be taught within such an approved training course; which course might include not only advice on how to maintain one's machine and ride it but also roadcraft training—which is so essential for a young rider's survival.
Our roads are choc-a-bloc with traffic, and all those concerned about road safety must be increasingly worried at the unwillingness of successive Governments to implement seat belt legislation, and also to take the Blenner-hasset Report more seriously and do something more positive about taking drunken drivers and those under the influence of drink off our roads. Blenner-hasset himself observed:The greater the driver's dependence on alcohol, the less likely he is to be influenced by legal sanctions".That comment was made five years ago and it is still as true today. I hope that before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House seat belt legislation will be included, and that we shall also look at the proposals about the level of alcohol and the rights of the police to apprehend and check on suspect drivers.
In general, I support the points proposal for totting-up offences, but I am sure that the actual points proposed need more consideration, because I am not yet convinced that they are right or fair. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has expressed some doubts and I have others. Why should: "Failing to comply with traffic directions", which could lead to a serious accident, or: "Failure to obey sign exhibited by school cross patrol", which may lead to the death or maiming of children, deserve only three points? Are five points really enough for: "Using, or causing or permitting use of, motor vehicle uninsured and insecured against third party risks"? Even worse are, "Being in charge of a motor vehicle when unfit through drink or drugs" and "Being in charge of motor vehicle with alcohol above prescribed limit", which are worth only 10 points.
As I understand it, 12 points earn disqualification. I may be more than usually obtuse today, but with serious offences which could carry disqualification now attracting only 10 points under the Bill, does this mean that we accept not only that every dog is entitled to one bite, but also that very motorist who drives recklessly or under the influence of drink or drugs is allowed to kill or maim at least one person and be allowed back on the road to do so again before he is disqualified? That cannot be right. Or does it mean that the present automatic disqualification still stands, plus another 10 points towards the next disqualification? That is not clear in the Bill, it is not clear to me, and I doubt whether it will be clear to many motorists. Why put discretion into the points system now? As I understand it there is a working party on fixed penalties 258 which has been sitting for the past two years but which has not yet reported. Why write discretion into this Bill until the report of that working party has been considered and accepted or rejected? If one is going to introduce discretion, why give it for: "Failing to stop after accident" or "Failing to give particulars or report accident", which may be anything from an accidental touching of bumpers to a hit-and-run, and yet give a fixed penalty for reckless driving or speeding which could be anything from travelling through my village at 41 m.p.h. or 85 m.p.h.?—but both would attract the same penalty.
I believe these penalties will create dreadful problems in our courts. It is fundamentally inappropriate that a court should he required to involve itself in a process of allocating points as part of its adjudication. Is there any precedent for this kind of process? The way in which the discretion would be exercised in this regard—on the basis of past experience—is likely to differ widely between one bench and another. In respect of road traffic offences the Magistrates Association has felt it necessary for many years to issue guidelines to assist in the imposition of penalties, and discrepancies in the grant of party and party costs in summary cases give rise to similar problems. The allocation of another discretion in the respect of the allocation of points may lead in the same direction.
As I understand it, the position in respect of: "Failing to stop after accident" is that the number of points would be from five to nine; and for "Failing to give particulars or report an accident" the number of points would be from four to nine. When 12 points have been acquired during a period of three years, there is a risk of losing the licence, on the same basis, I understand, as the present totting-up system; that is, special mitigating circumstances would have to be established to avoid disqualification. Therefore, when an offender has already accumulated at least three points at the time of conviction for the relevant offences, a bench will in effect be considering whether, by the number of points they allocated, to put the offender in a position where the court is obliged to disqualify him unless there are special mitigating circumstances, or whether not to do so. Is there not just a possibility that some benches are likely to seek to avoid this position by allocating fewer points in respect of the offence than perhaps they might otherwise have done?
The risk, where a defendant has accumulated at least three points already, that on conviction a bench may allocate a high number of points, thus putting the defendant in a position where he must in the absence of special circumstances be disqualified, and the uncertainty in this regard, is going to lead defendants to contest cases where they would not otherwise do so. This is going to lead to a waste of court time, and in some instances to increased cost to the legal aid system. I believe the discretion to vary the number of points will inject a new issue into these cases. I believe this will lead to much longer speeches in mitigation in our courts, and much more time will have to be spent by benches in considering such issues, thus delaying the work of the court.
I checked this morning with my own justices' clerk, and in our City of Peterborough the bench has 18 sittings a week. Fifty per cent. of the cases they hear, in number, are motoring cases with pleas of guilty, 259 and these are dealt with normally at one session. I believe they are normally referred to as "the cash and carry department". Now, under the system proposed, all these cases are likely to be contested, and the court will then be overloaded. I believe it will also lead to more appeals to the Crown Court, since presumably such an appeal will have to lie against the decision to allocate a particular number of points. The costs will be increased, and there will also be the additional cost to the legal aid fund.
I have great faith in our magistrates, and I believe that a bench, if it is properly fulfilling its public duty in respect of graver offences of this kind, which frequently involve a driver deliberately removing himself from the scene in order to avoid a drink/driving situation, should use their powers to disqualify on the merits of the offence; and I believe that most of them would. My Lords, we are no doubt going to spend a lot of time on Part IV and Schedule 7 in the coming weeks, before the Bill leaves this House and I hope the Minister will bear in mind the points I have raised today.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, although I should like to say that I am sorry she is not within arm's length of the Dispatch Box any more. I am not going to talk about alcoholism, or drinking and driving, but I will say just this. I was first a magistrate 25 years ago, before all these laws were in force and when it was part of the law of the country that anyone found to have more than the permitted amount of alcohol in their blood when they were driving (though it was not established what the permitted amount was) was automatically sent to prison; and I remember very well several people having to go downstairs without being able to go home again. Having said that, I welcome this Bill, and I am most grateful to the Minister for putting such a very difficult Bill so briefly and in such an interesting way that we could all understand.
Time is getting on. I will not take up much of your Lordships' time, and all my comments will he on Part IV except those dealing with road humps, which I think are provided for in Part V. Clause 19 and Schedule 7 set up the points system, which I welcome very sincerely. For many years magistrates in this country have been criticised by the press, and by people who have no knowledge of the way the system works in our courts, for not being fair, for having given one fine in one court and a completely different fine in another. This points system (although, like other speakers, I do not think the number of points allocated are quite right) is, I am quite certain, a very much fairer basis upon which to judge the infringements of the road traffic laws that come before the courts.
Personally, I think that when we finally decide on the number of points they must be adhered to rigidly. I do not think there should be any room for manoeuvre, and then it will he seen that it is fair and just throughout the length and breadth of the country. The courts will still have the powers to impose different fines for different types of offence, or should I say different parts of an offence. None of the work done by a 260 magistrates' bench now will be taken away from them. I am interested to notice that mitigating circumstances will still be able to be taken into account. I had a feeling they were going to go completely, and I am glad that is not so because in my experience there are occasionally mitigating circumstances. They are few and far between, but I think it is essential that it should be part of a court's prerogative to consider mitigating circumstances.
Clause 23, in Part IV, stands out to me as being by far the most important in this part of the Bill, in that it deals with motor-cyclists. When one realises that the total number of casualties in the 12 months ending last September reached 66,700, which was an increase of 7 per cent., whereas in the case of mopeds, with their very much smaller engines, the increase was of only 2 per cent., one realises what an enormous problem it is to which one has to find a solution. I therefore welcome very sincerely the Government's idea of the learner-driver being allowed to drive only a 125 cc motor-cycle until he has passed his test. As other speakers have said, the motor-cyclists in this country are nearly always young people. They are people who have no experience of driving on our roads before they get on their motor-bikes, and in my view they therefore need a great deal of tuition—more, probably, than the more adult person driving a motor-car.
I therefore welcome these two stages of the test. I am sorry it is not going to be compulsory, but I presume that is because we have not got enough training centres, although the RAC have 300 training centres, as the noble Lord pointed out before, and they reckon that 28,000 young people go through those training centres each year. But when it is estimated that 200,000 new motor-cyclists come onto our roads each year, then the 28,000 which go through those particular training centres are not a very large number. That is especially so when I gather that the trainers at these training centres are voluntary—people with a vast experience of driving motor-cycles but who, in the main, are not paid; and even some of those who adjudicate on tests are not paid. Therefore, there is great scope for asking for volunteers to help to ensure that these young people are thoroughly trained.
