HL Deb 28 July 1986 vol 479 cc624-30

7.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order is designed to bring up to date the provisions of the law in Northern Ireland relating to motor racing on public roads.

Lord Kilbracken

Hear, hear!

Lord Lyell

My Lords, if the noble Lord has a little patience, he will discover that one form of driving on his side of the border does not equate with our side of the border. He will be able to take part in the debate.

Although the existing road races order dates only from 1977, it is in fact a consolidation of an Act of 1950 and two related amendments, and so the order represents the first in-depth review of the legislation in 36 years.

The central feature of the road races legislation is the making of an order (commonly called a road closing order) by the Department of the Environment. The effect of this is to close specified roads to ordinary traffic for the duration of the race period, and also to suspend during that period the application of certain road traffic law provisions relating to both drivers and vehicles. Road traffic law in the past 36 years has become more complex and wide-ranging and this is reflected in the expanded range of enactments which can be disapplied. The opportunity is also being taken to strengthen the powers of the police and promoters to control spectators and to increase penalties for various offences.

I now turn to the detailed provisions of the order. Article 3 deals with the making of road closing orders which, so far as concerns motor-cars and motorcycles, are limited to 10 in each year. There is no numerical limit placed on orders for hill climbs and kart races— I spell it with a "K" as in Kit Kat; your Lordships will find the definition of those vehicles in the order—because such events usually involve short courses, last only a short time and often form part of a local festival. No group or person, from whom comment was sought on the draft order before us tonight, suggested that an increase in the number of road closing orders was desirable, and so no change is proposed. While for other events such as hill climbs and kart races, no limit is placed on the number of road closing orders which may be made each year, the Department of the Environment, in conjunction with the RUC, exercises strict control over their number and location. Article 3 also provides that road closing orders cover such matters as spectator safety by providing for proper marshalling of crowds, the proper conduct of races and adequate insurance arrangements.

Article 4 deals with the control of traffic going to and from races by giving the chief constable power to issue directions to deal with any perceived traffic congestion problem. Article 5 reflects the growing complexity of road traffic law by substantially extending the range of provisions with which competitors and vehicles are not required to comply. The items now covered include construction and use and lighting regulations and the possession of a driving licence. Article 6 deals with the enforcement of the provisions of road closing orders and also empowers the police and race marshals to deal with abandoned vehicles and stray aninals which might interfere with the running of a race.

Article 7 relates to the department's expenses while Article 8 is concerned with the application of the provisions of the order to events held on the Dundrod Circuit which is the home of the Ulster Grand Prix motorcycle race. The Dundrod Circuit differs from others in Northern Ireland in that it is the only one which is specifically described in legislation and is also the only circuit where a road closing order may provide for the imposition of a charge on vehicles and spectators entering the race area on the day of the race. Proceeds of this sale are passed by the promoters to Lisburn Borough Council as successors to the former Antrim County Council which originally provided the circuit as a tourist development scheme, and are used by the borough council to provide course facilities.

The order is unique in United Kingdom terms but not in the British Isles because racing on closed public roads also takes place on the Isle of Man. Indeed, this order reflects changes made by the Tynwald in the Road Races Act 1982. The continuance of road racing for which this order makes provision will ensure that Northern Ireland will remain in the forefront of motor sport. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th June be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, the draft order was laid on 10th June, but we were advised within a week or so that the Hybrid Instruments Committee of your Lordships' House had declared the draft order to be hybrid because it affected the interests of Lisburn borough council. Any person affected was invited by public notice to petition against the draft order to this House not later than 26th June. Will the Minister confirm that no petition has been received?

The Minister has explained to the House that the order represents the first in-depth review of legislation affecting motor racing on closed public roads. He has reminded the House that, apart from the Isle of Man experience, within the United Kingdom the legislation is unique to Northern Ireland. In those circumstances, ordinarily we should have looked to the Northern Ireland Assembly for guidance on the adequacy of the in-depth review, on the consultation procedure, on the merits of the order in general and on its individual articles. Of course the Assembly is no longer in existence. But, had it been, I am conscious that on past form it would almost certainly have produced some improvements to the order. I believe that it is our duty from these Benches to touch upon matters which we think that it might have raised with the department. I have four points and no more.

