§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I think that perhaps the subject matter is somewhat different from what we have just been hearing, but, just before he leaves the Chamber, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for mentioning my noble father in his speech.
One might wonder why I have introduced this particular Bill. Its history relates to my own personal optician who supplies me with spectacles saying to me last summer that when he started to operate as an independent optician in the Isle of Wight he was not sure whether he would have sufficient income from his activities; so he took the precaution of getting himself qualified as a driving instructor, so that in the event that he found he was not getting enough trade as an optician he would have something to fall back upon. This meant that he had the skills that were necessary to understand the sort of subject that we are debating today. That is the origin of it.
Having got that start, I said to him, "Why is it that you think there is a need for a Bill like this?" He replied, "From my practical experience I have found 617 that the 25-yards number test is inadequate in testing the suitability and the unsuitability of persons taking the driving test". I then sought assistance from the Association of Optical Practitioners, who said that other members had raised the matter, and they agreed to provide me with the necessary technical advice. I give this introduction to make it quite clear that this Bill is not a ploy by the opticians to get extra business. They expect very little change from their present business.
It is 50 years since the present means of assessing drivers' vision was laid down by statute. In those 50 years, no change has been made in the standards of vision which is required by motorists during that period of time. But driving has changed beyond all recognition. The speeds at which vehicles now travel, the types of road that are in use, the density of traffic, combine to produce little doubt that driver vision and perception have a key role in the driver/vehicle road system. There are many facets to driver vision and perception; and establishing their relative importance in the driving task has proved to be difficult and often contentious.
Put simply, there is a lack of up-to-date research of a good standard which objectively examines all the facets of vision and their relationship to driving. However, it remains true that Britain, in company with Hong Kong, Cyprus and Mauritius, out of all the developed countries in the world, has the lowest visual standards for driving. No doubt it can be argued that there are priorities in road safety other than improving vision standards. There are, however, many examples of public concern in this area. Some of the examples indicate less than specific remedies, but all would support a sensible and rational approach to reviewing the requirements for drivers' vision such as is envisaged by this Bill.
I could prove at length that modern standards, as I shall call them, have been adopted by all the EEC countries and most others. For those that are concerned, there is a colour test by five of the EEC countries, by Japan and by 42 of the states of the United States and by Queensland. Against that, some people in this country can be legally blind but pass the United Kindom test; some people also who are up to the standards of the more modern tests are prevented from driving by not passing the United Kingdom test. So it is a two-way affair. It is not just a question of making sure that there are some drivers who should not drive who need more accurate testing to prevent them from driving. It is also a matter of allowing some people to drive who are otherwise prevented from doing so.
As a final view to back that up, in a MORI survey conducted in October last it was shown, among other things, that in answer to the question,Do you think it should be compulsory for people who drive to have an eye test once every two years or not?74 per cent. of all those questioned said, "Yes". Only 23 per cent. said, "No". There are other factors which could well be called in aid, but I do not want to keep your Lordships for too long.
My honourable friend Mrs. Lynda Chalker, in reply to a Written Question at col. 132 of Hansard for 16th January '1985, said words to the effect that the present 618 number plate test constituted a perfectly satisfactory standard of eyesight for driving; but she said that she would study carefully recommendations made by the Select Committee on Transport in this connection. The Select Committee on Transport of the other place, in its first report of the 1984–85 Session, said in paragraph 45;The evidence we have received from the FOCB and the AOP leads us to the view that there are strong grounds for doubting whether the existing eyesight test meets these objectives. We recommend that the department should consider re-specifying the minimum visual requirements for a driving licence along the lines suggested. We also believe that the department should give further consideration to the case for introducing regular eyesight checks for all motorists, though we accept that the decision on this should be based on whether the cost of such checks could be justified by the potential reduction in road accidents.If we take that a step further, the point that is emerging is there has not been enough research into the degree to which inadequate eyesight contributes to accidents. There has yet to be a comprehensive programme of research which sets out to assess in statistically valid ways the relationship between poor vision and accidents, or indeed a programme which sets out to research the links between poor vision and driving abilities in general. Mr. Brownhills of the Transport Road Research Laboratory, writing in Perception in 1980, said:Numerous physical and psycho-physical restrictions on visibility could lead to the look-but-fail-to-see type of acccident; but their relative importance requires evaluation. There does not appear to have been any recent attempt to evaluate that type of accident.Johnson and Keltner in California in 1983 discovered that 3 per cent. of people between the ages of 16 and 60 had visual field defects, and incidents rose to a startling 13 per cent. among those older than 65. More than half of those people were previously unaware of any problem with their peripheral vision. Drivers who had field loss in both eyes had accident rates twice as high as those with normal visual fields. There was also some indication in this study (though it was not pointed in that direction) that possibly between 0.5 per cent. and 2 per cent. of accidents might be due to eyesight inadequacy.
If we now turn to the accidents (and I am quoting from the 1983 report on Great Britain, published by the Department of Transport and the Welsh and Scottish Offices), we find that in that year there were 5,445 deaths and 75,000 fatal and serious accidents. I suggest to your Lordships that if the reduction of accidents was 0.5 per cent., as I have just mentioned, that would save 375 serious accidents, of which 27 would be deaths, and if it were as high as 2 per cent., it would save some 1,500 serious accidents, of which 100 would be deaths. I think that is something which should be taken at least with a degree of seriousness which perhaps it has not so far received.
Thus, even though it is generally agreed that there is at present a lack of scientifically conducted evidence that not having a modern test of eyesight is a significant cause of accidents (and I would suggest that this certainly needs to be rectified without delay), the fact that practically all other Western countries have such a modern test, that the House of Commons Select Committee recommends that such a modern test should be considered, and that a recent MORI poll shows that the public agrees with them, gives me the encouragement to present this Bill to your Lordships. 619 I should perhaps add that since introducing it, I have incidentally had support from the Guild of Experienced Motorists and from certain individuals writing personally.
To turn now to the Bill, Clause 1 makes provision for the Secretary of State to lay an order prescribing revised and scientifically-based visual standards for an applicant for a driving licence. Those standards would be determined by the use of a vision screener, as in most other Western countries. Screening can be undertaken by people with no special training. It is a short procedure and can be made available to drivers and potential drivers in all sorts of situations: for example, in driving schools, driving test centres, health centres and at opticians' practices. In addition, the screening machines are sufficiently portable for their use by police. Indeed, I understand that every one of the United Kingdom county police forces already has at least one of these instruments. The type concerned tests not only for distance visual acuity but also for ocular vision, depth perception, colour vision and side-field of vision.
