§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill marks a major step, along with the New Roads and Street Works Bill which has been before this House, in our determination to promote safety and efficiency in transport. It contains radical reforms to road traffic law. It also provides the basis for a key element in our policies for traffic in London; a network of priority routes to improve the movement of all types of traffic.
Road accidents are a major cause of death and injury in the United Kingdom. Every day 15 people are killed and 170 are seriously injured on our roads. That is an appalling toll. It is true that the number of casualties has come down by 14 per cent. since the peak in the mid-1960s while traffic has more than doubled. It is true that United Kingdom casualty figures compare favourably with those of our Community partners. But the waste of human life represented by those figures, much of it young life, the misery and suffering involved and the burden on the country's emergency and medical services should not and must not be tolerated in a civilised society. That is why we have set ourselves the target of reducing road casualties by one-third by the year 2000.
As was said by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on Second Reading in another place, the proposals in Part I of the Bill have the potential to make a valuable contribution to achieving that target. They implement the recommendations of the White Paper, The Road User and the Law, published in February 1989. This was the Government's response to the recommendations of the review of road traffic law carried out under the chairmanship of Dr. Peter North. My right honourable friend has already paid tribute to his work but I too wish to do so today.
The House will appreciate the law's vital role in promoting road safety. I have in mind the safety of all road users; that is, pedestrians and cyclists quite as much as drivers and their passengers. Without an effective code of road traffic law and thorough enforcement the toll on our roads would be very much higher. We must improve that law and make its enforcement even more effective if we are to ensure that the casualty rate is reduced. That is what the first part of the Bill is intended to do.
There are three approaches to improving road traffic law. The first is to ensure that the law contains a proper set of offences to deal appropriately across the range of bad driving and riding behaviour. We have addressed this. At the top of' the range we are reformulating the most serious driving offences. The existing offences are reckless driving and causing death by reckless driving. Application of these 401 offences in England and Wales has not always proved satisfactory. Convictions have depended on juries being satisfied as to the driver's state of mind at the time the act of bad driving took place; and that has proved difficult to establish. Therefore, we are creating new offences of dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous driving. These will be based on an objective standard of driving. It will have to be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
The Bill also contains important measures to deal with drink-driving. I know that there is concern about the need for an increase in police powers to breath test. I sympathise with the objectives. But I have to say straightaway that existing police powers are wide. At present any police officer in the exercise of his duty can require a vehicle to stop. If the police officer then has any reason to believe that that vehicle, which might have been stopped randomly, is being driven by someone under the influence of alcohol, the police officer can require a test to be taken. Therefore, there is an enormously wide discretion at present. Moreover the existing powers have brought about a reduction in the percentage of drivers and riders killed who were known to be above the legal limit from 33 per cent. in 1982 to 19 per cent. in 1989. Moreover there has been a tripling in the number of breath tests in the past decade; and the percentage of positive tests continues to go down. My honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic explained at Report stage in another place that in the Government's view the existing powers strike the right balance between the need for effective enforcement of the law and the freedom of the individual. It is clear that they are sufficient to do the job. I do not believe any change is needed.
This does not, however, mean that we are doing nothing on drink-driving. The new offence of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs will deal with the menace of the drink-driver who drives badly and kills. People who behave in this way must expect the most severe penalty.
This leads me to penalties. The new causing death when under the influence of drink or drugs offence will carry a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment. This will also he the penalty for the new causing death by dangerous driving offence. The offence of dangerous driving will carry a penalty of two years' imprisonment, as does the existing reckless driving offence.
The Bill also contains two new types of penalty. Those convicted of the most serious offences will have to take a new, longer driving test as a discipline to see whether they should be allowed back on the road at the end of a period of disqualification. There will also be an experiment in rehabilitation courses for drink-driver offenders. There will be powers for this to be extended to a national scheme if the experiment shows that the courses have a significant effect on rates of re-offending.
Finally, the Bill contains measures to improve enforcement of the law through the more effective use 402 of camera technology to detect speeding and traffic-light offences. Cameras will be used where road safety benefits can be maximised. Their presence should have a major deterrent effect. This was widely welcomed in another place. The potential is enormous. It could lead to a reduction of as much as 5 per cent. in road accidents overall.
