HL Deb 15 December 1988 vol 502 cc1028-66

3.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. As your Lordships will perhaps guess from the Short Title, the Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Bill deals with two quite different subjects. I hope that it will be of assistance to your Lordships if I first give a brief overview of the Bill and then deal more fully with the detailed provisions.

The Bill is in two main parts. Part I paves the way for a new unified driver licensing system in Great Britain. There will be a single licensing authority and a single document showing all driving entitlement. The Secretary of State is also given additional powers to revoke or refuse licences on health grounds and new arrangements are made to ensure proper training of those who wish to ride motor cycles.

As your Lordships may be aware, drivers of motor cars, heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles presently require separate licences for each class of vehicle. There are nearly 31.5 million ordinary licence holders in Great Britain; about 1 million of them also hold HGV licences and another 300,000 also hold PSV licences. The familiar car licence is issued by the Secretary of State through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea. Licences to drive heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles are issued through independent Traffic Commissioners in nine traffic areas. This means that there are effectively three driver licensing systems in operation each with its own legislation and special rules. Drivers seeking licences to drive HGVs or PSVs must pass a special test and meet tougher medical standards than for an ordinary licence. These additional requirements will continue under the proposed arrangements.

At present one professional driver could have two or even three separate licences dealing with different classes of vehicles. He would also be answerable to two different licensing authorities, the Secretary of State and the Traffic Commissioners. This multiplicity of licences and rules can be confusing, particularly when lorry or coach drivers take their vehicles abroad. By contrast, most of the other EC member states have a single licence showing all driving entitlement, which is updated as any changes in the entitlement occur. This makes life much easier for drivers, for licensing authorities and for enforcement agencies.

The new system introduced by the Bill will include a single licence showing all driving entitlement. The Secretary of State will become the sole licensing authority and all driving licences will be issued centrally from DVLC. These arrangements should offer considerable scope for streamlining the process of issuing licences and for making the system more cost-effective. This should be good news for all drivers since the costs of issuing licences are reflected in the fees charged. In addition, drivers who go abroad will have the benefit of an internationally recognised licence. This will be of particular benefit to lorry and coach drivers who will no longer have to explain in other countries the significance of their supplementary PSV or HGV licences.

The move towards a unified driver licensing system is not only desirable in itself but is also necessary to enable the UK to meet its commitments under the law of the European Community. since the 1970s efforts have been made to bring driver licensing systems in member states into line. The first step was taken in 1980 with the publication of the first directive on driver licensing which required member states to start the harmonisation process. All driving licences were required to follow an EC model, a single document showing all driving entitlement.

When the first directive was published the Commission recognised that complete harmonisation would take some time to achieve; but efforts to complete the process are now gathering momentum. A second directive is expected shortly from the Commission to put the finishing touches to the process. This is expected to fix a completion date by which the licensing systems should be in line. Although there will still be a good deal of negotiation on the second directive the provisions in this Bill facilitate any changes that may be required.

The Bill is designed to make the changeover to the unified licence as smooth as possible. Car drivers with ordinary licences will not notice any difference at all, since there is no proposal to replace their existing licences. Holders of vocational licences will generally come within the new arrangements only as their existing licences come up for renewal. This should ensure an orderly transfer to the new system.

Part I of the Bill also introduces compulsory training for all new riders of motorcycles and mopeds. These vehicles make up less than 2 per cent. of road traffic, but a seventh of all road deaths and a fifth of all serious injuries are to motorcyclists. Although the accident rate is improving, motorcyclists remain one of the most vulnerable groups of road users. Many of those killed and injured are still in their teens, and lack the skill and experience of older riders.

At the moment there is no requirement for motorcyclists to take any training at all. Learners can ride for two years on a provisional licence. If they wish to carry on riding they must pass both parts of the motorcycle test. In practice, many riders take neither training nor tests. They simply give up riding after two years or sooner, if they have a serious accident.

The Government announced in February this year their intention to introduce compulsory basic training for all new learner riders. This will replace the present Part I motorcycle test. The proposal has been widely welcomed, not only by road safety organisations and the police, but also by motorcycle manufacturers and dealers; by organisations representing training centres; and by motorcyclists themselves.

The second part of the Bill deals with driver information systems. In very broad terms, these are electronic systems for giving drivers route guidance, and warnings about current traffic conditions. Conventional radio broadcasts are of course an existing type of information to drivers, but the Bill does not deal with them. It is concerned principally with the more advanced systems (some of which are only now being developed) which require special equipment in vehicles to give individual drivers precise information about the particular areas in which they are driving.

The best known system is called Autoguide. This gives drivers recommended routes to their destination using an electronic display fitted to the dashboard of their vehicles. The advice is based on current information about changing traffic conditions ahead, including roadworks, accidents and congestion. Small roadside beacons transmit the information to the vehicle. I know that several of your Lordships have had an introduction to Autoguide through the demonstration scheme which the Department of Transport is currently running in the Westminster area. The setting up of this scheme was supported by the House's Select Committee on Science and Technology in their report last year on innovation in surface transport. Perhaps I could take this opportunity of inviting others who would like to see the demonstration to let me know.

Autoguide was conceived in the UK by the Government's Transport and Road Research Laboratory. TRRL have estimated that an Autoguide system throughout London could help drivers to reduce their average journey times by around 10 per cent. and reduce mileage by around 6 per cent. In short, the system has the potential to make better use of existing roads and to cut congestion.

The Government's view is that the success of Autoguide depends on commercial development and marketing and that the system should therefore be promoted by the private sector. A number of potential private sector operators responded enthusiastically to a consultation document which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport issued last April. As a result, the Government hope shortly to invite detailed proposals for a pilot Autoguide scheme in London, capable of being upgraded to a fully commercial London system. Similar schemes might then follow in other parts of the country.

The potential market for Autoguide extends beyond this country. An experimental Autoguidetype system is already operating in West Berlin. The Department of Transport has co-operated in drawing up a draft Anglo-German standard for an important part of the Autoguide technology, and co-operation with other member states on a European standard is planned. In time it might become possible to drive from Edinburgh to Paris, or from London to Rome, using the same route guidance equipment all the way.

Implementation of Autoguide will depend on Parliament's approval of the Bill now before your Lordships. In broad terms, legislation is necessary for two reasons. First, an Autoguide operator needs powers to install the roadside beacons and certain other apparatus. Much of the necessary infrastructure will, under established government policy, be installed only by one of the existing public telecommunications operators; that is, by British Telecom or Mercury. But some streetworks, particularly those near to junctions, will fall to the Autoguide operator himself and the Bill will give him the necessary powers to do the work.

The second reason for legislating is to ensure that the introduction of Autoguide and other systems like it can be carefully monitored and evaluated. TRRL's research suggests that Autoguide will produce major benefits. However, the best way of establishing accurately how a full commercial system would work is by mounting a large-scale pilot scheme, as we have proposed. That will allow the Government and the operator to examine in detail how a full system might affect, for example, current traffic management arrangements. It would allow us to judge, for example, whether the licence for a full system would need to restrict Autoguide traffic to main roads or whether such conditions would be unnecessary. The Bill sets out in some detail the particular provisions which licences might contain.

Although I have referred mainly to Autoguide in discussing Part II of the Bill, I must emphasise that the legislation is not concerned exclusively with that system. Other types of driver information systems may well be developed. It is not the Government's policy to protect Autoguide. On the contrary, we welcome the prospect of a variety of competing driver information systems, with different companies forging ahead with this exciting new technology and striving to offer individual motorists and fleet operators the best possible information and guidance. The Bill is designed to ensure that drivers are not denied the benefits of this technology, while at the same time providing for proper safeguards in essential areas such as road safety and traffic management.

That gives a brief overview of the Bill and I shall now go into more detail. Clause 1 carries out the primary purpose of Part I. It repeals Part IV of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Section 22 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, which require special driving licences for the driving of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles respectively. The clause also allows drivers with existing vocational licences to continue to use them until they expire, are revoked or surrendered.

Clause 1 also gives effect to the provision in Schedule 1 which transfers the present functions of the Traffic Commissioners to the Secretary of State. He will then have responsibility for determining whether or not drivers should continue to hold their vocational licences because of misconduct. If the particular misconduct carries mandatory revocation, as prescribed in regulations, then the Secretary of State is obliged to revoke the licence.

In other cases, he may refer the question of misconduct to the local traffic commissioner, whose determination will be binding. This is much the same arrangement as at present, except that the Secretary of State becomes the licensing authority. The Traffic Commissioners already exercise the jurisdiction on matters of conduct and, except for cases requiring mandatory revocation by the Secretary of State, they will continue to do so.

Clause 2 applies the arrangements that are peculiar to the driving of large goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles in the new unified licensing system. These are set out in Schedule 2. The clause also sets out the duration of the vocational element of any licence issued on or after the appointed day. At present, heavy goods vehicle licences remain in force for three years and public service vehicle licences for five years. In future, licences to drive any prescribed class of goods vehicle or passenger-carrying vehicle will generally need to be renewed every five years once drivers pass 45 years of age. For drivers of more than 65 years of age, renewal will be on an annual basis.

These arrangements will apply to both goods vehicle and passenger-carrying vehicle entitlement. This change ensures that drivers are subject to regular medical checks, since a medical report will be needed with all applications for renewal. It is essential that drivers of these large vehicles have their health checked regularly. We are only too well aware of the consequences of the driver of a lorry or bus collapsing behind the wheel in a busy road or motorway. Medical evidence suggests that most serious medical conditions arise from the mid-40s onwards. It is for that reason that we propose that licences obtained by young drivers should generally continue until their 45th birthday.

The clause also provides for the issue of short period entitlement of between one year and three years to individuals whose medical condition needs more frequent monitoring. This will undoubtedly be of benefit to some drivers who might otherwise lose their entitlement and consequently their employment.

Schedule 2 also provides that licences are not granted for large goods or passenger-carrying vehicles unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the applicant is a fit person to hold the licence applied for. Questions relating to conduct may be referred to the traffic commissioner, who will decide whether or not the individual should have a licence.

Clauses 3, 4 and 5 make changes to the licensing system which are designed to benefit drivers of cars as well as those of HGVs and PSVs. Clause 3 clarifies and extends the circumstances in which driving without a licence pending the grant of a licence is allowed. The intention is to ensure that drivers are not put off the road when they return their licence to DVLC for amendment or updating—for example, to record a change of address.