Your Lordships may wonder what will be the effect of this Bill, if it becomes an Act, on existing drivers. Various estimates have been made of the number of people currently driving who might fail to meet the existing numberplate test. Nothing in the proposals contained in this Bill would cause any but a small number of motorists to lose their licences. Most would be able, by seeking professional advice, to have their vision corrected to a safe standard for driving. Some—a much smaller number—would have their driving hours restricted in a way that appeared appropriate to their disability.
For all drivers, an emphasis on the importance of driver vision and perception can only lead to a greater awareness of the need to use their sight to help them towards safer driving. Not the least benefit of changes in defining standards of assessment of driver-vision would be to stimulate education in vision and road safety. I suggest to your Lordships that this would meet a point made by my honourable friend Mrs. Chalker in evidence to the Select Commitee:There is a much more immediate and difficult problem: namely, those people who have perfectly good eyes but fail to use them properly when they are driving a vehicle on the road".The order would also prescribe the conditions under which certain persons would have their licences endorsed to show restrictions and requirements. This is a common practice in other countries, including most of the states in the United States of America. I have a copy of my son-in-law's licence, issued in Georgia, with a provision for it to be so marked. Examples of this are: "vision lens correction required", which is marked with a "V"; and "daylight hours only motoring", marked with an "F". So it is not strange.
To go on with the Bill, Clause 2 makes provision for persons with their licences so endorsed to take an eye test with a doctor or an optometrist every five years. To remind your Lordships, this eye test does not cost the person anything. If he requires changed spectacles for motoring, he probably requires them for watching television, as I do. Clause 2 also makes provision for all persons reaching the age of 45 to have an eye test by 620 a doctor or an optometrist. My own experience showed that necessity, anyhow, for reading, and the test that I had in my mid-forties gave me reading spectacles, but showed quite clearly that I did not require spectacles for anything else. But at a later stage I needed spectacles like the ones I am wearing, which are bifocal.
The Bill goes on to say that thereafter, having had the test at 45, further tests will be required at five-year intervals. I expect that most of your Lordships who have reached the age of 45 have had the experience of requiring new spectacles, so there is nothing very strange about that. Clauses 3, 4 and 5 make consequential amendments to the Road Traffic Act 1972 and I shall not bother your Lordships with the details. However, I shall be happy to make any comments on them, if they are raised during the course of the debate.
If I may now turn to possible costs, we always find these mentioned in Government Bills but this being a nice, simple Private Member's Bill they are not mentioned. So I shall give your Lordships the benefit of saying that nothing in this Bill is likely to stimulate to any great extent the use of the NHS eye test. Most of the driver vision screening that is envisaged can be done by unqualified personnel, using relatively inexpensive screening devices. Further it is anticipated that such screening devices would, in any case, become available in other areas, such as driving schools and doctors' and opticians' premises. Clearly, driving test centres would initially have to be equipped with machines of this type, but it appears that a relatively inexpensive device could be developed specially for this purpose. A vision screener currently in use by police forces and others costs about £1,200, but this cost would be substantially reduced if there were quantity orders.
To conclude, as was said by the Select Committee of another place, there is reason to doubt the efficacy of the 50 year-old 25-yard test for determining visual suitability to drive. The eyesight tests for heavy goods vehicle drivers, which have recently been revised, require the sort of standard that would be proposed in an order under Clause 1 of this Bill. Though a heavy goods vehicle is potentially very dangerous if not driven well, any car, especially when driven fast, is also a potentially lethal weapon of a tonne or more in weight, and I suggest to your Lordships that size does not make much difference to the threat to life. Therefore, if the heavy goods vehicle driver requires a more modern test, why should that not apply in this very modified way that we propose to other drivers, who could be a similar, or possibly even a greater, threat? Even if accidents were reduced by only 1 per cent. as a result of modern eyesight testing, 50 lives and 700 serious accidents might be saved. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Mottistone.)
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I am sure that everyone who has listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and who wishes to take part in the debate, and all those who are interested in the field of road safety, will fully appreciate the motives behind 621 the introduction of this Bill. We are continually looking for ways of reducing the appalling toll of death, injury and material damage which occurs daily on our roads. But most people are also concerned that such measures as the Government take to improve road safety should show quite quickly that the proposed measures are the next step in terms of effectiveness towards reaching complete road safety. Those are our thoughts on this subject.
In the last 20 years or so, with the very great increase in the motoring population, it has been the practice of successive Governments to introduce measures aimed at making our roads safer. With each new restriction on the freedom of the motorist, there was an acceptance by the public at large, and by the motoring public in particular, that the restrictions were due. There are always exceptions, and there will always be some people who want no restrictions at all, but among most motorists there has always been a feeling that although the new laws were inconvenient they were also necessary.
For example, there were a great many arguments about the MOT test and there still are. But at least it shows every year that a vehicle is roadworthy. It may not be everything, and perhaps we should have it more often, but it means that at least once a year the old dangerous "bangers" are taken off the road, and people have begun to accept that that is reasonable.
Then there was the test of tyres, under which there must always be tread on the tyre and no cuts on the side. This, again, was something that had become due and, with the higher speeds of cars, people accepted it. It can be very annoying when the garage always finds a cut or something else that is wrong, which means that one has to buy a new tyre, but the examination gives a feeling of safety and most people have accepted it.
I think that the law on drinking and driving is now generally accepted, though I believe it would be better if it were even more strict than it is at the present time. Then there was great early opposition to seat belts. I introduced a Bill in the other place which was lost through time, but I was very pleased that your Lordships' House managed to get an amendment into the Road Traffic Act which introduced compulsory seat belts. I do not think there is now much objection to seat belts and everyone has accepted them. All these laws were restrictions on the individual, but they have been accepted.
Above all, there was the driving test introduced in the early 1930s. Here I have a certain sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who said that the eyesight test had not improved in 50 years. Perhaps we are still not taking the matter seriously enough, when we think that reading a number plate at 25 yards is good enough and that we do not need to do any more. Perhaps that test could be improved. There are criticisms about the test. For instance, I have heard the criticism that there is no test on a motorway and no night driving test. Nevertheless, the driving test was the first big step forward towards giving some instruction, and a feeling of responsibility and achievement to people who managed to pass it. But I do not think it is comprehensive enough and it could be improved.