Before turning to Part II of the Bill I should perhaps spell out the main elements of Part I. Clauses 1 and 2 replace the existing reckless driving offences, as I have earlier explained, with new dangerous driving offences. These will be based more closely on the actual standard of driving. Clauses 3 and 4 deal with the menace of drink-driving, in particular by the creation of the new offence of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. Clause 6 contains a new offence of causing danger to road users by placing or throwing of objects onto roads. This will deal, for example, with vandals throwing concrete blocks from bridge parapets.
Clauses 8 to 16 deal with construction and use. They provide new offences and extend the existing powers to test vehicles on roads and to prohibit the driving of dangerous vehicles. Henceforth, vehicles will be able to be tested on roads for conformity with all construction and use requirements including emissions. The powers of prohibition will apply to private cars as well as goods vehicles and public service vehicles and will, where there is a danger of injury to any person, he exercisable by authorised police officers as well as the department's vehicle examiners. Clause 16 deals with the sale of unroadworthy vehicles which has been of interest to this House previously, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. It closes a loophole which has been exploited by unscrupulous dealers to escape conviction.
Clause 20, together with Clauses 22, 33 and 38, provide for the more effective use of camera technology. They make provisions as to the admissibility of camera evidence, provide safeguards by provision for approval of the equipment, simplify follow-up procedures through the fixed penalty system and clarify highway authorities' powers to erect structures to house the equipment. Proper enforcement, with proper safeguards, will bring valuable road safety benefits.
Clauses 26 to 28 make changes to the operation of disqualification and the penalty points system. In future people disqualified for a specific offence such as drink-driving will no longer have the penalty points from previous unrelated offences wiped from their licences. This will act as a reminder to them that they must act responsibly once their licence is returned. It will also encourage courts to make more use of their existing powers to order short periods of disqualification, for which provision is made in Clause 32.
Clauses 29 and 30 set out the arrangements for the rehabilitation courses for drink-drivers. The courses will be designed to influence offenders' attitudes to drinking and driving and to encourage self-examination. Offenders who complete courses successfully will be entitled to a reduction in the period of disqualification. The scheme will initially take the 403 form of an experiment in selected areas. We shall monitor the experiment carefully before deciding whether to embark on a full-scale national scheme.
Clause 31 places courts under a duty to order offenders convicted of the new dangerous driving offences to take a further, extended, test before being allowed back on the road. The test will probably be twice the length of the normal driving test and consequently more demanding. Courts will also have a wide discretion to order a re-test for people convicted of any other offences which carry obligatory endorsement.
Clause 39 simplifies the procedures for local authorities to vary parking charges at designated parking places; and Clause 40 deals with the power of local authorities in London to appoint parking attendants. Clause 41 provides an enabling power for variable speed limits to be imposed by order to be used; for example, during certain periods in the day.
Part II of the Bill contains a major package of traffic management measures to improve traffic conditions in London by making the best possible use of existing roads. The measures are highly relevant to the debate we had a little under two weeks ago on transport in London and the South East. They form part of the Government's broad strategic approach for developing transport in London so the capital becomes a better place in which to live and work and continues to make an important contribution to the national economy and the UK's international standing.
Under this strategic approach we are ensuring that central London commuters can travel efficiently, safely and in reasonable comfort by rail. We are backing a massive investment programme in public transport. Over the next three years London Transport plans to invest approaching £3 billion, 90 per cent. more in real terms than in the past three years. During this financial year alone British Rail's Network SouthEast is investing £350 million and has plans for substantial investment in the future. We are widening the M.25 so that road traffic which does not need to go through London does not have to. The main priority in our £1.9 billion trunk road programme in London is to up-grade the North Circular Road and provide better access to east London so traffic can avoid the central area and reach one of London's main areas of development. We are also supporting a further £1 billion of investment planned by the local authorities and the London Docklands Development Corporation to improve the quality of the road system and take traffic out of residential roads and local shopping centres.