Clause 4 modifies the criteria for the acceptance of tests of competence and of previous licences when application is made for a new licence. First, it provides that an applicant who has passed the test of competence must apply within two years for a full licence. Failure to do so will mean that the applicant has to retake the test. Secondly, full licences held after the appointed day will be recognised thereafter without a time limit even if they are surrendered or if entitlement is allowed to lapse. At present where full licences are surrendered or not renewed after disqualification the holder can be required to take a second test after 10 years. This is not compatible with long period licensing and does not have any practical benefit.

Clause 5 modifies the powers of the Secretary of State to refuse or revoke licences on health grounds. The Secretary of State is enabled to require applicants or licence holders to take a more specific test of competence in order to determine their fitness to drive. This is particularly relevant where licence holders develop a medical condition. There should be no need to require them to take a full test when only one particular aspect of their driving ability is in question. The clause also gives the Secretary of State greater flexibility in the scope of the notices he can serve restricting entitlement to drive on health grounds.

Clause 6 will make training of new motor cyclists compulsory by introducing new limitations on the conditions of use of provisional motor cycle and moped licences. Those wishing to start riding will still apply for a provisional licence in the normal way. However, under the Bill, the licence will not take effect unless the holder has either successfully completed the prescribed basic training course or is undertaking training on the road as part of that course. In other words, it will become illegal to ride on the road unless the motor cyclist has completed the course or is being trained. We believe that this change will make a major contribution towards reducing the appalling toll of deaths and injuries to which I have referred.

Clause 7 applies the minor and consequential amendments set out in Schedule 3.

Clause 8 defines the key terms used in Part II of the Bill, which deals with the licensing and regulation of driver information systems. Broadly speaking, a driver information system is one which collects, stores and processes data from which driver information is derived or which transmits such data to motor vehicles. Data is defined in its technical sense. Driver information does not therefore include, for example, conventional traffic broadcasts on the radio.

Clause 9 requires a person who operates a driver information system which gives guidance on public roads to obtain a licence from the Secretary of State. In Clauses 8 and 9 there are provisions for the Secretary of State to make orders which would have the effect of excluding particular systems or types of information from the licensing requirement. This will enable my right honourable friend to ensure that the requirement is not applied unnecessarily.

Clause 10 empowers the Secretary of State to licence the operation of driver information systems and to attach terms and conditions to licences. The clause lists a number of specific conditions which could be included in licences. Clause 11 makes it an offence for a licensed operator to break a licence condition and enables the Secretary of State to revoke or suspend a licence in certain circumstances.

Clause 12 provides licensed operators with certain powers to install and maintain driver information system apparatus in public roads. The powers would be in terms of those contained in the streetworks code, which is part of the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950. This is the code which governs streetworks by undertakers such as British Telecom or British Gas. Licensed operators will therefore have to follow well-established procedures which involve, for example, notification of proposals to the relevant local highway authority.

Clause 13 gives effect to Schedules 4 and 5, which apply to licensed operators certain provisions of other legislation and provide for arrangements in respect of works by other undertakers which affect apparatus belonging to a licensed operator. The remaining clauses of the Bill contain the usual supplemental provisions, including provisions for repeals and commencement.

I have spent long enough outlining what is a wide-ranging set of proposals. They offer benefits to a great many road users; to drivers of lorries and buses, who will be able to obtain their driving licences more conveniently; to new motor cyclists, who will find themselves properly trained and less likely to face death or injury; and to motorists, for whom systems such as Autoguide could mean fewer delays and less wasted mileage. I commend the measure to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

3.49 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the Bill even though in regard to Part I there are still certain aspects which I shall require the Minister to explain. I propose to vary normal procedure and to open my remarks by dealing with Part II of the Bill. The Minister referred to the kind invitation which he extended to Members of the House to participate in the demonstration rides for Autoguide. My noble friend Lord Carmichael, who will be replying to the debate on behalf of the Opposition, and I took advantage of that kind offer. We found it a fascinating experience. We saw demonstrated some high technology and I am certain that the system will bring considerable benefit to motorists. We are grateful for having had the opportunity to take part in the demonstration ride.

The TRRL has estimated that Autoguide could save 12 per cent. of a motorist's time. Estimates of savings are always difficult to deal with because we all know of the estimates for the cost of the M.25. Those estimates have been proved to be rather useless. It is also estimated that in London alone there could be a saving to motorists of £100 million. Noble Lords will have seen the excellent material issued by the AA and the RAC which have actively participated with various concerns in the development of the system.

I shall return to Part I of the Bill later. However, despite the sort of "blessing" I have given to what I call in shorthand Autoguide and despite the benefits it may bring, I must ask why the system is considered to be worthy of priority over other important matters which ought to feature in a road traffic Bill?

There are two points in particular I wish to make. The Horne Report, which deals with the important issue of road works—commonly termed "holes in the road"—was published in November 1985. Three years later, legislation is still awaited.

The Minister made brief reference to the part of the Bill dealing with street works. Perhaps he will elaborate further, because I did not properly grasp what he said. Unless it is intended to bring forward a new street works Bill under the words of the gracious Speech: Other measures will be laid before you, surely this particular road traffic Bill presents an admirable opportunity to bring forward Horne Report legislation. I am informed by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, with which I think most noble Lords know I have some link, that very good progress has been made in discussions between the local authority associations, the National Joint Utilities Group and Department of Transport officials. I am also informed that agreement has been reached on the basic principles on which legislation could be introduced.

The Home Report deals with the problem that leads to hold-ups and congestion—one of the reasons for the suggested Autoguide scheme as outlined in the Bill. It could well be that the installation of the driver information system—Autoguide—could have some effect in regard to the matters raised in the Horne Report. I am rather surprised that the opportunity has not been taken to deal with the issues raised by Horne in a road traffic Bill this year.

The introduction of a road traffic Bill is also surely an opportunity to bring forward legislation on some of the 137 recommendations contained in the North Report on road traffic law; and indeed the work of the joint Department of Transport and local authority association working party on traffic and parking. To bring forward a road traffic Bill without taking account first of all, as I said, of the Horne Report, and also of some of the proposals contained in the North Report, seems rather unwise.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State has said that full decisions on North are promised early in the new year; but that statement was part of a lengthy Written Answer which appeared in the Official Report of the other place on 26th July. The Secretary of State said: We have been able to form a view in principle on much of the report". Noble Lords will recall that penalty points changes mentioned in the North Report were rushed through for inclusion in the consolidation Bill. Surely, some part of the North Report review could have been included in the Bill before us.

Part II of the Bill deals with driver information systems. What will be the involvement of local authorities? There appears to be no mention of their position in the Bill. Surely local authorities must not be ignored, especially in route selection. It would appear from the Bill that only the approval of the Secretary of State is required in respect of roads to be used for the Autoguide system.

I am sure that the installation operators would find the help of highway authorities invaluable; it is also possible that the system would produce information of considerable value to highway authorities. There would appear to be need for agreement between operators and local authorities in relation to the exchange of information. That appears to be a vital necessity, although it is not mentioned in the Bill.

I have no doubt that there will be a general welcome for the suggested Autoguide system provided for in the Bill. Without bringing forward any carping criticism, I would just sound a cautionary note. Could it not be that the very success of the system, as envisaged, could bring an even greater influx of motorists into, say, central London? We might actually start to solve the problem and then create another one.

The Minister referred to the position of the system within the private sector. I wonder whether he can explain the provisions of Clause 10 in relation to the charging of motorists for the use of the information provided by the system. It may be my own lack of understanding of precisely what the words mean. I readily accept that that could be a possibility. However, the Explanatory Memorandum states that Clause 10, empowers the Secretary of State to acquire by purchase or otherwise information from a licensed operator and to sell or otherwise dispose of such information". When I look at Clause 10 I find that subsection (8)(c) refers to regulations by the Secretary of State on charges that may be made to drivers by the licence holder—that is, by the person, the private sector body, which actually installed the operation. But subsection (8)(f) authorises the Secretary of State to make use of the information, including its sale, "as he thinks fit".

Am I confused on the matter? Or am I correct in saying that the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to approve charges to be made by operators who sell the scheme, but also that the Secretary of State himself has powers to make such charges for selling the information to drivers? I should like to have that point clarified before the Bill reaches Committee stage.

Further, how is it envisaged that the provision in Clause 10(2) that more than one operator's licence may be assigned to a particular area will work out? That is what I believe Clause 10(2) actually says. But obviously there will be considerable room for consideration of Part II of the Bill in Committee.

As regards Part I of the Bill, I must comment that it is only recently that the House passed a consolidation measure—namely, the Road Traffic Act 1988—and now the Bill which is before us makes considerable amendments to certain sections of that Act. I wonder whether one hand knows what the other is doing. My first criticsim is that although the meanings of a number of terms are given in various clauses—for example, Clauses 1 and 3—I find that we have to wait until we reach Schedule 2 to learn the meaning of LGVs and PCVs. Those are important definitions which replace the heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and public service vehicles (PSVs). It seems rather strange that we have to wait until we reach Schedule 2 before we find the definition of those new terms.

The Minister suggested—indeed, he did not suggest it; he made a definite —statement—that discussion on such matters started in the Community away back in 1980. The Explanatory Memorandum states: changes are necessary to comply with the requirements of the European … Directive … and the expected requirements of a forthcoming Second Council Directive". How strong is that expectation? The Minister said that it will, facilitate any changes that may be required". But what happens if the second directive does not meet the expectations which the Minister and his department think will arise under such a directive? Must we then have additional legislation to amend the amendments which have already been made to the consolidated 1988 Act?

Is it correct, as claimed by the TGWU in its response, that the reduction from 60 to 45 years of age for the renewal of a vocational licence to be accompanied by the relevant medical declaration is not because of the EC directive but arises from a decision of the Medical Advisory Committee of the Department of Transport? What medical evidence is there to support the proposal that the age for mandatory medical reports for goods vehicle drivers be reduced to 45 years of age?

In general, the framework for a unified licensing system seems sensible with its integration of the ordinary licence with the goods or passenger licence as the case may be; but there is no doubt that the relevant clauses will need to be examined extremely carefully in Committee. Will the loss of a goods or passenger licence necessarily mean the loss of the ordinary licence to drive motor cars, or will the licences be kept completely separate? Will there be regulations on that matter, or is it intended to insert a provision into the Bill? On the question of regulations, I note that in Clause 15 regulations in respect of Part II (the Autoguide) will be dealt with under the negative procedure, whereas in Schedule 2 on page 26, which relates to regulations in respect of Section 120 of the 1988 Act, there is no indication whether any of them will be dealt with under the affirmative procedure. Some of the amendments to the 1988 consolidation Act are so important that the affirmative procedure is desirable.