622 All those were logical steps towards a better and safer use of our roads, and they were seen as much by most people. Unfortunately, while I fully support the sentiment and praise the motive behind the noble Lord's Bill, I cannot agree that it falls into the same category as the road safety measures that I have just mentioned. There was clear evidence before the introduction of those other measures that lives, personal injury and property could be saved on quite a large scale. That evidence was statistically demonstrable and the outturn was not far off the expectation when the laws were originally introduced.
All the evidence that I have seen concerning eye testing suggests that eyesight tests such as those prescribed in this Bill would have little effect on the rate of accidents. For instance, the major group for accidents is the under-25s, and most people of this age would pass the prescribed test with great ease. I should like to say at this point that I am grateful to both the motoring organisations, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club, for the analysis they have sent me to bolster my own thoughts and prejudices, as the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, would probably think, because in motoring we all have our prejudices very much to the fore for most of the time. I am sure that the Minister, when he speaks, will correct and amplify the points that I am trying to make, since I know he has a large department behind him to help with these matters.
Would there be real cost-effective benefits if millions of motorists were put to the expense of the proposed tests? Here I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, to clarify this point when he winds up. I was slightly surprised when he suggested that the tests did not require expert and qualified people to conduct them. As I read the Bill it is quite clear that it must be for a registered medical practitioner or a registered ophthalmic optician (an optometrist) to carry out the test. I think the House would be interested if the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, could clear up this point.
I understand that every year about 1.5 million people take out a first provisional licence. The Minister may be able to give an estimate of the load that would be placed on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea. According to the Bill all drivers over the age of 45 would be required to have a test every five years whether or not they had had any eye trouble in the preceding year. Again, I have been given an estimate that there are about 12 million drivers in that category. That means that about 2 million drivers a year would need to have their eyes tested; but between the ages of 17 and 44 there would be no necessity for a test. So for 25, 26 or 27 years people would be able to drive without having a test, and then suddenly there would be a need for a test.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has very fairly read out the statement that was made by the Transport Select Committee. It recommended that,consideration should be given to re-specifying the minimum visual requirements for a driving test".I think that possibly the whole House would accept that a look should be taken at the minimum specification. I think that the noble Lord perhaps overlarded the cake a little by asking that we bring 623 forward the tests that he suggests. The noble Lord again put it fairly when reading the last part of paragraph 45 of the report, which states that,the decision should be based on whether the cost of such tests could be justified by the potential reduction in road accidents".It should be remembered, and it probably needs to be emphasised more, that it is the personal duty of everyone who holds a driving licence to notify the issuing authority if any deterioration in health, including eyesight, occurs which would impair a person's ability to drive. I am sure that we are all careless about that, but it is something of which we should be reminded. Our medical practitioners or our ophthalmologists should remind us when we go for any health check at all—a normal physical check or an eye test—that if we are really far out we should go and discuss it with the licensing authority.
I believe that few among us discover the need for visual aids or the deterioration in our eyesight initially because of our driving capability. Much more likely and more commonly, difficulties are first observed in reading, or perhaps in watching TV. Perhaps this should be the trigger to make us think about whether we are safe on the roads. This is the point at which we should each ask ourselves and our specialists whether our driving ability has been impaired.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, quoted earlier the reply of the Minister of State to one of the questions of the Select Committee. The Minister of State said that there is a much more immediate and difficult problem; namely, those people who have perfectly good eyes but who fail to use them properly when they are driving a vehicle on the road. Here I believe that if we could get to the bottom of this—people's attitude on the road—it would do a great deal more than all the tests and all the restrictions we put on people. I cannot but agree with the Minister of State, and I repeat that, although I welcome very much the opportunity that the Bill gives to discuss the vital subject of road safety, I feel that in the Bill's present form it is not possible for me to give to the noble Lord the support that I should very much like to give.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I shall try to be very brief because it seems that we are going to be here for some time yet again tonight. I support the principle of this Bill. I think that some of the figures may have to be changed during the course of the Bill, but I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mottistone on bringing it forward to this House.
I call it an important Bill, and I am now going to tell your Lordships briefly why. I have been guilty, I think, of a grave error—not, I hope, of judgment; nor of misconduct; but certainly an error—over the past 30 years in adjudicating in my courts upon cases, of which there have probably been at least three per day, where people have gone against the road traffic laws. I do not mean just speeding, but causing accidents and breaking our laws. The extraordinary thing is that when I was thinking about it last night I realised that not once (I think my memory is good enough) during the past 30 years that I have been adjudicating have I 624 or the defendant or the defendant's representative ever called into question whether the defendant's eyesight was effective.
It seemed to me that this was absolutely fundamental, and so I have taken time today to telephone a few of my colleagues on the Bench to ask them if in their experience they have ever asked whether a defendant's eyesight was correct. They all said "No", and that it had not occurred to them. If one does not have good sight, one cannot measure distances. If one does not have good sight, one cannot measure speed. If one does not have good sight, in my view, one's reflexes are not as quick as they should be. Therefore, accidents can be caused fundamentally by bad eyesight.
I am sure that some noble Lords will say that it is too expensive. What is the cost of life? What is the cost of accidents? I do not think that anything is too expensive to prevent accidents and perhaps save lives. I have been reading, as many other noble Lords will have done, a document which has been sent to me by the Royal Automobile Club. The first point the document makes is:There is no statistical evidence to show that defective eyesight contributes significantly to the incidence of road accidents. Therefore there is no proven road safety requirement for the proposals".We are not told that there has been any statistical evidence asked for, because they have given no figures of whether there has or has not been.
I should also like to quote from the RAC's sixth observation—which I think is quite remarkable coming from an organisation that is known all over the country. They say:The existing eyesight test requirement incorporated in the driving test"—which we all know is usually taken at about the age of 18 or so—has the advantage of being a completely natural test which is only carried out in good light conditions when the number plates of the target car are clean and clearly visible. Most drivers with everyday practical experience would agree that the test is perfectly adequate".It is not a question of seeing in gorgeous daylight when a car's number plate, or whatever, is clean. It is a question of seeing at night. or in muddy conditions, or in the snow and the fog. That is when one's eyesight comes into it. I submit that that document is hardly worth the paper it is printed on.
I believe that all noble Lords would agree with my view, with the exception of my two young noble friends on the Front Bench, who will find that their eyesight will, in the course of time, change—as is evident from looking around this Chamber.