Projects involving major changes to transport infrastructure inevitably take several years to complete. But the traffic management measures provided for in Part II of the Bill can be delivered in the interim. They will help the reliable and safe movement of people and goods, and both public and private transport. They will provide particular help to buses. In the short to medium term, greater use of buses is the only way of achieving a significant increase in the total capacity of London's public transport system, and the London Regional 404 Passengers Committee confirms that reliability of bus services ranks ahead of considerations such as cost, frequency and speed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport recognised buses' potential in helping to meet the ever-growing demand for these services when he launched the Government's consultation paper, A Bus Strategy for London, last week. The paper sets out our plans for the deregulation of the London bus market together with a range of proposals aimed at making bus services in London more attractive to passengers. These proposals include action to review the circumstances in which bus lanes are appropriate and support for London Transport's full review of existing bus priority measures.
The traffic management provisions of the Bill consist of two main elements. First, we are introducing a coherent network of priority routes. These routes will be subject to special controls on stopping, loading and unloading, which will be strictly enforced, with appropriate penalties for noncompliance. They will be managed by the traffic director, who will have responsibility for the efficient operation of the network. There will be special provision for buses, where congestion causes particular problems at present. And it will be possible to make room for better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.
The network will be based on existing main roads providing the best routes for longer distance travel in London. These roads are covered for most of their length by blanket yellow line and waiting restrictions. Because of the way these restrictions have grown-up, life would be intolerable for everyone if they were enforced uniformly. But they are not. Drivers treat selective enforcement action as an occupational hazard, and the result is congestion. The new priority routes will overcome these difficulties. The controls will be carefully planned; priorities will be balanced; as much provision as possible will be made for the legitimate needs of residents and traders, and enforcement will be consistent. Action on these routes will provide the essential starting point for improvements across London. It will provide the opportunity to introduce measures to keep traffic out of residential areas. This will have safety benefits.
This part of the Bill will also provide for a radical change in the arrangements for enforcing parking controls in London. The Bill already provides for a new system of "permitted" parking, mainly at meter bays and residents' bays, under which offences are decriminalised and enforced by the local authorities. The local authorities will be able to use the revenue from these charges to finance enforcement and better parking facilities. To help this enforcement, their parking attendants will have powers to wheelclamp vehicles parked in breach of the orders.
In addition, at Report stage in the other place, my honourable friend the Minister for Road and Traffic indicated his sympathy with proposals from honourable Members to allow London local authorities an even wider measure of responsibility for enforcing parking controls. He explained that the Government had developed the outline of a scheme under which 405 there would be a further rationalisation of the distinction between illegal and "permitted" parking controls. This would acknowledge the strategic importance of traffic flows on the main roads and the responsibilities of the local authorities to their residents. The idea is that illegal parking on the main arteries, and certain roads serving them, should continue to attract criminal penalties and be enforced by the police and their traffic wardens. Off these roads, where traffic and parking raises particular environmental and residential issues, it would then be for the local authorities to apply to the Secretary of State to establish "designated" parking areas. Inside these areas most non-endorsable illegal parking offences could be decriminalised and enforced by the local authorities.
I can report that good progress has been made with developing the scheme and I hope to be able to table suitable amendments for the Committee stage in this House as soon as possible. The two elements of this part of the Bill are complementary. Decriminalising a number of parking controls in London and transferring responsibility for enforcement to the local authorities will enable the police and their traffic wardens to concentrate on enforcing illegal parking controls on the priority routes and certain roads of strategic importance which support them. Good enforcement of these routes will be crucial to the routes meeting their aims. Better enforcement overall will help to improve environmental and safety standards and will contribute to an all round improvement in traffic conditions in London.
On the detail of Part II, Clause 44 gives the Secretary of State the power to designate a network of priority routes to ease the flow of traffic on London's main roads. Clause 45 gives the Secretary of State power to issue new traffic management guidance to London's local authorities and the traffic director for London. The guidance will focus on the Secretary of State's aims for the network and explain how the routes fit into the Government's approach to the development of transport in London. Clause 46 gives the Secretary of State power to appoint an independent traffic director for London to co-ordinate the establishment of the routes and monitor their operation. It also gives the Secretary of State power to set the director's objectives.