At the consultation stage, the TGWU submitted to the DVLC a four-page response to the proposals. I do not intend to deal with all the many points contained in it. Will the Minister let me know whether the department was involved in consultations with that union, which raised many points, and whether there was general agreement on those points?

From information given by the Minister, the points contained in the TGWU response, the information that we have received from other interested bodies such as the Road Haulage Association, the Bus and Coach Council, the Freight Transport Association, and so on, it would appear that there is a vital need for Notes on Clauses to be made available soon so that we can give detailed consideration in Committee to all the matters, and especially to Part I.

In its consultation document, the TGWU asked whether details of a passenger vehicle driver's employer will be listed on each driver's record at the DVLC. It is considered that such information would be useful when considering the application for renewal of an operator's licence as distinct from a driver's licence.

The operators' body (the Bus and Coach Council) has said that there is no mention in the Bill of whether the practice of passenger vehicle drivers having a badge indicating the area in which it was issued and the number is to be continued. The Bus and Coach Council has stressed that it regards the provision of a badge for a vocational licence for passenger transport drivers to be important and that it should be retained. We shall also need to look carefully at the provisions contained in the schedules with regard to appeals against decisions of the Secretary of State or the Traffic Commissioner, as the case may be.

I shall say just a few words about the suggested training courses for motorcyclists and moped riders. They will be generally welcomed. As the Minister has said, there is great concern about the shocking record of the number of young men and women who are killed and injured as a result of motorcycling accidents. The RAC carried out a first-rate voluntary training scheme until the grant from the department was withdrawn with the introduction of the two-part test scheme way back in 1982. That scheme disappeared once the grant was withdrawn. It appears that that provision in the Bill is an enabling one. Are the Government satisfied that there will be an adequate number of centres available in all parts of the country to provide that training? Unless that is so, difficulties will arise.

Do I understand that no official course will be provided by official centres and arranged by the Department of Transport but that it will be open for private undertakers to apply to the Secretary of State for approval to run such training schemes? If the latter, will the Bill provide for the Secretary of State to lay down maximum charges and other conditions? The Minister explained that when applying for a licence the intended rider of a motorcycle or moped would merely have to give an assurance that he had completed a training course or was being trained. Do I understand that it is not intended that the application should be accompanied by a certificate of a standard of competence to drive, which of course applies to motorists who apply for a driving licence?

The Minister may have seen the chart which has been issued by the Motorcycle Association which represents the trade. It lists the considerable variation in legal controls for the riding of mopeds and motorcycles in the various EC countries. The variations are considerable. What do the Government propose to do in the light of the EC directive on the harmonisation of licences when all these variations apply at the moment?

My last point is that it is hoped that, if approved, the new training scheme connected with the application for licences to ride mopeds and motorcycles will be successful. Will the Minister give an assurance that the scheme will be monitored? I am not asking just for figures which say how many accidents there were before and after the scheme was introduced. I want the scheme monitored to show how all its various phases work. It will be noted that I give a general approval to the Bill. However, certain matters must be considered and some important items which we believe essential to a road traffic Bill have been excluded.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we are all grateful to the Minister for having explained the Bill in such clear detail. Like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I should like to have Notes on Clauses as soon as possible. It would have been useful to have had them before the Second Reading debate but I know that that is not always possible.

The House will also be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for taking us through the Bill in such detail and for asking so many of the questions that many of us would like to ask. That being so, I can speak quite briefly. One needs a fairly detailed knowledge of the 1981 and the 1988 Acts in order to pick one's way through the new Bill. That, again, is where Notes on Clauses would have been useful.

I have little more to say on Clauses 1 to 5. We shall all be happy that there will be one basic driving licence for everyone, with various categories within that licence. It will clearly make life much easier particularly, as the Minister said, for people travelling on the Continent.

The only question (which I am sure the Minister has already answered) is whether there will be any diminution of standards in terms of those people allowed to drive heavy goods and passenger service vehicles. Many of us who drive about this country, particularly on the motorways, still feel that the standard of driving of some heavy vehicle drivers leaves a lot to be desired. I do not wish to denigrate the skills of those people, but occasionally one finds oneself trying to keep to the speed limit and being pushed from behind by drivers of heavy lorries flashing their lights. Anything that will improve the standards of driving of these big vehicles is something of which we approve. I only hope that legislation does not go in the opposite direction.

I am glad the Minister is tightening up the medical requirements. As he said, they are one of the most frightening matters. Perhaps it is about time that we tightened up the medical regulations for ordinary car drivers as well, particularly the eyesight tests for ordinary car drivers.

Clause 6 dealing with motorcyclists is certainly to be welcomed. The 1981 Act, as has been said, introduced the two-part test but I believe that at the moment training only reaches of the order of 15 per cent. to 25 per cent. of new riders. That surely cannot be sufficient. The present schemes are under-used and I believe that there is room for absorbing the increased workload which will be imposed upon them by the new Act.

One of the slightly worrying points is, I understand, that the present training takes between 12 and 18 hours whereas the training under the new arrangements will be less than that. One hears figures of eight hours being mentioned. Are the Government satisfied that enough is being done within the new training schemes to improve the standard of driving of those people who are already being trained? In other words, is the quality slipping in favour of quantity? We favour more and more people being trained, but again let us make sure that standards do not fall. Too many young people are being killed and many are being disabled for life. That is something of which we must be ashamed.

I understand that the new test will be of a pursuit type, which means that the examiner will be following the driver. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong on that. If that is the case then I think that is very good. The idea of the examiner standing on the street corner watching a motorcyclist come round the block has never seemed to me to be a particularly adequate means of observing the candidate.

I hope that there will be scope in training for what is described as defensive driving or defensive riding. Having been a car driver for many years, I suddenly went on a police course in Manchester and realised what bad habits I had built into my driving over a number of years, and in particular that, as a young man, I had been somewhat aggressive in my driving habits. There is no doubt that if one can instil a sense of defensive driving—in other words, the ability to recognise a hazard and to go through it smoothly and get away from it as fast as possible—the number of accidents that might happen will decline.

I hope that the motorcycling organisations will accept the provisions in the Bill. Occasionally they have a tendency to be rather overdefensive. I think it would be a pity if the Bill, which is clearly intended to improve road safety for motorcyclists, were in any way opposed. Of course, if those organisations have any detailed comments to make, naturally your Lordships would be glad to tease out any problems they may have.

I turn to Part II. I was on the sub-committee of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology which looked at innovation and surface transport. We were very impressed by the potential of driver information which is now available because of new technology. We are very glad to see that the Government are supporting a development project of this kind, which is something that we recommended in our report to your Lordships. If people can get away with it without having to put government funding into the project, all well and good. It looks as though they have managed to do that, about which I am quite happy, provided that a satisfactory experiment is carried out. Certainly the people providing the technology seem to be willing to fund the project and that is to be applauded. However, there is clearly a need for licensing of these schemes and therefore one accepts the need for Part II of the Bill.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I was a little surprised to find there is no reference in the Bill to communications between the Government and local authorities. It seems to me that the local authorities will need to monitor the effects of these experiments in relation to the impact on their own local authority area. That information should be fed to the Government before they come to any firm conclusions. In order to do that, the local authorities will need some support with funding. There is provision in the Bill in Clause 10(9) for funds to be made available to the licence holders but there does not seem to be any provision for funds to be made available to local authorities for monitoring purposes. I wonder whether the Government would look at that again.

I think that the Minister has answered a question I was going to ask about the definition of driver information systems, but I should like to be sure. Clause 8(3)(a) relates to Clause 9(1) which says: … no person shall operate a driver information system in relation to public roads … unless he is authorised to do so by a licence". If we do not have a sufficiently clear definition of what a driver information system is, one or two people could be in some difficulty. The Minister specifically excluded radio reports from that definition of the driver information system, basing it, as I understand it, on the definition of data in subsection (5). I wonder whether it is tight enough or whether it should say "electronically gathered information", or some such phrase, in order to exclude the possibility of people having to possess a licence to use a normal road map. That may sound rather silly, but it does not seem to me quite as clear as the Minister suggested it is.

I was also glad that digging holes in the road would be subject to the code of practice. Plenty of people are digging holes in the road already without adding more unnecessarily. Although there is supposed to be some co-ordination, it seems that very often the various authorities have just got one hole filled in when another authority comes along and digs up the same piece of road. I remember years ago seeing in the Manchester Evening News a short letter to the editor saying: My God, they've dug a hole in the street again! It was a heartfelt cry which I think all of us understand. I hope that the code of practice will be effective in this case because there must be co-ordination on those matters.

The other point is that there must be compatibility of systems. I am glad to hear that there is some discussion going on as to what is happening in Berlin. I hope that if other systems are to be introduced, they will also be compatible with continental systems. On the basis of what the TRRL has done, we have the opportunity to do rather well for British industry. It is to be congratulated on the work that it has done in initiating the system; I hope that we do not lose the compatibility at any later stage. I believe that if this kind of driver information can be introduced—and this was certainly the view of your Lordships' Select Committee—it could add enormously to drivers' mobility. It could also save a lot of money in the long run, not simply by letting people get to their destinations more quickly and safely, without going through traffic jams, but with the possibility of saving on roadworks. The necessity to construct more dual carriageways in urban areas can certainly be overcome by the use of driver information and other road traffic information. Certainly schemes such as the one set up by the West Yorkshire authority, which allowed traffic lights to be co-ordinated, has made a big difference to the way in which traffic flow is eased. That certainly applies to Autoguide. Therefore, the fact that proper experimentation will be allowed is to be welcomed. Certainly we welcome the Bill in general terms, although there will be quite a few detailed points that we shall want to raise at the next stage.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I wish to add a few words of thanks to my noble friend for introducing this Bill and for giving us such a detailed and lucid explanation of its features. I must make an apology in advance as I wish to be excused later due to an urgent appointment outside. Therefore, I shall have to break my rule of normally staying until the end of debates.

The first part of the Bill concerning the unified driver licensing system has been so very adequately covered by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in the many questions that he asked—we shall have some fairly long debates in Committee—that all I wish to add is that clearly it will be an advantage to have one single comprehensive licence. It is vital that it should be compatible with the European system. It will clearly be of benefit to all, but there are a number of technical points which have to be ironed out.