I maintain that there are many people driving today who do not know that their eyesight has changed. They are short sighted and cannot judge distances, which, as I have said, is an absolutely vital ability. That is because they have not been required to have their eyesight tested, and that is where the Bill comes in.
I believe that it should be compulsory for such people to have their eyes tested. My noble friend says that it should be done after 45 years of age. That is up to him. I would go along with that proposal, although I do not have any statistics to prove that that is the 625 right age. But I certainly feel that everybody who drives any motor vehicle on the roads of this country should after that age be subject to mandatory eye testing. I am certain that in that way accidents would be avoided; and if accidents are avoided, then lives will be saved. I support this Bill.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Rugby
My Lords, the Bill before your Lordships' House is based upon a proposition that there are a sufficient number of road/car accidents caused by failing or inadequate visual acuity of car drivers to warrant what is tantamount to a universal eye test. In so far as the whole subject of motorists and accidents is concerned, it would seem somewhat superficial to bring before your Lordships' House one narrowly-circumscribed Bill on which we are expected to draw one narrowly-circumscribed conclusion—yet ignoring the vast complexity of contributory causes which go to make up the mass of divergent reasons to which accidents are attributable generally and specifically.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has introduced a private Member's Bill which I suppose might be in the nature of a kite-flying exercise. There must surely be some statistical evidence which has escaped not only the press but the public also, and there must be sufficient universal alarm to require parliamentary notice and legislation. If there is such concern, then how many of us know about it? I have never heard about it. However, assuming that such concern does exist, the kind of legislation envisaged by the Bill would be so massively intrusive into individual rights that we are surely entitled here and now to ask this question: what startling revelations have manifested themselves to justify what is really a draconian piece of statutory law?
Being somewhat of an inquiring nature—as the noble Lord may remember, because I undertook a fairly massive inquiry into the manner in which the Opticians Act came into being—I simply inquire once more: what is in it, and for whom? Perhaps the noble Lord already answered that question when he referred to his own optician, who has performed what I consider to be a highly commendable act. He has vertically integrated his business so that he tests drivers and prescribes spectacles. I cannot blame him for that. At the same time, I see no reason why people who test the public for driving should not equally sell spectacles.
If there is, as I suspect, a commercial link, then, if at any time now or in the future a committee is to be set up in order to sift evidence and report, very careful screening for their total impartiality will be imperative. At this stage of the Second Reading of this Bill, I will simply go on record as stating that there is so much evidence available, and from so many excellent sources, that such a committee, after careful study of what has been done in this particular field of research, would be bound to accept those findings. I dare say that there are something like 90 to 100 documented researches into just this subject.
However, if they do set up their own investigation, where would they draw the line? What would be the 626 parameters of the test which would be required? There are already static tests, and these have not been complained about too much so far. There are dynamic test, which I suppose are the tests in motion. There are the Japanese kinetic tests, which have some meaning relevant to this particular Bill. There are also the simulators, which would be very expensive to use.
Lighting has a very large bearing on all tests, since our eyes react differently to light. For instance, perhaps we should have to be tested in twilight and on how we react to darkness, in fog, and to occluded windscreens—and for certain motorists, on how to drive with the sight of only one eye. I have been driven frequently by a man who drives excellently with the sight of only one eye. We also need to recognise specific road surface conditions, which is a matter of experience rather more than eyesight. So it is an immense subject.
That is why conclusions so far have failed to point the finger at any causal relationship between motor accidents and visual acuity.
My own reasoning suggests that although visual acuity decreases to a greater or lesser extent according to age and individual metabolism, so does one drive with greater care according to one's own perceptual limitations; or in other words, according to one's acquired road sense. When one is younger, and possessing possibly, among other attributes, a higher degree of visual acuity, that nevertheless has to be balanced against conflicting factors such as experience—or the lack of it—and, possibly, hormonal tendencies which err on the aggressive side.
At the present time, research indicates that accidents caused by deterioration of visual acuity have not made any statistically significant mark on road accidents. Should the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, go ahead with his Bill, I believe that he will need to provide far more evidence before Parliament should be asked to set up what is certain to be a most costly and possibly totally sterile exercise.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mottistone, who has been a dear friend of mine for many years, on the very moderate way in which he moved this Bill. He was very moderate and very persuasive, as is usual in his speeches. If I believed that the Bill would make an impact, as he suggested, on reducing injuries and accidents, I would thoroughly support it. I supported the introduction of seat belts. Many of us did, although there was valid statistical evidence to show that if we wore seatbelts we would be less severely injured in a smash. In fact, all the statistics which have so far emerged have proved that to be right.
I say exactly the same about this Bill. If some hard statistical facts were available I would support it. But no correlation has been produced linking less than perfect eyesight and accidents. A great deal of research has been done, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rugby. I have a list which comes from a paper prepared by Mr. P. A. Davison, who works for the Road Research Laboratory, which is part of the Department of the Environment. It was presented on 627 8th March 1978. It gives two solid tables covering 40 different investigations which have been carried out into eyesight and road accidents. No great conclusion is drawn. A tight correlation cannot be found.
I should like to quote one conclusion. In one test 3,000 people were tested. The conclusion was that 519 out of 529 drivers who were involved in accidents would not have been refused licences on the visual requirements which exist in the United States, which is where the test was undertaken. My noble friend drew attention to the fact that he believed it it be a more rigorous test than is undertaken here. That means that only 10 drivers would have been saved from accident involvement from the 3,000 tested. On the other hand, it could be argued that 2,408 drivers were needlesly screened because there was nothing wrong, at considerable inconvenience to themselves and at a cost, either directly or indirectly, to the taxpayers.
My noble friend went on to quote from the Select Committee. I should like to point out that the Select Committee took evidence from two optician associations but not from eye surgeons or any people with a special knowledge of eyes. If they were doing a study in depth, why not? Opticians can be relatively lightly educated in eye testing, but an eye surgeon will have spent the whole of his life studying eyesight and the effect of less than perfect eyesight. They were not asked to give evidence, and it seems, therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Rugby, said, that there might have been some commercial connections.
My noble friend says that the opticians are not seeking extra business., I find that hard to believe. We have been told—and I agree with the figures—that 1.5 million youngsters would need to be tested every year and roughly 12 million people every five years, which means another 2 million a year on average. Therefore, 3.5 million people would have to be tested every year. My noble friend said that it would be done by unqualified people. How right the Opposition were to draw attention to the fact that the Bill specifically states in Clause 2 that it should be,by a registered medical practitioner or a registered ophthalmic optician (optometrist) not less than every five years from the date of the last such eye test.That is specifically laid down in the Bill.
