HL Deb 09 February 1989 vol 503 cc1665-714

3.32 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 1: After Clause I, insert the following new clause;

("Conditions for holding driving licence.

The Secretary of State shall within twelve months of the coming into force of this Act conduct research into and report to Parliament on the desirability of attaching to the issue of a motor vehicle driver ordinary licence the same conditions as apply to the granting and holding of a licence to drive large goods vehicles and public service vehicles.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the outset I wish to thank my noble friend the Minister for his letter earlier this month and for the discussions which he has conducted since we last discussed in Committee the question of eyesight and driving.

I return to this subject this afternoon because I sensed during the earlier discussions that certain Members of the Committee were genuinely concerned that in the search for a reduction in the number of fatal, serious or indeed any road accidents, eyesight had a part to play. During the course of my noble friend's response, he referred to certain pieces of research which had been undertaken. He very kindly made available the Transport and Road Research Laboratory Report No. 945 of 1980, and Report No. 768 of 1977.

The 1977 report was a re-analysis of the California driver vision data and its general findings. That perhaps does not have as much relevance to the position here as other reports. The 1980 report was entitled Survey of Visual Acuity of Drivers and was compiled by P. A. Davison and A. Irving. That report, like most TRRL reports, states on the front page that any views expressed in the report are not necessarily those of the Department of the Environment or of the Department of Transport.

Therefore it is a little difficult for my noble friend to draw comfort from those reports. But I should remind my noble friend that one of the authors, P. A. Davison from the College of Technology in Dublin, was the author of a report to which I drew the attention of your Lordships in Committee. Since our discussions Dr. Davison, who is now the senior lecturer in optometry and physiological optics in the physics department of the College of Technology in Dublin, has written to me. His letter stated that he was: a former Senior Scientific Officer at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in Crowthorne (1974–1979) who was involved exclusively in research on vision and driving". He went on to refer to what my noble friend the Minister stated in Hansard: research … has not shown any significant relationship between various eye defects and accidents."—[Official Report, 24.1.89; col. 628.]

Dr. Davison says, in relation to the above remarks: While it is true that the strength of such relationships is not as great as might be expected (mainly because there are so many other factors contributing to road accidents), such relationships do exist and are statistically significant.

I have received a number of letters from people who are interested in these matters. In Committee I quoted the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. The chairman of that body states that the argument on vision and road safety has gone on for 20 years. While surveys have taken place, there has not been any direct survey attempting to relate directly vision and accidents in this country. That is really the bone of our contention. The chairman of the commission states: Because the scientific evidence does not support the commonsense view that defective eyesight in drivers contributes significantly to road accidents, I would support a proposal that a few police forces should be asked to perform the number plate test on accident involved drivers, in order to ascertain whether those with eyesight below the legal standard are more likely to be involved in accidents …. I seek to make it compulsory that people involved in accidents leading to serious injury, or indeed those with a conviction, should have to subject themselves to an eyesight test, so that we can ensure that they conform to the eyesight requirements of the road traffic legislation.

I believe there is sufficient evidence from surveys and from screening of eyesight defects, notably glaucoma, to suggest that perhaps 3 per cent. of the population, particularly those above the age of 54, have a defect. At an earlier stage in the Bill's passage when we were talking about professional or vocational drivers and the new requirements for PSV or HGV drivers to undergo tests, my noble friend the Minister acknowledged that when drivers were in their late forties or early fifties eye defects become apparent in some cases. I have suggested in the amendment that, as regards accidents, there is no difference between a professional or vocational driver and what I might term an ordinary driver.

I ask my noble friend to undertake that within 12 months of the Act coming into force research will be conducted on this matter and the results reported, with advice, to Parliament. It is not for me to tell my noble friend the Minister how research should be conducted. However, I have in mind the Nottingham police survey of 1987 into drink-driving in which all people involved in accidents or stopped by the police for driving offences were invited without prejudice to undergo a drink test. It has to be a survey in depth including not only those involved in accidents but all those involved in a moving vehicle offence. That would include speeding, for example. That would provide a control group against which the results could be measured. That is what my amendment seeks. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, my understanding of the grouping of amendments is that Amendment No. 1, which has just been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, stands on its own and Amendments Nos. 3 and 5, which deal with the question of offences and the necessity for eyesight testing, form a separate group.

I know that the noble Lord is very well informed on these matters but he has not indicated what "the same conditions" are. The amendment states that the ordinary licence should have: the same conditions as apply to the granting and holding of a licence to drive large goods vehicles and public service vehicles". The noble Lord wants an inquiry which could possibly reveal the necessity for applying the same conditions. Can he explain what is meant by that?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I prefaced my remarks by saying that I was returning to the subject of eyesight testing. I am referring to the conditions which were described by my noble friend the Minister as having to pertain in the future to professional and vocational drivers. Those conditions specify that at the age of 55 they should undergo a medical examination. At age 60 they would have to undergo another test and at 65 they would have to undergo a further test. Each year thereafter they would have to satisfy the requirements as to medical fitness—which presumably includes ears and eyes—that may be laid down in regulations. Those are the conditions to which I refer in my amendment.

If the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is suggesting that there is a defect in the drafting of the amendment, I readily accept that the drafting may not be perfect. However, that is the purpose, which I had hoped I explained in introducing the amendment.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Unfortunately I was not sent all the memoranda which he received and therefore he has the advantage of me. However, I remember that at Committee stage there was a general feeling in the Chamber that the Government should initiate some research into the problem of driving with impaired eyesight. I asked the Minister at that time whether he could find out the results of the research which I read about in the press which the police had carried out at the Membury service station, where people volunteered to have their eyesight tested. Perhaps the Minister can tell us today what the results of that research were.

If the amendment should go through and research proves that people are driving with impaired eyesight I feel very strongly that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, hinted, everyone should have their eyesight tested at certain intervals and not following accidents. If because of impaired eyesight one has had an accident in which one has killed somebody, it is too late. If the Minister is able to help us in this way—I certainly hope that he is—I hope that he will take that point into consideration.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I have great sympathy with the suggestion that some form of research should be conducted. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us how costly that would be and whether there are other bodies of research which could impinge on the subject.

While it is obviously very bad if an accident is caused by someone who has poor eyesight, I feel that we will probably find that the likely effects of legislation would be much smaller than might result from other improvements that could be made in connection with the examination of drivers and the whole area of motoring. I do not see why we should stick to eyesight. There are many other factors; for example, the condition of the heart or the effects of strain on drivers.

I should like the Minister to tell us whether any research has been carried out and how high a priority the matter would have. I do not dismiss the idea of eyesight testing but if we had the figures, given the limited resources of all Ministries, I doubt whether it would warrant the highest of priorities. I think that there would be other issues which would need to come before eyesight testing. That is my own feeling, but the Minister may have more information than I have.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I had intended to reserve my comments for later amendments. The Minister said at the previous stage that he would give us the results of research. I am pleased to be able to say that I have now received a copy of the results of that research into eyesight. I shall leave it to the Minister to say whether that has been made available to other Members of the House. It makes clear to me that although research has been undertaken a lot more is still required. I think that the points made by the spokesman for the Opposition are quite correct. Research needs to be much wider than eyesight testing in terms of the ability to read a number plate. This is a very wide issue.

I agree with the amendment both in principle and in sentiment. It reads: conduct research into and report to Parliament". I am not sure whether the report is meant to be on the research. If that is the case, the time-scale of the amendment is too short as it would mean that quite extensive research would be required before there was a report worth looking at. I think that it is up to the Government to prove to us that they are prepared to carry out adequate research into this matter, which will be a growing problem as our population ages.

3.45 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment. It is quite clear from the remarks of the noble Lord that statistics do not show clearly what part eyesight deficiencies play in accidents. It is possible that eyesight is not a direct cause of accidents but a contributory factor. It creates differences of attitudes of drivers under certain conditions such as differences of daylight and night driving. Therefore we support in principle the idea of research. It may well be that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, said, the time is too short, but in principle we support research of that kind.

Lord Trafford

My Lords, I also support the idea of research into any causation of accidents, including visual acuity and other eye defects. My anxiety about this amendment is that it would involve so many of the general medical examinations that apply to public service vehicle and heavy goods vehicle licence-holders at age 55, 60, 65 and thereafter. If one multiplies the number of drivers in those age groups, it means that someone—presumably the doctor—has to carry out literally millions of tests and fill in millions of forms which will be a great load for people who are not driving in a commercial—I believe that the term used was "vocational"—sense. For that reason the proposal seems unrealistic. That is a pity because the first part of the amendment, which requires research, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, has just said, is absolutely correct and something that one would support.

However, I do not think that too much research of any great value could he achieved in one year. It is extremely difficult to set up valuable research in this type of exercise and it requires both time and meticulous methodology. The trouble is that we have none of that at the moment as regards this matter, so we do need it. I would be very anxious about the practical aspects of the issue.

Finally, we do not have too much evidence in this respect regarding causation of accidents, but from my experience—and I am sure that others in the House share this view—1 should have thought that the major physical defect in the causation of accidents would be inattention. The common phrase is probably "hardening of the arteries" which means that people's reaction time is reduced and their ability to appreciate a developing situation becomes limited. That does not necessarily make them very dangerous drivers because fortunately the aggressive driving of youth disappears as the arteries harden. For obvious reasons, if it does not disappear, the person does not usually reach old age comfortably. I always recall seeing someone driving in a most erratic and dangerous manner. The only exclamation from my passenger was that he was surprised that that person had managed to reach middle age!

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

My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I explain briefly the requirements of the vocational driver licensing system to which this amendment refers. In addition to an ordinary driving licence, drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles are required to hold vocational licences issued by the independent licensing authorities in the traffic areas. The system is concerned to provide a check of the competence, conduct and health of such drivers.

The requirements are rigorous. Any epileptic attack since the age of five rules out a vocational licence. There are also tough rules for cardiac conditions. At present both HGV and PSV drivers are required to submit a medical report form with their initial application, completed by a doctor on the basis of a medical examination. Thereafter HGV drivers are required to renew their licences every three years and to complete a declaration about their medical fitness to drive in doing so until the age of 60. After that they arc required to submit a medical report with each renewal. PSV drivers are required to renew their vocational licence every five years, medical reports being required from the age of 46 and annual reports from the age of 65.

Under the unified vocational licensing system to be introduced in 1991, HGV and PSV drivers will be treated the same: they will be granted a licence until the age of 45. Thereafter renewal will be every five years until the age of 65, supported by a full medical report, and then annually.

The question to be asked is: do we really want all that to apply to the ordinary motorist? It would end the convenience of the single licence valid until the age of 70. Re-processing 30 million licences over a regular period would considerably increase DVLC costs, which would be reflected in a significant increase in the licence fee, on top of which motorists would be required to pay the fee for the medical examination, currently £25 to £30.

For those entrusted with the safety of passengers, or those responsible for driving bulky and heavy vehicles, it is right that we should impose and expect a high standard of fitness to drive in all senses. For the ordinary motorist, we believe that the existing checks on health when applying for a licence—an applicant is required to answer questions about health on the application form—coupled with the continued obligation on the licenceholder to notify the licensing authority on becoming aware of the onset or worsening of any condition which might affect ability to drive safely are more appropriate. The White Paper, The Road User and the Law, which the Government presented to Parliament on Tuesday makes clear that we intend to consider the most effective way to ensure that drivers are aware of the requirement to notify DVLC of any physical or mental condition which is likely to have a marked effect on the person's ability to drive safely.

To put matters in perspective, only around one accident in 1,000 is due to sudden medical collapse by the driver. The road safety implications of extending the validity of licences was fully reviewed during the 1970s when it was proposed to issue full licences valid for life, as is the case in a number of other European countries. In the event, it was decided that entitlement to a licence should in general be reviewed at the age of 70, because that is something of a watershed in relation to accident involvement. From that age, licences are issued for a maximum period of three years. Applicants are asked on the application form to declare any relevant medical condition.

The other aspect of my noble friend's amendment on which I should comment in particular is its call for more research. The Department of Transport is already undertaking a substantial programme of research on road safety, currently costing £4-25 million a year. Major research projects are in progress on behavioural studies, urban safety and pedestrian safety, which together account for half the 1989–90 programme. Other main research areas are education and training—where a major schools education project is in progress— alcohol and drugs, including roadside surveys of drinking, and accident costing.

A new project is about to begin on establishing an investigation system for accident causation. Other areas of research which will be needed in the near future are monitoring the effect of compulsory training for motorcyclists and rehabilitation and retesting in the light of the proposals in the White Paper on road traffic law.

We are satisfied that the present system provides adequate safeguards as to health requirements for drivers and that our research programme concentrates on the right priorities.

I turn specifically to my noble friend's points about eyesight testing, motivated by the desire that we all share to reduce the number of casualties resulting from road accidents. The central issue we should keep in mind in considering any new road measure is its likely effectiveness in achieving that aim.