I now turn to my old friend which appears in Clause 6—a compulsory system of motor cycle tests off the road before a licence is granted. I warmly welcome that provision. It contains certain features which I am not quite sure about, but the fact that this provision should at last be appearing on the statute book is a considerable achievement. It has been badly needed for years. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the RAC's pioneering work. That was very valuable work and it cost that organisation quite a lot of money. Of course when the department withdrew its grant, that put paid to that work. There is a good deal of such work going on now, but nothing like enough.

However, this provision will now make it compulsory for all applicants to take a course of training at an approved off-street training centre. An applicant must obtain a certificate at the completion of that training before he applies for his test. I make the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has made, as regards the training lasting normally eight hours. That does not seem to me to be long enough to teach a young person all that he or she needs to know about driving a motorbike and road safety. What we really want to obtain is young drivers who are safety seekers rather than risk seekers, which far too many of them still are. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, if we could manage to teach them defensive driving that would be quite something. But that cannot be done in eight hours. I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to take a more liberal view on that. If, as a consequence of a longer period, the training necessitates a higher charge, which seems too high for an applicant to meet, the Government should step in and meet the rest of the cost.

This is the one moment when young drivers can really be taught something. They are under the control of the person conducting the training and they really can be taught something off the road about riding a motorbike safely. We must make the best of that opportunity. My noble friend has given us the terrifying figures of the loss of life and loss of limbs that occur among motorbike riders. Anything we can do to reduce those figures will be worth doing. If it costs money to do that, the equation must be on the side of doing it. I ask my noble friend to take note of that point. Perhaps we may return to it in Committee.

I understand that there are about 1,000 training centres in the country run by the British Motorcyclist's Federation, by RoSPA, by local authorities and other independent people. So probably there are enough centres, but my noble friend must make sure that the number of centres is adequate to meet the demand. If there are not enough centres, I am sure he will take steps to see that there will be.

I note that my noble friend is to introduce regulations in this connection. Obviously that is necessary. I ask him to ensure that consultations are widespread and that they involve all the interests concerned to make sure that we get these regulations right. I believe that when an applicant has received his certificate from a training centre to certify that he has reached the proper standard, he will then take his road test. It will be the road test that will be conducted on the basis of a pursuit test on the public road. That seems to me to be quite sensible.

On the driver information system, which I find a most welcome innovation, I congratulate my noble friend and the Secretary of State on the speed of the legislation in this very important venture. Anything which would give our congested traffic the benefit of this ingenious new aid would be of value. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, warned that it may attract more traffic into an area and eventually make things worse than ever. We shall have to wait and see whether that occurs. But the kind of estimates that the TRRL makes are usually pretty reliable. If this provision will save time of the order of 10 per cent., it will be most valuable to commercial users, and probably to private motorists too. That assumes, of course, that the charge for using it is kept to a reasonable level. The noble Lord is nodding his head because none of us will be able to afford the charge.

I had the interesting experience of a trial run of the system which the RAC kindly arranged for me. I was impressed by it. It seemed to work very simply. No doubt the complexity of the computer control system which causes it all to happen is very complicated indeed. But, as has been said, it works on a system of fixing beacons at strategic points which monitor the traffic, so that as a driver who is keyed into the system through a console on his dashboard moves along, he is instructed which turning to take as he comes to intersections. As he proceeds he is routed by the beacons, which pick up the densities of traffic in their area, and therefore selects the best route he can take to reach his destination. It is a very admirable system. When one sees it working in practice, one cannot fail to be impressed by it.

We must congratulate both GEC and Plessey which are working respectively with the two motoring organisations, the RAC and the AA, on all the preparatory work they have done in drawing up a system together with the TRRL and the Ministry. As a result of that work, it has now reached a state where we and another place can consider it with a view to the necessary legislation which will be needed to fix beacons.

I join with the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that local authorities must be brought into the picture. They will be interested not only in the fixing of the traffic beacons, but also in what routes are taken and what the consequences are. My impression is that the system will probably improve traffic flow as it will prevent congested areas from becoming more congested than ever.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it not also the case that local authorities will have an interest in those areas to which the traffic is moved, as it were, from the congested areas? That was why I felt that local authorities should have a special consultation on this matter. It is not just a matter of congestion being relieved, but that traffic is being pushed somewhere they may not wish it to go.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, that is true, but I make the general assumption that the traffic will not be pushed into residential areas. That would clearly be a complete failure of the system.

As I said, the RAC has teamed up with GEC and the AA has teamed up with Plessey. The cost of setting up a pilot scheme will be in the order of £5 million to £10 million and take about four years. It is quite a hefty undertaking. While I heard my noble friend say that he will welcome proposals, I wonder how that will work out. I should not like to see it fall between two stools because something goes wrong with the competition. We want to see a pilot scheme set up and operating in London as soon as possible and as soon as this legislation is on the statute book. The point has already been made that a similar pilot scheme is being promoted in Berlin. That is of great interest to us, as is the assurance that there will be co-ordination between us so that we can benefit from each other's experience.

I should like to conclude my remarks on that subject by again congratulating my noble friend, his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and the TRRL for taking time by the forelock and bringing forward legislation so that we can quickly benefit from a scheme which could be of considerable benefit to traffic not only in London but also in other large cities and therefore to the whole community.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I too should like to congratulate my noble friend on the way in which he has introduced the Bill. A Bill whose title starts with the words "Road Traffic" always encourages us to think of its omissions because we should all like to see a variety of other matters included, so seldom do we have an opportunity to consider a road traffic Bill. However, I shall try to keep my remarks to the matters in hand.

I turn first to the single unified licensing system. That must be a benefit, at least on paper. However, I share some of the doubts of some of the transport organisations about the efficiency of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea. Noble Lords will probably recall that that was the subject of an exchange between my noble friend the Minister and myself at Question Time recently. In both the heavy goods vehicle and passenger service vehicle worlds there are a number of anomalies which the change will not ease so far as I can see.

For example, an HGV or PSV licence applicant, on passing his test, is not enabled to take up his occupation until he is physically in possession of the licence or, in the case of the PSV applicant, the licence and the badge. That already takes a good deal of time and one would want to be assured that processing through the DVLC at Swansea will produce an improvement in the system. It is rather costly when one has trained a driver if in boredom at not receiving the paperwork to enable him to earn his living he then departs to some other occupation.

At some time, not necessarily this evening, we should like the Minister to reassure us that drivers over 21 but probably not holding either an HGV or PSV licence will still be permitted to drive those vehicles between garages and depots or on tests, in other words not plying for trade in the usual sense, on a normal licence. One would not want to see any diminution of that responsibility.

On the question of the unified licence I note that my noble friend said that it will be proposed to introduce a requirement for medical certificates in support of an application for the renewal of a licence. I should like to look very much further into the question of the age at which the Minister has suggested that that will operate, namely 45 years of age. He said—I think that it was the Minister but it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—that medical advice indicated that the health curve starts a downward trend at about the age of 40. That may be so in certain areas of health but it is not necessarily so in all cases. I am thinking in particular of eyesight and impaired vision, a subject which your Lordships discussed at very great length most of last summer and in the early part of the autumn when debating the Health and Medicines Bill. I suggest that we might consider reducing the age limit still further, perhaps to 35 years of age. Perhaps during later stages of the Bill we can be told when the health certificates will be required.

I am tempted to suggest that the health qualification should also be introduced for the holders of private motor car licences. I do not want to upset the holders of licences valid until the age of 70, but perhaps involvement in any accident which is reportable should be followd by a medical test. I draw my evidence for the necessity of such tests from a study by McKean and Edington at Southampton University on the effects of glaucoma on motor car drivers—the "I did not see it on my left/right" syndrome. I think that we might make some small contribution to reducing the incidence of accidents if we did something of that nature. Perhaps my noble friend would like to tell me how he feels about that suggestion, perhaps later on in a letter.

I think that that concludes the comments that I wish to make on Clause 1 and also Clause 5 which strengthens the powers of the Secretary of State to refuse or revoke licences on the grounds of physical fitness. That is a sensitive issue for him but one which I believe that the Secretary of State has to grasp quite firmly. As I say, it could add to the safety of road users.

My next point relates to Clause 6. The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff, and my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford have spoken about that clause. Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, who mentioned the possibility of the Government stepping in if the cost of motorcycle training courses became prohibitive, that I can see no reason whatsoever for the Government to step in and help people to train themselves to drive or to ride motor cycles. However, it is essential that the Government satisfy themselves that across the country there are adequate training facilities, of a uniform standard, and that the trainers charge reasonable fees. It has been suggested that the Bill should prescribe maximum fees only, but I do not believe that that is very important.

On the basis of the experience of the RAC in supporting motor cycle training, which as my noble friend said finished in 1982, I am surprised that the Government could think that any eight-to-12-hour training course is adequate. Both the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and my noble friend spoke in terms of defensive driving and defensive riding. I think that they were talking about what I should call roadcraft, the sensibility of other road users irrespective of the ability to control a particular piece of machinery. Certainly I cannot see that being learnt or practised adequately in eight to 12 hours.

Lastly, I turn to that part of Part II of the Bill which deals with information services. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, sounded a cautionary note, in which he said that perhaps the success of this system might encourage a heavier density of traffic, or words to that effect. Of course that is so. It is a fact—is it not—that the Department of Transport continually and over successive reviews, has failed to appreciate that a new road generates traffic; for example, the M25. With a prediction of something like a 40 per cent. growth of traffic by the end of the century, one must use all efforts to direct that traffic in the best possible way. Certainly the information service that is proposed goes some way toward doing that.

I look to that kind of system perhaps to make better use of all the roads that are available. I should not like to put a precondition on the pilot scheme or those who will operate it about the kind of roads, other than private roads, that the traffic should use. There is no doubt that a shortage of mile space—that is, the number of vehicles per mile exceeding the amount of space available—particularly around and inside London should not be maintained at the expense of under-utilisation of other roads.

Clearly any benefits from a system such as that described in Autoguide will be widespread. At this point I should like to thank both the RAC and the Automobile Association and those companies which have joined with them to promote similar schemes for their foresight and for expending large sums of money. Clearly the users will have to pay but also the non-user will benefit and that seems to me to present some little anomaly; in other words there is the free rider.

If traffic is to move more progressively and if there is to be a 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent. saving in traffic time, everyone will benefit. If in fact there will be a saving of £100 million as a result of reducing time wasted around London alone compared with an estimated loss of £2,400 million, other people will be beneficiaries and I wonder whether that is absolutely right.