Therefore, my noble friend's estimates on cost are not quite right because, presumably, qualified persons would charge something for that test. I am sure that if I was trying to promote business for the opticians, and was a marketing man, I would love to have 3.5 million people a year coming into my shop for an eye test. Would the youngsters not tend to go to the same shop again?
§ Lord Mottistone
; My Lords, I shall not make a speech now, but perhaps my noble friend would hesitate before pursuing that line. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, raised the same point. So far everybody has got wrong the amount of testing to be done by opticians. I shall explain that when I wind up. I did not explain this in my original speech because I had to be careful not to speak for too long and to try to keep within 20 minutes. The concept that all these millions of people are to be tested every year is absolutely wrong, and I shall explain why when the time comes.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I am advised by the motoring authorities, the RAC and other authorities, that this is so. It is certainly written into the Bill
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I am sorry, but here it is. Am I reading the wrong Bill? I shall quote from it. Clause 2(1) states:The holder of a motor vehicle licence endorsed with conditions under section 1(1)(ii) of this Act shall submit himself to an eye test relating to such requirements as are required under section 1(1)(i) by a registered medical practitioner or a registered ophthalmic optician".That is what the Bill states. It does not refer to unqualified people. My noble friend may want to change it at Committee stage if the Bill is given a Second Reading, but perhaps he will explain it.
I come back to my original point. If I had to promote business I would love to have everyone aged 45—roughly two million a year—coming into my shop, because that is exactly the moment (not for the driving of vehicles, because on the whole long sight lasts much longer than short sight) that we first feel the pressure on our eyes when reading small print, maps and so on. I would love such people aged 45 to come into my shop, and they would be well hooked. "'Come into my parlour', said the spider to the fly". I cannot help reflecting that, however good, honest and professional they are, they must be people who have to meet their overheads and nothing would be better than to have 3.5 million people compelled to have a test.
I should like to go ahead with this Bill, but only after some thorough research has been carried out. No modern research has found it necessary. If the Government feel from what the Select Committee has said and from what my noble friend and others have said that there is some advantage to be gained in the reduction of the number of accidents, then let us found it on solid experience and statistical detail, as at today, on the roads in different lights, in different fog conditions and in all conditions for different ages. Let us found the Bill on statistical testing. It is said that our present test is not good enough. I found the conclusion of the Road Research Laboratory which stated:The study has shown that a better standard of vision … is required to pass the numberplate test than had previously been thought. The results suggest that it is slightly more difficult than the 6/12 acuity level required in a number of countries".It seems from that research that our present system is not only simple but cheap and effective. Until something new comes along, I must oppose the Bill.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Cullen of Ashbourne
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mottistone on introducing this Bill, particularly at a time just after the Transport Committee on Road Safety has reported, to which my noble friend referred.
What has surprised me in the debate so far has been the fact that people seem to require solid proof that eyesight is an important matter in so far as accidents are concerned. I should have thought that this was so obvious that there was no point in arguing the matter. If there is any doubt about it, why is there an eye test at all in obtaining a driving licence? All that my noble 629 friend has suggested is that the eye test which has now been going on for 50 years is no longer adequate with the colossal amount of traffic today, its speed, and so on. I am entirely with him on this matter. We should certainly look very carefully, as the Transport Committee on Road Safety suggested, at this eye test.
Some years ago an eyesight screening test of Hampshire police showed that 69 of its officers had vision faults. The chief constable reported:the amount of unsuspected eyesight deficiencies in the Force (a body of men as fit or fitter than ordinary members of the public) is surprising and is, perhaps, an indication of a need for members of the public driving motor vehicles to pay more attention to the possibility of their driving standards being impaired by defective vision".That was the police.
Last October I attended an optical conference in Brighton, where I saw vision screening equipment being displayed and operated by the police. I am informed that vision screening checks carried out both by the Optical Information Council and other bodies consistently turn up a significant number of motorists with an uncorrected sight defect for distance vision. I should like to urge that the Department of Transport should organise regular and co-ordinated vision screening programmes to be carried out by the police. I would also go on to suggest that the existing system of accident reporting should be thoroughly reviewed in order to ensure that defective vision as a factor in accident causation is fully investigated and reported. If that were done, it may well be that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing would find that evidence was produced which would make him come along with us, although he does not always agree with me on these matters.
As a chief constable said some years ago:I think there can be no doubt that faulty sight is a cause of road accidents, but the way in which accidents are investigated at present does not reveal the extent of this and involved parties do not reveal any defects they may have in this respect".The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was saying that it is the business of somebody who is driving a vehicle to inform if there is anything wrong with his sight or if he has any other impairment, but it is not always that one knows if one's sight is not quite as good as it was a year or two before. This is quite an important matter. It applies particularly in the case of glaucoma which comes upon one without one's knowing it and has the effect of absolutely damaging peripheral vision, and it is peripheral vision which is very important in driving a car, with things coming at you from all sorts of directions.
If the evidence about this whole matter is unclear, let us ask the Road Research Laboratory and the police to carry out a detailed and thorough study of the part played by defective vision in accident causation. Some work has already been done. What we now need is a comprehensive and conclusive study, as my noble friend Lord On-Ewing suggested just now.
In the meantime, the House might like to know that, according to a study carried out in West Germany by the Bavarian Technical Supervisory Agency, drivers who see poorly are involved in accidents four times as frequently as their normally sighted counterparts. Professor Von Hebenstreit summarises his findings as follows: 630Among those drivers causing accidents later in life, ten times as many exhibit considerable vision deficiencies as those drivers involved in beginners' accidents! Even more dangerous is deficient visual function at night on dark streets. Regardless of age, about one of two professional drivers suffers from some form of night blindness or enhanced susceptibility to dazzle. The alarming thing, and where the real concern begins, is that these results can be applied to nonprofessional drivers as well".According to this study, every fifth motorist who has been driving for 20 years or more must be considered a higher risk driver due to inadequate eye function.
I hope that I have given some indication that in other places this matter has been looked at and there is considerable doubt as to whether we take sufficient care in this country on the subject of defective vision for drivers. I am pleased to lend my support to my noble friend Lord Mottistone. I think that it might have been better had the Bill been introduced by a noble Lord known for his interest in road safety rather than by my noble friend, who has so valiantly spoken up for opticians in the past.