In my view, nobody can actually train somebody else in good manners on the road; yet I believe, as a long-seasoned motorist, that without good manners accidents are bound to occur. Another thing is that to prevent accidents motor-cyclists must be seen. Too often on our roads, especially in the highly built-up areas or on the main M-roads and the A-roads with three lanes of traffic, motor-cyclists are weaving from one side to another and unless they are seen motorists, if they are a little inexperienced, are likely to pull out into another lane of traffic or to impede the motorcyclists in some way because the motor-cyclists cannot be seen. Although lights on motor-cycles by day are used far more frequently than they used to be—and I am delighted that they are—I should like to see them made compulsory. I wrote to the Transport Ministry about this a year or two ago and they said that they thought that brightly coloured clothing would be sufficient. What is brightly coloured clothing? It is certainly not a strip of green ribbon passed from one shoulder to the hip. No motorist, or few motorists, 261 can see that. I welcome this part of the Bill very sincerely.
Clause 27 deals with seat belts for children. Seat belts for adults is at the moment not part of this Bill although I understand there will be an amendment at Committee stage. I feel—and I hope that without undue offence I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, so—that we have discussed this five times to my knowledge in this House and it has been thrown out every time. Therefore, with respect, I would not think he is correct in saying, as I understand him to say, that the great majority of this House would agree with the compulsory wearing of seat belts.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I would remind her that in December there was a vote on the Second Reading of my Private Bill making seat belts compulsory which was two to one in favour of the Bill.
§ Baroness MacLeod of Borve
My Lords, yes, but it did not get very far. It was two to one on Second Reading, was it?
§ Baroness MacLeod of Borve
My Lords, I stand corrected. Well, four times instead, of five times, we have thrown it out of this House. But I welcome, in a way, the intention to restrain children in cars, although personally I think it would be very much better if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, said, one kept children under 13 in the back of cars. Children cannot visualise an accident coming because they have no knowledge; whereas adults can do so. That is one of the reasons why consistently I have voted for no compulsion over seat belts for adults. I think that perhaps if the Government still think children under 14 could be in a front seat of a car—although I do not think I have ever known of any; certainly not in my own family—they should be restrained. I take the point that with many children going on school runs there might be difficulties in the country districts where they might have to go, at vast expense with petrol as it is, and therefore they take as many children as they can. It is difficult then to retain empty seats in the front of the vehicle. I shall be interested to see the Minister's new clause on this.
Clause 30 and Schedule 10, dealing with road humps, was discussed in this House before Christmas. I think we might take the liberty of patting ourselves on the back because it was entirely as a result of the deliberations in this House that the idea of ditches as well as that of humps has now been dropped. It was the ditches that I personally thought were particularly dangerous. I could not possibly have voted for that part of the Bill if ditches had been agreed to. We understand from the Bill that they will be constructed only on roads with speed limits of up to 30 mph. In my view, there must still be signs and those must be lit and also the humps must be lit, as the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, has said. Otherwise, they might cause still more accidents when they are designed to reduce speed and improve safety.
I welcome also the new Section 90C(2) to be inserted in the Highways Act 1980, under which it is going to 262 be mandatory to publish in the local press where the humps are suggested to be located. Unless the local people have a method of going to the local council or the Ministry to remonstrate with them or perhaps to encourage them, I can see them popping up everywhere, except that as we heard in the debate before Christmas, they are very expensive to construct. With those few remarks, I wish the Bill a speedy passage and I hope that we shall have plenty of time to consider it further on Committee.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord introducing this Bill was conscious of the fact that he had got rather a cumbersome Bill in two separate and quite distinct parts to bring before the House. I think the Government lost a good opportunity of using their imagination on the subject of road safety. If we include compulsory seat belts in this Bill, how do you sell that idea under the prosaic title of "Transport Bill"? Where is the imagination here to catch and engage public attention on a matter of vital importance to all of them? The first part of the Bill again shows how commonplace the Government thinking is. It talks about privatisation. What sort of policy is privatisation? Who understands what it is? It sounds a bit intimate in some sort of way, privatisation, when what they are thinking about is dismantling, reshaping, or transferring from institutional life to a more dogmatic enterprise. You can really describe it how you like from your own point of view.
But I think it is time we had a Road Safety Bill and then we could devote ourselves to it in a different spirit from having a twin-screw Bill like this where we shall be probably acutely divided politically on Parts 1 to 3 inclusive, although opinions may differ on that. But it will not be so close to the public interest as the remainder of the Bill. So I will skip all the Bill up to Clause 19. This is where the public interest is going to lie. It affects the public more closely than anything else in the Bill. Nationalisers, and anti-nationalisers and Left and Right and business interests and business management can all come into the first part of the Bill. But that is a long way from whether you get away with drink and driving or have to wear a seat belt, or even stop at a hump because otherwise you break the back axle of your car.
When we come to Part IV of the Bill we find it is headed "Road Safety". What we are dealing with in this Part of the Bill is road safety law breakers. We are dealing with the delinguencies of road safety. It seems to me to be a pity that something more imaginative has not been used in describing even this part of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Stedman has criticised the points system which is in Clause 19. There is no doubt that there is a packet of trouble there. On the face of it, it seems to me like classroom stuff. Something to do, in the public mind, with points for council houses. If ever the papers of the magistrates' court get mixed up with the papers of the housing department, somebody will find that instead of being disqualified he is offered a council house! One can see all sorts of administrative confusions in certain circumstances.
On the whole, we are too lenient about breaking the law on safety matters. This after all is life and death. 263 Injury, long incapacity, bereavement, costly illnesses, loss of work—these are human tragedies that can be built up on the failure of some people to observe the rules about safety on the roads; and they are horrifying. If we are going to have a points system for motoring offences, why not one then for burglars, thieves and pickpockets? How deep in the pocket did they go? How much did they take? Should they be given another lease of freedom in order to see whether they commit the same offence again? The whole atmosphere of motoring offences seems to be: "These are the things that people do. They are widespread".
In the motoring field there is the greatest number of law breakers in the land. There are few people who can put their hands on their hearts and say, "I have never broken the traffic laws". There seems to be some excuse available to those who commit offences which some people do not regard as particularly serious. On drink and driving, for example—indeed, on other offences—while not wishing to say a single word against the integrity of magistrates generally, there is no doubt that some benches of magistrates are corrupted by the well-known philosophical reflection: "There but for the grace of God, go I." We are all familiar with this. The points system seems to suggest that another piece of philosophy shall come into our reckoning on motoring offences. "To every dog the first bite." Only when it comes round a second or a third time do you have to take it seriously.
My particular concern about this Bill is that it does nothing really to strengthen the laws about drink and driving. This problem of how to deal with drink and driving has been before us for 16 years. It started during the office of the Labour Government in 1965. I was chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and chairman of the Transport Policy Committee of the Labour Cabinet at that time. We brought before the Government of the day our proposals for the random test as a means of curbing the tendency to excessive drinking when driving. It was the longest discussion in the Cabinet that I remembered in my time. Eventually, we decided—though with some dissent—to back the random test. I know that there were criticisms to be levelled against it. One was that under the random test a policeman might stop the President of the Band of Hope Union who would be highly indignant at having to give a specimen, and this would be regarded as a gross infringement of the liberty of the person. One acknowledges that.
But I ask noble Lords: "What for a policeman in uniform are reasonable grounds to suspect so that he can exercise his rights under this Bill?" Does "reasonable grounds to suspect" mean that he can go round the car parks of the pubs and pick up motorists as they drive away at closing time and say "I have reasonable grounds for suspecting that you have been drinking. Give me a specimen"? At the time of the selective test, the idea that the police should stand around the public house car parks was ruled out as ruinous to the business of licensed premises and also as a most unfair surveillance of the weaknesses of human nature in regard to those coming out of the pubs last thing at night.
Under this Bill, will policemen have reasonable grounds to suspect if they stand opposite public houses 264 with notebooks and take the numbers of motor-cars and watch for people coming to claim them? Is that how it is going to work? What else are going to be reasonable grounds to suspect, unless a policeman sees a car lurching from one side of the road to the other or it' it hits a bollard or there is some other moving car offence for which a policeman can stop a motorist?
This is why the selective test has failed over the years. We have had it for 16 years and I believe now is the opportunity to take a firm decision to last for some time to come as to what Parliament will do on this subject. That is why I think it is much more suitable to a road safety Bill than to this prosaic title "Transport Bill". This is really of vital importance not only from the point of view of safety but also from the point of view of interference with what many people regard as the liberty of the individual.
Some liberties have to be curbed some day. The liberty to kill and maim even oneself has to be curbed one day. The motor-car is a lethal instrument which is regarded as the right of everybody to own. It is more dangerous than the gun in the United States. I feel that we have a crucial decision to take on this issue and on this Bill. Probably noble Lords are asking: "Why was it that although the Labour Government decided on the random test they did not introduce it in 1966?" The answer is that we had a change of the Minister of Transport who did not like it and, in any case, our legislative programme was very crowded after the general election of 1966.