It is indeed possible that if we imposed a requirement that drivers over a certain age or drivers who had been involved in certain accidents should undergo special eyesight tests there would be some effect on road safety. It could be argued that if even one accident were avoided, then special eyesight testing would have proved its worth. We frankly do not consider that this is a realistic approach. We need to take a balanced view. We must try, to the best of our ability, to weigh up on the one hand the road safety benefits and, on the other, the wider resource implications and extra requirements that regular eyesight testing would impose on a great many motorists, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, referred.

The White Paper, The Road User and the Law, which we presented to Parliament on Tuesday, makes very clear our determination to make our roads safer, but we must target the additional requirements we place on motorists. We must determine, through careful research, which ones are likely to produce the greatest benefits in terms of road safety. As I have indicated, the research which has been undertaken does not support the view that additional requirements for eyesight testing should have higher priority in our efforts to improve road safety. But that is not to say that we are complacent about this important issue. We shall keep it under review. We shall consider the question of further research. We shall take steps to publicise the importance of drivers checking their eyesight regularly—they can do so easily using the number-plate test—and of having their eyes checked professionally if that test reveals any difficulty. We are also considering how the message on the driving licence about notifying the onset or worsening of any condition, including poor eyesight, which might affect fitness to drive, can be made clearer.

My noble friend Lady Macleod asked at the last stage of our proceedings whether I would check up on those tests which had allegedly taken place at or near Membury service station. We have checked with the Thames Valley Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers Traffic Committee. They have told us that they have no knowledge of such a survey. I do not know from where that information could have come.

Generally, the debates that we have had about eyesight and driving during the course of this Bill have given rise to very welcome publicity about the issue. We shall want to build on that and we are giving urgent consideration to ways in which we can maintain the momentum. I hope that in view of what I have been able to say on the subject, and on the general subject of research, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, it might be helpful if I may say a few words about—

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House that this is Report stage. It is customary that only the mover speaks after the Minister has spoken.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may quickly say that the Membury service station survey was reported in all the press.

4 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I apologise to the House for the imperfections of my amendment which sought to highlight the desirability for further research.

I am always disappointed when the Department of Transport in particular—I had a very happy time working with it some years ago—in the great endeavour to reduce the toll of fatal and serious accidents returns the charge to me that one has to weigh up the costs versus safety. That is what the Minister said. I wrote it down. He reminded us that there is an obligation on the licence holder to notify awareness of any change in health and so on. We have been over the same ground in two Bills—the Health and Medicines Bill in the summer, and earlier stages of this Bill. Where impairment of eyesight occurs the person is simply not aware of such impairment. We believe that this is proven as a contributory factor towards accidents by the various surveys to which I referred earlier.

My noble friend has referred to the White Paper entitled The Road User and the Law. I note in paragraphs 2.30 and 4.15 what the Government have to say about health and safety. No doubt we can discuss that White Paper in due course. We shall have a little more to say about it.

My noble friend says that the Government are spending £4ŀ5 million on research into road safety and related matters, and that it is necessary to weigh up the arguments as to which road to go down. I cannot tell him that he should go down the eyesight road because there are no statistics. All that I am asking is that a sensible, in-depth survey be set in train. It may take until 1991 when the vocational driver requirement comes into force. That is plenty of time. We shall then know whether or not we have to change the law and exactly what kind of requirement should be placed on drivers or licence holders with regard to their eyes.

Sadly, I am less than happy with my noble friend's response. I hoped that he would be able to make a commitment out of the £4.5 million towards this subject. I do not believe that there is any point in pursuing the matter during the passage of this Bill. I shall return to it and I hope that the £4.5 million worth of research has some effect in relation to eyesight, drivers, and the prevention or the avoidance of accidents. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Tests of Competence and related conditions of entitlement to driving licence]:

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 2: Page 8, line 41, at end insert— ("(5) After section 89 of the 1988 Act there shall he inserted the following section which shall come into force at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—

"Immediate Authorisation to drive of persons who have passed a passenger-carrying vehicle test 89B—(1) Any person who has passed a test of competence to drive a passenger-carrying vehicle shall be issued with a written authorisation in the form prescribed permitting him to drive a passenger-carrying vehicle on a road for the purposes of carrying passengers for hire or reward. (2) The written authorisation referred to in subsection (1) above shall be issued by the person conducting the test immediately after the completion of the test and shall be valid for a period of three months from the date of issue.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 2 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 26 standing in my name on the Marshalled List.

Noble Lords may recall that at Committee stage I moved a similar amendment which I withdrew when the Minister said that we should have a meeting before the next stage. That meeting took place with my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury and interested parties from the industry and the tendering authorities. I am very grateful to the Minister. We had a full discussion on the amendment. I believe that we have now achieved a very full understanding of each other's position. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to proceed with the amendment because it is a very important one for the bus industry.

To remind noble Lords, the main point of the amendment is to allow an intending pubic service vehicle driver to drive as soon as he has passed his test, just as the driver of a motor car or a heavy goods vehicle driver can at the present time. The legislation will allow a public service vehicle driver to drive immediately after a successful test but not until 1991. My amendment will bridge the gap from the time when the Bill becomes law until that year.

This may seem a comparatively short period: it is nevertheless important to both bus operators and tendering authorities as the delay in drivers receiving their full licences has caused very real problems. Delays inhibit competition. New operators are reluctant to tender for services because even though they can be certain of obtaining vehicles and have an adequate operator's licence they cannot be certain of having drivers who are qualified in every respect by the time the tendererd service contract begins. The amendment would enable them to be certain that when a driver passed his test he could drive immediately.

The Minister, in correspondence with me, made the point that as the amendment originally stood there would be no incentive for a driver to obtain his full licence as the written authorisation would entitle him to drive permanently. I have therefore added the condition that the written authorisation —noble Lords may be more familiar with the piece of pink paper—would be valid for only three months. The period of validity is negotiable. As I told my noble friend when we met, if he feels that a shorter period would be sustainable I am only too happy to agree. I need to be satisfied only that the authorities could issue the full licence in the period chosen.

Your Lordships may be concerned to ensure that there is adequate time for the appropriate checks to be made that the applicant is a fit and proper person both medically and with regard to character. I understand that in practice these checks are made before a public service vehicle test takes place in order to save both the applicant and his prospective employer time and money in training and test fees. So this does not present a problem, as the checks would continue to be done in the same way.

As to delays, my noble friend has assured me of some improvement in the position since our Committee stage debate. However, I do not accept that the situation is as good in all areas as he states. Even if it is, delays of up to eight weeks were being experienced and we have no reason to believe that this might not happen again.

Before finishing I should like to say a word about Amendment No. 26, to Clause 17. This is consequential and simply provides for the new subsection to come into force at an earlier time than the rest of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Teviot's amendment. Your Lordships may recall that I spoke at some length at Committee stage to a similar amendment. I do not propose to cover the same ground again today. Since Committee stage my noble friend and I have had discussions and correspondence with my noble friend the Minister. Considerable progress has been made.

The part of the Bill that the amendment seeks to change has been a matter of great concern to the PCV industry and is a matter about which I feel very strongly. If Her Majesty's Government accept the amendment it will help operators, employees and the fare-paying public by streamlining the present system. I am grateful to the Minister and his staff for being so helpful. I look forward to hearing his reply.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I do not propose to keep the House long on this matter. When an almost similar amendment was before us at Committee stage I said that unless the Minister could give good reasons why it should be opposed we on these Benches were disposed to support the amendment. I fully recognise that our Report procedure means that I have to make my comments now before the Minister makes his. There were suggestions at Committee stage—I believe they were made by the Minister—that the last thing the Government wanted was to have drivers hanging around waiting for their full licence. The Minister accepted that. He said: there are problems with the existing system which make change difficult. However, I shall look into the matter to see whether anything can be done in the short term".—[0fficial Report, 24/1/89; col. 617.] It is obvious from what the two noble Lords have said that the Minister has given that consideration. I should like to know why something cannot be done in the short term, particularly as the amendment now includes the important provision that this, shall be valid [only] for a period of three months from the date of issue".

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I recognise the genuine reasons that have prompted my noble friends to put down this amendment. We are all agreed that the problems they have in mind will disappear when the new licensing system comes into force on 1st January 1991. The question is whether something should be done in advance of the introduction of the new system.

As my noble friends have said, I have discussed this question with them. They are concerned about the difficulties any delay, however short, will have on the bus and coach industry where competition is very keen. I sympathise with this view. As I said at Committee stage, we have no wish to have qualified drivers sitting around depots waiting for their licences to arrive if this can be avoided. In the light of our discussions we have given some further consideration to the problem.

We would be prepared to accept the amendment in principle. There are, however, a number of drafting defects and other points that need to be changed. In particular, the reference to passenger carrying vehicle should refer to public service vehicle since the former will not come into use until 1991. We would also like to see the time allowed for driving on a test pass limited to one month—which I understand from my noble friend's speech would be acceptable to him—and provision made to ensure that only drivers who have applied to the traffic commissioners for a PSV licence before taking the test can avail themselves of the exemption. It is essential in the interests of road safety that the traffic commissioners will have had an opportunity to vet the fitness of drivers on health and conduct grounds before they are allowed to drive PSVs.

I believe that my noble friend Lord Teviot was in agreement with that provision. Therefore if he will withdraw the amendment I shall undertake to introduce a redrafted version on Third Reading.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that answer and to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for their comments. The comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about people staying around depots was answered by my noble friend. I merely say that for him, because under this new, very good procedure that will not happen.

One month is totally acceptable rather than three months. We have been talking also about medical matters. I have been appalled by the fact that employers do not insist on new employees having a medical before they are taken on. It was a very long time ago, in 1961, when I went to have a medical to become a conductor, and I had to finance that myself at a price of 15 shillings. Not only did one have a medical of a rather intimate nature, as one had when one did one's national service, but also there were the stairs that I had to go up and down! I had a much sparer figure than I have now and I was only 26.

When another place gets this Bill that might be an area to start probing and to consider making statutory a medical for PSV employees before they are employed. However, I do not want to put the cat among the pigeons. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. I apologise to the Official Report for speaking terribly fast, but I will go to see them fairly soon. Without saying any more, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Clause 5 [Refusal or revocation of licences on grounds of physical unfitness]:

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

("Eyesight testing of person aged 70 and over. . It shall be a condition of the granting or renewal of a licence to a person aged 70 and over that that person shall take, and shall provide evidence of having taken, a test of his eyesight which confirms that he is able to satisfy the requirements of Part III of the 1988 Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Road Traffic Act 1988 already makes very clear that people should notify the DVLC if they have under Section 94 any disability. The difficulty is that under Section 94 people are unsure when a licence holder becomes aware. That is the whole point behind my amendment. How does a licence holder become aware that he no longer functions quite as well as he did? It is highly significant that on the licence itself in very large print—and on the new pink licence it is much larger—there is a notice that the holder is required to notify the drivers' medical branch of the DVLC at once if he has any physical disability. That includes eyesight.

I had a discussion with someone from the medical department of the DVLC. A statement was made to me which I thought was clear and honest. I was told that if people notify the medical department about a fault or an illness, it does not automatically take the licence away. I am sure that is true and that every case is considered on its merits, but I do not believe that members of the public will be convinced of that. The minute they have written to the DVLC to say that even the least fault or illness has occurred they will automatically be afraid of losing their licence. Unless there is some form of independent test one will not he able to find out what the problems are.

We have had discussions, which I found most interesting, about eyesight compared with all other forms of illness. The Minister has very kindly sent me a hook, which I shall not read because it is rather long. It is most interesting in the way it sets out the difference in ageing problems and in accidents. This book is issued to doctors and concerns the medical aspects of fitness to drive. Under Section 9, which concerns ageing, it points out that the greatest number of accidents occur among persons aged below 24 or above 60. It also indicates that eyesight is a definite factor. It gives credit to those above 60 for having a degree of caution which younger drivers do not have. Because of that they do not have as many accidents as they might be expected to have.

However, there is a serious problem. It is true that eyesight plays a part. I should like to thank the Royal Ulster Constabulary for the detailed information it sent me on the situation in Northern Ireland. It mainly concerned accidents in general and the provisional plates which my later amendment covers. The RUC has been most helpful in sending that information.

It is pointed out in the summary that with present knowledge it is impossible to specify a particular age after which driving should no longer be allowed. It also points out the fact that everyone is different. In respect of an earlier amendment a noble Lord pointed out that reflex and reaction times are highly relevant, as may be the type of eyesight defect. I remember that at the last stage of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, explained that he is well able to drive but has sight in only one eye. The problem is more complex than I had appreciated.