Clause 47 requires the director to issue a network plan to the London local authorities setting out the overall framework for the routes, the way in which the priority route measures are to be introduced and the timetable for their introduction.
Clauses 48 to 56 cover the preparation and implementation of local plans, which will set out in detail the priority route measures to be introduced. There will be a duty on relevant London local authorities to prepare and implement plans for priority routes for which they are the highway authority. The plans will need to be approved by the traffic director. The director will have a similar duty to prepare and implement local plans for trunk roads designated as priority routes where he is directed to do so by the Secretary of State. The traffic director and 406 the Secretary of State will have fall-back powers where the local authorities fail to meet their duties. However, the implementation of the network will be very much for the benefit of all London's residents, so we are looking forward to the local authorities' co-operation and envisage the fall-back powers being used only as a last resort.
Provision is made for extensive consultation on the designation of the priority routes, the Secretary of State's traffic management guidance and the series of priority route plans; and the plans will be implemented through the exercise of existing highways and road traffic regulation powers in accordance with established procedures.
Clause 57 requires the Secretary of State to issue parking guidance to local authorities in London to assist them in co-ordinating their action with respect to parking in London. The aim will be to help them avoid distortions between one area of London and another, to maximise the benefits of the priority routes and to improve the movement of traffic throughout London. Part of the guidance will cover the introduction and operation of the new system of "permitted" on-street parking in London and the arrangements for "designated" parking areas, which in future we shall be referring to as "special parking areas".
Clauses 58 to 68 make provision for the new system of "permitted" parking in London. They provide for a joint committee of London authorities to set standard penalty charges and charges associated with wheelclamping and removal, and to appoint parking adjudicators to whom aggrieved drivers may appeal. Further clauses will be tabled to provide for the introduction of "special" parking areas in London.
Clause 70 provides for the Secretary of State to make grants to the traffic director to cover the reasonable expenditure he incurs in relation to the priority routes. As the local authority roads in the network will comprise only about 30 per cent. of the total, and the work on these roads will be for the benefit of the network as a whole, it is proposed that the director will make appropriate payments to the local authorities from the grant.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said at Second Reading in the other place that the Bill would make an important contribution to the efficiency and safety of transport, both in London, through the major programme of the easing of congestion, and nationally, through the reform of road traffic law. That has been widely accepted. I should mention here the welcome given to the Bill by important commentators such as the AA and the RAC, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. There is no doubt that the Bill is a major step forward in transport. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, at the outset thank the noble Lord for his explanation of the Bill and join with him in expressing appreciation to all those engaged in the North Report on which, in most material particulars, the Bill has been based. We certainly support the Government in their concern about road safety as expressed in Part I of the Bill; but we believe that, so far at least, opportunities for a much more radical approach have been missed. Accordingly, our purpose will be to improve this part of the Bill.
We are unhappy about many aspects of Part II which deals with traffic conditions in London. We dislike the centralisation of extra power for local highway authorities into the hands of the Secretary of State. We believe that, quite apart from a number of serious omissions, the thrust of the Bill in a number of material ways is wrong. We shall address these matters in detail in Committee. There is a clear need to take action at least to mitigate the huge toll of death and injury occurring on our roads day in and day out, as the Minister has eloquently stated. Although, as he said, our record is better than that of many other countries, 5,000 deaths every year represent individual human tragedies and family catastrophes. Clearly, there is absolutely no room for complacency.
Over the past 10 years 62,000 deaths have occurred on the road, most of these attracting little or no attention from the media, except in the kind of circumstances we experienced last week. During the same period there have been 1,000—it is true that it is 1,000 too many—deaths on the railways to which a great deal more media attention has been directed. The appalling accident on the M.4 which took place only last week accounted for the deaths of 10 people, and 25 people were injured, many of them seriously. In the context of this Bill it is not inappropriate to raise a number of questions concerning that accident.