It was feared that not only would we have the motoring organisations against us, but also many of our own supporters, too. On the motoring organisations, one has to look at the question of what is the basis upon which they express opinions. To what extent is the democratic voice of the members of the AA and the RAC reflected in the decisions of their ruling body? They are not democratic bodies at all and we have to beware of regarding them as if they are. That is not to say that their advice should he disregarded. Many of us have received a very informative paper from the RAC on the scope of this Bill.
I think that it is very difficult indeed for us to get our values straight. When I think of how we regard drink and driving and motoring offences on the one hand while on the other hand we employ the police to hunt, search and enter in order to find drugs and accuse young people of being drug addicts, it seems to me that there would be much more sense in their going into the pub car parks to see what their parents have been up to. It is a matter of what you get used to. If you are used to killing people on the roads, you will go on killing people on the roads.
There was a very striking television programme the other day. I caught a snippet towards the end of it, and it seemed to suggest that if there was a disaster on every airport in Britain once a week, if there was a railway crash every two or three weeks and if there was a great disaster that befell the nation week after week, there would be an outcry. Yet none of them would account for the number of casualties that occur on the roads today. Northern Ireland was mentioned in this context. Even with the position in Northern Ireland as horrifying as it is, the death roll on the 265 roads there is still, I understand, greater than the horrifying mutilation and murder that is going on as a result of political differences. I hope that we shall have an opportunity for going into this and deciding upon it.
On seat belts, I firmly believe that the judgment of this House in the public interest is probably worth more than the judgment of Members of another place, because we can look at it more objectively than they can. They have to bother with votes and we do not; and there is no doubt that having to bother with votes clouds the judgment a great deal more than many people would acknowledge. So it may be with drink and driving. At least we can express ourselves as we feel on these matters and let the other place reach a judgment of its own, having regard to the electoral and representative responsibilities of its Members. So I sincerely hope that we shall not lack courage in doing that.
I have two final points. When are we going to stop motorists, lorry drivers and van drivers running on to pedestrian pavements in order to park and escape the conditions of the yellow lines? One can be walking along the pavement and see to one's consternation a lorry coming towards one. What chance does a blind person stand? People with impaired hearing probably do not hear what is coming upon them. They run up and often stay there for quite a long time, as if it was an acknowledged and authorised parking place.
On motor cycles, I think we really do have to be tough. They are the noisiest, most dangerous things on the road and probably more motor cyclists are killing themselves than they are killing others. But that is the tragedy, because motor cycling is to a large extent the adventure of the young and we all know that youth can be impetuous, impulsive, courageous and reckless. I think something has to be done to take better care of the motor cyclist.
There it is, my Lords. As my noble friends have just been saying, we are going to have some interesting times on the Committee stage. I am certain that we have to have a mix, a controversy, with earnest consideration and with no political content—and no holds barred, for that matter, either—on these matters of public safety on the road.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, I shall not attempt to follow the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in his witty, amusing but also serious harangue. It was very enjoyable. I shall be extremely brief. Like all other noble Lords, I warmly thank my noble friend the Minister for explaining so well all the details of this long Bill. Happily, there is nothing for me to say on road passenger transport matters. That is a great relief, because that industry had enough on its plate last time to last it a lifetime. There is, however, a clause dealing with the taxi-drivers and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas it is disappointing that we do not go further on that aspect.
Regarding Part I of the Bill, I agree it is right that the British Railways Board should be able to sell their subsidiaries if they so wish. In the long run it must be beneficial for them to be able to take advantage of private investment and, in turn, for the British Railways Board to concentrate on its prime function, which is 266 to convey people and to carry freight. In spite of all sorts of delays and irritations we might receive by travelling on British Railways, we must congratulate them on being competitive and making attractive offers for us to travel. I have recently taken advantage of one of them by purchasing a family rail card. Not only does it benefit families financially but it should also take many motor cars off our extremely congested roads.
Turning to the part of the Bill dealing with road safety, this is a subject in which almost everyone purports to be an expert, either as driver, passenger or pedestrian. The whole House, with few exceptions, has expressed admiration to the Government for introducing many of the road safety provisions in the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that, as Members of this House, we should be able to vote on these matters in Committee according to our own personal consideration and not necessarily according to party lines—provided that we have listened to the whole argument on the amendments concerned.
I will not delay the House by discussing what is in the Bill. There will be plenty of time to do so in Committee, and if I did so now I should be repetitive; but I should like to mention just one or two other points which are not there. First, I should like to consider the collection of penalties for road offences. While appreciating some underlying difficulties, it would again take too long at this time to develop the argument, but I do not see why we should not look into the system practised in other countries regarding the payment of on-the-spot fines. That would surely save considerable delay and also much work for our overworked courts and other authorities.
The other point I should like to raise is parking on roads. I would say it is relevant because it relates to transport and also to road safety, and parking in certain areas contributes to obstruction and congestion. I believe there is one area in which we should be able to express our views; we should be aware of and condemn the abuse of drivers who dispose of their parking tickets and hope that they will be forgotten. Much time and money is spent by authorities in tracing the drivers concerned.
In this connection I should like to tell your Lordships a little story which outlines this particular point. Recently I was standing at a bus stop in Fleet Street on my way here when—first, enter car and driver; driver parks on a double yellow line; driver exits. Thirty seconds later, enter warden; warden writes out a parking ticket and places it on the windscreen; exit warden. Sixty seconds later, re-enter driver, who removes the ticket and places same in a dustbin with summary contempt. Exit car and driver. It is an absurd situation and it is one that must occur frequently. Surely we could devise some method whereby a driver could pay his fine straight away, either directly to the warden or to the Post Office. If the authorities have to trace and remind a driver who has abused the system, then they could impose a substantial handling charge for doing so.
I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government are satisfied that visitors to this country have every opportunity of acquainting themselves with our driving laws. Is the Highway Code available for 267 purchase at airports and seaports, and is it translated into a number of foreign languages? If not, then it is essential for that to be done, especially as—apart from Siam—this is the only country that still drives on the left. Therefore, visitors must be made very much more familiar. These people are quite often culprits, who do not pay fines. They hire cars from private companies and then get into their aeroplanes and forget all about what has happened. I have been only six minutes, but I look forward to the Committee stage and hope that we shall have masses of time.
§ 7.1 p.m.
Lord de Clifford
My Lords, I should like to apologise to the House for not being in my place earlier on. I should particularly like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin. Some distance away, I was exercising my inalienable right to vote, which was a greater pleasure because I did not have a Whip standing by my shoulder telling me how to vote.
I have very little to say about this Bill, except that I would echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. This Bill could well have been split into two halves. We should have had a Road Transport Bill or a Road Safety Bill, which a noble Lord suggested is the correct phraseology, and Part I should have been completely separate. People like myself have small knowledge of what goes on at the back of British Rail, and we suffer some of the rather peculiar things which occur when we travel with them. But I feel that one should agree that British Rail run a railway. They do not run laundries or hotels. Their business is to run a railway for the benefit of the user. That is all I wish to say on that part of the Bill.
To come to the road part of the Bill, I get the feeling that we are forgetting what we are trying to do. What we should be trying to do is to shake off this awful feeling that accidents and deaths on the road are inevitable. We have to start again in the depths of our thinking. Where do we stop death occuring on the road? All the propositions about seat belts and everything else are merely to mitigate what we are admitting, which is that we must have deaths on the road. I am not prepared to admit that that is so. If we could pass enforceable laws-and it all comes back to the word "enforceable"—we could get very much further.
There is a proposition in this Bill about children's seat belts. I have not discovered to my satisfaction whether they are to save children from injury or to stop accidents happening, because of naughty children. I have seen children climbing about and annoying their mothers and fathers, and have wondered why the car did not drive over the bank. I have also seen enormous dogs loose in cars. Why should you tie up a child, when you do not have to tie up or restrain a dog? It is a most unpleasing thing to be hit in the back of the neck by a boxer, when you suddenly have to apply the brakes. No seat belt would help, because he would just be on the back of your neck and your head would be on the wheel. It is unbelievable that we can concentrate on children, when we do not concentrate on the carriage of dogs. I have always believed that a dog should he securely tied or confined in the rear of 268 the car so that, in no circumstances, could he interfere with the driver.
Another thing which annoys me, when I am waiting at traffic lights, is seeing a small dog sitting on his owner's lap when she is driving. It is unbelievable that we should allow that kind of thing, yet at the same time spend hours in discussing children and seat belts. I shall not go into the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I think your Lordships know that I am not in favour of seat belts. What I shall ask your Lordships to do all the way through the passage of this Bill is to look at it from the viewpoint that we stop accidents, so that people are not damaged. We should not pass laws which the police cannot enforce or can enforce only when something happens. That is all I shall say.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, at this stage of the Bill, I intend to be as brief as possible, after joining in the protests which have come from all sides of the House about the length of this Bill and the fact that it is a mixture of two matters. I agree it is a pity that, as the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord de Clifford, said, we do not have a separate Bill dealing with road safety.