The number of ageing drivers on the road is increasing and must do so in accordance with demographic changes. There is concern about the future. Perhaps the Government are not aware of the scale of the problem and I am concerned about how they will know whether the pattern changes. If the ageing driver becomes a greater problem, how will they know? Will the research referred to earlier cover this aspect? Can my noble friend assure me that the study of accidents and the causative factors will cover the issue of the ageing driver and whether it is a cause for concern? If my noble friend can assure me that powers already exist enabling the Government to take appropriate action I shall be reassured.

Many people are frightened to notify the DVLC of any change in their health. My experience as a dentist has shown that the person who is concerned enough to have a check-up is not the one who needs it. Sometimes the person who is most in need of care and attention is too frightened to come for fear that he may be told that he needs such attention. The same applies to changes in health conditions in connection with driving licences. People may be willing to undergo assessment if they are able to have an independent health check in relation to driving and not pay £30 each time. That would be sufficient to put people off. If people can have their reflexes and eyes tested on an independent, perhaps almost anonymous, basis they may be more willing to undergo that degree of assessment instead of the present self-assessment which is frequently inaccurate. Many of us tend to delude ourselves that we are 100 per cent. as fit as we were 20 or 30 years ago. I have met people of a great age who are as fit as I was 30 years ago, so no two people are the same.

People are aware that they must have motor insurance and that it is a criminal offence to drive without it. How many have stopped to think that if they have an unnotified problem they have invalidated that insurance and are therefore driving uninsured? That is a most serious situation. It is said that relatives and friends should notify the problems of elderly people, but that is more difficult than is realised. During the last week I have received many letters some of which I found fascinating. The letter I now hold states: Now I am 74 and I am quite sure my eyesight was good. Two weeks ago crossing the A5 road and a minor road I was absolutely certain there were no oncoming cars near enough to prevent my crossing. However, I was wrong. The accident resulted in which the oncoming car was a complete write-off and the driver is very lucky to be alive today. Driving into the sun for five or six miles previously had caused my eyes to water and blur my vision; most common with older people"— and so the letter continued:

I was most touched by the letter which described an elderly relative who intended to carry on driving and no one could do anything about it. The writer concluded by saying: If it is left to the individuals themselves very few people would admit they are incapable to drive and other people close to them lack the courage to inform them". That is true, but it is not only because of a lack of courage but also because of a genuine care. The relatives or close friends have a divided loyalty as to what they should do. They know that the elderly person needs transport as a way of getting around but they would like to be assured that he is safe to continue to drive.

My amendment was based on the fact that I thought the provision would go some way towards meeting that requirement but now I do not believe that it is sufficient. It is important that people should be fit to drive but it is also important that they should have a way of self-assessment. Advice should be available to them other than by going to the DVLC which is a worry. My views have changed slightly since I moved the amendment at the last stage. I still believe that eyesight is a serious problem but it is more complex than I had previously appreciated.

I should like the Minister to assure me, first, that the Government have the powers to enable a system to be introduced at a later stage if necessary and, secondly, that they will keep an eye on changing patterns so that at an appropriate moment they will be able to introduce this or a similar test. I beg to move.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I believe that to some degree the noble Baroness answered her question in her concluding remarks. Some noble Lords may know that I hope to introduce a Private Member's Bill to stop the nonsense of using age as a criterion. Long ago we moved away from using gender—one must not say "sex"—or race or colour as a criterion. However, we persist in using age.

I am happy to tell the noble Baroness that at a greater age than 70 I do not need spectacles. Equally, I know many people aged 20 who need spectacles. Therefore that proves that age is not the criterion which must be set in these circumstances. We pull out of the air various ages; 60 for one thing, 65 for another and 70 or 75 for another. There is also the other end of the scale where one can do one thing at 16 and something else at 17 and 18 years. Anyone who has dealt with a group of people of chronological age knows that they are totally different.

I appreciate the point that the noble Baroness is trying to make. However, I plead with her not to use age as the criterion. I am not a driver but I am constantly driven around. I know that people who cause accidents are not older drivers. I do not know what statistics can be produced but I know that one sees young people taking terrible risks and not obeying the rules of indicating. Are we to say to a man who has been driving for 50 years and who is a skilled driver that because he is 70 years old he must take an eye test? I do not say that a test is unnecessary but if it is to take place we should not use age as the criterion. It is inaccurate and will not produce the required results.

As the noble Baroness said, for heaven's sake let us recognise the fact that people are different. Their age does not dictate that difference.

Lord Trafford

My Lords, I should like to support a great deal of what has been said by my noble friend Lady Gardner. Everyone will agree that we wish to prevent accidents and if this is a proven means of doing so it should be encouraged to the hilt. We need to encourage research into accident prevention and health-related problems.

The department's booklet referred to by my noble friend is most useful and gives guidance on health and driving. However, I do not wish your Lordships to underestimate the difficulty which is sometimes experienced by those carrying out the examinations. It is fine to ask somebody, "Can you read this standard number plate from this distance?" We had a dispute about the number of feet, which varied for different sizes of number plate, but I refer to the standard one. That is not too difficult. You either get the number plate reading right or wrong. I suspect that that is all you need to do and that is a very good test.

However, there are many marginal cases in health where people suffer from high blood pressure, or diabetes. There is the question of how long it has been since a person has had a "turn" or a seizure and there is the post-stroke patient to be considered. All sorts of situations arise, many of which are marginal. If one has had a heart attack is one more or less liable to cause an accident, and so on? Therefore, there are many different variables to be considered in deciding whether or not someone is fit to drive. That is a great difficulty.

Driving is fundamental to the quality of life of the elderly. If someone is immobilised, one becomes rather cautious about saying, "You must surrender your driving licence". For all those reasons I was particularly pleased to hear my noble friend say that she felt that there should be an independent assessment; in other words, as so often nowadays, it should not be a certificate written by the person's own doctor as to his competence to drive because that puts a strain on the relationship which should not be closely related to such matters.

However, I should like to point out one or two fallacies which have been mentioned in regard to this matter. First, there was an extrapolation from the argument about eyesight charges which we had when debating the health Bill last summer and the suggestion that people did not know about glaucoma and so on. That is all true but it related to the damage being done to the eye and not to being unable to see when one is driving. One knows, as I know when driving, whether or not one can see. It is not a question of a disease creeping up unnoticed so that one is suddenly unfit to drive.

Secondly, the question of sudden death when driving was mentioned. There is no way of predicting that situation. One can have the best, most expensive medical survey ever undertaken, walk out with a perfectly clean bill of health and drop dead on the pavement. That has happened so many times that it has brought the whole exercise into some disrepute. Indeed, there are many companies which make a very fat living out of those tests which reassure or fail to reassure, as the case may be, with regard to people's health. That is something which is extremely difficult to forecast. Perhaps our great grandmothers, who used the phrase, "creaking gates last longest", had as much expertise in this sphere as quite a lot of modern technology when it comes to forecasting the future. Therefore, that too is impossible.

I remind your Lordships that there are a large number of people who suffer from, for example, diabetes. The whole question of ability and fitness to drive is a matter of considerable concern to the British Diabetic Association and its members who suffer from that disease. There are fairly strict rules laid down in respect of that disease but there are other diseases which, perhaps, have a chronic arthritic element where pain may interfere with one's ability to take sudden avoiding action or whatever may be necessary. That is not specifically included as a deterrent to driving. Therefore, I have a great sympathy with this amendment. If I understood my noble friend correctly, she suggested that provided the necessary research was carried out and that the matter was looked into then she would be satisfied with that. I fully support her in that. However, I feel that the question of health and driving is much wider than is covered by either this or any of the matter which we have so far discussed.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Harvington

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lady Gardner. In my 82nd year I went to have my eyesight tested the other day by a consultant who had been testing it every five years and, to my astonishment, he told me that my sight is better now than it was five years ago, which was very pleasing to hear. Therefore, it shows that age is not the determining factor with regard to sight. There are all sorts of other matters. I believe that, as regards driving, what matters most is the ability to concentrate and it is that which I have to watch.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene in this debate but I have some personal experience of this matter which may help your Lordships in deciding on the matter. A little while ago a noble Lord's car was reversed into mine in the car park. The noble Lord made haste to make sure that I knew who it was so that the responsibility could be accepted by him, which I felt was extremely decent and courteous. About a fortnight later, I reversed my car into the Rolls Royce of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and profiting by the previous example, I quickly owned up to the matter. My insurance company paid out nobly and I am insured against losing my no claims bonus so there was no problem as to that. I was invited to renew my licence but I decided not to do so.

In my case there was nothing wrong with my eyesight but my judgment was at fault. For that reason, I agree with my noble friend who said that age should not be taken as a criterion. A person may maintain his full judgment as to distance when he is my age—81 next birthday—but I reached the conclusion that my judgment in terms of reversing was not what it had been and since I am rather particular about my driving, having driven motorcycles since I was 15 at great peril to myself and everyone else. I reached the conclusion that it was time I packed it in, and so I did.

For that reason my contribution to the debate is to suggest that there should be a test. As one is let into the driving fraternity, so perhaps at a certain age, whether it be 65 or 70, a decision should be taken as to whether one should be allowed to continue and another driving test should be imposed. There may be others driving about who are aware, as I became aware, that their judgment of distances is less good than it used to be. Perhaps those people should not be driving, therefore, even though their eyesight, as is the noble Lord's, is better than it was five years ago.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree that there are 25 year-olds who should not be driving?

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, perhaps they too should have a test.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord. It would be a good idea to have tests every two or three years from the age of 65 onwards. Some of us, including the noble Lord opposite and myself, never had to pass a test because we already had licences when the test system was introduced. Therefore, I believe that a test of health and ability, of reaction timing and concentration should be devised. Although there are many people under the age of 70 who are not physically and mentally fit to drive, I believe that there are many more over the age of 70 in that situation and I consider that there should be some safeguard for us and for society against our increasing frailties.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister must have been fascinated by the debate and I too found it most interesting. I have no doubt that the test would contribute to reducing road accidents. However, as I said in an earlier debate, it is perhaps not a case of one life saved not being worth it. I know what the Minister meant by that. What I believe he suggests, and what I have always felt about methods of trying to reduce accidents, is that we must look at what changes we can digest at any one time. Therefore, the Minister and the department have the job of analysing the causes of accidents, looking at the ways in which they can be avoided and the ways in which the greatest good can, at any given time, be obtained from the efforts made, because resources are always limited.

I can see that there have been very great changes in the past 20 to 30 years. The construction and design of motor vehicles is much improved. Tyres are also much improved. We have seat belts and the breath test. Measures have been taken by various Ministers who have had to consider where they felt the best returns could be obtained at any one time, bearing in mind that the motorist feels that new laws are constantly being forced upon him.

There are a number of things happening now. There is the booklet to which the Minister referred. Jumping the lights and the irritation that causes, are probably the biggest causes of accidents which must also be considered.

Therefore, I have great sympathy with the suggestion of testing, not just for eyes but, as my noble friends Lord Jenkins of Putney and Lord Ardwick said, also the testing of other physical capabilities. That is important and should not be underestimated. I feel strongly that the people who, by-and-large, know best and who will keep abreast of the position and continue to evaluate the causes of accidents are those at the department. However, I do not say that we should not prod them and continually keep them aware of how we feel. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has made a very good case but, at the end of the day, I think that it is not a subject as regards which the layman can suddenly land on an idea and say that it is the best way of reducing accidents. It must be left to the department.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate on this subject which has ranged further afield than eyesight standards. During the Committee stage I undertook to place the available research in the Library of the House. That has already been referred to on a previous amendment. Copies of that research have been placed in the Library.

The documents show clearly that defective eyesight is not a problem in the general driving population as a whole. I explained in Committee that we recognise that after the age of 70 health is likely to deteriorate in ways which might possibly affect driving. I have to take issue slightly with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, on that.

The driver licensing system takes account of the possible effects of increasing age and from the age of 70 licences are issued for only three years. Applicants are asked, at three-yearly regular intervals, to declare any relevant medical condition including any deterioration in eyesight. The White Paper entitled The Road User and the Law, which the Government presented to Parliament on Tuesday, makes clear that we intend to consider the most effective way to ensure that drivers are aware of the requirement to notify the DVLC of any physical or mental conditions which are likely to have a marked effect on the person's ability to drive safely. I hope that is of some assurance to my noble friend. I should also add, in passing, that it also applies to all drivers, not just the older ones.

It is important to bear in mind that if a driver's eyesight falls below standard it is not necessarily evidence that such drivers have a worse accident record than others. As I have suggested to noble Lords on a previous occasion, if we are to succeed in tackling the road casualty problems we must concentrate our efforts on those measures which will achieve the greatest benefits. That is why, for example, we target our efforts at those younger drivers who are so much more likely to have accidents. In that respect I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips.