Optics has been a pretty controversial subject in recent years, and it came as no surprise to me that the noble Lord, Lord Rugby, and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing seemed to think that this Bill was some sort of racket for the good of the opticians. It would be very wrong if your Lordships were persuaded by such arguments to ignore what seem to me the obvious dangers of numerous people with defective vision driving anything so lethal as a motor-car, let alone anything larger.
Seeing the decline in the number of accidents since the introduction of seat belts, I acknowledge that I was wrong to vote against the adoption of the legislation, and I voted several times. Many drivers and their passengers undoubtedly owe their lives to seat belts, and I wonder how many others, and how many pedestrians, children and dogs, have forfeited their lives in the past because of drivers who cannot see properly. If we are really concerned with road safety—which we obviously must be—I believe that we should be just as interested in the aspect of drivers' vision as in that of wearing seats belts.
In conclusion, I hope that the Bill will have the sympathy and support of the Government. But if the Government are not able to support the Bill, I hope and trust that further inquiry will be made in order to establish the extent to which defective eyesight is a contributory factor in road accidents.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mottistone on introducing the Bill so clearly this evening, but I am afraid that I find myself in some difficulty. Having spoken to him earlier this week and said that I would support him tonight on the Bill, I find that, having read it, taken advice and listened to your Lordships tonight, I am more opposed to it than for it, although it has merits for road safety, of which I am all in favour. But if there were a Division, I think that I should abstain from voting. I shall wait to see what my noble friend the Minister has to say.
I should just like to correct something that my noble friend Lady Macleod said. I think that it was I who put 631 her wrong. The RAC is a club and not an association. The association is somewhere down in Basingstoke, I believe.
At this late hour I do not intend to keep your Lordships long. As nearly all that I intended to say has already been covered, there are only a few points that I should like to mention or re-emphasise for and against this Bill. Having said that, like a lot of others, I have to wear glasses for reading, but this does not affect my long vision in any way. If I had any doubt about that, I should wear glasses, as I like to see where I am going and, more important, what the other motorist is doing or where he is going.
My main reason for giving this Bill some support is that there are, to my mind, a lot of people on the road who do not really know where they are going. Whether that is because they are lost or they have bad eyesight is hard to say, but I think that it is the latter, because one sees drivers squinting at road signs with their noses almost on the windscreen, trying to see which way they should go, and therefore making sudden changes in direction, causing other drivers and pedestrians to take evasive action, which can be dangerous.
My second point in giving this Bill some support is—and I am afraid that I have not taken any soundings on this, so I have no proof—that it may give one a better insurance rating with one's insurance company, in the same way as, I believe, a driver who has passed the advanced driving test.
Having said that, my main objection to the Bill and why I oppose it is the probable further financial burden on motorists. In the Budget yesterday, regrettably, the Chancellor of the Exchequer added about £25 a year to the average motorist's driving bill. I know that it does not sound a lot, but £2 a month is £2. This measure, as with doctors' charges for seat belt exemptions, could add £19 or so to the bill. And who knows what is in store for the motorist later this year or even next year?
I am also against the Bill because it is unnecessary for all of us to have eye tests. These can be carried out free, I believe, under the National Health Service. The best eye test of all is the television set. If you cannot see your favourite programme—it may be Coronation Street—because you get headaches, then you need glasses. And you should also wear them for driving. As the House will know, I am all for road safety. The safer the driver, the fewer accidents there are. This saves lives. But there comes a time when the cost of such checks outweighs the potential reduction in road safety.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, as this debate has shown, there has been a good deal of interest recently in eyesight standards for driving. Part of that interest has stemmed from the report on road safety prepared by the Transport Committee in another place which recommended that the Government should consider respecifying the minimum visual standards for a driving licence along the lines suggested by the Federation of Optical Corporate Bodies and the Association of Optical Practitioners, and that in 632 addition the case for regular vision screening for motorists should be re-examined. The Government are considering these points very carefully and will be responding to them and all the other recommendations as soon as possible. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity that my noble friend's Bill has provided for debating this important subject although, of course, what I say this evening is entirely without prejudice to our response to the Transport Committee.
As my noble friend has explained, the main purposes of his Bill are to introduce new and scientifically-based visual standards for drivers to replace the present number plate test; to restrict people who cannot meet the visual standard to driving under certain controlled conditions; and to make compulsory the re-testing of drivers' eyesight every five years for those who have to use spectacles or contact lenses, and for all drivers over the age of 45.
I should say straight away that I welcome any effort to improve road safety. I am afraid that I rather doubt whether the measures which my noble friend has in mind would have any significant effect in reducing the number of accidents on our roads.
Let me deal first with the actual procedure for assessing the visual acuity of drivers. The present number plate test requires a person to read in good daylight—with the aid of glasses, if worn—a registration mark fixed to a motor vehicle at a distance of 75 feet, if letters and figures are 3½ inches high, or at a distance of 67 feet, if letters and figures are 3½ inches high. My Lords, does this provide a reliable assessment of visual acuity? To answer this question clearly involves entering a highly technical area; but, in brief, the evidence we have, derived from ophthalmic research and extensive accident studies suggests convincingly that the number-plate test does institute a perfectly satisfactory standard for safe driving.
Furthermore, it has the distinct advantage in that any driver can undertake the test for himself and it can be easily administered at the time of the driving test by driving examiners or when necessary by the police. Replacing this easy and cheap method with the sophisticated equipment my noble friend proposes would clearly not only be very costly indeed but would also involve sacrificing the advantages of simplicity and convenience that the current procedure involves.
I turn now to whether there is a case for requiring periodic vision tests for drivers. All holders of driving licences have a statutory responsibility to ensure that their eyesight meets the required standard. How far is this requirement being met? A survey conducted by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in 1980 presented a fairly reassuring picture in this respect. The results suggested that only around 1 to 3 per cent. of the driving population as a whole would fail the number plate test at any given time.
Research aimed at assessing the extent to which poor eyesight is actually a contributory factor in accidents also provides a generally encouraging picture. A study by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, based on data from the USA, failed to identify any direct relationship between poor visual performance and high accident rate for drivers in the young and middle-age category. There was, 633 admittedly, a slight suggestion of a link between poor vision and rate of accident for older drivers—in this case those over 54 —but the evidence was far from clear. The fact is that older drivers still remain less accident-prone than drivers overall and certainly less so than the under-25 age group. Older drivers do appear able to adapt to their perceptual limitations—including any visual defects—unless they are impaired to a rare degree.