It is as well to remember that road safety is not only about the driver and, perhaps, his vehicle. It is also about the road itself, the Highway Code and so on, which have been the subject of Road Safety Bills which we have discussed in this House, over and over again, during the last 20 years. I also feel it is a pity that the other place has left us with such an enormous job of work to do. It will be a very long job, if one puts together all the points that have been made in this debate.
In general, I support the plans in respect of British Rail. On the British Transport Docks Board I defer to my noble friend Lord Lucas on the points that he raised. I am only sorry that, as I have to catch a train tonight, I may not be here to hear Lord Bellwin's replies to his questions. So far as British Rail is concerned, I only hope that these measures will lead to a regeneration of the public spirit in the staff of the railways, particularly at the lower end, in the operation of the system. May the day come again when they recognise that the travelling public are their customers, not just a lot of people who, by wishing to travel by train, are rather a nuisance, which is the impression I sometimes get from station staffs. I am a regular traveller by train and I am a great respecter of British Rail, so my criticisms are meant only to be constructive. To one who remembers the old days of company management, it is a sadness that the old spirit will be difficult to regenerate.
As for those parts of the Bill which affect this matter, I was impressed by the opinion expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon: that any proceeds from the sale of railway property should inevitably be ploughed back into the railways. It is a point which we can repeat again and again. The railways need the money. I begrudge every pound that they spend on planning the Channel tunnel. I believe it was the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, who pointed out that if only they would electrify the whole of the railway system they would not only consume large quantities of steel 269 (which I see Mr. MacGregor is worried about as a possible outlet for building the Channel Tunnel) but they would provide jobs, widespread jobs which every part of the country needs. Such jobs would be provided if a major railway reconstruction could be put in hand. In other words, what about electrification?
Apart from providing jobs and consuming steel, electrification has been proved to result in a saving of fossil fuel. There is plenty of work to be done upon replacing the existing rolling stock and the existing motive power. It seems to me that if their equipment was right up to date it would be easier to inject the improved spirit which I look for into the railways of the future.
I feel, too, that the shabby state of some of our remoter railway stations stems from restrictive practices in the unions. I live in the country. I look back to the days when there were station competitions. The station gardens glowed with flowers, the palings were painted and the loos worked. A lot could be done if the same spirit could be instilled into the men and if the unions were to agree to the removal of restrictive practices.
May I now turn to Part IV of the Bill which deals with road safety. We have heard a great deal about motor-cyclists. I first rode a motor-cycle at the age of 14. The motor-bike which I rode then belonged to a young officer who was courting a sister of mine. The "beastly boy" got the young officer to lend his motor-bike to him to get him out of the way. After that, I had many motor-bikes. Those of us who are or who have been motor-cyclists and who are keen on them are utterly horrified by the pace at which these beautiful machines now go. They ought not to be permitted on the road. I liked the idea put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, that the lights on motor-bikes should always be switched on.
Two other points have been mentioned to me. The first is the question of eyesight. Because of the speed at which these boys go, we should be sure that their eyesight has been properly tested before they are given even a provisional licence. Secondly, may I mention a rather curious point which has been put to me. I come from the North. I have been asked whether their clothing is always adequate; whether cold, particularly about the head and the ears, may affect their judgment of speed. But that is another matter.
As for the intention of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford to move an amendment to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, I shall support him, as I have done on previous occasions—indeed, to such an extent that if he should fall by the wayside I would pick him up, and his amendment with him. There has been a lot of misunderstanding over this issue. It is absolutely logical that the House should accept this proposal. It was decided in the 1960s that all motor vehicles manufactured in Britain should be fitted with secure anchorages for seat belts. When the Road Traffic Bill of 1974 was debated in this House, the clause making the wearing of seat belts compulsory was carried by 66 votes to 55 without very much trouble. Although admittedly there were one or two occasions when, by a narrow margin, the idea was 270 turned down, we did, by two to one, decide in favour of Lord Nugent's Bill not so very long ago.
Turning to Clause 27 which deals with the compulsory wearing of seat belts by children, may I ask my noble friend Lord Bellwin whether or not I am right in thinking that he said that the Government are going to recast it, anyway? If I am right, it is no use speaking about it at Second Reading; it will be considered at the Committee stage. I do not know whether noble Lords heard on the BBC radio this morning about the tests which are being carried out by the TRRL. A question which was asked was: who will be able to tell the difference between a child of 13 and a child of 14? They will be of different sizes, and it is possible that no size will fit a seat belt which is adequate for a grown-up. There are many complications, but we can leave the question because, as I said, I think that my noble friend is going to get the Government to recast Clause 27 at the Committee stage.
If I may return to motor-cyclists, I am horrified not only by the ghastly loss of life among motor-cyclists themselves but also by the loss of life to the people they kill. People are also knocked down and injured in the most dreadful way. And some people are not physically injured: a motor-cyclist crashing into the front of a car can upset people for life, because the boy may be thrown clean over the car and killed. That again is a Committee point.
If I may turn to drink and driving, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, spoke about what happened in the 1960s. We debated in this House at great length the question of random tests. I remember it very well. Lord Stonham and Lord Lindgren were the two people on the Front Bench. The matter was gone into very thoroughly. It might be worth having a look at what was said then.
I come now to my chief point. It relates to Clause 30 and Schedule 10 which deal with road humps. Perhaps we can embellish this point in Committee. I have already started, with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, a plan which we hope will result in certain amendments being put down at the Committee stage. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Earl introduced a Bill some time ago on this point and that it had gone through the other place.
If I may turn to the differences between England, Wales and Scotland, line 37 on page 79 of the Bill contains the word "especially". This matter is to be left to the Secretary of State for Scotland. If he is especially keen on road humps, they may be made available. As a patron of the Pedestrians' Association I should like the principle to be established that one function of road humps in a residential area is to facilitate pedestrian crossings, especially for,pedestrians with prams or shopping trolleys since the difficulty of negotiating the kerb is removed".I have just quoted from a report which I found in the Library. It has been there since 1979. It is the report of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, No. 878, on "Speed control humps on residential roads". I have been to the Printed Paper Office and they are going to try to get a number of copies so that they will be available to noble Lords when we reach the Committee stage. It is quite fascinating because there are all sorts of designs. My recollection from reading it is that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod 271 of Borve, was wrong in saying that they are terribly expensive. If they are of a recognised and accepted design, they ought not to be very expensive. As for seeing them, the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, spoke about being able to see the humps, and it is interesting to see that they have various proposals in this report as to how they are to be made white. One of them includes the introduction of tiny glass globules so that they are visible with any light in the dark. This will contribute not only to the safety of the pedestrian but it will also save the motor-car and the motorist from injury by hitting the hump. This is well worth looking at, and I hope there will be plenty of copies by the time we get to Committee stage.
It must be remembered that pressures of traffic on through roads are increasing the tendency of drivers to take evasive action, as it were, by nipping along side roads and I think that point also was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. One cannot blame the drivers, but the fact is that it is most unpleasant for residential areas, and this point also is brought out in the pamphlet.
My Lords, it is important that Mr. and Mrs. "Walker" are properly represented on councils and on consultative bodies which have to deal with these matters. I should like to make the point that provision should be made somewhere to ensure that pedestrians' representatives are included in any advisory councils which are set up to help to advise in regard to road humps.
It only remains for me to refer to the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to parking on pavements. I cannot agree more with him, particularly from the pedestrians' point of view. It is something that the pedestrian's association have been dealing with and it is one of the problems of mothers with prams. There may be a lorry halfway across the pavement and the mother has to go into the street in order to get the pram past it. I think it might be wise to consider some provision about that. Indeed, that would have been a proper matter to have been in a road safety Bill rather than in the Bill which we are discussing today. I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading and that the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will forgive me if I am not in my seat when he winds up because I have to resume my customary travel with British Rail.
§ 7.25 p.m.
My Lords, I welcome Part IV of this Bill and agree with most of it. I speak as a magistrate and I know that the Magistrates Association agrees with most of what I have to say on Part IV. My first point concerns the proposed totting-up procedure contained in Clause 19 and Schedule 7 of the Bill. Other speakers have already touched on this new procedure and I should like to go into it in a little more detail. This is intended to be fairer and more finely tuned than the present totting up procedure and I think that would certainly be so if courts had some discretion as to the number of points to be awarded for the more serious offences. The gravity of such cases can and does vary enormously.
May I take one example, that or careless driving. I would ask your Lordships to consider the case of a 272 driver attempting to negotiate a left-hand bend at too high a speed; he loses control, the car skids across the road and ends up in the offside ditch, having possibly struck an oncoming vehicle in the process. I submit that is a serious case of careless driving. A far less serious case of careless driving occurs when one car just touches another when being extricated from a car park. The car is being driven slowly and the damage to the other car amounts to a small dent or the loss of a little paint. I would ask your Lordships to envisage the car park here by the Peers Entrance when there is a large attendance in your Lordships' House. Many of your Lordships' cars bear minor blemishes and I am sure that all will agree that these two cases do not merit the same number of penalty points.