Having said that, and as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes said, we must also recognise that the number of drivers aged over 70 on the roads —around 1.5 million—will continue to increase. In an ageing population they will represent an increasing proportion of the driving population. We need to take stock of the many issues affecting elderly drivers, and that includes eyesight among all the other factors which affect fitness to drive. My noble friend Lord Trafford referred to some and the noble Lords, Lord Jenkins of Putney and Lord Ardwick, referred to others. We need also to consider vehicle and road design, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, referred. That is equally important.

We are sympathetic to the worries underlying this amendment, but such a measure would, as I have indicated, affect 1.5 million people. We would need better evidence of a direct relationship between poor eyesight and accidents. We wish to consult widely with the appropriate organisations before considering legislative change. We shall give the question of further research priority in considering the problem and if we undertake further research we will of course report the results fully. It is implicit in what I have said about the accident risk for drivers of a certain age that any research on eyesight problems would expect to focus on that age group.

My noble friend Lady Gardner asked whether we had powers to bring in any such proposed scheme. We have such powers, subject to secondary legislation being approved by Parliament.

We have had a useful debate and it has been well worth the time of my noble friend Lady Gardner bringing forward this subject again. I hope that people will be aware that they must be aware of their eyesight and report any deterioration. In the light of what I have said and the assurance I have been able to give, I hope my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. I also thank all those who have contributed to the debate on this amendment. The fact that my noble friend has been able to reassure me that powers already exist and require only secondary legislation is highly significant in my decision not to press the amendment. Had primary legislation been required, this would have been the time to consider it. However, I note that secondary legislation can be brought forward at a later point and that the department is prepared to watch these figures. As my noble friend said, there are 1.5 million drivers aged over 70 and with our changing pattern of life there will be more every year. Not all have the degree of judgment to give up driving, as did the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, because of his loss of ability to judge distances. It is highly relevant that people should be aware.

I have a copy of the application form to be completed by drivers who are aged over 70. I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that the age of 70 was chosen for my amendment because already the paper work and involvement at the DVLC are for that age and it would not have required additional work or staff. It is true that there is nothing to establish that that is the right age to take. No one knows the correct age. However, in view of the promise to look into this matter and to be aware of it, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 6: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

("Restrictions on newly-qualified drivers .—(1) Where a person is required to pass a test of competence to drive motor vehicles of any class or description before he becomes entitled to hold or obtain a driving licence authorising him to drive motor vehicles of that class or description, he shall, for a period of twelve months from the coming into force of the first such driving licence granted to him by reason of his passing that test be subject, while driving, to restrictions, conditions, requirements and prohibitions prescribed under this section (the "prescribed restrictions"). (2) The prescribed restrictions are—

  1. (a) a requirement that a distinguishing mark of such a nature as may be prescribed in regulations shall be displayed in such manner as may be so prescribed on any motor vehicle while it is being driven on a road by a person who is subject to the prescribed restrictions when driving that vehicle;
  2. (b) a prohibition on driving on any road at a speed exceeding forty-five miles an hour, or such other speed as may be prescribed in the regulations, any motor vehicle on which the distinguishing mark referred to in paragraph (a) is required to be displayed.
(3) Any person who contravenes any of the prescribed restrictions shall he guilty of an offence and be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment covers a different matter. I suppose one could say that I am out to catch the old and the young who are at both ends of the driving spectrum. The amendment is designed to produce plates for those who have just qualified as drivers.

The wording is different to that I used on the previous occasion because it is taken directly from the Northern Ireland Act. It works very well indeed in Northern Ireland. The evidence there shows how satisfactory it is. I repeat what I said on the previous amendment. Do the Government have the power to introduce this proposal if it were considered to be desirable? Further, what is the situation or what thought has been given to drivers who graduate—I believe my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding brought up this point—from L-plates and who then drive on motorways without having had previous experience of doing so? Is any advice or recommendation given to people as to how they can get experience in motorway driving, which is quite a different matter? Again, I have had many letters in support on this subject. I beg to move.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I wish to thank my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for introducing this useful amendment. Before I speak on it I wish to register my surprise that this afternoon we have spent a long time talking about various matters where there is no statistical support for the arguments. In Northern Ireland the Royal Ulster Constabulary put together a complete booklet on road traffic accidents. It has broken down the subject into many different parts. It has analysed single-vehicle accidents, weather conditions, surface conditions; accidents involving children; the ages of people involved in accidents, those of the people killed, and so on. The study is very comprehensive. It prompts the question as to why the police forces in the remainder of the United Kingdom seem only to be going around picking up the pieces after accidents and not analysing properly in their own areas what is going on and what is causing those accidents.

At the Committee stage I gave statistics from one police force in the United Kingdom; namely, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Considering the seriousness of road traffic accidents, it is important that these statistics are looked at, even if they are the only ones. A total of over 5,500 deaths on United Kingdom roads surely justifies some in-depth investigation and figures. I pointed out at the Committee stage that in 1988 12 per cent. of all drivers involved in car accidents had been driving for under two years. In addition, 30 per cent. of all people involved in motorcycle accidents had under two years' experience.

I have no figure for heavy goods vehicles, but I am quite sure that most of us have, from time to time, come across a heavy goods vehicle which, because of the way it was being driven, might have damaged our car. We are all very aware that in such a case a car will come off worse. Therefore we make sure that we give heavy goods vehicles plenty of room. In the same way as being wary of a lorry, we would be wary of a vehicle with an R or a P plate. One might say that passing a test really gives a person the right to learn to drive and gain experience. It must be important for other road users to realise the limited road experience of a newly-qualified driver.

In addition, a person having just passed a test may be driving on a motorway for the first time. An R plate or a plate of a different nature would go a long way to help the other people on the motorway. I refer for a moment to the reasons given by my noble friend the Minister against a similar amendment at the Committee stage. He said that we have no evidence to show that R plates help to reduce the casualty rate. He has only to ask the RUC and it will give him the evidence.

If no one in Great Britain has bothered to produce important traffic accident statistics such as the ones I refer to, then that is a serious omission. It does not mean that a problem does not exist. The Minister also says that some qualified drivers may react aggressively rather than defensively towards vehicles carrying such plates. I am sorry that he should view his fellow drivers in this country in such a manner. There is no evidence of this occurring in any other country that has similar plates. I can find no good reason for opposing this amendment and there are many good arguments for it. I support it wholeheartedly.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I too wish to support the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, in her amendment. When she says that she has taken the amendment from the Northern Ireland Act, I understand that the speed of 45 miles per hour that she mentions is the speed specified in Northern Ireland. That is the only reservation that I have. For those who have passed the test it is eminently sensible to have a distinguishing plate on the motorway, where they will be encountering very heavy traffic. In some places, particularly on the M25, traffic is far in excess of that expected and people become impatient. It will be extremely useful both for other drivers and for the driver with the plate in ensuring that a proper berth is given to him.

I wonder whether 45 miles per hour is the right speed, however. On a motorway around London, particularly the M25— I am sorry to keep mentioning that motorway, which is very often unsatisfactory—I feel that a speed of 55 miles per hour would be nearer the mark. I believe that a speed of 45 miles per hour would be liable to cause congestion and irritation to other road users. Apart from that reservation, I believe that in principle the idea of a plate is eminently sensible.

Lord Trafford

My Lords, I also support my noble friend's amendment. All the arguments have been adduced and I do not need to add to them except as regards one point that puzzles me. If the law has been so acceptable for some time in one part of the United Kingdom—where it appears to have had some measure of success judged by the experience of the RUC—why is such a measure so resisted in other parts of the United Kingdom? My noble friend may be able to tell me that there are plenty of powers that we already have that cover the possibility of introducing such measures under secondary legislation or by some other means. I record my support for the amendment.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for not being in my place when she moved her amendment. I had an urgent phone call to make. I oppose this amendment and RoSPA does too. We have looked at the matter very carefully. We oppose it on various grounds. Looking at some statistics I see that in Australia the population is smaller; the number of cars per thousand people is fewer, but the accident rate is higher even though they have a P plate. The same arguments apply to Northern Ireland. The 1985 statistics show that the death rate per 10,000 motor vehicles in Northern Ireland is 3.8 compared with that of the United Kingdom, which is 2.3.

I have a good deal of sympathy for the motives underlying this amendment but, as I say, RoSPA has looked at this very carefully over a number of years and can find no grounds to support this amendment.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes in her Amendment No. 6. I believe that this is a very valuable amendment. I understand that in France they have had a probationary system for many years. On its introduction there was a marked, large and immediate reduction in accidents. If my noble friend the Minister finds that he is unable to accept my noble friend's amendment, I hope that she will feel constrained to press it to a Division.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, this is a debate that we had in substance in the Committee stage of the Bill. I thank the Minister for his letter dated 4th January following the Second Reading, which deals with this particular point. In the last paragraph of his letter he says: The Department's Transport and Road Research Laboratory is to undertake a study over the next few years to identify the training and driving experience of a sample of learner drivers. including a review of their driving history 12 months after they take the test. The Minister continued by saying: We would not wish to pre-empt its findings with interim measures that cannot be proven to be beneficial.". I believe that this is one of those ideas for which there appears to be conflicting evidence. We have some from Northern Ireland that it is helpful to carry a P plate. On the other hand we have the suggestion of RoSPA, which is particularly concerned with this matter, that evidence from Australia is not so strong; and, without being too chauvinistic, I do not think there is much in the French driving experience that will be of great value to us. Although I greatly enjoy driving in France, I find myself needing to stay very alert. What the Minister has promised in his letter of 4th January goes a long way to giving us a basis on which to decide whether the use of a P-plate is of any value.

5 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the mandatory P-plate scheme which this amendment proposes is based on the restricted probationary scheme, the R-plate, in force in Northern Ireland. In Committee my noble friend Lord Brookeborough spoke in favour of that scheme, explaining, as he has again today, that the Royal Ulster Constabulary strongly supports it. While I appreciate that my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes and my noble friend Lord Brookeborough in supporting the amendment—indeed all those who have spoken in support of it—are concerned to see a reduction in road accident casualties, there is unfortunately no evidence that such schemes have that effect. I say "unfortunately" because if we thought that there was any real chance of such schemes doing so, we should want to give very serious consideration to introducing one.

A study of the Northern Ireland scheme in its first four years by the Royal Ulster Constabulary for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland was inconclusive in terms of its effect on driving behaviour and on casualties. It is true that casualty rates per 1,000 vehicles have fallen appreciably in Northern Ireland during the period over which the scheme has been in operation—from 23.5 per 1,000 vehicles in 1961 to 20.5 per 1,000 vehicles in 1987— but over the same period for the rest of the United Kingdom the casualty rate has dropped even more sharply from 35 per 1,000 vehicles to 14 per 1,000 vehicles.

The fatality rates per 1,000 vehicles have fallen from 0.7 in each case in 1961 to 0.44 for Northern Ireland and 0.23 for Great Britain. While we do not wish to take up this road safety measure, it is clear that the many other road safety measures which have been introduced have collectively proved more successful.

Seventy per cent. of road traffic accidents happen in urban areas on roads that are subject in the main to 40 or 30 mph speed limits, which I think the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned, so the value of a special speed limit seems somewhat limited. Research in Britain suggests that the major factors in accidents involving newly qualified drivers are age and experience in terms of mileage rather than speed or the period for which the licence has been held. Bringing in a fixed period of probation would not distinguish between those who cover a low mileage in their first year and others who may drive thousands of miles during that period and who will obviously be acquiring driving experience much more rapidly.

It is difficult to see how such a scheme might be successfully enforced. How would the police know, for example, that a novice driver was not displaying plates when he should be? Enforcement would undoubtedly place an extra burden on both the courts and the police. In the absence of any perceived casualty reduction benefit we would not wish to see any diversion of effort and resources away from enforcing road traffic legislation which has a direct benefit.

In Northern Ireland, New York and New South Wales plates and speed limits for novices are parts of schemes which make them effectively licence holders on probation until a year after they have passed the test. The probation period may simply be extended or the novice plate conditions or certain other traffic regulations are broken or the licence holder may, as in New South Wales and New York, have to take a fresh test.

Such schemes have often, if not always, been introduced in the absence of some of the more specific road safety measures which operate in Great Britain. New Zealand had a probationary scheme from 1966 to 1971 which was replaced by provisional licences with similar conditions to those in Britain. Northern Ireland, I would point out to noble Lords, has no totting-up or penalty point system which places some restraint on exuberant new drivers in Britain and has the advantage of affecting those who have actually committed an offence.

I accept that the present lack of evidence means that we are unable to make any sort of constructive judgment either way about the road safety value of these schemes. The department's Transport and Road Research Laboratory has in hand a study over the next few years to identify the training and driving experience of a sample of 10,000 newly qualified drivers. We would not wish to pre-empt its findings with interim measures that cannot be proven to be beneficial. One of the reasons why we have one of the best road casualty accident rates in the world is that we have a sense of practicality based on research. We concentrate on measures which tackle the major road casualty problems and have a proven track record.