I have one little niggle, to which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also referred. It appears frequently throughout the Bill and in particular in Schedule 2. Why have we suddenly introduced "LGV"? Irrespective of the definition, what is a large goods vehicle? We have had enough trouble—certainly in the last 20 years, as I can recall—in describing an HGV (a heavy goods vehicle). The definition in the schedule does not appear to be any different from that for HGV, which is something over 7.5 tonnes. In the same schedule we also have the ridiculous situation of talking about a "small passenger-carrying vehicle".

With HGVs, LGVs and PSVs, it is no wonder that many people do not understand what we are talking about. I urge my noble friend the Minister to find a commonality of definitions. Enough are banned in this kind of legislation. I welcome the Bill. I shall also welcome answers to some of the points made by noble Lords in this debate. Perhaps some issues, in particular on health and licensing, one might wish to raise in detail in the later stages of the Bill.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing this very interesting Bill. I have been a keen motor cyclist for 48 years and I still come to your Lordships' House on my motor cycle. I have long since ceased to be competitive on the roads. I now ride defensively and by so doing I hope to continue to ride here for some considerable time longer. I should like to confine the major part of my speech to the motor cycle section of the Bill.

Motor cycle and moped riders and the motor cycling industry have a relevant interest in all aspects of the Bill and in particular those proposals which relate to compulsory training. 1 shall come to that in a moment. The enabling legislation to permit harmonisation of driving licences throughout the European Community is warmly welcomed by the motor cycling industry. It is plainly nonsense that in this mobile age, when many British riders and drivers travel abroad for their holidays, some may find their licences invalid in the country of their destination. It is equally important for residents of other EC countries to have equal rights in this country.

It is understood—and the Minister may wish to confirm it—that Britain does not intend to seek derogation from the forthcoming European Community draft directive on licensing harmonisation. That is an important point without which there could be no equal validity of licences throughout the Community.

The differences that exist at present are most marked when one studies the rules in European countries for motor cycle and moped licences. Between them, the 12 European Community member countries employ almost every possible combination of age, training, testing, licensing and safety provisions, including power and weight regulations for drivers of different ages and experience. For instance, in Belgium, France, Italy and Spain, moped riders can start using a machine at the age of 14, with very few limitations. Britain permits moped riders only at the age of 16 and they are subject to a number of controls such as holding a licence and wearing a helmet. In total, access to mopeds in European Community countries is permitted between the ages of 14 and 17. Access to motor cycles, possibly of low power output, is permitted between the ages of 16 and 18, with Britain adopting a 17 year-old age limit and much stricter controls than many other countries demand.

I do not complain about the safety controls applied in this country. Indeed, the new compulsory training provisions are also to be welcomed in principle. However, if the variation in driver licensing for motor cycle and moped riders is to be smoothed out in a way that is fair to all European countries, then the present British rules on age limits will have to be reviewed. There may be considerable scope for varying age limits in conjunction with safety and training standards. It is important that the Minister recognises the need for flexibility in this issue.

The Bill gives legal substance to the Minister's proposal to require compulsory training for riders before they are allowed to use powered two-wheelers on the public highway. Clause 6(1) requires that riders being tested for the current Parts I and II examinations must show that they have passed an approved training course. Clause 6(2) means that provisional licences only have validity for riders if they have passed an approved training course or are on the public highway in the course of training. It also sets out the requirements that the Minister may impose on training standards and the training organisations. It also states: different provision may be made for training in different classes of motor cycles". I understand that the motor cycle industry welcomes these proposals in principle. In fact the Motor Cycle Association, representing motor cycle manufacturers, made a strong call four years ago for the compulsory training of all new riders.

The Bill will provide enabling legislation, and it is unlikely that the Secretary of State will be able to introduce compulsion until mid-1990 at the earliest. In the meantime the Motor Cycle Association is asking all motor cycle dealers to use every endeavour to ensure that new riders take training before going on the road, despite the absence of legal compulsion.

What concerns me is that there are many areas in this country where training facilities are inadequate, and we understand that dealers in these areas may be unable to ensure that new riders take training before going on the road. However, I know that dealers take a responsible attitude to training in general and will be endeavouring to work within the spirit of the new law even before its introduction.

The Motor Cycle Association will shortly present the Department of Transport with a full audit of training schemes and training facilities in Britain which identifies parts of the country where there must be extra instructors and more training facilities before compulsory training can be brought in nationwide. The industry will discuss the findings with the department, and I hope that the Minister will welcome the important information that it will contain.

I wonder whether the Minister would also accept the principle that compulsory professional training now established by the Government should be adopted also for learner car drivers and drivers who are required to retake their driving test? The sad fact is that, however skilled the motor cyclist, the majority of accidents in which riders are involved are caused by other road users, and according to government statistics about half of all such accidents are caused by car drivers. Their skills also need to be developed for their own protection and to improve the safety of more vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, pedal cyclists, and motor cyclists.

While on the subject of the health disability part of the Bill, health disability requirements, including possibly stricter tests, potentially affect all licence holders as they become older or recover from disabling illness. There is no specific indication that testing of riders would be any more severe than for other road users with similar disabilities, but the Minister's reassurance on this point would be most welcome. I should also appreciate his indication of the types of disability that are likely to come under stricter scrutiny. I welcome the Bill and I am sure that it will improve road safety, which is such an important part of it.

4.53 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for bringing this Bill to us. It is a most interesting Bill, and I look forward to the Committee stage. I apologise to the House in that, although I hope to stay if speeches are not too long so as to hear the Minister's reply, I am committed to an annual general meeting and must leave at a certain time.

I do not necessarily require a reply today, but I should like to ask the Minister whether this Bill would enable us to bring in a type of probationary licence. By that I mean the system that operates in Australia whereby a newly-qualified driver drives with a large P displayed on his car for a certain period after gaining a licence. I do not know whether the period is a year, or what it is, but something of that type would be a great safety measure. It certainly warns other drivers to be careful of that person as a new driver. Passing the test is just the beginning of the learning process, and not the end.

In the same way, I should have thought that those people who are driving on a limited medical qualification driving licence might show something. If you are a disabled driver you have something that identifies your car, which tends to make other drivers a little more patient. Whether or not under Euro terms we would be entitled to consider suggestions such as that I do not know, and I should like the Minister to let me know at some stage. The impatience of other drivers is a great problem, and one of the great causes of the intimidation of more timid or less experienced drivers.

I welcome Clause 5 and the clarification in terms of physical unfitness. However, I think it creates a difficulty that the DVLC should be so good in terms of people with progressive illnesses who get licences for one year, or three years, at a time and it considers that those people are fit to drive, when they are not allowed to drive unless they get insurance and yet no insurance company is obliged to offer insurance. This is rather an unfair situation, and I hope that this additional clarification in the Bill will make insurers take more seriously the fact that the DVLC has had a better proof to the fitness to drive.

Many in your Lordships' House have mentioned the problem of eyesight and impaired vision. This is a real problem. The noble Lord concerned is no longer living and that is why I tell you this story. My car was crushed in the car park here. The next day I asked the police officer if he knew who had done it. The damage was on the other side of the car and was not visible at night when I drove off. He said, "Yes, I know exactly. In fact, I saw it happen". He said, "That noble Lord drives by touch".

I thought that perhaps there might be something in that, and I was absolutely convinced when I arranged a meeting with the noble Lord concerned. We looked at my white car, which had a telltale mark of his car colour. He said to me, "Well, come and look at mine. I cannot understand when my car is in such perfect condition where that paint mark can have come from". I looked at his small, brightly-coloured Mini, and every corner was completely crushed. That gave me every reason to doubt his eyesight, and yet he was driving and believed that he was fit to do so. This question of eyesight is important, and it is a situation that many of us do not appreciate. Our eyesight could be deteriorating in terms of long-distance eyesight in traffic. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth mentioned impaired vision, and it is one of the most serious problems that faces us in traffic today.

I welcome the compulsory basic training for motor cyclists. In my work at County Hall I was always involved in trying to encourage young people to take motorcycle training. Like many parents, my heart sank when my daughter came to me and said that she wanted a large, powerful motorbike. When I could see that there was no way of persuading her out of it I said, "Well, only on the basis that you go and have training sessions". I think it was the police who did the training at Enfield. She went once a week for about 10 weeks, so that the course was probably no longer than people say these courses will be, and she became very competent on that motorbike.

In another committee that I was on we discovered that the point made by my noble friend Lord Nugent is so relevant. Young people who want motorcycles want to be seen to be rather daring. Therefore, if you can in some way tie in their training skills with some rather impressive and showy badge that you can achieve by becoming competent to a certain standard, you have more hope than if you are only impressing the safety angle.

The electronic display system is a different matter entirely in the Bill. I thank the RAC and the AA for the information they have provided for me. This morning I went out with another noble Lord for a trial drive. I was concerned to discover that it was electronic display. I worry about how one can watch that and the road at the same time. The driver said, "No, it is not like that. It tells you when to turn right in a voice". Another noble Lord said from the rear seat, "My wife does that!". I thought that that was a marvellous and true remark because so many spouses tell the husband or wife who is driving which way to go or which way to turn. For those who do not have that benefit, the new electronic system has great merit. There are problems with it. At the beginning it will be quite expensive. For it to become a success, it will have to be so effective that its use is widespread and the technology will have to be so inexpensive that everyone has it.

It was explained to us that the beacon would count vehicles passing. However, it would count only those vehicles fitted with the apparatus. If that is the case, it is not much use. One would want to know every vehicle that was passing, not just those fitted with the device. As the technology develops further, it seems that this will be possible. The bus counting devices already in place in the street count every vehicle that passes, not just those with a certain instrument, as I understand it.

The device also takes no account of stationary obstructions such as skips parked illegally, legally parked vehicles or—worst of all—the cones indicating road repairs. As a result, the information given may not be as helpful as one imagines. What looks like a road with little passing traffic may have such a obstruction in it. Those of us who know central London well are aware that it is now almost like one enormous building site. No matter where one goes, one finds that the road is up or lined with skips or cones. It is important for something to be done. I understand that, through the computer system, it would be possible for the information to be relayed back electronically about obstructions. However, they would not be picked up automatically by the beacons because they are in a fixed position.