Similarly for the offence of driving uninsured against third party risks. There are serious cases, as where a driver deliberately drives without insurance cover to save himself the expense, which can be very considerable, particularly if he is young and the car is of high performance. A much less serious case occurs when a driver has asked an agent for insurance cover, and without the driver noticing the insurance company issues a certificate to cover the policyholder only or it excludes drivers under 25 years of age. Very often the driver first knows of these limitations to his cover when they are pointed out to him by the police. Again I suggest that these two cases do not merit the same number of points.
When this Bill was first introduced into another place it was intended that courts should have no discretion to vary the number of points awarded for any one offence. However, during its progress through the other place the Bill was amended to give courts some discretion in the cases of failing to stop after an accident and failing to report an accident. The Government have therefore agreed to the principle of giving the courts a degree of discretion in these cases, and I would strongly urge that this discretion is extended to cases of careless driving and driving while uninsured.
On another point, it is a pity that the law relating to the offence of driving without a licence has not been tidied up. A person who has failed to renew a provisional driving licence cannot be charged with failing to comply with a provisional driving licence if he drives unaccompanied or without L-plates; he is simply guilty of driving without a licence. A person who drives a class of vehicle which he is too young to drive can no longer be charged with driving under age because this offence was (I think accidentally) abolished by the Road Traffic Act 1976. I submit that this offence should be reintroduced.
A new flaw will be created by this Bill as it stands under Clause 23. If a motor-cyclist fails to pass his test within two years and persists in driving, he cannot be charged with the offence of failing to comply with the conditions of a provisional licence if he drives without L-plates or if he carries a pillion passenger, but only with driving without a licence. I would ask the Minister whether these anomalies can he rectified in this Bill, or, if not, in the next Road Traffic Bill, which I believe to be long overdue.
There is one final point which I believe should certainly he included in Part IV of the bill. Certain of the more serious road traffic offences must be or may he tried by the Crown Court. At present the 273 Crown Court has not got the power to deal with summary offences, although they may be part of the same incident. An example is an incident involving reckless driving coupled with driving with excess alcohol. The Crown Court deals with the former offence, but the latter offence has to be heard later in a magistrates' court. This adds to the delay and adds to the waste of court time. Surely it is only reasonable and sensible that the Crown Court should be able to deal with both charges on the same occasion.
My Lords, this Bill ranges over such a wide field that I think no apology is required for my final point. It costs the British motorist driving a family car from a Channel port to the South of France between £15 and £20 in tolls; that is, if he drives on the autoroutes. On the other hand, a foreign juggernaut driver can drive as many miles as he likes on our motorways without being asked to pay a penny. This is surely an injustice, and I fail to see how this situation complies with Common Market principles.
§ 7.32 p.m.
My Lords, there are several points I should like to mention regarding Clause 27. I spoke on this subject fairly fully only a few months ago when the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, had its Second Reading, and I will try not to repeat what I said then. But one thing I must repeat: if you are going to make any wearing of seat belts compulsory you must ensure that the release mechanism is both very simple and identical for all cars registered in Britain, and this must be done before compulsion is introduced, not after.
Next, as regards design, other noble Lords have mentioned the tests done by the British Standards Institution and commissioned by the Sunday Times. The inescapable conclusion is that seat belts for children must be different from adult ones, both as regards design and size. The size would have to alter continually or to be adjustable, as children do not stay the same size from the age of one until they are 13. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, implied, 13 year-olds, or indeed children of any age, can vary very greatly in size. Then again the same child may not always be in the front seat. The Motor Industry Research Association have developed a computer programme to determine seat belt fixing positions, to determine ideals for various sizes and shapes of people. I certainly think that before doing anything further about seat belts, for children or adults, we should wait until there is a generally acceptable fixing matrix available.
Now I come to what is to me the crux of the matter. This clause seems to me to have been dreamt up for what I call the cornflake packet family, mother and father and two children. What happens to the family with four or five children or more? They do exist, and their parents cannot usually afford vast limousines or a minibus to ferry them about from A to B. They cannot always use public transport. Many places in this country have inadequate bus services and many have none at all; or people may live a very long way from the bus service. As the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said, in the country it is very often necessary to take the children by car. Country families 274 have to use cars to do essential shopping for food and so forth, and very few have anyone to leave the children with while they do so. Indeed, if they had anyone to leave the children with they might have to take the children by car to the person they were going to leave them with, if your Lordships see what I mean. It is, quite rightly, against the law to leave children under 16 alone in the house without older supervision. I should have thought the dangers to the children of doing that greatly exceeded the risks of packing them all into the car. But if this clause becomes law parents could be faced with the dilemma of perhaps having to break the law in one way or in another. Even if one does not have five children of one's own one may have those of relations or friends in addition to one's own. I myself have frequently driven such carloads to and from school and elsewhere.
Then it is to be illegal for a baby under one year old to travel in the front seat at all. So the baby has to go in the back, possibly unattended, while its mother drives with her eye sometimes on the road but frequently turning her head, her mind mostly on what may be going on behind her. That is not, I think, conducive to good or safe driving. If other children are in the back too, trouble can easily start, because not all children are little angels. I would prefer to have a situation where the baby could be in the front seat of the car, provided it was in a carrycot strapped into the front seat or in an approved type of safety harness.
I could go on for ages producing examples of how real life is lived, but I shall not do so. Of course there are dangers in taking children by car. There were dangers in taking children by horsedrawn carriage or cart. Life is dangerous and no amount of Acts of Parliament will ever make it quite safe. For one danger you can very easily substitute another. Most people are very careful with their children if they know how to be. It is those who are not whom we hear about and they will disregard Acts of Parliament anyway. I think it is time that the Government contented themselves with advising people on road safety, encouraging research into better seat belt design for both children and adults, and trying to improve standards of driving, instead of acting like nanny—a nasty nanny making endless rules and regulations and punishing ordinary decent people for not obeying orders which may be difficult or even impossible to obey.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, because I agree so much with what she has had to say. We will come to that later. I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Bellwin, as so many have, for introducing the Bill so skilfully. I am sorry he is not here to hear me say that. There is one point that I think noble Lords opposite made rather an issue of. They spoke of the Bill being one which has many sections and parts in it and covering a wide range. I do not see why we should get fussed about that. We have many Bills like that. Not very long ago my noble friend Lord Bellwin took through a Local Government Bill which also covered a very wide range of subjects, and at the end everybody congratulated him on it. So I do not think that that is an important issue.
275 There are four matters that I should like to deal with. I shall deal with a couple of them fairly lengthily and a couple of them very briefly. My first point concerns the implications in Clause 2 for the Isle of Wight. My noble friend Lord Bellwin, when he comes to read what I have said, will be reminded that I always have a plug for the Isle of Wight and in this case I should like to express support, in the first instance, for the Member for the Isle of Wight, Mr. Stephen Ross, in respect of his statements on Second Reading in another place on 13th January, in columns 1277 and 1278, and in particular what he had to say in relation to Sealink, I have two hopes about the possibility of Sealink returning to private ownership. I say "returning" because, of course, for many years it was part of the Southern Railway. I also have two concerns.
My hopes are that Sealink, again in private ownership, will maintain the present sea services and, indeed, improve upon them. I would hope that, freed from the type of restraints that inevitably appear to happen to nationalised industries, they might find themselves able to operate more flexibly and altogether more with the aim of giving a direct service to people, with the aim of satisfying the customer. A basic feature of what private enterprise must do is to satisfy the customer.
My second hope is that the special problems of the Isle of Wight will be fully recognised as different in important respects from all the other routes operated by Sealink. I note from the debates in another place that there is no question of Sealink being sold off in hits, and in a sense that is a good thing. However, in another sense it may be that the specific difference of the Isle of Wight sea routes would better be served if it were sold off in bits. I have an open mind about that. The important point is that there are limitations on alternative services. We have no air routes such as those going across to Ireland and the Continent. There is only one other company service—Red Funnel—operating a steamer and hydrofoil service. Therefore, it is more important to us that we maintain the service we have, and I am hopeful that that will happen.
My two points of concern are, first, the question of the future organisation of services with the railway. Of course, as the Southern Railway it operated both the sea route and the railway. Memories of the past always tend to be brighter, but my memory was that in the pre-war days co-ordination of the sea passage and the railway passage was a great deal better than it is even now. Indeed, in recent weeks there have been two occasions on which there has been—I would say for bureaucratic reasons—a lack of co-ordination which has staggered those affected. The boat was on two separate recent occasions, with two different people involved, five minutes late in arriving from Yarmouth at Lymington, and when the passengers got as far as the train they saw it steaming out of the station. The boat was five minutes late; the overlap was only two minutes, and so it went. It reached Brockenhurst on time.