First, a motor race on a public road can be a source of annoyance and a nuisance to the occupiers of houses adjoining the specified road. Are the residents who could be adversely affected by an order made by the department notified of the application by the promoter for a road to be closed? Are they given an opportunity to object? There is no reference whatsoever in the order to the rights of an objector. Should not the order give an objector at least the right to be heard?

My second point relates to the matters which have to be included in the order to be made by the department authorising the use of the road for motor racing. It is mandatory that the promoter effects an insurance policy against certain risks; that is pretty obvious. It is mandatory that the public right of way over the road is suspended; that is also pretty obvious. And it is mandatory that traffic regulation provisions are included. But it is not mandatory that the order to be made by the department should contain provisions relating specifically to the safety of spectators. The Minister referred to safety, but there is nothing in the order which places a mandatory duty on the department to include a provision relating to safety. Motor racing on a public highway, even if it is closed by the authority of the law, is still hazardous. Should not safety requirements have a high priority and be named among the mandatory permissions? In the absence of a mandatory requirement, does the department have power to insist on what is to be done in the interests of safety?

My third question relates to the offence which is committed by the keeper of an animal found without lawful authority on a specified road. That is an absolute offence, carrying a Level 3 fine; that is, a fine of up to £400, which is a not insubstantial figure. What is interesting about that offence is that it is not confined to the keeper of cattle but relates to the keepers of all animals. Thus it means that the keeper of a cat, a dog or poultry which strays on the road is guilty of an offence without proof of intent or of negligence. Ordinarily in English law the keeper of a cat or dog is not responsible if it trespasses. By their nature cats and dogs trespass. I therefore ask the Minister whether the offence has not been too widely drawn.

My final question relates to the powers of a race marshal. Under Article 6(3) a constable or a marshal may remove persons who, if I may paraphrase, are interfering with the conduct of a motor race and also any animal or vehicle found on the road. One has to read Article 6(5) before one realises that the marshal is not exempt from liability in a civil court unless at the time he was acting on the authority of a constable. I am not so sure that it is right in principle to draw a distinction in those circumstances between a policeman and a marshal. But, assuming that the distinction is valid, the wording of the article should have made it clearer that the marshal does not enjoy the status and the privileges of the constable unless he is acting under the authority of the constable.

Those are the four questions that I put to the Minister. Although I am sure that the order will add to the sum of human happiness in Northern Ireland, I believe that it is right and proper that we should delay its passage for at least five minutes to enable me to raise those reservations and the Minister to reply thereto.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order, and I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, with interest. It is good for a change to deal with a question largely concerned with the enjoyment of life for the people of the Province and not with divisive matters.

Whole stretches of road will be taken out of normal use for part of or the whole of a day at a time. I should like to ask the Minister just two questions. First, are there many objections by those who consider themselves inconvenienced? The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the matter of complaints. Secondly, is there any basis for complaint by one section of the community as opposed to the other? There seems no reason, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, for us to do other than support the order, and we wish it well.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful for the close attention to detail of both noble Lords. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for saying that he proposed to delay the implementation of this order, which deals with speeds considerably higher than those which he or I are able to achieve on the roads, for no more than five minutes. I pay tribute to the noble Lord; the questions that he raised had also crossed my mind and they are the questions that I should have asked had I been asking for detailed guidance on this unique aspect of life in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that I have not visited the Isle of Man, but I know that they have motor races, I think of a rallying type, the Manx Grand Prix and the TT races.

With regard to the noble Lord's first query, I can give him the assurance that no petition was presented to the hybrid instruments committee. He said that this was the first chance since 1950 that we had had to consider in depth motor racing in Northern Ireland. Both motor cars and motor cycles have been improved with scientific developments—perhaps not in the risks involved, but improvements have been made over 36 years in speed and cornering power and other such technical matters, so it is right to take advantage of the gap in your Lordships' programme to consider this legislation.