As to the question of main roads or minor roads, this will be sorted out by the pilot system. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said that he hoped that traffic would not be pushed into residential streets. I do not think that that is a great risk. Throughout my traffic planning days we spent our time preventing people being rat runners. Traffic systems and no entry systems have been developed to such an extent that whole areas are not open to passing traffic. I do not think that we need worry about that. I think that it should be possible to use whatever roads are available for through traffic now.

There is great cause for concern in London today. One noble Lord wondered where the traffic was going to. This is an overall problem in London. Because there is no strategic control over the whole of London traffic, each London borough is keen to move the problems on to the next borough and to do away with any problems in its own area. The Department of Transport would be well advised to consider seriously taking a more overall view of London traffic movement. Its attitude has been that the London boroughs between them can agree these matters. That is not working. Anyone involved in traffic in a local borough now will confirm what I say.

Mention was made of the Home Report by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I had an Unstarred Question on the Horne Report tabled for a whole year in the House. No one was interested in it. I could never get anyone to support me in asking for the report to be debated as an Unstarred Question. I think that it is highly relevant. The streets are dug up repeatedly, which is a waste of public money. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, there is the repetitious digging of the same place, which results in a degree of obstruction and loss in terms of traffic movement. The report considers how reinstatement could be carried out by the electricity board or the gas authority instead of the task of restoration going elsewhere. That would speed up the process. I hope that, through the Bill, we shall be able to look again at the Horne Report.

It is hoped that the DVLC through the new legislation will be able to make printouts and information more rapidly available for magistrates' courts. In the court in which I sit, we regularly have to put off cases for a month at a time to allow yet another month to produce the necessary printout. With the new system it is hoped that that will be easier. It would be very useful and would save much public time and money if the system could be so centralised and efficient that the information was more readily available.

It is a most interesting Bill. The pilot scheme is a great innovation, and may prove to be a huge benefit. It will need refinements and expansion and will have to be taken up in a larger way, but it is a beginning and I hope that it proves to be a success. I support the Bill.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, there is a certain challenge in following the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. She was very amusing; I am not going to be in the least bit funny. The Whips have rightly chosen us to speak because we are talking about different areas.

The Bill looks like an innocent Iamb; it is not. Equally, it is not a wolf. When I first looked at it, I thought it uncontroversial and sensible. This may still be so. However, as in all legislation, there are hidden depths and anomalies that need to be fully discussed in its passage through the House.

I shall deal only with the passenger service vehicle element, although other issues may creep in. I say that because, while innocently doing a little rewriting in the Princes Chamber, a certain noble Baroness—whom we all respect and of whom we are all very fond—said to me, "They have been talking about the motor bicycle driver and how he has to be trained. What about the victims?". For the noble Baroness, I make the point that the victim is very often forgotten. For the noble Baroness's sake, I have mentioned the point. I now return to my own speech.

The transfer to the driver and vehicle licensing centre may be a very good thing because there are long delays in obtaining test appointments and in the issue of licences. The situation for various reasons has deteriorated to an unacceptable degree. In some traffic areas delays of up to eight weeks after the test can occur in issuing the licence. This may have followed a period of up to 12 weeks' waiting for the test.

When I started to write this speech, I included the word "centralisation". Here in the Chamber, however, I recall that at one time that word was totally unacceptable. The difficulty is to find an alternative. There will be sympathy for noble Lords in this predicament.

The driver and vehicle licensing centre must improve on an unsatisfactory state of affairs. There is a shortage of drivers in most traffic areas: in some areas it is becoming severe. The situation is not helped by a delay of up to 14 weeks during which a person is engaged but cannot work as a PSV driver. He must be given alternative work or find temporary work. Often he finds alternative employment and therefore the training and employment costs are wasted.

When an operator intends to introduce a new service or a network of services the 1985 Act requires six weeks and that timescale must be strictly adhered to. In those circumstances it is difficult and often impossible for an operator to recruit and train drivers in order to have them licensed in time to operate the increased level of service.

A temporary authority is required, such as the pink slip. It can be issued immediately after a person has passed the test and can relate to the ordinary driving licence or the heavy goods vehicle licence. The department has said that a licence should be issued within seven days after the test. It may be an improvement, but it is still unacceptable. We are told that the pink slip is not issued because there is no provisional licence. But the industry is not convinced that that is satisfactory. It is a matter to which I must return in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the badge system of PSV drivers. At present each driver has a badge showing letters and numbers indicating the issuing traffic area. So far the Government have not mentioned how that is to be dealt with. It would take too long to describe the necessity for retaining the bades but the industry—both employers and employees—believe that they should be retained.

The Bill proposes that the PSV arid HGV licences should be valid until the holder is 45 years old, instead of being valid for only five years as at present. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth dealt with that proposal. The Bus and Coach Council has indicated to me that it agrees with the proposal in broad principle. I am unhappy about it.

I am relieved and delighted to note that the Traffic Commissioners will retain their present role in relation to drivers' conduct. In 1985, and in order to further my public service vehicle education, I visited a traffic commissioner's office. I found it to be a rewarding and valuable experience. I was extremely impressed with the way in which the office was run and the dedication of the traffic commissioner and his staff. Traffic commissioners are respected by both the public service and heavy goods vehicle industries.

I am unhappy with the long period before renewal of a licence. Some drivers may not have driven a public service or heavy goods vehicle for 10 years. Should they be allowed to drive such a vehicle without retraining? There may have been increases in the width, height, length and weight of the vehicle and also advances in technology? I believe that a new directive is awaited from the EC about licence categories and that the decision is almost imminent. I understand that details will be given well before the Committee stage.

The Bill gives your Lordships' House a unique opportunity to clean up one or two grey areas which exist in public service vehicle licensing. One such area is that at present county council authorities which use school buses are allowed to employ non-PSV drivers in the operation of local services. That is totally ridiculous. It is a nonsense that a loophole should exist within a licensing system.

In 1985 the Government promised that the requirements for those holding PSV licences were to be extended to all drivers of vehicles adapted to carry 17 or more passengers. They aimed to introduce the provision on 1st April 1987, or as soon as possible after that date. A man or woman could pass the driving test at the age of 21 and on that date drive a double-decker vehicle on contract carrying 17 or more people. That is an area in which the Government promised to act. They have not done so; they should do so.

There is a great deal of work to be done by your Lordships during the remaining stages of the Bill. I understand that there is to be only one day for the Committee stage. I have four amendments to table, and I am dealing with only one part of the Bill. We shall be kept very busy.

5.17 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Teviot. I should like to congratulate the Minister on so ably guiding the House through the Bill. He explained Part II of the Bill but I am afraid that I still do not understand it. Perhaps that it is because I was brought up with candles and am not proficient in modern thinking. I shall deal exclusively with a few parts of Part I.

In my view, the new licence is an important step forward, and it will be welcomed by all distance lorry drivers, including those who travel on the Continent. Will it still be necessary to hold an international driving licence in addition to that which is issued by those at Swansea after a long delay?

My noble friend touched on the length of time taken to obtain a licence. I have in mind my eldest grandson who has taken his driving test today, and I am anxious to leave your Lordships' Chamber to discover whether he has passed. In view of the delay is it possible for the examiner to issue a paper to the examinee at the end of a test stating whether he has passed? That paper would be valid until the official licence was issued. It is an idea but perhaps the Minister has already thought of it.

Noble Lords may expect me to say something about Clause 5. I should first like to record the deep sense of gratitude felt by those of us who are physically disabled. The phrase used in the Bill is "physical unfitness". We are grateful to the dedicated mechanics who make it possible for one to drive almost any kind of vehicle, however bad one's disability. They are friends to all of us. Where would we be without them? We should not be in your Lordships' Chamber and should probably still be at home. It is only because of the expertise of those people in adapting all kinds of vehicles that the lives of the physically unfit are made worthwhile.

As we all know, disability takes many forms. I am very grateful to my noble friends Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lady Gardner of Parkes for raising the subject of impaired eyesight. I am absolutely convinced that quite a number of bad accidents would not occur if people had to pass an eysight test and a frequent one at that—I suggest every five or 10 years. As noble Lords will realise an eyesight test is not now mandatory after the initial passing of the test in order to gain one's licence. My eyesight was perfect when I passed the test many years ago when I was 18, but I should be the first to admit that I now have to wear glasses. Some other people do not wear glasses and it is in that context that accidents occur. It is vital that one should be able to correctly measure distances and judge the speed of vehicles both in front and oncoming. If one cannot do that then accidents occur.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned a test at the age of 35 rather than 45 for some licences and I think I agree with him. Therefore the frequency of testing will be something which is important for the Swansea licence division to warn us about; namely, that one's licence will expire if a test is not taken. I believe that it is very important that we should be warned as to when one should take a further test or that one's licence is due to expire. In my view, this Bill is an excellent opportunity to make eyesight testing mandatory for as long as the Government think fit.

My noble friend Lord Strathcarron admitted to having driven a motor cycle for 46 years. I believe I rode as a pillion passenger on a motor cycle when I was about 14, which is rather a long time ago, and I was terrified and should be terrified now. I hope that the Highway Code will be very much part of the test for those young people because they are usually young. I know that my noble friend Lord Strathcarron is somewhat older than the age group which I envisage. However, most motor cyclists are young and I believe that a test of the Highway Code is necessary as is a test on different conditions on the road because it is very important that they should be able to brake or occasionally stop skidding. Therefore, I believe that they should have more than 12 hours' tuition.

I am glad that Schedule 3 makes it clear that volunteer drivers are still allowed to drive. One thinks of people in Scotland, in urban areas or even more in the countryside where voluntary drivers take out eight or 10 people in a minibus. They perhaps take people to or from hospital, or in the countryside collect people to take them to church or other meetings. They will not have to pass a special test. I believe that that is very important.

That is all I have to say before Committee stage. I do not believe that it will be a long Committee stage because this is a good Bill, and I hope it will have a fair wind.

5.25 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

My Lords, I should like to carry on from where my noble friends Lady Macleod, Lord Lucas and Lady Gardner have left off.

Will the Government consider introducing a requirement that every driving licence holder must have, perhaps every five years, an eyesight test certificate, because under Section 99 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 a person may possess a driving licence up to the age of 70 having originally obtained that licence aged 17 under Section 101? Although Section 96 makes it an offence for any person to drive with defective eyesight, he may be unaware of the poor quality of his eyesight unless tested.