A system of regular compulsory eyesight checks for drivers throughout their driving careers would doubtless be very complicated for the Department of Transport to administer and the costs would be very substantial indeed. These could of course be passed on to the drivers themselves in part or in full but this would inevitably cause widespread resentment. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked if I could give any estimates of the likely costs. I am a little nervous about giving him an estimate for the cost of the regular five-year inspection as I am not quite clear, until my noble friend explains, whether this test will be conducted by optometrists or not. However, so far as the driving test goes, for people taking it for the first time, there are 400 driving test centres in the country. If each had to have a screener, my noble friend mentioned a figure of £1,200. Maybe that could be reduced a little. In any case, it would be a lot of money. We also estimate that the driving test would take about quarter of an hour longer than at present. This would require a further 400 driving examiners. There is also the question of accommodation in the test centre. There is simply not the accommodation available at the moment in all of them, and they might have to re-locate. This would be expensive. It is difficult, I am afraid, to give an actual figure.
Quite apart from the financial penalty, there would be a clear implication that people were not considered capable of ensuring that their eyesight met the standard required. And on the basis of the evidence available—that only 1 to 3 per cent. do not meet the requirement—it would be hard to answer criticism of such a measure.
It goes without saying that good eyesight is of vital importance for safe driving. But I believe that any proposal to devote additional resources to this aspect of road safety must be viewed against the background of the evidence available to us which indicates, first, that the vast majority of drivers are able to satisfy the existing eyesight standards; and, secondly, that visual defects cannot be regarded as a significant factor in road accidents. A much more immediate and difficult problem seems to be that people just fail to make proper use of the perfectly adequate eyesight that they actually have. That is not something which can readily be solved by legislation of the kind we have before us—or indeed any other kind.
My noble friend Lady Macleod mentioned prosecutions and the fact that she never appeared to find anyone prosecuted when she was sitting on the Bench. It is true that there are very few prosecutions. But the police do have the powers. Under Section 91(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1972 the police may require a person to take the number plate test using no other means of correction than he used at the time of driving if they have reason to suspect that his eyesight 634 is not up to the required standard. Driving with uncorrected defective eyesight is an offence under Section 91(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1972. The penalty is a fine of up to £400 and the imposition of two penalty points on the driving licence.
The Government are looking carefully once again at all the evidence in the light of the recommendations of the Transport Committee. We shall also want to take note of all that has been said by noble Lords in the course of this very useful debate this evening. But our initial reaction to my noble friend's Bill must be to say that it is very far from certain that the measures he is proposing would produce road safety benefits that were anything like commensurate with the very substantial costs that would be involved.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I should like to thank every noble Lord who has taken part in the debate, even those who have clearly misconceived what the whole thing is all about. I think it will be easier if I deal first with one or two of the peripheral points and then, at the end of what I have to say, come to the main issue of how I see these tests being carried out and what the burden would be on official bodies generally.
I welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said about the fact that things which seem irksome to begin with become acceptable. He quoted the MOT test, drinking and driving, and seat belts. I like to think that this might turn out to be the same. After all, the seat belts took five years to get through both Houses of Parliament. Though I should like to think, for the benefit of the people who otherwise are going to die—I mean that—that we could do it a little faster this time, that is the sort of comparison I make. The other main point that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, made comes under the general heading: how would it work? Perhaps we may come to that later.
I welcome very much what my noble friend Lady Macleod had to say. I think this is terribly important. All noble Lords who spoke, including my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, agreed that the statistics are not good enough. My noble friend the Minister mentioned that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory had said it had studied this and that and had come to the conclusion that there was no correlation between accidents and inadequate eyesight. Thanks to my noble friend the Minister—I must thank him for it—I went to visit the research laboratory. We went through all the evidence it presented to us; some of it we had already. I think it is fair to say that at that time we agreed that evidence was very scarce. One of the reasons it was very scarce was that, to start with, people had not tackled the problem from the right end.
That comes back to what my noble friend Lady Macleod said. The police are not putting in evidence because nobody has triggered them off to do it, and the magistrates are not thinking about it. I think that if we could get things going on that front, even if it is shown that there is not a correlation at least we should have something positive to go on, which is really what the Select Committee of another place was also saying. Above all else, the immediate need is for this evidence. I think that what my noble friend Lady Macleod said was probably the most important contribution to the 635 whole debate, because it is the one thing that people had not really thought of before.
I should now like to turn to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rugby, who has come up with his usual rather bitter approach—I hate to put it that way—to the opticians. If your Lordships wonder why I call it a bitter approach, I would call your Lordships' attention to cols. 159 and 160 of Hansard of 12th March 1985, where there is a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Rugby, for Written Answer. It is effectively refuted by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur. It is not a very pleasant approach to the problem.
When he mentioned my friend the optician who said he had trained himself as a driving instructor as well as being a qualified optician he jumped at once to the conclusion that he was doing the two things together. In point of fact, I am happy to say to him that he found that he could make a satisfactory living as an optician, and therefore he has never actually had to practise as a driving instructor; so his deduction was not right, but it is typical of his approach to the whole problem. As my noble friend Lord Cullen said, it would be very much better if I had been one of these dedicated road accident people instead of a fellow who is interested in optics. Then perhaps we should not have had this slant, which I do not think has helped the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Rugby, made various comments about the enormous amount of research that has taken place. I have not discovered it, but I was very interested to learn that the noble Lord has done so. If the noble Lord has that research, perhaps he will send it to me, and I can see what it is like. He mentioned that these provisions would be massively intrusive into individual life and that they would be draconian. I shall deal with those points when I summarise the misconceptions. I am sorry about the misconceptions, and I should perhaps have dealt with them earlier.
I was delighted when my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said that he would support the Bill if he believed it. He also said that he agreed with research. However, apart from that and a slight misconception about one of the reports which he had read—and it is easy to be selective as regards reports—his main points were matters with which I shall deal in a minute. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Cullen very much for his support, for the points that he made and for the other interesting factors that he mentioned. I trust that my noble friend the Minister will take note of what my noble friend Lord Cullen had to say.
I liked the support which I received from my noble friend Lord Brougham. I am sorry that he was biased away from support because again he got the wrong end of the stick thanks to it being given to him indirectly from briefs obviously produced by the AA and the RAC. I am intrigued that the AA never sent me a copy of their brief; I am a member of that association and so I think that that is an insult. I hope that the AA get to hear about that because I might consider switching to something else. However, I think that the RAC were even beastlier, so I am not sure that that would be a good swap.