The argument was that it would be unfair on the people of Lymington town not to pick them up at the time at which they expected to be picked up. The train reached Brockenhurst and would have overlapped with the Bournemouth train that was stopping to meet it. Indeed, even if the Bournemouth train itself 276 had had to be delayed for two or three minutes that would hardly have mattered because it should have been able to make up the extra time between there and Southampton. This sort of thing did not happen in the Southern Railway days because there was a greater degree of flexibility and it was operated more as a service to the public by local people. However, it has happened now, because although they are operated by the same company the railway people are tied by their book and I suspect that they are ordered to follow written regulations because they are a great big bureaucracy. So that is the present situation which is bad.
What will happen when Sealink is a separate outfit—which in all sorts of other respects is better—is that over the years I feel there will be a tendency for even less consideration as between the two. Therefore, I would suggest to the Government that the better plan would be not just to sell off Sealink, but to sell off the Southern Railway—let us get back to 1930. That, to my mind, would be a better solution.
My second point of concern is the question of what is described in the Bill as the rights and liabilities applicable to the island and its opposite mainland, harbours and piers as listed in Clause 2(2)(a). At present Sealink adopts a somewhat autocratic stance towards the legitimate local island interests in respect of the harbours and piers from which it operates. It is to be hoped that, in private ownership—with greater flexibility, greater understanding of the needs of the customer and all those tremendous benefits that private ownership gives—there will be a greater understanding of the legitimate island worries as they occur. I hope that that will be the case, but I have a certain amount of concern that it might not he so. I hope that the Government and my noble friend on the Front Bench can give me some sort of a reassurance that there is some way in which those points of concern can be met.
I turn next to seat belts. I shall not talk for long on this matter except to say that once again I am dead against compulsory seat belts, but I shall reserve my arguments for the Committee stage. I am afraid that I do not wish my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford any success with his amendment at all.
§ Lord Mottistone
Hurray, my Lords—I hear, "Hear, hear!" from all round the Chamber.
The third matter that I should like to deal with is road humps. Again I shall reserve my remarks for the Committee stage, but suffice it to say that, whatever the Road Research Laboratory has to say, there is experience in Northern Ireland where they have road humps that drivers of light vehicles can very easily and quickly master them with special expertise and road humps do not trouble them at all. As for the heavy goods vehicles, they do not trouble them anyway. Therefore, it would probably be better—as is the case in some parts of London—to go for a width restricting apparatus so that we limit the width of the vehicles rather than try to bump them to disaster if they go too fast. I should be grateful if my noble friend would touch on that matter and say whether the Government have at least considered extending the width method rather than the hump method.
The final point that I wish to deal with relates to 277 the taxation in Clause 31. The change is welcomed in principle, but it is essential (and my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth touched upon this when he commented on the matter and I shall say a little more about it) to make provision for the carriage of light products in heavy goods vehicles. I am thinking of light products like cakes and biscuits. As your Lordships know, I have to declare an interest as being employed by the trade association which looks after the interests of cake and biscuit manufacturers. This is a matter of great importance. I am aware of extensive debate in another place on what is called a down-plating concession by which an operator could agree with the authorities that the load would not exceed a given weight which would be less than the nominal carrying weight of the vehicle, and have it marked accordingly.
At column 1322 of Hansard of another place, on 13th January, the Minister said that he saw the point, but that this would, in effect, be allowing lorry owners to choose their own weight for taxation and that there would be difficulties in enforcement. I suggest to your Lordships, and indeed to the Government, that lorry operators in any case do their own choosing by deciding on which lorry to buy. Under the Bill, if you buy the appropriate lorry you will get a different taxation. So they are already making that sort of decision. If it is wicked so to do, perhaps we could be told so. As to enforcement difficulties, these would be no more than those which are currently experienced of enforcing axle weight restrictions. That is all I think it is fair to burden your Lordships with at this stage. I shall look forward to joining in the Committee stage, particularly in trying to shoot down compulsory seat belts. In the meantime, I wish this Bill well because in general terms I think that it is an excellent advance towards giving people the service that only private enterprise can give.
§ 7.52 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, I should like to join many of your Lordships in congratulating the Minister on the manner in which he introduced this Bill. As always, he addresses the House on these occasions with an attractive benignness which always wears the air of innocence, in such a way that it reminds me of the art that one learned in another place, that whenever one wanted to pull a political "quick one", one endeavoured to disarm the opposition by making the whole affair appear so innocuous that it did not even merit much attention.
Today the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, deployed this art to the full because, of course, as he knows only too well, Parts I, II and III of the Bill are entirely irrelevant to the problems of British transport communications; they serve no useful productive purpose whatever. Indeed, the way in which the debate has proceeded today, with one or two exceptions, indicates that those of your Lordships who have taken part in it entirely endorse that, because the discussion has been almost entirely on those matters in the Bill which are concerned with road safety. This is the whole guts around which the debate has taken place. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I do not propose to take up any further time by arguing on those questions of road safety, which have been dealt with so 278 diversely and so interestingly by those of your Lordships who have spoken on that particular part of the Bill.
I shall, therefore, return—perhaps also as a matter of temperament—to those parts of the Bill which the noble Lord himself indicated, in his mild and benign manner, were slightly controversial because these, of course, are the real political guts of the Bill. Those are the parts of the Bill which are being put forward in pursuit of the eternal party dogma of the party opposite which, as I shall show, have no relevance to the transport problems of the United Kingdom.
Parts I, II and III of the Bill deal with questions of disposals of parts of undertakings, the reconstitution of the Docks Board, and the dissolution of the National Ports Council. These are the matters with which they are concerned. They deal with questions of ownership, revised management, and financial opportunities for those financial interests who normally identify their political interest with that of the Conservative Party—financial opportunities to make yet further wealth out of those sections of the publicly-run industries which have shown themselves capable of making a profit, and which have still continued to make profits despite the restrictions, and the extra restrictions, which have been imposed on them by the Government who have been in office for the past two years.
When he addressed us on this, the noble Lord, almost casually, indicated that of course there would be facilities for private capital to come into these new undertakings, and he rather beamed round your Lordships' House, almost indicating by his motion the terrific benefits that would undoubtedly follow automatically from such a course. Then he indicated that there would be freedom from Government restraint. We all know perfectly well that the more powers that pass into the hands of successive Secretaries of State, the more freedom that those bodies for whom they are responsible undoubtedly experience when they languish under a shoal of statutory instruments and regulations made by the Minister. That horse will not run.
The noble Lord knows perfectly well that the real functions of the public sector borrowing requirement are not understood with an even degree of intelligence by members of his own Government. Some have one version of it; others have another. But how the noble Lord manages, within this Bill, to link the whole question of eligibility for being classified as to their borrowing system—whether they should be public sector borrowing requirement or otherwise—I think will beat practically any economist in the country, including those who advise Her Majesty's present Administration. Even Mr. MacGregor, who was designated by the Prime Minister not very long ago as a "super guy", as the noble Lord will be well aware, said the other day that of course the inclusion of money required by nationalised industries for productive investment purposes in the public sector borrowing requirement ought, on any grounds, to be excluded from the public sector borrowing requirement. So I do not think that we should be beguiled by giving approval to these steps of disposal, reconstruction and dissolution, into believing that it will in any way solve the public sector borrowing requirements of the various industries that remain.
279 These parts of the Bill do not deal with the real needs of British transport. What are required are constructive and practical measures to deal with the United Kingdom's appalling overall transport position. In part, as a result of the considerable increase in the population of the United Kingdom over the past 50 years—a factor that is sometimes forgotten—but not due only to that, we are living, so far as our roads are concerned, under conditions of appalling congestion. Both industry and the private individual are bearing the considerable burdens of the excess costs involved.
There is a gross over-use of the road network by freight which is quite capable of, and far more suitable for, being transported by rail. It seems to have been forgotten that there is a canal system. With the indulgence of your Lordships I shall illustrate the point. A large number of manufacturing companies today use our road network as nothing more nor less than a work in progress store. They are using the road network to transport their goods for almost instantaneous transmission on to the production line instead of, as could be done quite easily, particularly in the open situations in which many of the large factories find themselves, using the large amounts of land which would accommodate very large buffer stocks of goods that are otherwise endlessly piling along the road. Indeed, in the case of motor-car components in particular the roads themselves are being used as a transit store and are helping in the congestion.