The noble Lord surmised whether the Northern Ireland Assembly would have thought differently on the issues considered in the order. In my conversations with members of the Assembly they were very much in favour of the 10 events to which I have referred. I was not too sure quite what they felt about kart races and hill climbs, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, said, we are dealing with the enjoyment of people in the Province and of many visitors.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to nuisance, noise and other inconvenience to members of the public. I am advised—and I have seen this for myself on the Dundrod circuit, specifically mentioned in the order—that every resident on the course (this applies to all courses covered, and, although I could go through all the courses, I shall mention only Portrush and Dundrod) is visited by an official of the promoting club and advised of the use of the road at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, will accept that these courses tend to go through towns. Earlier this year. I observed the North-West 200 proceeding through what seemed to be a main thoroughfare in Portrush. The course at Dundrod comprises what we would call A-class or B-class roads, and is very much a rural circuit with cottages, houses and groups of houses at the roadside.

I am given to understand that almost all the circuits have been in existence for many years. I recall that there were car races at Dundrod in 1955. That was, I think, the last year in which sports racing cars went round Dundrod. I am given to understand that the circuits have been used for the purposes we are discussing in the order for many years. I understand that every resident is well aware of the proposed use of the road, and I also understand that residents have the chance to make objections to the promoting clubs, but to our knowledge there are no major objections. If, however, I find that there are major objections to any race or to any of the road closing orders, I can perhaps write to the noble Lord; but I would stress that we are not aware of any objection. I know certainly of the care that is taken by stewards and members of each individual club going round and speaking to every individual resident on the course.

The noble Lord raised the question of insurance. This, too, concerns me. The noble Lord will find, if he consults page 3 of the order—

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I raised the question of safety, not insurance. Insurance is adequately covered by the mandatory provisions, but not safety as such.

Lords Lyell

My Lords. I would refer the noble Lord to Article 3(7)(a). I do not have a definition of exactly what safety would entail. I understand, however, that what the noble Lord and myself would regard as safety is covered by the scrutineering and technical committee at each individual event. There are two events when roads are closed for four-wheeled motor cars—the Ulster Rally and the Circuit of Ireland. There are also eight motorcycle events for which roads are closed. All these events. I understand, are run by recognised clubs. They take place, I understand, under the RAC and the relevent motorcycle authorities, which take care of technical questions concerned with the machines and, indeed, take care of the riders. So far as I am aware, the courses are checked every single year by the stewards and by the technical committee. I am not too sure as to what would be the thoughts of the RUC and the department on relevant safety. However. I said in my opening remarks that the department and the RUC were in close contact on this aspect. But if I have omitted any aspect of safety, I shall certainly write to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord also mentioned animals, and drew attention to cattle. I have already referred to the fact that I observed the North-West 200, when I saw a dog escape on to the road. A large-sized dog being on the course caused a certain amount of disturbance. However, the dog was resident in one of the houses at the side of the course, and the marshals and those who lived in the house managed to entice the dog back to where it should have been. I should, however, like to bring your Lordships back to the opening answer to the noble Lord's first question. Every single resident on the course is indeed aware of what is happening on the road adjacent to the houses. They are aware, I believe, of the need to restrain dogs. I am not sure what would be the effect on motor cars, and certainly on motor-cycles, if poultry were to stray on to the road, but I am aware that dogs can be a dreadful risk.

Another question asked by the noble Lord related to marshalling. The hazards of motor racing and motorcycle racing are accepted. In the road closing order, the department specifies that certain marshal-ling arrangements must be complied with and that certain areas must be closed off so that spectators cannot use them. This is particularly relevant at the Dundrod circuit, mentioned in the order. The noble Lord asked about the marshals and the constables seeking to clear various obstacles from the course. I am given to understand that when I refer to vehicles this could be a motorcycle or car that might have crashed, or broken down. I understand that the marshals will normally take the first action but that the constables will also work with the marshals in seeking to keep back members of the public. As for animals, I understand, similarly, that the marshals will not only take action to remove obstacles but will warn riders and participants in the road race. Most of the technical action will be taken by the marshals. However, should the question of lawful authority be involved, the RUC has powers, I belive, to use its lawful authority if necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, asked about those who could raise objections. I believe I have given the best answer I am aware of. which is that every single resident is visited. So far as we are aware, no particular grievance has been felt in respect of any of the ten occasions in any one year when roads are closed. I hope that I have covered all the queries. If not. I can perhaps glance through the Official Report and write to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, or the noble Lord, Lord Hampton.

On Question, Motion agreed to.