Finally, in Committee I undertook to check whether the Highway Code recommended that L-plates should not be displayed by qualified drivers.The Highway Code states: If L-plates have been fitted, remove (or cover) them when the vehicle is not being used for driving instruction or practice". I take issue with my noble friend Lord Brookeborough about the accident analysis. A full analysis of road accident data is published each year in Road Accidents Great Britain: The Casualty Report and copies are available in the Library.

As I have said, I appreciate my noble friend's concern in seeking to introduce a measure whose sole objective is to reduce road casualties. Unlimited resources are not available for work in this area either in terms of police time or research. We think that they are better spent on measures which clearly demonstrate their potential for reducing casualties.

My noble friend asked me whether we would be able to bring in this kind of measure with just secondary legislation. The answer is no. Primary legislation would be necessary to bring in this sort of scheme as proposed in the amendment. I am afraid that I cannot commend the scheme to your Lordships. I hope that for the reasons I have given my noble friend will be able to withdraw the amendment, and on the basis of course that we are doing research into newly qualified drivers' behaviour.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am very disappointed that further primary legislation would be needed, as I think that means we really must consider the matter in this Bill. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, about the speed limit, because in London as well as in Britain generally we find it a great problem if someone is going too slowly. I notice that it is often a reason for refusing someone a licence if he cannot keep up with the general flow of traffic, which creates a hazard. I think that the amendment is therefore defective in some respects.

As regards the Australian experience, in my Australian days they did not have those plates and when they introduced them they found that there was a great improvement. I should have liked to have seen the accident rate in Australia before those plates came in. To say that they have more accidents than we do now might mean that they have more Fosters or more XXXX that we keep hearing about on the television. But certainly I cannot accept that the Australian experience has not been a good one.

I think highly of RoSPA and I was very disappointed by my noble friend Lord Brougham. He took a very negative view in that he said that there is nothing to prove that this scheme would be marvellous and therefore we will not bother with it. I am not happy from various points of view.

As I said, it has been brought out in the debate that my amendment is not quite right. For that reason I shall not divide the House, but I should like to look carefully at what my noble friend the Minister has said and to press him further before the next stage of this Bill in the hope of persuading him to bring back an amendment which is in order. I cannot see that any additional costs would be involved by the fact that this amendment attaches a condition to the issue of a driving licence. All the costs of issuing a driving licence already cover the fact that a condition would he imposed on the licence.

As regards driving without a plate when you should have one, that would come to light only if you had an accident. But the courts would certainly take a much more severe view, and I imagine that it would he an offence in itself, of driving without a plate which you should be displaying. You may find that it might even invalidate your insurance and again create a further offence in that way. It would be effective. It would not be just dependent on police enforcement of this particular plate.

The other aspect is quite separate, and most of the letters I have had have been from this point of view. One said to me that after the euphoria of passing the test had worn off, she longed to have the security of some sort of identifying plate for the first year of her driving. Another wrote to say how she would have loved something on the motorway, which she found so terrifying on her first experience of it.

I cannot see that there is anything against having these plates. The fact that they have not yet been proven to be of great benefit is not enough in itself. I think that countries that have had them have found them good. Statistics that compare United Kingdom accidents with those of other countries are not a fair and direct comparison, and I think the department should look at this matter again. I too shall look at the proposed new wording, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Compulsory training courses fir riders of motor cycles]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 7: Page 10, line 28, after ("drive),") insert ("(a)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, with this I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14. We move on to a new subject here. At Committee stage I undertook to consider an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to exempt persons from having to undertake compulsory training in special circumstances. Having considered the matter we believe it would be prudent to have the power to exempt persons, in prescribed circumstances, from the requirements of this clause.

Residents of many Scottish islands are already exempted from having to take part I of the motorcycle test before taking part II. This is because of an absence of part I testing facilities on these islands. Only four Scottish islands currently have motorcycle training facilities. These are at Lerwick on mainland Shetland, Kirkwall on mainland Orkney, Stornoway on Lewis and at Benbecula. These are all operated by Star Rider.

Unless training facilities are established on some of the other islands, there may well be a need to exempt those residents. These amendments will enable the Secretary of State to exempt them, not only from the restriction inserted by Clause 6(2)(b)—where provisional motorcycle licence holders will not be permitted to ride on the road unless they have successfully completed their basic training—but also the requirement inserted by Clause 6(1), whereby no one will be permitted to take their motorcycle L-test unless they produce their certificate showing successful completion of the course.

The amendments as drafted would give the Secretary of State the flexibility to exempt persons in a particular area; for example, all residents on exempted islands. They would also enable him to make exemptions in special circumstances. This might be to allow a person from an exempted island to take his L-test on a non-exempted island or on the mainland or to provide exemptions in the sort of circumstances which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned in Committee. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, whenever the Minister promises to review a matter before a next stage we know that he does so, and I am grateful to him for doing so on this occasion and also for sending me a letter indicating that he was going to put down an amendment to make this new provision.

In the course of his remarks the noble Lord referred to the special case of the islands, although I noticed later on that he referred to possible places on the mainland as well. He will not mind my saying that in his letter to me he said: I am thinking in particular of many of the Scottish islands", where, as he says, residents are at present exempted from taking part I of the course. I hope that when considering the regulations consideration will be given to the other points that I raised.

It is not only the Scottish islands where there is a sparse population. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn. who was sitting here, would. I am certain, say that there are parts of Wales where this would also be applicable. Of course one knows that in areas like the Lake District, while it may be a short distance as the crow flies, one has a devil of a long journey round if you are in one of the villages and have to get to a town in order to undertake the training.

I referred also to the possibility of a training centre being closed down for various reasons. It may be the lack of instructors, or it may be a training centre run by a commercial undertaking which has found that the whole scheme is not viable so far as it is concerned. I hope it will not arise, but there is also the possibility of industrial action closing down a training centre. Therefore, while we are grateful to the Minister for bringing these amendments forward, the important thing will be the nature of the regulations. May I ask the Minister whether he will indicate in his reply what sort of consultations there will be in determining the nature of the regulations?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, to cover the noble Lord's first point, I said in my speech that as well as exemptions for the islands, to which I referred in the main part of my speech, we could also provide exemptions in the sort of circumstances that he mentioned in Committee. I hope that that covers that point.

We shall have to consider with care what the circumstances would be. We shall have to consult, and obviously we would wish to consult on this matter. I think therefore that I can give the noble Lord the undertaking that we would do so.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 8 to 11: Page 10, line 30, after ("(2A)") insert ("Except as provided under subsection (5A) below,"). Page 10, line 35, at end insert ("; and (b) after subsection (5), there shall be inserted the following subsection— (5A) Regulations may prescribe cases in which persons are exempt from the requirement imposed by subsection (2A) above; and the regulations may—

  1. (a) limit the exemption to persons in prescribed circumstances;
  2. (b) limit the exemption to a prescribed period;
  3. (c) attach conditions to the exemption; and
  4. (d) regulate applications for, and the issue and form of, certificates evidencing a person's exemption from that requirement.").
Page 10, line 43, after ("(e)") insert ("except as provided under subsection (3B) below,"). Page 11, line 5, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("subsections").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 8 to 11 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 12: Page 11, line 20, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if we take also Amendment No. 13. This is quite an important amendment. If a trainee considers that he has been unfairly dealt with or unreasonably refused a certificate giving evidence that he has completed his course of training and is ready to do the test, he is in a difficult position. It may be refused for a number of reasons. It may be incompetence, but there could be a number of other reasons, because the Government have rejected the suggestions that would have laid down specific, uniform standards for courses and instructors, together with a register of approved instructors.

We consider it necessary to introduce a right of appeal for use in cases where an instructor refuses to issue a certificate on what appear to be unreasonable grounds unrelated to the trainee's riding ability. A refusal could be on personal grounds or it could even be on racist grounds. Instructors will not be—by definition, since there are no approved standards laid down by the Ministry—like the driving instructors, professional civil servants with well-known and well-tested impartiality. Lack of a certificate will prevent an applicant from taking the official test, and because there is no uniform standard the decision could be quite capricious.

In certain parts of the country it may not be possible to move over to some other school or some other training ground to have another test with another instructor. It may be an area where it would be quite impossible to change an instructor if there was a clash of personalities. Therefore, we believe that it would be reasonable that, if a certificate had been refused and the applicant really felt that there was evidence that there was something other than his incompetence on the course and his ability to drive holding up the certification, he should have a right to appeal. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I wish to give some general support to the idea behind the amendment. When we discussed these matters before it disturbed me that it was not the Government's intention to have a register of teachers or trainers, that no standard was to be set and that therefore there was to be no overriding control. The standard of the proprietor of a school or training establishment affects precisely how the examiner ultimately views the pupil. I can see some areas of conflict arising. This kind of situation arose in regard to car driving instruction before the introduction of the ADI system, which brought some uniformity to training standards and improved the element of driver training that is training to be a teacher. This seems to be entirely missing in the current arrangements.

I am not sure whether the Government would consider that such an amendment might also embrace certain specific grounds on which an appeal might be made and that, in the case of arbitration procedures, a fee might have to be paid to reduce the incidence of a vexatious or frivolous appeal, but I think that learners should have recourse to some higher authority in the event of being genuinely aggrieved. I hope that my noble friend will respond sympathetically to the amendment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has explained, this amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State power to provide, in regulations, for a formal appeals procedure for any motorcycle trainees who are unsuccessful on their compulsory training course. I am afraid that I cannot accept this amendment.

There is no appeal against the judgment of an examiner for either part of the two-part motorcycle test, nor for any other driving test undertaken by the department. Therefore I can see no good reason to establish an appeals procedure for the compulsory training course either. The great difficulty is that it would be impossible to recreate for an appellate authority the exact conditions which existed on a training course—especially the on-road section of the course—and the trainee's reactions to them. It will be on the basis of these factors that the training instructor bases his or her decision.

The only right of appeal currently allowed is if a driving test candidate considers that his test was not conducted properly, in accordance with the regulations. In such circumstances the candidate can apply to the local magistrates or sheriff's court to determine the point. If the court finds in favour of the candidate it can order a further test without the necessity for the candidate to pay a further fee.

I do not see a need to establish a similar procedure for compulsory training. Appeals procedures inevitably take time. It would certainly be quicker for an unsuccessful trainee to continue his training the following day or the following week. Many training groups have expressed a desire to offer trainees complete training packages right up the L test standards, in which the compulsory training course might be offered free. In those circumstances there would be no financial disadvantage to those candidates who take longer successfully to complete the compulsory course. I must also take issue with my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. There will be set standards for the course. All training groups wishing to give compulsory training will be authorised by the department. Thus there will be proper standards for training groups. The ATBs will be responsible for ensuring proper standards of instruction, and there will be a register of ATBs—non-statutory—as for car driving instructors. The present non-statutory register works well and will continue to work when training comes into effect.

The fears expressed by the noble Lord are perhaps not as well-founded as he makes out. I therefore hope that he will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I accept a fair amount of what the Minister says about the difficulties involved. However, I do not think that the comparison between the departmental tests and the proposed training courses is apt. The departmental tests concern professional civil servants who arc thoroughly tested and retested themselves and have a supervisory structure above them. The amendment refers to those who will take people through the preliminary test, which will be, so to speak, much more cosy than the Ministry test.

The Minister may care to consider what would happen in the case of repeated complaints about a particular instructor and in the case of an individual who had been turned down by a particular instructor but who, after taking a course with another instructor, passed with little difficulty. Has the Minister power to rescind the authority of the instructor to issue or to refuse to issue certificates? I would appreciate it if the Minister would consider this later. It is not a matter that I wish to push to the point of a Division now. These may be rather isolated cases, but I can see the difficulty and that the Minister may be concerned about the possibility of abuse.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, before the noble Lord decides what he wishes to do, perhaps I may make these further points. First, Part I of the present motor-cycle test is conducted on the department's behalf by training bodies. They will be the same people who are doing the compulsory training now.

Secondly, all compulsory training groups will have to be authorised by the department and there would therefore be standards. In the circumstances that the noble Lord has outlined, it will be open to the department to withdraw the authorisation of the training body, though that would be a pretty extreme circumstance.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 14: Page 11, line 25, at end insert— ("(3B) Regulations may prescribe cases in which persons holding a provisional licence are exempt from the restriction imposed by subsection (3)(e) above on their driving under the licence; and the regulations may—

  1. (a) limit the exemption to persons in prescribed circumstances;
  2. (b) limit the exemption to a prescribed period or in respect of driving in prescribed area;
  3. (c) attach conditions to the exemption; and
  4. (d) regulate applications for, and the issue and form of, certrificates evidencing the holder's exemption from the restriction.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Aylestone)

My Lords, if Amendment No. 15 is agreed to, I shall not call Amendment No. 16.