Moverover, as I say, it is sometimes forgotten that we have a canal network which is well capable of being used, particularly under conditions where many goods are now containerised and can therefore easily be fork-lifted off, not requiring a lot of lightering or anything of that kind. Once the initial flow has started—and one agrees that the first load would take a long time—a continuous supply of various goods, commodities, parts and so on by canal would itself ease our road problem. As it is, owing to the congestion of our roads in one way or another, what is happening is that we are getting the road system clogged, and clogged further by heavy lorries which are an environmental hazard in themselves, and which produce considerable inconvenience to individuals and also considerable additional maintenance problems.
So far as the railway network is concerned—and Part I concerns the railways—I think your Lordships will agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, probably understated the position when she referred to the under-investment that has taken place in British Rail. It is quite appalling in this modern age that we in this country should be investing far less in our railway system than any other country in the world of comparable size and significance bar one, and that Germany itself invests two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half times as much in subsidising the losses of German railways than we do here.
This is all part of the philosophy that transport itself has very little social implication. This, of course, is entirely wrong. Transport is not merely a vehicle by means of which investors of capital, whether they be from the public purse or from private funds, can make money. That should not be the main motivation for the provision of a transport system. There should be 280 some regard to its social implications. The way in which the railway system has been run down and has been denied the investment to which it is entitled, the investment that it ought to have to achieve its correct function, has had disastrous results on the remainder of the road transportation system itself.
In rural areas today, for example transportation is much more difficult than it was 20 years ago. It is more difficult because many rail links have been taken away and because there has been no satifactory road transport substitution. The congestion of our roadways itself is a factor in the whole question of road safety. We have been discussing some aspects of road safety tonight in connection with Part IV of the Bill. I do not want to add to the contributions that have been made concerning that. But I should like to leave one thought in your Lordships' minds; that is, that the very congestion of our roads also has considerable bearing on the incidence of road accidents, and that the state of our whole road transport system must be considered as an important factor.
Perhaps even more important than that is the state of mind which has grown up in the United Kingdom over these last few years whereby a car has ceased to be merely a method of conveyance, a means of getting from place to place like the old horse and trap that I well remember from the days of my very early youth. It has ceased to be considered merely as a means of transport. It has become a status symbol, and is so advertised in the press where considerable emphasis is given to its qualities of speed, to its shining qualities, and to its design. In short, the very design, possession, and even driving of a machine becomes an end in itself. This is as distinct from merely being a method of conveyance.
We should be failing in our duty if we omitted to draw the attention of the public—as many of your Lordships have done today—to the fact that we ourselves have to take a totally different attitude about travelling by road and the use we make of our cars. Several noble Lords brought that point out very well indeed; the point that when we drive, we should drive responsibly and he conscious that we are, after all, only going from one place to another and that there is no particular prestige to be derived either from the speed at which we accomplish the task or the style with which we conduct the vehicle. Such matters, although they cannot be incorporated in a Bill, should be borne in mind.
Like many of my noble friends and at least two noble Lords opposite, I regret that the road safety section of the Bill was not made completely separate from the rest. We hope that by a free vote in your Lordships' House on that part of the Bill, we shall be able to arrive at an effective and constructive solution to the problem. As for Clause 33, which imposes new burdens on cab owners and drivers, I should have thought that would be more appropriate to a Finance Bill than to be tacked on at the end of a Transport Bill as a matter of convenience.
As for Parts I, II and III of the Bill, we on this side propose to do battle on those. We will do our best to see that the more objectionable parts of those almost entirely irrelevant sections of the Bill are brought into some kind of greater sense, even within their present political connotation. We hope that, in that, we shall 281 receive the support of those of your Lordships who place the broad interests of transport and the whole improvement of the transport system far above the party dogmas which they may be invited to support.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the motorcar as a status symbol. While he is probably right about that in urban areas, may I ask him to agree that in rural areas the motor vehicle is now a machine tool in the hands of those producing food?
Lord Bruce of Donington
I am obliged for that support, my Lords, and that is exactly my view; in the countryside, where cars are put to everyday and constructive use, they tend to be used more wisely. As the noble Lord points out, in part they are used as a tool of the trade and in part as a means of conveyance. I was drawing attention to what I consider to be the daft way in which, for example, people drive cars in fits of motorway madness, going dashing into places into which they cannot possibly see, purely for the thrill of speed.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, whatever our respective views are about the Bill, it has given rise to an interesting and, in the main, constructive debate. I am sure that noble Lords on all sides will, like me, he looking forward to the Committee stage.
§ Noble Lords: Oh?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I find it amusing that some of my noble friends should smile at that comment. I have the same experience when saying similar things to ministerial colleagues who are surprised at the enthusiasm which I like to try to show to working in your Lordships' House. I know that noble Lords would like me to deal with as many of the points raised today as possible. However, it is a wide-ranging Bill and this has been a wide-ranging debate, so while I shall do my best in the limited time available, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I resist the temptation, strong though it is, to respond to all the issues that were raised, and of course it goes without saying that I shall write covering any of the points I do not specifically mention in this winding-up speech. Some of the provisions are very complex and we shall have a chance to return to points of detail in Committee.
We have had a number of excellent speeches and I know that any noble Lords to whom I do not refer will forgive me. As always, the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was succinct and, certainly when he was talking of road safety matters, very constructive. While he will allow me to disagree with him on the other points he raised, I always find it is a joy to debate with him across the Floor of the House. I know I am taking a great chance in mentioning names—the dangers of omission are great indeed—but I thought the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, emotive though it was, was impressive in its sincerity, and I assure him that we will look very carefully at, and think about, what he said. I would only tell him that in my view the strongest deterrent of all is not a prison sentence for a driver, because the threat of disqualification is tremendous. I will not bore the 282 House, but as a magistrate for many years, I have seen the effect on people who have been disqualified—especially when, as happens in some cases, it has been for a lot longer than six or 12 months—compared with any fine or even a detention sentence that may have been given. The effect of long-term disqualification is quite dramatic in its impact, and I hope the noble Lord feels able to agree with me on that.
I thought my noble friend Lord Lucas, who always joins in debates on transport—he too is always a pleasure to listen to because he knows the subject so well—made a fair comment when he referred to the delay in the consultation paper. I assure him I am trying very hard to do something about that. As always, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, made some careful points, a few of which I shall touch on shortly, and I am grateful to him for the way in which he approached the Bill. Likewise, although he is not in his place at the moment, from his new and elevated position the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was very kind to me and I thought he made a helpful and constructive speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, with whom I have crossed swords on many occasions in the last two years, started most kindly but then spoilt it; he was doing so well at the beginning. In a quite long political career many things I may have been called, but "mild and benign" have not been included among them. On the other hand, the noble Lord might have said worse—much worse—and I promise him that I shall not rise to the bait but instead will try to confine my remarks to some of the details in the Bill.
First, perhaps I might make a few general comments. The debate has demonstrated, not unexpectedly, that noble Lords opposite are, as we know, strongly opposed—I hate to use the word, for which I apologise in his absence to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and to Lord Houghton—to privatisation. I do not know a better word to use and I shall go on using it until somebody provides me with a better one, and I invite anyone so to do. The fact is that noble Lords opposite are strongly opposed to the privatisation measures in the Bill, and we know that.
However, throughout all the speeches today I have not heard one which explained in simple terms (or, for that matter, in any other terms) why we must have a ferry company or a hotel chain in the public sector. Do they provide a better service to the consumer by being in the public sector? Are they more efficiently run? Do they have better access to capital? Is their workforce more content than their counterparts in the private sector? The truth is that these companies will have a brighter future under our proposals in the Bill. I will say no more about that now: there will be plenty of opportunity to say more later.
I feel that I should now turn to some of the points that have been made. One point was made in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. They were concerned about what will happen to the proceeds of sales of British Rail subsidiaries, and I think that I should say something on this. The fact is that the proceeds of sales made by the Railways Board using its powers in Clause 1 of the Bill will go to British Rail Investments Limited as 283 owners of the businesses and hence to the Railways Board. Those proceeds will be included by the board in the financial forecasts that it submits to the Government and will be taken into account along with all the other relevant factors in fixing the board's external finance limit each year. Proceeds of disposals are already taken into account in this way. The precise effect on the board's EFL is therefore undecided at this stage. As the Government have said in another place, they do not intend simply to reduce the board's EFL by the amount of any sales proceeds.
I should now like to respond to another point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The putting together of the Government and the board is not a shot-gun marriage, if I may use that term. The board is very keen that its subsidiaries should have the opportunity of a prosperous future, taking a strong place in the market, and it has decided that the best way to do this is to introduce private capital into them. The board's decision to look for ways of doing that was taken before any discussions with the Government began, and I really do not believe that Sir Peter Parker and his colleagues would have acquiesced in this policy if they did not see any real advantages in it for the board.