As my noble friend Lord Brabazon has already stated, Part I of the Bill modifies health requirements for drivers but I have not found anything in it dealing with eyesight. The 1988 Act is a consolidating Act into which nothing can be added. This Bill is the first opportunity for the Government to be able to legislate to make sure that drivers can see to drive. Unfortunately one's eyesight may deteriorate at any age and, as has already been said, some people with poor eyesight should not be driving. It should not be expensive for any driver to obtain either from his doctor or optician a certificate to state that he has passed an eyesight test. I suggest that there should be an amendment to this Bill making it an offence under Section 96 to fail to have that test certificate. However, it does not need to have anything to do with Swansea.

Otherwise I believe that this is an excellent Bill and I wish it a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I believe that everyone would agree that this has been a very interesting and full debate. Particularly when one is on this side of the Chamber, when this point is reached, everything has been said, and since I am not competent to give the answers to many points raised by noble Lord's that makes matters more difficult. Obviously I shall look forward to what the Minister tells us.

We are grateful for his explanation of the Bill. We must also be grateful for the very thorough examination of the Bill undertaken by my noble friend Lord Underhill. Due to those two explanations we may not be quite so dependent on Notes on Clauses. However, instead of ploughing through two excellent explanatory speeches it may be good if, particularly on some of the points raised today, the Minister will give us some Notes on Clauses.

There is no doubt that by and large the Bill has been well received. The three parts of the Bill are not absolutely connected. One wishes that motoring and roads legislation could become more consolidated than it is at present. I believe that this Bill was brought forward because the Government are anxious to put through Part III of the Bill. Therefore, they included other things at the beginning which perhaps seem to be less important. I may be doing the Minister an injustice; perhaps the new rules on HGVs had to be included because of pressure from Europe. However I am glad that after many months and years we have now harmonised with Europe in one respect.

Incidentally, I take it that the new licence will be Euro-compatible—I think that was the phrase used. This is perhaps a small point, but does this mean that when the new licence is available we will not need to rush to get a translation for Italy? I think that is the only country which requires a translation of the driving licence. If I remember rightly, I believe you must have an international licence for Spain, but I am not sure about that. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the position.

There is no doubt about one point that was dealt with by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and also the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, who always attends any debate in which motorcycles are concerned. We must all pay considerable attention to his great expertise and his continued faith in the motorcycle after so many years. One of the charming aspects of this House is that there are so many people with different skills. Having spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, on a number of occasions I know that he is not only a motorcycle user but has a very attractive little collection of motorcycles.

A number of noble Lords mentioned eyesight. I do not know whether the Minister is happy with the eyesight test for drivers but I suspect that it is a general feeling rather than there being any evidence that bad eyesight is a serious contributary factor to road accidents.

I was particularly fascinated by a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who unfortunately has had to leave before the end of the debate. She referred to the Australian special "P" plate on vehicles, suggesting "provisional", which is displayed for a period after passing the driving test. For a long time one of my hobby horses has been the abuse of the "L" plate in Britain. It is most annoying to see vehicles displaying "L" plates with drivers who obviously are not under instruction. I know that other noble Lords and Members in the other place have raised that point on a number of occasions. Therefore, I do not believe that the inclusion of another plate indicating that the driver is on probation would carry a great deal of weight in this country unless we do something about the abuse of "L" plates.

Generally speaking, this part of the Bill was well accepted. There were a few comments on the delays at the DVLC. I know that there is a new computer and would be glad to hear whether it is in complete working order now. One problem was that the wrong computer was chosen but that criticism is made with hindsight and I now understand that a great deal has been learnt and the new computer established.

We have had a great deal of expert information on the training of motorcyclists from the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, and also the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who has a respected record at RoSPA. Anything that can be done to reduce the serious number of motorcycle accidents is obviously to be welcomed.

Perhaps the most interesting and fashionable—if that is the right word—part of the Bill is Part II and the proposals for Autoguides. Like my noble friend Lord Underhill, I too thank the Minister for having made arrangements for us to travel in a car through a part of London to see how the Autoguide works. The experience was fascinating and interesting. It demonstrated great possibilities for certain jobs. However, I would have some criticism if the system were to be fitted to all cars. I assume that cars would have some indication to show that they are fitted with an Autoguide and if, after using the side roads, motorists try to make their way into the main road I am not sure whether I would be all that keen to let them in. I may be awkward in that respect, but perhaps some aspects need to be considered.

I can see enormous advantages for commercial companies in regard to deliveries, and so on. No doubt the system would first be set up in cities. If it is to be established throughout Europe I imagine it would not be difficult to buy the correct hard or soft discs to operate it in any city which is suitably equipped.

I am always cautious about the savings that can be made with such proposals, particularly if one adds up all the savings that have been promised with all the different techniques used. I remember a very old man, a pipe smoker, who told me many years ago that if you had all the gadgets that cool the tobacco in one pipe you would end up with pneumonia. There is probably something in that. There have been so many promises of savings. Clearly there will be savings but no doubt they will be swallowed up by the general increase in traffic in our major cities and more specifically in London.

Reference was made to the North Report and why we are not proceeding with a number of proposals which should be seriously considered for our inner cities. For example, has the Minister anything to say—it is part of the whole question of saving and an improved flow of traffic—about the special wardens employed by Westminster. I am sure that if they do their job properly, and are allowed to do their job properly, that would be at least as good a saving as Autoguide—and I mean on top of, not instead of.

I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, regarding rat runs. I believe that the Dutch say that when you enter a residential area you should consider yourself a visitor; and we should all have some respect for that view. I do not think the noble Lord used the words "rat runs" but he said that if the roads are available they should be used. Rather than have roads blocked at one end, or a combination of that and one way streets, I would prefer that certain roads were not included in the Autoguide scheme. That is why I believe it is imperative that local authorities should be involved in decisions. The local authorities are closer to people who hear that their road is to be included in a scheme and the people can protest to them. It is a closer democratic link with the problem than one would get—

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I certainly did not refer to rat runs. 1 was speaking about the better utilisation of the road system and I leave it at that. I do not believe that roadways are necessarily for playing in or for car parking. They are part of the transportation system. All I am looking for is the best utilisation of the roadways and the road networks.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am sorry. I appreciate now what the noble Lord was saying. I believe that it is a great pity that we have lost the roads for children to play in. They were part of the growing-up process and they were a great help to many children. I was staggered by the increase in traffic and by the information given by the Minister. I believe he said that there are now 31.5 million licences. Every time one looks at the figure it is increasing. There is no playing in the roads now. I believe that there is a point at which local authorities should be involved in order to give guidance as regards the kinds of roads that should be used for road space, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. We know what we mean when we say that a road is a residential road or otherwise. I can see a much beleaguered Minister finding difficulties with the centre of a big city and deciding to open up roads when local residents and the local authorities find it to be quite wrong.

I believe that we shall have an interesting Committee stage. With the points made by the Minister and those that he will conclude with, perhaps we shall not require full Notes on Clauses, but I believe that we need one or two as regards HGVs and the licensing part. There are one or two very difficult concepts to be dealt with. Other than that, I wish the Bill all the best.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, our debate today has been both wide-ranging and constructive. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part and who have raised so many important and topical issues. I am also grateful for the general welcome that the Bill has received this afternoon. I shall be able to say a little about the Government's position on these issues as I now attempt to respond to the main points that have been made. Many detailed points have been made as well and I cannot promise to answer them today. I have no doubt that some of the issues will return at the Committee stage. I can tell noble Lords that full Notes on Clauses will be available tomorrow which I hope will assist noble Lords.

Our debate started with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and though he welcomed the Bill, he implied that in addition he would have liked to have had legislation concerning the Horne Report and the North Report. Perhaps I may briefly say something on those two subjects.

The Government are committed to introducing legislation at a suitable opportunity to reform the Public Utilities Street Works Act along the lines recommended in the Horne Report. We fully accept the strength of the case for early legislation, but pressures on the legislative programme make it impossible to give a commitment to any particular Session. We shall continue to seek an opportunity to introduce the Bill.

However, the time has not been wasted. Utilities, highway authorities and .the department have been doing essential development work on fleshing out the bones provided by the Horne Report. Agreement on contentious issues has been reached. As regards the North Report, as your Lordships will be aware, it was published in April of this year and it contains 137 recommendations. We considered it essential to seek the views of interested organisations before reaching final conclusions. We aim to announce them in the New Year and legislation will be introduced as soon as possible.

I turn now to points that have been raised on Part I of the Bill. I shall attempt to deal with those before turning to the motor cycling provisions at the end of Part I, and finally to the subject of the Autoguide. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked whether we would need further legislation if we were not dependent upon the second EC Directive. The Commission has now submitted the text of a draft second directive to the Council of Ministers and detailed negotiations will begin next year. We shall need additional powers if the council does not agree to our proposals for small goods vehicles and minibuses containing up to 17 seats. Noble Lords may be aware that that is a very topical issue. However, this can be effected by regulations under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about consultations with the TUC on Part I of the Bill. Officials of my department recently met TUC officials and representatives of the affiliated unions. I believe that the meeting helped to clear up a number of concerns. As regards the retention of badges for bus drivers which was a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Teviot in addition to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the provision of PSV drivers' badges is a matter for regulations. There will be full consultation on this aspect of driver licensing before any changes are made.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked whether the loss of a goods vehicle licence would mean the loss of an ordinary licence. It will not. The loss of a goods or passenger-carrying licence will not necessarily result in the loss of the ordinary entitlement. The Secretary of State will have power to revoke the vocational element without removing the ordinary entitlement. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked why the definition of passenger-carrying vehicles is in Schedule 2. That schedule inserts a new Part IV in the Road Traffic Act 1988. Schedule 3(9) also inserts the same definition in Section 108 which provides for the interpretation of Part III as regards ordinary driving licences.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, sought an assurance that the standards of vocational driving would not be lowered. That certainly would not be our aim at all. Road safety will remain the primary object of driver licensing. There is no intention to lower the standards for vocational driving. There is no real change in the Bill to the actual tests that have to be taken.

As regards the question of medical evidence for changes in the duration of entitlement (a point raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill) it is commonly agreed in the medical profession that the mid-40s is the time when serious medical conditions begin to appear. This is borne out by the cases coming before our medical advisers in Swansea. It is essential that drivers of large vehicles with such medical conditions are identified at the earliest moment. Public service vehicle drivers already have regular medical checks from the age of 46 years. The new arrangement will bring the drivers of large goods vehicles into line with that policy.