Clause 10 [Operators' licences]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 15: Page 13, line 5, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) The Secretary of State may grant a licence to operate a driver information system in any two areas in England, Wales or Scotland on a trial basis (such a licence being referred to in this part of the Act as an "operator's licence"). (2) Each trial shall last for a period of not less than one year and shall be monitored by the Secretary of State. (3) The Secretary of State shall consult the local authority associations and whatever other organisations he considers appropriate on the results of each trial and shall present to Parliament a report on each trial and the results of his consultation. (4) Following the presentation of at least one report in accordance with subsection (3) above, the Secretary of State may grant an operator's licence in relation to any other area in England or Wales or Scotland.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to the part of the Bill that deals with the driver information system. The amendment proposes:

"(i) The Secretary of State may grant a licence to operate a driver information system to any two areas in England, Wales or Scotland".

It continues to explain that this is an operator's licence. We propose the deletion of subsection (1), not because we disagree with the installation of the system but in order to replace it with four new subsections as detailed in the amendment.

The amendment is similar in form to that proposed in Committee, though various changes are inserted in the different subsections arising from views expressed in debates on the amendment in Committee. The Minister referred to guidelines and made some helpful comments in Committee. He included assurances that there would be monitoring, the results of which would be laid before Parliament. Although the Minister's comments, as I say, were extremely helpful, there is still the necessity to write certain safeguards into the Bill itself. However, this is in no way an attempt to deny that the Minister will not endeavour, so far as he can, to see that his assurances are carried out. But, as we have said time and again, it is what is written in the Bill that matters, even though we may have the firmest belief in the assurances given by any Minister, because we do not know where he or she may be in the future.

After hearing the Minister and other noble Lords debate the previous amendment, I recognise that the proposal for having trials in two areas has merit. The amendment I originally tabled specified one area only. Therefore, the new subsection (1) provides for trial schemes "in any two areas". We have also received the Minister's assurance that the operation of the pilot scheme, or schemes, will be fully assessed and evaluated. However, there is nothing in the Bill, or the guidelines, to ensure that any lessons learned from the pilot schemes are to be assessed and taken into account before any further licences are issued.

Subsection (4) of the amendment would require that a report on at least one of the two possible pilot schemes should be laid before Parliament before any further licences are issued. That is a principle which, as I have already said, the Minister clearly accepted in Committee. It seems to me that the common sense of this provision is absolutely obvious.

In Committee the Minister indicated that the department was discussing with local authority associations and the police how they might be involved in monitoring. However, the guidelines—the issue of guidelines was raised many times in Committee; indeed, many of us expressed our thanks to the Minister and his department for issuing them—do not commit the Government to the involvement of local government in monitoring. The guidelines state in paragraph 22:

"The Secretary of State will wish to reserve the right"—

The wording is, "wish to reserve the right", not that he shall—

"to invite local highway authorities, local authority associations and the police to participate in the monitoring and evaluation of a pilot scheme".

That must be completely unsatisfactory. If it is the general desire of the department that the local authority, the highway authorities, the local authority associations and the police shall be involved in such monitoring, why not clearly say so?

Subsection (3) of the amendment would statutorily require that such consultations take place. In the light of the debate in Committee the new subsection (2) provides that the trial period be of "not less than one year". In Committee the Minister made clear that one year would be sufficient to allow the pilot scheme to be evaluated.

Therefore all four subsections proposed in the amendment would appear to be in complete line with assurances given by the Minister or with those referred to in the guidelines. I remind noble Lords that the guidelines will have no force in law. That is why we believe that any points made in the guidelines should be put into the Bill.

In the light of the fact that the proposed changes accord with what the Minister wishes and also with the guidelines, I hope that it will be possible for the noble Lord to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, much has been made of the fact that our detailed proposals for the operation of Autoguide are contained in guidelines rather than in the Bill. I suspect that there may be some misunderstanding about the status of the guidelines, and it may be helpful if I take this opportunity to try to clarify the position.

As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rightly commented in Committee, some new Acts of Parliament are complemented by guidance notes which explain and amplify the provisions of the new legislation. Such notes are intended as a guide to the new legislation to assist organisations and individuals who will be affected by it. They have no legal significance whatever. They cannot in any way override or qualify the actual legislation which Parliament has passed.

However, the guidelines for the pilot Autoguide system are rather different. They are invitations to prospective operators to submit proposals to the Secretary of State for the operation of a pilot Autoguide scheme in London. If that pilot scheme operates successfully, the Secretary of State would approve its upgrading to a fully commercial scheme in the London area. The operation of the pilot scheme would however be subject to a licence which, once agreed, would be binding on both parties—the Secretary of State and the operator. So the guidelines are not guidance notes; they are invitations to submit proposals which will form the basis for a licence.

Perhaps I can explain why we do not consider that the approach to the gradual introduction of Autoguide, which is reflected in the guidelines, should be embodied in the Bill. The underlying reason is one which I mentioned in Committee. The Bill sets out the legal framework for the licensing by the Secretary of State of driver information systems. The definition of such systems goes beyond Autoguide to include other systems which may be developed in the future. However, the guidelines are concerned only with the operation of one system—Autoguide—in one area, London.

It is quite possible that in future a great variety of driver information systems may be developed. Not all of them will necessarily be as novel or as sophisticated as Autoguide. It is quite conceivable that in future relatively simple systems will be developed, perhaps operating in just one local area, say in a holiday area for tourists, in an industrial area for commercial vehicle drivers or within a national system for longer distance traffic on motorways giving acccess to ports, airports and large commercial developments.

Looking some years ahead, the technology for future systems might be relatively straightforward. The pace of development of technology strongly suggests that systems such as Autoguide may soon cease to be the novelty they are today. Other countries are pressing ahead and I am pleased to tell your Lordships that we are in close touch with our colleagues in the Federal Republic of Germany over a pan-European standard for route guidance systems based on Autoguide technology.

I am sure noble Lords agree that it would be quite wrong for us in Great Britain to impose through the Bill too rigid or bureaucratic a framework governing the introduction of every type of system. It might make it very difficult to keep in the lead internationally. It would be wrong, for example, to specify that trials must last for some particular fixed period. Once experience has been gained here and in continental Europe it may be that a much shorter trial would be sufficient. On consultation, it is quite possible that in the future there would be a number of fairly similar systems being developed. Autoguide itself will, we hope, spread across the country. Consulting the local authority associations formally on the results of each and every trial and extension would be likely to inhibit their growth.

I appreciate that the Autoguide pilot scheme is a special case, not least because it will pave the way for the first licensed driver information system of its kind. That is why we will take steps to ensure that local authorities and the police are involved in monitoring the operation of the pilot scheme. Representatives of the local authority associations and the police met officials of the Department of Transport yesterday to discuss this. I am sure that noble Lords will be pleased to know that as a result of that meeting a special working group is to be established to make arrangements for the monitoring of a pilot scheme. The first meeting will be within the next two months. The Group will include representatives of the local authority associations and the police as well as of the Department of Transport. It was also because of the special nature of the Autoguide pilot scheme that I gave the undertaking in Committee that the results of the monitoring would be laid before Parliament.

In summary, we fully appreciate that care needs to be taken in introducing Autoguide, and that there should be close collaboration between local authorities, the police and the commercial operators on the pilot scheme. But we cannot accept that the Bill should be amended in a way which could cause such doubts over the willingness of Britain to stay in the forefront of this technology.

The drafting of the amendment is defective because it would not allow the trial of a scheme to be followed by a commercial system in the same area, as we propose for Autoguide in London. Under the amendment as drafted, the subsequent commercial system would have to be in another area of the country. In view of that explanation and our commitment to collaboration, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am surprised at the nature of the Minister's reply. I disagree with little of what he said; but frankly his reply had little to do with the amendment. Let us see what the amendment says: The Secretary of State may grant a licence to operate a driver information system in any two areas…on a trial basis". The Minister accepted the principle that the licence should be granted for a trial basis in two areas. We are talking about a trial basis; we are not talking about the future. Then: Each trial shall last for a period of not less than one year". In Committee, the Minister said that he thought that one year would be sufficient to assess and evalute a trial scheme. We are talking about the trial scheme. The trial scheme, shall be monitored by the Secretary of State". We have an assurance that the trial scheme will be monitored by the Secretary of State. The amendment continues: The Secretary of State shall consult the local authority associations and whatever other organisations he considers appropriate on the results of each trial". We are there referring to the results of each of the two initial trials. We want those points written into the Bill because the importance of local authorities arises not just on this amendment and trials but in later amendments. Then: The Secretary of State shall…present to Parliament a report on each trial". That does not relate to future systems.

The Minister gave a pledge in Committee that a report would be given to Parliament. Then we say, and this may be the only point upon which there may be defective drafting—something which we can deal with later— Following the presentation of at least one report in accordance with subsection (3)"— that is, after the report has been presented to Parliament— the Secretary of State may grant an operator's licence in relation to any other area in England or Wales or Scotland". I see nothing in the amendment, except perhaps the last subsection, which differs from what the Minister said today and in Committee or from what the guidelines say.

The Minister's speech bore little relation to the four points contained in the four new subsections. Unless the Minister changes his mind, I shall have no alternative but to withdraw the amendment, because it is not the type of issue upon which one would divide. I hope that when we have amendments which deal with clear points—my speech was clear—the answers we receive will relate to those points and not to others which concern the future and to which the amendment does not refer. I hope that I have made the position clear, but, nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 16: Page 13, line 5, after ("may") insert ("after consultation with the highway authority or authorities for every public road in the area").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Deputy Speaker said that if the previous amendment had been carried I should not have been able to move this amendment; but as I withdrew Amendment No. 15 I am at liberty to move this amendment. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 24. When speaking to the previous amendment I said that subsection (1) provides: The Secretary of State may grant a licence to operate a driver information system in any area in England or Wales or Scotland".

We do not suggest that that subsection should be withdrawn.

In Committee, I proposed an amendment to restrict the Autoguide—I use that word instead of always referring to a driver information system because I am sure that the Minister will accept that it is a familiar word—to certain categories of roads. The purpose is to prevent the system prejudicing road safety or encouraging rat-running, a practice which the Minister condemned, in the absence of any local authority involvement in the formation of licence conditions.

The Minister made a detailed and helpful response, and rightly argued that a more appropriate control was, through conditions imposed in the licence to be awarded by the Secretary of State. Clause 10(8)(b) would enable the Secretary of State, in licensing systems, to impose conditions about the roads on which those systems could direct drivers. This would allow the Secretary of State the flexibility to impose conditions which are tailored to a particular system and to the particular area and time of day and night in which that system is operating, and to different classes of vehicle".—[Official Report, 24/1/89; col. 672.] At the time I thanked the Minister for his statement, but the response surely reinforces the need for local highway authorties to be clearly involved in the choice of roads and the conditions to be imposed on the use of such roads.

The amendments are designed to achieve three things, first, to require the Secretary of State to take into account the views of the appropriate local highway authorities when considering what conditions to impose on an operator's licence in relation to the roads which should be included in the system; secondly, to extend the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can vary the conditions of an operator's licence to cover amenity as well as safety issues—noble Lords will agree that amenity issues are as important as safety matters—and, thirdly, to require the Secretary of State to review the conditions imposed on a licence, if required to do so by a highway authority.

The amendments reflect the fact that it is the local highway authorities which will be aware of the needs and problems of their areas and the extent to which conditions dealing with such matters should be included in the opearator's licence so as to protect the environment and enhance road safety.

The amendments are essential, first, to allay local fears that Autoguide is being imposed on local communities without local representatives having any means of influencing its effect; secondly, to ensure that the Secretary of State has access to the information necessary to enable him effectively to use the powers provided under the Bill; and, thirdly, to ensure that conditions can be tailored to meet local needs as the use of driver information systems increases and local effects become apparent.