636 Let me explain how I see the picture. Let us take the young chap who is aged approximately 18 and who takes a driving test. When he takes his test he also has an eye test using the screening apparatus that I have outlined to your Lordships. That would throw up a great many more things than just the visual distance acuity, which I have also recounted to your Lordships and which I could recount again if you so wish. In particular, such a screening will spot defects as regards colour and, more important, tunnel vision, which is one of the great worries. As I understand it, this is not a 15-minute exercise, or anything like that. Therefore, I think that perhaps my noble friend the Minister has been misinformed in that respect. The equipment does not cost very much and it will cost very much less if used widely enough. Indeed, if the need were found for it it would be possible to devise a piece of equipment which was even more relevant to the task and which would be cheaper still.
Anyway, the young fellow takes the test. In over 90 per cent. of cases it will say, "You are okay" and therefore he will get his licence and drive away. He will not bother about what we are talking about today until he is 45, and I shall come to that matter in a minute. As regards the 7 or 8 per cent.—I do not have an accurate figure but it is certainly under 9 per cent.—who have to have visual aids, most will already have them because they would have discovered the need for them when they were children. Therefore, they will already have spectacles and they will pass the test.
We shall then be left with a relatively small number of people who do not realise that they need spectacles. The screening will tell them that they do need them. I should be very surprised if there were very many of them, and I say that for one very important reason. I have found that I need the type of spectacles that I have now, which are good for driving, in order to look at the television. That point was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brougham. Therefore, it is very possible that most of the people who would have failed the test if they did not have spectacles for driving, will already have them for watching the television. Therefore, it will not add to the cost because they will already have spectacles.
There will be a very small number of people who have been avoiding wearing spectacles, who have not had them, who want a driving licence and who therefore have to take the test. Having taken the first test, they will then be told by the driving examiner, "Before I can give you your certificate to get your driving licence, you must have your eyes tested by an optician and he will have to prescribe spectacles for you". They will have probably reached the stage where they need to have spectacles anyway. However, as I have already said, we are talking about a relatively very small number of people. There are not millions of them; they comprise a very small percentage of the total. Most people either have spectacles or they do not need them.
Let us move on to the age 45. I do not want to waste your Lordships' time, but I cannot resist telling you a funny story which is relevant to this matter. My noble friend Lord On-Ewing may say that the Select Committee did not hear from the eye surgeons and 637 that therefore they did not hear from the people who really knew about the matter. Opticians know a great deal. They may not know everything and they do not know how to undertake eye surgery, but that is not what we are talking about. They have a great deal of knowledge and experience. When I was about 45 I first had to have spectacles for reading. I was in Canada and a friend of mine, a Canadian admiral who was about my age, discovered that he had left his spectacles at his home when he arrived for work. He was working at headquarters in Canada as a senior naval officer. He has to borrow his secretary's spectacles for immediate reading. This was in the mid-1960 when secretaries had ornate specs which went up at the corners. He was sent for by the Minister, because he was working close to the Minister, and he could not use these spectacles because he would be too ashamed of them.
He rang up the surgeon rear admiral and said, "I want a pair of specs". The surgeon rear admiral said, "Certainly" and sent them across. He went into the meeting; that went very well, and when he got back he thought, "Why on earth did the doctor know what specs I wanted?" He rang him up. The doctor said, "Well, all naval officers of your age automatically require specs of a certain size for reading", and so he gave them to him.
That is why 45 is the right sort of age to have this sort of test. It happens to the vast majority of the public. You are a driver with a driving licence, and at 45 you get yourself checked. The Bill says that you should be checked by an optician. I do not think that that is really necessary, and I would be prepared to amend it there. You can be checked by this instrument we have been talking about which might make it simpler, but it would be just as simple if you were checked by the optician and it would not involve much time. For 95 per cent. of us it would probably say that we require reading glasses, as I did and many of us do at that age. One does not need them for driving but does for reading. I found at that sort of age that my arms were getting too short, and I expect that any person concerned would be finding that, too. He will need glasses for reading but not for anything else.
Having got his spectacles at 45 for reading he would probably go back to the optician—I certainly did, and I think most people do so—even without this pressure, to have his eyes tested again when he was about 50, or even a little earlier. It is not adding a great burden of millions of people having to be tested at great expense and extra work, with extra money for the opticians. It is going to make a marginal difference to the relatively few people who, for one reason or another, are not getting spectacles when they should do.
I understand that mostly when that is so it is because of vanity on the part of women who try to put off having specs as long as they can. There is the situation. There is not a great enormous cost such as my noble friend the Minister was saying. I am surprised that he was advised to say that. It is nothing in the area my noble friends Lord Rugby and Lord Orr-Ewing were talking about. It involves a relatively marginal number of extra spectacles which should have the effect of making sure that more people read better.
638 I have one final point, because I have spoken for three minutes too long. Since I introduced this Bill I have felt that it would be dreadful if I had an accident and was found not to be wearing specs, when this Bill was coming before your Lordships' House. I have therefore been applying to myself—and this is important—the same discipline as I apply to myself in the case of seatbelts. I go to my car, put my seatbelt on, and make sure that I have my specs on because I know from practical experience that I need them to drive. Going from here to my flat in London I often did not bother, because it only takes five minutes; but that is the sort of time when it ought to matter, that is when you have the trouble.
Coming back to what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, the relevance of the seatbelt legislation is strong. This Bill, or something like it—and I am willing to amend it to suit the detail which might be necessary—will not affect 99 per cent. of drivers at all, because the ones who need specs have them and the only ones who will be affected are those who for some reason or another have not got specs and should have them. But because there will be legislation it will encourage the ones who need to do so to put their specs on to drive. That will make them not only better at seeing things but also more aware of looking.
That is where my honourable friend the Minister in another place, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, comes in, because she says that we must have the people who have the eyes to look. I quite agree; but this tiny piece of legislation, similar to the seatbelt legislation, which makes one wear a seatbelt when one might otherwise leave it off, will hopefully do the same for spectacles, I have no hesitation in pressing the Motion that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall now be read a second time?
§ Their Lordships divided:
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L. [Teller.]||Mottistone, L. [Teller.]|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Monson, L.||Rugby, L. [Teller.]|
|Orr-Ewing, L. [Teller.]|
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Airedale)
My Lords, as it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 55 I declare that the Question is not decided and the debate thereon therefore stands adjourned.