Concern was expressed about the proposals for Sealink. I should say at once that Sealink is an excellent example of a business that has suffered from the disadvantages of the public sector. A shipping business needs ready access to investment. Already Sealink's fleet is less modern than that of its main competitor, and without access to private capital this situation is bound to get worse. That is why the Government and the board both believe that Sealink needs to be transferred to the private sector. As to the timing of any disposal of shares, in the first instance that will be a matter for the board, and it will wish to try to choose the best moment. But we need to make early progress if Sealink's future growth is not to be impaired.
I consider that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on the British Rail property holdings were, if I may say so, based on a number of misapprehensions. The first point is that although it is true that the Railways Board has received a significant income from property, the great bulk of the board's income from property comes from operational property. In 1980 lettings of operational property produced receipts of £25.2 million. The great bulk of that property will not be affected by the present policy. But non-operational property—that is the property no longer needed for running the railways—with which we are concerned, produced a net rental income of £8.4 million.
A second point in this respect is that disposing of property is not a new phenomenon for the board; disposals of property have always taken place. In 1980 the Railways Board sold property that it no longer needed worth £40 million. The present policy is merely a development of that existing practice. As yet no decisions have been taken about how this will be done. Certainly there will be continued sales, but the floatation of a property company is also possible, and if that latter course is chosen, the board 284 would be able to retain a substantial stake in the company and thus benefit in any future growth in profits.
A point was made about British Rail and investment in it. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, spoke very forcefully upon this subject. I hope that he would tell me that he made this same point on frequent occasions when the previous Administration were in power. Knowing the noble Lord, I have no doubt that he would have made the point here and elsewhere. That is fair enough; respect it. But the fact is that the present Government have maintained the Railways Board's investment ceiling at the same level in real terms as that set by the previous Administration. The level of the ceiling is substantial and has allowed the board to carry out a wide-ranging programme of renewal and modernisation. The Government have given the board investment approval for several major projects in recent months. As for electrification, this is a very large project, involving high expenditure, and surely it is reasonable that the Government should have time to consider the case for the proposals. But as yet no decisions on that matter have been reached.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked how has the National Ports Council transferred its research functions to the British Ports Association before the Bill is enacted. I am sorry—that question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The National Ports Council carries out research under Section 3 of the Harbours Act 1964, which permits it to do whatever it considers feasible and expedient to promote research. It has reached agreement with the BPA that the assocation should take over its research responsibilities from 1st April. This ensures a smooth transition between the two organizations, particularly since the NPC has already shared some of its staff, while the BPA is building up its organisation to take on its new functions.
I come now to some of the other aspects of the Bill. In regard to the points system and the "totting up" procedures, the proposals form the first fruit to come from the review body that the Government set up to look at certain aspects of road traffic law. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and heard his reservations on this question. I believe that this is a most valuable reform, which will be fairer and more effective than the existing crude system of "totting up" of endorsements. It has been welcomed by the general motoring public, as well as those who administer the law.
I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said, and I shall speak to colleagues about some of the points that she made. However, as a long-standing magistrate myself, I would take issue with her on a number of her arguments. Certainly I do not accept those which concern the likely effect on the work of the courts.
But there is a dilemma. Even among my noble friends we have had today a difference of opinion as to the degree of flexibility, or whatever, that should be given to magistrates in this matter. My noble friend Lord Fortescue would like more discretion in certain cases. We shall carefully read What he said on certain other aspects of this matter, concerning anomalies. My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve gave general support on this matter, for which I am 285 very grateful, but she would prefer no discretion as to the points that should be given. I would say that this is a judgment that one has to make, and we are making it as we think best.
I have before me many notes which set out the justification for coming to these particular conclusions, but at this time of the night I shall not go into the details. However, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that this proposal is not entirely new—in some ways would that it were. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, this is done in a number of countries, and it works well enough.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Would he care to change the psychology of the matter and instead of talk about points awarded, talk about black marks awarded?
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, to use an expression that I have learnt since I came into Government, I would say that I hear what the noble Lord says.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned his dislike of the wiping clean proposals. I would say that apart from unfairly counting offences more than once, the present system does not encourage a driver to try to do better and to keep a clean record, certainly not as the threat of disqualification is continually present. I would have to disagree; I do not believe that we have weakened the effectiveness of our measures by such an improvement in the way that the system works.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said that the Bill does nothing to strengthen the laws on drinking and driving. Again, I would say that he has his point of view, but I am sure that the changes proposed in this Bill will simplify the law, remove needless technicalities, and therefore make it more difficult for the guilty to escape conviction by technical defences. The introduction of evidential breath testing will make it easier for the police to administer and enforce the law and in that way the law will be made more effective. At the same time, I hope that our proposals will help to maintain good relations between the police and the motorist. Evidential breath testing will be quicker and more convenient for the motorist than having to give blood or urine samples.
Turning now to the sections dealing with seat belts, which I know are so much in the minds of every Member in your Lordships' House, let me say that I understand the views expressed by so many of your Lordships who wish to see provision for the compulsory wearing of seat belts included in this Bill. Certainly my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has been second to none in advocating that course. I am sure this House will be able to express its views fully during the later stages of this Bill, but I should like to make the Government's position perfectly clear. It is our firm view that seat belts save lives and prevent injuries, but we do not agree that we can force the issue of compulsion. Therefore, it is for your Lordships to decide how you will vote. But I will say that, should support for compulsion eventually win the day, then we will of course respect the wishes of Parliament and implement such a provision.
Just referring en passant to the hypothesis put 286 forward by Mr. John Adams of UCL, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that seat belt wearers compensate for the protection which belts give by driving more dangerously, I believe that the facts which Mr. Adams presented in order to prove his thesis are open to much criticism. Even so, the question is under much wider consideration by the Department of Transport.
On the subject of child restraints in Clause 27, let me just say that this was added to the Bill in another place and it has been given the support of the Government. In our view, the duty to care for children who are not old enough to look after their own safety overrides factors which must be considered in relation to the compulsory wearing of seat belts by adults. Therefore, Government support for this clause cannot be taken as a precedent on the general seat belt issue, but we made our position clear on the general issue during the Second Reading of the Bill, which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford recently introduced, and our views on that are as I just expressed them. However, I should like to take this opportunity to reassure those who are concerned about the desirability of putting young children in seat belts, which have, after all, been designed to be worn by adults, that the Child Accident Prevention Committee have studied the whole question of the safest way for children to travel in cars and found no evidence that the use by children of adult seat belts increased the risk of injury, even to very young children. The committee concluded that children were safer using adult belts than they were travelling unrestrained in the back of the vehicle.
However, this will not be compulsory and it will be for the parents or the driver of the car to decide whether or not to take advantage of the protection afforded to the child by the adult belt fitted to the front seat or for the child to travel in the back. In another place the Secretary of State for Transport has said that he will study the findings of the research commissioned by the Sunday Times and will make a statement. My noble friend Lord Ferrier was right in that indeed the final word on this subject may not as yet have been said.
May I conclude by saying that nothing I have heard this afternoon has shaken my belief that this is an extremely good Bill.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, before my noble friend comes to his peroration, will he kindly say a word about motor-cyclists? Noble Lords have had quite a bit to say about motor-cyclists and it is very important that we should hear from my noble friend on what he proposes to do about training facilities in the future.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, I thought I had said at the beginning—and, if not, I shall gladly take the opportunity to do so now—that we are extremely concerned about the appalling number and extent of accidents involving motor-cyclists. We are not only carrying out the measures which are outlined in the Bill and to which I referred at the time, but we will look at everything that has been said today and at anything that may be said in the future about better ways of training, to ensure that young people in particular—although older ones too if it comes to that—who are 287 often starting to ride motor-cycles for the first time at a relatively young age, are equipped and fitted to do so and so reduce the awful carnage—which is the only proper word to use. I say to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford that just because I have not stressed this point as much as he might have wished, no one should imagine that we are not fully apprised of this subject. We are concerned about it and intend to do all we can to improve matters dramatically.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, makes his concluding remarks, will he give some indication as to whether or not he will take into account the views which have been expressed by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. Many of us on this side of the House felt that she raised some points of great significance which ought to be considered by the Government.
§ Lord Bellwin
My Lords, simply because I do not repeat every point in my response—and, after all, I have spoken at some length—does not mean that we will not study very carefully the points made by the noble Lady, and I an very happy to assure her that they will be considered very thoroughly.
As I said in my opening remarks, in party political terms the first parts of the Bill are highly controversial and I am not going all over that again. We believe that what we are proposing provides a challenge and an opportunity, and I am confident that the management and work forces of the businesses concerned will rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities. The Bill's road safety measures will make the law fairer and more effective. We can and will discuss the details in Committee, but I believe that the principles of what we are proposing are sound and deserve the full support of your Lordships. The privatisation and road safety measures and the other important changes which I have described tonight make this a most important reforming Bill. We will study carefully what has been said, but I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, and I look forward to the consideration of the Bill by a Committee of the whole House.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.