My noble friend Lord Lucas complained about the time taken for issuing licences by the DVLC. Ninety per cent. of driving licence transactions are dealt with by the DVLC within six days. On average traffic areas take about 20 days to deal with HGV or PSV transactions. I expect unification to lead to a quicker service for new lorry and bus drivers. My noble friend also asked whether drivers who had passed the test for large goods or passenger-carrying vehicles would be able to drive before full licences are granted by Swansea. The answer is yes because the drivers will have the benefit of the existing provisions in Part III.

My noble friend Lord Strathcarron asked whether the United Kingdom intended to seek derogation from the proposed directive on driver licensing. No, my Lords; the Government support the idea of licence harmonisation. We shall be pressing the Commission to make some changes in the negotiations on the directive, but the directive may permit different national approaches on certain matters.

My noble friend Lord Lucas asked whether car drivers should be subject to the same medical checks as vocational drivers. My answer is, no. Drivers of ordinary cars are required by law to report any medical conditions that affect their ability to drive. Because of the serious consequences of a collapse at the wheel of a lorry or a bus, tighter controls are needed for vocational drivers. My noble friend also asked whether existing exemptions in regulations would be continued under the new system. Provision for exemption from vocational entitlement will be made in the light of consultation and to the extent permitted by the second directive.

My noble friends Lady Macleod and Lord Balfour and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, referred to the possibility of mandatory eyesight testing. My noble friend suggested that the Bill should make driving with defective eyesight a criminal offence, or at any rate should require one to have a test certificate. As the existing rules stand, a motorist must at all times meet a standard of visual acuity equivalent to an ability to read a vehicle number plate from a distance of 75 feet for characters 3½ inches high.

Drivers are required to notify DVLC if they become aware of any eyesight condition which affects their ability to drive. Some 60 cases are referred to the centre each day for investigation. Where necessary, arrangements are made for specialist eyesight examinations. Research studies have not identified poor eyesight as a significant factor in accidents. There is no evidence to suggest that the present arrangements are failing to meet the requirements for road safety.

All of us who drive are already obliged to notify the DVLC if our health deteriorates in a way that could affect our ability to drive. That applies just as much to eyesight as to any other problem. The beauty of the number plate test to which I have just referred is that it is something any of us can check at any time we want.

My noble friend Lord Strathcarron asked whether car drivers who are disqualified should be required to take a professional driving test. The disqualification is itself the penalty. Drivers who are required to take a second test are required to prove that they are up to the level of competence needed for cars. It would be unfair to expect such drivers to reach a higher standard than is expected of ordinary car drivers.

My noble friend Lord Teviot asked about delays after the test for the issue of the licence. This is covered by the existing Road Traffic Act, which allows a person who passes a test to drive while his full licence is being issued. This will not change, but the application for the licence must be made within two years. Under the new system this will also apply to vocational drivers. The question of delays in traffic areas is being looked into to see what can be done in the short term. In the longer term, the position should improve when the operations are transferred to DVLC.

My noble friend also asked whether drivers of school buses would be exempt from the higher medical and test standards. They are at present exempt from PSV licensing. This exemption will have to be reconsidered in the light of the second directive and consultations on implementing the regulations. My noble friend also asked about driving after an absence of 10 years. Possession of a licence does not of itself ensure that the holder is driving the vehicle in question. Some drivers never sit behind a wheel once they have passed the test. The 10-year rule can be unfair on drivers who leave the country and return after some years. A requirement to pass a second test is not compatible with long period licensing.

My noble friend Lady Macleod asked what would become of the international driving licence. It will still remain and will be necessary when visiting certain countries which are not EC members and do not recognise our licences. The new licence will be recognised in all other member states of the EC. No transactions will be required when using it in any of those countries. My noble friend Lady Macleod asked about what happens when people pass the test now. They are given a piece of paper. This is already provided for and will continue. A certificate is given to a successful candidate and a notice of failure to an unsuccessful candidate. It is my understanding that a certificate of passing and a provisional licence is the equivalent of a full driving licence.

I should like to deal now with the distinct subject of the motorcycle test. I am glad that this has been widely welcomed in the House. However, there were one or two causes for concern with which 1 should like to attempt to deal. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and my noble friend Lord Strathcarron touched on the sufficiency of training facilities. As my noble friend Lord Nugent said, there are more than 900 training centres throughout the country. If all those currently involved in training continue under the new system there should be adequate coverage. However, as it will now become compulsory, it is quite possible that more will open up.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about monitoring of the compulsory training scheme. I can assure him that it will be monitored not just in terms of casualties but also with regard to the standard of the training. The noble Lord asked whether the Secretary of State will specify the charges trainees may have to pay. My noble friend Lord Lucas also touched on this subject. Clause 6(2)(c) gives power to make regulations, and that includes the power to specify any charges that may be payable by those undertaking training.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and my noble friends Lord Nugent and Lord Lucas were concerned about the length of the compulsory training course. They mentioned the fact that it might be eight hours or a full day. They suggested that that would not be enough to teach new riders all they need to know to survive in today's traffic conditions.

The basic training course we propose can provide only a minimum level of training but that is far more than the majority of new riders receive at present. However, under this provision all new riders will be put in the hands of experienced training instructors. Together with the new, more exacting pursuit style riding test, further training to bring riders up to the required standard will become more desirable. I should also like to explain that the compulsory training will not only be off-road. It will also include road riding under the guidance of training instructors. I should point out that, although the basic course may last only one day, the rider must get a certificate at the end of the course. If he does not achieve that in one day he will have to train for longer.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, queried whether motorcyclists will have to submit their certificate of training with their provisional licence application. Riders will already have received their provisional licence before they are able to undertake the compulsory training. Several noble Lords mentioned the need for teaching defensive riding skills. We indeed recognise the need for such skills to be taught. The compulsory training course will include some of the necessary defensive riding techniques which will have to be grasped before trainees undertake the on-road element of the course. If riders take further training, as we hope they will, this will give training organisations further opportunity to instil in riders all the skills necessary to ride safely.

My noble friend Lord Strathcarron mentioned the motorcycle industry's call today for motorcycle dealers to ensure that new riders receive training. We very much welcome this statement which asks dealers to do all they can to persuade new riders to be trained—prior to the compulsion which will be introduced in due course.

My noble friend also suggested that car drivers, like motor bicycle riders, should also have to undergo compulsory training. But, unlike motorbike riders, most car drivers—I believe 95 per cent—already take professional instruction. So we see no need to introduce similar provision for them. My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve asked whether the Highway Code would be taught to riders as part of the compulsory training course. I can assure her that important elements of the Highway Code, such as correct procedures on left and right turns, will be included in the course.

I turn now to Part II of the Bill and the Autoguide clauses. I was glad that the system was also generally welcomed this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, wondered whether the widespread use of Autoguide would simply increase the amount of traffic on our roads, coming into London for instance, and hence add to congestion.

We do not believe that that will be the case. It is possible that some drivers, especially private motorists, could find that Autoguide gives them the reassurance to make journeys which they would not otherwise undertake by car. The market for Autoguide is likely to be concentrated largely among fleet operators and those who drive for business reasons. Commercial and business drivers rarely have any choice about whether to make a particular journey; their work demands that they do. The great benefit of Autoguide is that it will give them the best routes for essential journeys and allow them to avoid the traffic jams which can cause so much delay and frustration.

I would not pretend that we can foresee precisely how a commercial Autoguide system will evolve. That is why we propose that the system should be implemented gradually, starting with a pilot scheme which can be fully evaluated. At the moment, however, I think that we should all be encouraged by the TRRL's estimates, which I have already quoted and which have again been referred to this afternoon, of the average journey time reduction of 10 per cent.

As regards the local authority involvement in establishing the Autoguide system, earlier this month the Department of Transport wrote to all the local authority associations inviting their comments upon the possible role of local authorities in the arrangements for evaluating the proposed Autoguide pilot scheme in London. Officials will be discussing that aspect with the associations next week. We believe that it is most important for the relevant local highway authorities to have the opportunity to be involved in the detailed assessment of the pilot scheme, since this will play a large part in determining the operating framework for subsequent commercial schemes.

As regards the question of whether the Government should fund local authority monitoring of Autoguide, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, the Bill does not provide for the Government to fund such monitoring. We see no reason to make such special arrangements. However, we are discussing with local authorities how they might be involved in monitoring the proposed pilot scheme. The department is making available considerable resources for research and evaluation of the pilot scheme through the TRRL.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised certain questions about Clause 10. He referred to the Secretary of State's power to collect charges from users and he mentioned various other points in relation to that clause. The fact that those provisions are in Clause 10 does not necessarily mean that they will be used in every licence which my right honourable friend issues to the operator; they are designed to allow sufficient flexibility for my right honourable friend to negotiate and agree appropriate licences in each case. We must bear in mind that these systems are in their infancy and they must have adequate provision to deal with future developments.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was worried that the definition, "Driver Information Systems", might include ordinary mapmakers. I can assure him that the Bill will not lead to the makers of road atlases requiring a special licence. Moreover, the Bill provides power for my right honourable friend to exclude particular systems from the licensing requirement if inclusion would be inappropriate. So there is the flexibility to ensure that licensing is not unnecessarily applied.

The noble Lord was also concerned that it might lead to more holes in the road. We must of course strike a balance; we must minimise so far as is possible the burden of extra street works. But we must also do what is necessary to facilitate the provision of such new systems, which could offer great benefits to many motorists, including that of avoiding other roadworks.

The ability of the licensed operator of a driver information system to undertake street works will be tightly defined. He will be bound by the street works code in the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950 in just the same way as existing statutory undertakers such as BT. The Secretary of State will have power to impose conditions in an operator's licence specifying, for example, the roads upon which apparatus cannot be installed.

Finally on this subject I turn to the fears which have been expressed that the Autoguide system may result in "rat running". We have no reason to think that Autoguide will increase the overall volume of traffic on minor roads. Main roads generally offer quicker journey times. The problem is often choosing the right main road, which is exactly where Autoguide can help by giving advance warning of congestion. But the large-scale pilot scheme, to which I have already referred and upon which we shall shortly be inviting private sector proposals, will allow the Department of Transport to evaluate in detail the likely effects of a commercial system, including the effects on minor roads. As I have said, we hope to involve individual highway authorities in the monitoring arrangements. However, as I think my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, said, there are indeed many other means of controlling rat runs and evidence of that can be seen in nearby Pimlico. Indeed I think that that was a good example.

I hope that I have answered the main points which have been raised this afternoon. However there were very many and I have no doubt that we shall encounter some others in Committee. But in the meantime I am grateful for the reception that the Bill has received in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.