It is clear from what I have said that we are mainly concerned that highway and local authorities should be involved in the roads to be selected and the conditions under which they can be used. We in no way criticise the driver information system. We believe that it will be extremely useful. Unless the local authorities are involved, from where will the Minister get his information? I hope he will not say that the system suggested in the amendments is a bureaucratic one. Someone from the department will have to look at all the roads to see what effects there will be on the environment and amenities. The system I suggest will be less bureaucratic than leaving the matter without proper consultation with the highway and local authorities. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I too shall speak to Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, and No. 24. I am not sure why Amendment No. 19 has been left out of the group. I suppose that I shall find out in due course if I contain my impatience. Although I have not heard the argument on Amendment No. 19, my remarks will apply to that amendment.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is asking us to insert another tier of authority. It would not be just one tier labelled loosely "the local authority" because that tier would embrace a considerable number of local authorities. If a potential operator, a licensee or the Secretary of State has to negotiate—we are talking here of London— with 20 or 30 local authorities, we shall never get the scheme off the ground. I think it is essential that while the Federal Republic of Germany has to an extent stolen a march on us, those potential licensees should not be hindered in any way from getting the scheme under way.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and I had a friendly exchange about rat-running at an earlier stage. Of course we want to avoid that and avoid using roadways which are obviously unsuitable for carrying a fair volume of potential traffic. Nevertheless, we must recognise that roadways are built for the purpose of moving traffic from one place to the other. We must make the best use of them, particularly in London where there is so much congestion. I am not suggesting for one moment that Autoguide will be the panacea, the cure-all for London's congestion. But it will go some small way towards alleviating the problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said he hoped that the Minister would not describe the proposals contained in the amendments as bureaucratic. I do not know what my noble friend the Minister will say, but I think they are quite unnecessarily bureaucratic. We want the simplest and most straightforward regulations to apply. The majority are contained in the guidelines. Generally I am not over-enthusiastic about guidelines. However, we are talking about an experiment. We have to give lawful power for it to proceed. The Bill does this. We cannot afford to clutter up the experimental scheme with a whole host of regulatory bodies, consulting bodies; otherwise the licensees will lose heart long before we get an experiment under way. I hope that noble Lords opposite will see some wisdom in that argument and will not press their proposals.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for explaining the purpose behind these amendments. I fear, however, that we cannot accept them.

The Government's firm view is that driver information systems such as Autoguide should be operated and financed by the private sector. We do not believe that every new piece of road infrastructure must automatically be provided by the state. The Government have played a major role in the early development of Autoguide; indeed the system as we know it has its origins in work of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory on journey times and route choice. It is clear to us that from here on the success of Autoguide must depend primarily on commercial development and marketing. It follows that the system should be promoted and financed by the private sector, but with careful monitoring and assessment by the public sector under the proposed licensing powers of the Secretary of State for Transport.

A further consideration which needs to be kept in mind, and to which I have referred in responding to a previous amendment, is the international dimension. At the moment, Great Britain can justly claim to be a world leader in the development of advanced route guidance systems. But other countries are pressing ahead with this new technology, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said. We believe that it would be quite wrong for this country to impose through the Bill too rigid or bureaucratic a framework for the introduction of route guidance systems. That might make it very difficult to keep in the lead internationally and could deny British industry valuable export opportunities. It could deny British drivers the opportunity of driving in major Continental cities and getting route information in English. It could deny visitors from abroad the same facility here—but in their own language. As 1992 approaches we must grasp every opportunity of actively co-operating with our partners in the European Community in promoting international exchange of goods and services. Autoguide provides us with one of the most novel and tangible forms of such co-operation.

We very much fear that these amendments, if accepted, could have the effect of tying up Autoguide and similar systems in a mass of red tape. Let us consider how the proposed amendments might work in practice. The first commercial licence to be granted under the Bill is likely to be for the operation of the Autoguide system in the London area, out to and including the M.25. It could, depending upon the proposals that emerge, stretch into the Home Counties. In that area there are no less than 39 local highway authorities—33London boroughs including the City of London and six county councils. Amendment No. 16 would require the Secretary of State to consult every single local highway authority before awarding an operator's licence.

Amendment No. 24 would require the Secretary of State to have primary regard to any views expressed to him by the relevant highway authorities when deciding what conditions to impose in an operator's licence with regard to the routes on which the operator could direct traffic. Here is a recipe for further delay and confusion. It is most unlikely that 39 different local authorities would have identical views on route selection. Individual authorities may, for example, argue that they already bear a high volume of through traffic and that Autoguide should, consequently, not be allowed to direct traffic in their areas. But if every authority said that—and if the Secretary of State were required to have "primary regard" to their views—the prospect of a viable commercial system would disappear. Indeed, it would be the case that the energies of the operators—if operators could be found under those conditions—would be consumed in sorting out conflicting views rather than in balancing the reasonable needs of highway authorities and the police with technical development of the system.

Perhaps I could now consider Amendment No. 17. Its effect would be to provide that, once a licence for the operation of a driver information system had been granted, the Secretary of State could attach new conditions to it if they were designed to prevent, in the words of the amendment, "loss of amenity".

As I have explained, the Government's policy is that driver information systems such as Autoguide should be operated and financed by the private sector. Their development will require heavy capital investment. Particularly in the early days, it will be some time before operators see any return on their investment. I hope your Lordships agree that it follows from this that operators will only be prepared to go ahead with these schemes if they can have confidence that, once awarded, a licence cannot be amended by the Secretary of State without an operator's consent. This is the approach generally reflected in Part II of the Bill. Clause 10(6) breaches that principle in one respect: it enables the Secretary of State, without the consent of the licence holder, to attach new conditions if they are designed to prevent danger to the public. We take the view that in such circumstances there would be a clear and overriding need to amend a licence.

Amendment No. 17 would, however, go very much further. Providing in the Bill that the Secretary of State could unilaterally alter a licence so as to prevent loss of amenity would inevitably leave the operator in great uncertainty about the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might make use of this power. The words "loss of amenity" are in themselves extremely vague and this would only add to the uncertainty. It seems to us clear that the effect would very probably be to deter operators from seeking licences, and consequently to deny motorists the benefit of driver information systems such as Autoguide.

Finally, there is Amendment No. 18. We do not believe that this amendment is necessary. The Secretary of State will naturally keep under review the operation of any driver system which he licenses. If there are complaints from local highway authorities he will naturally wish to look into them and possibly take them up with the operator. If a complaint were found to be justified, and if the circumstances which gave rise to it might cause danger to the public, the Secretary of State would be able to amend a licence without the consent of the operator. If the complaint demonstrated that there had been a breach of a condition in an operator's licence then the operator could in certain circumstances be guilty of an offence under Clause 11.

We accept that the choice of routes on which driver information systems such as Autoguide can direct traffic is an issue which needs to be carefully examined. I have already explained at some length the approach which we shall be adopting towards the monitoring of the Autoguide pilot scheme, and our hope that local authority associations and the police will join the Department of Transport in that evaluation. I have given an undertaking that the results of that research will be presented to Parliament. This demonstrates, I believe, that we will take all necessary steps to ensure that Autoguide and similar systems are operated in a safe and environmentally sensitive way.

I am clear that this is the best way to proceed and that it would be quite wrong to accept amendments which, far from improving the operation of driver information systems, would be likely to delay or even prevent their operation. For all those reasons, I am afraid I cannot consider these amendments.

6 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. I can appreciate also the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and amplified by the Minister, as regards consulting 39 highway authorities. One can see the weakness of the provisions in that regard. But I hope that overconsideration will not be given to the question of confidence of operators. While that is very important, confidence of local residents is of equal importance. I am glad that consultations with local authority associations are to continue. I was possibly at fault when I referred to local authorities too.

As noble Lords will know, I am president of the AMA. I have some idea of the view of the AMA arising from Wednesday's meeting. That body generally recognises that it will be consulted on monitoring. It is still concerned that the results of the monitoring should influence the granting of new licences. The AMA considers that issue to be of vital importance. I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said and in the light of his remarks I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.]

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 19: Page 13, line 31, at end insert— ("(7A) The Secretary of State shall not grant an operator's licence unless he is satisfied that agreement has been reached between the licence holder and any local highway authorities in whose areas the licence holder intends to operate, on the provision of information by the highway authorities to the licence holder and by the licence holder to the highway authorities.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked why Amendment No. 19 was not included in the previous group of amendments. We have, as far as possible, grouped together matters which are of direct common interest. This amendment refers to the, provision of information by the highway authorities to the licence holder and by the licence holder to the highway authorities". The amendment involves a completely different principle from that of the other amendments in the other groups to which I have been speaking.

The aim of Amendment No. 19 is to ensure that before a licence is granted adequate arrangements have been made between the licence holder and the relevant local highway authorities on the transfer of information between them. This amendment may meet the same criticism from the Minister as he raised before, but I think my principle is correct.

In Committee there was a lengthy debate on issues relating to the availability of information from Autoguide. The Minister said in response: In summary, we very much hope that the data which is collected by the Autoguide system will prove to be of value to highway authorities; and as I have indicated, we are taking positive steps to encourage the transfer of data. We do not however believe that it would be reasonable to require the Secretary of State to release the information free of charge to highway authorities when he himself is likely to have to pay for the information".—[Official Report, 24/1/89; col. 680.] It will be noted that in the amendment which is now before your Lordships there is no reference to supplying local authorities with this information free of charge. The Minister continued: It would be better for individual authorities, each of which may have different requirements, to make their own arrangements directly with the Autoguide operator". We must note that 39 different authorities could be involved, but the Minister stated in Committee (also at col. 680): It would be better for individual authorities, each of which may have different requirements, to make their own arrangements directly with the Autoguide operator".

The need for local agreements between highway authorities and the Autoguide operator is fully recognised. However, the importance of satisfactory arrangements being reached is so great that the Secretary of State should not grant an operator's licence until and unless he is satisfied that suitable arrangements have been made.

If driver information systems are to operate effectively, arrangements will have to be made between the authorities and the operators to ensure they have access to up-to-the-minute information on roadworks, new traffic management measures and other matters. There will also need to be a link-up between the Autoguide operator and the proposed computerised streetworks registers which are being developed, as part of the implementation of the Horne Report. Thus, Autoguide operators will be dependent on highway authorities for such information. On the other hand, the Autoguide system is likely to provide a means of collecting data which could be of considerable value to highway authorities. It could, for example, reduce the need for expensive and time-consuming traffic survey work.

The aim of this amendment is not to be bureaucratic or to put a spanner in the works, but to provide a statutory stimulus to the kind of joint working and agreement which the Minister called for in Committee. What we want to ensure is that before a licence is granted to an operator there shall be agreement between the operator and the authorities concerned for the proper exchange of information. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for explaining the provision. However, he will recognise that my objection to the previous group of amendments applies equally well here.

The noble Lord is, by virtue of this amendment, going to require operators to transmit any information to at least 39 authorities. They might not need all that information. As we have already discussed, some may want one piece of information and some may want another. Surely those seeking the information should go to the operator, the licensee, and make arrangements to obtain ghat piece of information.

Again we are talking about a pilot scheme. Again I beg the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, not to put any difficulties that could possibly be avoided in the way of an applicant. Otherwise we shall kill this scheme before it has even started moving. An amendment of this kind is a hindrance that we can well do without.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has explained, this amendment would make the granting of a licence under Part II of the Bill conditional on the prospective operator and relevant local highway authorities reaching agreement on the exchange of information

In the case of the Autoguide system, the information concerned would probably fall into two categories. First, there would be information held by the local highway authority which would be of value to the Autoguide operator. This might include, for example, details of junction layouts, speed limits and one-way streets, and as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, roadworks.

The operator would be able to feed this information into his system and so ensure that traffic was directed on to suitable roads, taking account of practical and legal restrictions.

The guidelines which were issued last month inviting proposals for a London Autoguide system make clear that one of the criteria which my right honourable friend will use in assessing bids will be proposals for liaison with local highway authorities. As I indicated in Committee, it is likely that an Autoguide system will itself produce information of use to highway authorities; for example, information on journey times and delays at junctions.

All in all, we believe that there is undoubtedly scope for the exchange of information between operators and highway authorities, to their mutual advantage. Annex 3 of the guidelines mentions the fact that the Department of Transport is currently carrying out research to determine the likely scale of the information that a system will generate and require.

Having said that, I am afraid that we cannot accept the noble Lord's amendment. It would mean that a licence for the operation of a driver information system could not be granted until agreement on the exchange of information had been reached between the prospective operator and any relevant local highway authorities, as my noble friend Lord Lucas pointed out.

The effect of this could well be that a highway authority could prevent—or at least delay substantially—the licensing of a driver information system by refusing to agree with the operator about the provision of information. The authority might, to take an extreme example, propose to charge a very high price for information which it supplied to the operator but demand that information flowing in the other direction should be provided free of charge. I am not saying that such things would necessarily happen; but they might. It is no secret that there are local authorities which are strongly opposed to the Government's policies and which will do everything they can to frustrate them. It would be quite wrong if the introduction of driver information systems such as Autoguide could be stopped by the unreasonable action of just one critically placed highway authority. That would he particularly regrettable if, as we hope and expect, the great majority of highway authorities in an area welcomed the introduction of a system.

I hope that in view of what I have said the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the Minister says that there are local authorities which are firmly opposed to the driver information system. I have not heard any local authority at meetings of the AMA Highways Committee, which I endeavour to attend regularly, make such a statement. However, I shall not state that there is no local authority which objects.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening. I did not say that. I said that there were local authorities which were firmly opposed to the Government's policies. I did not say that they were opposed to this particular system.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am certain that noble Lords listening to the Minister will have assumed that he was referring to this particular system. We should not bring in the question of opposition. I am opposed to government policy on many issues but I am not opposed to the Autoguide system. That ought to be made clear. The local authority association, of which I am president and whose members will be covered by the trial areas, is wholeheartedly in favour of the system subject to all the safeguards to which I have referred.

The Minister said that the amendment would mean that no licence could be granted unless there was agreement. Surely there must be agreement. The operator wants the essential information which only the highway authority or the police can give. Therefore, there must be a basis for agreement. We are awaiting legislation on the Horne Report. Questions will arise in relation to road maintenance and holes in the road which will undoubtedly affect the whole question of the route along which Autoguide may direct drivers. So there must be agreement before an operator's licence is granted. Equally, the highway authority would find that information which the operator can provide is of vital importance.

I have listened carefully to the Minister. I still believe that the line we are taking on this issue is valid. The only criticism that can be made is the same as the one that can be made in relation to the 39 authorities. That is an argument we may have to consider in conjunction with the local authority associations.

I hope that the Minister will accept, and that he will discuss within his department and with the Secretary of State, the proposition that the exchange of information between an operator and the local authority on whose roads the system will run being of vital importance there should be some machinery to ensure such agreement. It is not sufficient merely to say that the guidelines are being discussed and that that will happen.

Perhaps I may also say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I do not think that there is any reference to a trial system in the section of the Bill to which I am referring. The trial system is only referred to in the guidelines in relation to Autoguide. This section of the Bill refers to the granting of an operator's licence, not to a trial operator's licence. When considering the granting of operator's licences, surely the exchange of information is vital. I hope that the Minister will take that into consideration and see what further discussions may be possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 20: Page 14, line 3, leave out ("or for any other services provided by the licence holder"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to clarify the policy behind a provision in the Bill which my noble friend Lord Lucas helpfully referred to during Committee stage.

Clause 10(8)(e) would enable the Secretary of State to include in the licence for the operation of a driver information system a condition regulating charges to users of the system. My noble friend was concerned that, as drafted, the provision might extend beyond driver information systems to completely different services provided by licensees. There has even been concern that we might be able to influence the membership fees charged by motoring organisations. Quite clearly, that would be absurd.

It is possible that we shall never seek to regulate user prices of driver information systems. It is certainly not our intention that the shadow of regulation should extend to services which have no connection with a driver information system. The deletion of the words in the amendment will ensure that any regulation would be suitably limited. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who read the fear I expressed at Committee stage quite correctly. So far. as I am concerned the amendment he proposes meets the objection which I raised at that time. I am grateful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 21: Page 14, line 5, after ("State") insert ("for an agreed fee").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 25. Those two linked amendments are exactly the same as amendments which were included on the Marshalled List at Committee stage. They deal with matters of payment by the Secretary of State for information.

We discussed in Committee the fact that without the amendments which I proposed then and propose again today the licence holder would be placed in a most unsatisfactory position. There will be a statutory obligation upon him to provide information in return for a payment at a level which is to be determined by the customer, the Secretary of State. It could well be that such a sum is derisory.

A few moments ago we discussed the necessity of the licence holder providing information to the local highway authorities. I do not think that I misunderstood my noble friend the Minister when he responded by saying that the local highway authorities who want such information should make their own arrangements with the operator.

In this case, however, the operator is not able to make his own arrangements with the Secretary of State for the self-same information. While the Bill does not allow the Secretary of State to compel an operator to provide any information, as my noble friend said at col. 682 of Hansard of 24th January, Clause 10 requires the licence holder to furnish information. I presume that the operator's refusal to furnish information might constitute an offence under Clause 11(5).

During our discussion in Committee, my noble friend said that the would-be operator would presumably sign the licence only if he was satisfied with the level of payment offered. The Minister used the word "offered", not "determined", as the Bill states. That was at col. 683 of Hansard. The operator, having gone so far and expended an enormous amount of money on the preparations, will come up with his tender documents and the Secretary of State will say, "Yes, by and large, that's all right. You've won the tender, but there's just one question. This is the kind of information I want and I shall pay you £X". You cannot negotiate in that position. You have already committed yourself and it would therefore be unfair.

Let us suppose that the cost of providing the information far exceeded the amount that the Secretary of State determined that he was going to pay. 1 suppose that the operator would then turn around and put up the price to the client, the person buying the system. That is also an unhappy state of affairs.

My noble friend will forgive me for saying this and if he looks at me he will know that I say it tongue in cheek. He went on to say that all these matters would be set down in a legally binding agreement and that whether they are in the Bill or not does not matter. However, if the word does not matter, why have it in? I have not invited him to take it out; I have invited him to change it, so that the Secretary of State shall not "determine" but shall negotiate and agree. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the purpose behind these amendments. As he is aware I wrote to him following the Committee stage to explain why I thought that these changes to Clause 10 were unnecessary. I hope therefore that he will forgive me if, for the benefit of other noble Lords I rehearse the reasons.

Clause 10 deals with the granting of operators' licences. The clause is drafted mainly in terms of what the Secretary of State may or may not do in relation to the licence; and Clause 10(8) lists specific conditions which the Secretary of State may wish to inlcude in the licence. The clause is of course drafted mainly from the Secretary of State's point of view because the Secretary of State can only do things which he is specifically empowered to do, whereas a private person can do anything which is not illegal.

Licences drawn up under Clause 10 would be freely entered into between the Secretary of State and the prospective operator. The clause is effectively concerned with the free negotiation of the licence. Paragraph (f) of subsection (8) empowers the Secretary of State to include in a licence a condition requiring the provision of information, but it does not, and it cannot, require the prospective licensee to accept such a condition. Similarly, Clause 10(9) empowers the Secretary of State to pay for the information, but any condition as to payment which was included in the licence would presumably have to be acceptable to the prospective licensee before he agreed to sign the licence. In other words, the Secretary of State could only use these powers with the agreement of the licensee.

This may be a point on which my noble friend and I will have to agree to differ. I can only repeat that we have looked very carefully at the points that he has raised and we are quite satisfied that in legal terms his proposed amendments would give the prospective operator no advantage whatsoever in negotiating the licence. I hope that in the light of this explanation my noble friend will feel able to withdraw these amendments.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for writing to me to set out the position. I tabled these amendments as a result of that letter because I was not happy about it. My unhappiness concerns solely the word "determine". Of course any agreement has to be freely entered into and the terms have to be negotiated. From what my noble friend wrote in his letter and from what he has said today, I assume that "determine" can also embrace "negotiate" or "agree" and that I should not therefore take it purely and simply on its own account.

My noble friend has said that he will take legal advice, so I shall consider the matter further and see whether I want a better definition of "determine" which I may wish to bring back on Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 22: Page 14, line 6, after ("information") insert ("relating to motor vehicles or traffic conditions").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendment No. 23.

These amendments to Clause 10 are in response to an undertaking that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in Committee when he expressed concern about subsection (8)(f). Subsection (8) lists particular conditions subject to which an operator's licence may be granted. A condition as specified in subsection (8)(f) would require the licence holder to furnish to the Secretary of State such information as the Secretary of State requires.

The noble Lord was concerned that the subsection as drafted could enable information to be obtained which could identify specific vehicles. I said in Committee that the Secretary of State would be interested only in information on overall traffic movements. However, we recognise that the subsection as printed in the Bill might be interpreted rather more widely than was intended. I am therefore happy to bring forward these amendments to make it clear that the Secretary of State cannot obtain any information under such a condition which would enable individual drivers of motor vehicles to be identified. They refer to "individual drivers" rather than to individual vehicles. This is because simply referring to "vehicles" would not necessarily prevent information on the drivers being obtained. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening to and taking heed of what my noble friend Lord Underhill said in Committee. It is good that we can get rid of a possible misunderstanding in the Bill that could have led to difficulties. In the case of both amendments, we are grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has responded.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 23: Page 14, line 21, at end insert— ("( ) No information may be required to be furnished to the Secretary of State under subsection (8)(f) above in a way that would enable individual drivers of motor vehicles to be identified.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Citation, commencement and extent]:

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Provisions inserted in Road Traffic Act 1988]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 27: Page 23, line 19, at end insert— ("In determining whether an applicant for a passenger vehicle driver licence is a fit person reference will be made to records held on the Police National Computer.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment. I am always nervous about allowing any more access to the police national computer than is necessary. Such cases should be restricted to authorised persons and police officers of the correct rank.

However, I am concerned about this and we have had representations from some bodies which are worried that there may be people who, because of their background and record, are not fit persons to be given such a licence. The Bill states that the Secretary of State will not grant a licence unless he is satisfied about an applicant's conduct.

This amendment is perhaps more severe than I should have liked in suggesting that reference be made to the police national computer. I hope that the Minister will give us an idea of exactly what information the Secretary of State would require to satisfy himself that only a fit person would receive a licence. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I fully appreciate the concern that has motivated this amendment. However, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary. I do not believe that the proposal would necessarily achieve the desired result. Noble Lords may not be aware that the police national computer record does not hold details of all convictions. Generally speaking the PNC holds details only of convictions of people who have been convicted since 1981 for the first time for an offence which can lead to a sentence of imprisonment. Very many convictions therefore are not held on the PNC, including those for a number of offences that I am sure the noble Lord will attempt to identify. The responsibility for disclosure of information from police records, including those held on the PNC, rests with individual chief police officers. Any new arrangements for disclosure would have to be negotiated with them. Access to police records by traffic commissioners would have serious implications for the rights of the individual, and the data protection and rehabilitation of offenders legislation would also have to be considered.

Under the conduct regime proposed by this legislation, traffic commissioners will continue to investigate any non-driving offences that are brought to their attention. In general, this system works well. Information about non-driving conduct reaches the traffic commissioners in a variety of ways. Allegations about convictions are checked with the courts before the commissioners take action. Requiring the commissioners to check the PNC records or other police records would place an additional heavy burden on police resources and delay the process, which would penalise all PSV drivers and applicants and would be an extra burden on the PNC.

In any case, the duty of checking the background of would-be PSV drivers should not rest solely with the commissioners. Employers too should satisfy themselves that their prospective drivers are suitable to have responsibility for the travelling public.

I do not believe that the proposal would lead to a more effective system of preventing unsuitable drivers from slipping through the net. My officials and the commissioners will keep the effectiveness of the conduct regime under review and are in regular contact with the police and court authorities about the enforement of the driver licensing system.

Under the circumstances, and with the explanation that I have given, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that lengthy explanation. It was very reassuring. As I said when I moved the amendment, I had reservations about the police national computer being used. I am pleased with the explanation that he has given. I am reassured by the fact that it is not easy to use the PNC unless arrangements are made with the individual chief police officers. The Minister has also reinforced to my satisfaction the view that the employer has a responsibility to check on suitability. I am pleased enough with his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 [Driving licences: Minor, Consequential and Further Amendments]:

6.30 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 29, line 14, at end insert—

("Energy Act 1976 (c. 76)

In Schedule 1 to the Energy Act 1976, in paragraph 2, for sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) there shall be substituted— (a) drive a passenger-carrying vehicle (within the meaning of Part IV of the Road Traffic Act 1988) notwithstanding that his licence under Part III of that Act does not authorise him to do so; or (b) cause or permit to drive any such vehicle a person whose licence does not so authorise him." ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 28 and, with the leave of the House, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 29 to 32. These are all technical and consequential amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 29 and 30:

Page 29, line 17, at end insert— ("(a) In subsection (1), the words "persons licensed to act as" shall be omitted;").

Page 29, line 24. at end insert— ("In section 46(1) of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 (fare-paying passengers on school buses), for the words "12(1) and 22" there shall be substituted the words "and 12(1)".

Transport Act 1985 (c.67)

In section 18 of the Transport Act 1985 (exemption from PSV operator and driver licensing requirements of vehicles used under permits)—

  1. (a) for the words "Sections 12(1) and 22" there shall be substituted "Section 12(1)",
  2. (b) after paragraph (a) there shall be inserted the word "or"; and
  3. (c) for paragraph (c) and the word "or" preceding it there shall be substituted "and a person may drive any vehicle at a time when it is being used as mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above notwithstanding that his licence under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1988 does not authorise him to drive vehicles of the class to which that vehicle belongs."

In section 23(2) of the Transport Act 1985 (conditions of community bus permits), in paragraph (b), after the word "holds" there shall be inserted the words "a passenger-carrying vehicle driver's licence (within the meaning of Part IV of the Road Traffic Act 1988) or".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I move Amendments Nos. 29 and 30.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Repeals]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 31 and 32:

Page 40, line 27, column 3, at end insert ("In section 24(1), the words "persons licensed to act as".").

Page 40, line 42, column 3, at beginning insert—

("In section 12(13)(a), the word ", 22".
In section 18, the words "and drivers".
In section 23(2)(b), the words "or a public service vehicle driver's licence".".

On Question, amendments agreed to.