Does it really make any sense for the police to argue that there was no need to operate fog warnings on the ground that the fog was evident to all drivers approaching the scene of the accident? If that is the situation, why on earth have fog warnings at all? In such weather conditions why is it that there were not more police available to warn drivers of the dangerous conditions? What was the position in relation to warnings of speed limitation? Is it not a fact that the Government have received a number of warnings from the British Safety Council on the risks attaching to liquid gas carriers on the motorway, particularly as to their speeds? What has been done by the Government about these warnings, bearing in mind that even more horrendous consequences might have occurred if one of these liquid gas carriers had caught fire in the M.4 tragedy? Why do the Government draw such a distinction between rail and road accidents of this character by failing or refusing to establish a full committee of inquiry into what has occurred? There are many lessons to be learned and an independent inquiry, given suitable terms of reference, could be invaluable. These are matters that we can test as we consider the details of the Bill.
408 Having said that, may I say that in principle we welcome the new offences to be imported into the criminal law by this Bill. From our point of view the crucial tests for their efficacy will be, first, will more severe penalties have a real effect in reducing road accidents and, secondly, can we be satisfied that the existing laws are being properly enforced, let alone new ones? There are many other elements in the Bill that we support, and in particular the concept of corporate liability. I ask the Minister: why confine it to cases where the company is compelled to reveal the identity of its driver involved in an accident? Is there not a very strong case to extend corporate liability to other offences involving heavy goods vehicles? We contend that criminal liability should not always rest alone with the driver.
The facts speak for themselves. The incidence of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled is 1.7 in the case of cars and twice as many (3.4) in the case of lorries. In 1989, of 88,000 heavy goods vehicles tested at the roadside no fewer than 15,000 were prohibited from continuing journeys because of defects involving criminal offences. There were many others that were not discovered. In October 1989, of 5,500 lorries stopped in London, one in 10 was found to be unlicensed: of 100 lorries mechanically tested no fewer than 50 per cent. were found to be defective. Fines in relation to offences of the character I have been outlining were generally hopelessly inadequate, the average being about £150
. The activities of far too many cowboy operators are bad for responsible operators, bad for fair competition and bad for the environment. That has been fully recognised by the Road Haulage Association in representations which it has made to Members of this House. It wants tougher action. It wants vehicle confiscation to try to stop activities that have given rise to such things as fly tipping, the abuse of regulations relating to drivers' hours, the avoidance of vehicle excise duty and serious environmental nuisance. There are no provisions in the Bill affecting these matters despite the fact that they were strongly recommended in the North Report. Why?
I turn to the issue which the Minister naturally anticipated and which will figure prominently in our debates on the Bill. I refer to the question of random breath testing. That idea is supported by the overwhelming majority of professional organisations. It is true that the RAC and, perhaps not altogether surprisingly, the National Licensed Victuallers Association—one of the most consistent opponents of change—side with the Government in their opposition. Even the Home Office consultation paper on changes to the breath testing legislation reveals that out of 3,400 replies 3,000 favoured additional powers to be given to the police in the form of random breath tests. We support those views. Unlike the Government in another place, we shall propose a free vote on this issue which will apply to our own side. Therefore, we hope that the Government will do likewise.
Although we shall he canvassing the arguments in greater detail at Committee stage, perhaps I may refer to the prime points on which we rely. First, no less than one in six road deaths in 1989 arose from 409 accidents which were drink related and in which 840 people were killed and 22,000 injured. That is a truly terrible toll. As the Minister has indicated, each fatal accident costs a great deal of money; namely, about £600,000. The total bill for drink-related driving is estimated to represent more than £1 million a day. Those are not the most essential arguments; they relate to the toll as far as families and individuals are concerned.
A Gallup Poll carried out by the General Accident Insurance Group in 1990 revealed that 30 per cent. of all drivers and 41 per cent. of business drivers admitted to drinking and driving. Of course it is right to say that there is a balance to be struck between civil liberties and extending police powers, as indeed there was when Parliament debated the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The liberty of citizens to be protected from the irresponsible behaviour of the driver whose judgment may be impaired by drink or drugs is quite as important as that of the driver himself. All such drivers have an option. They can choose between drinking and driving, but they should not choose to do both.
The second point is that the Government's target is to effect a one-third reduction in road deaths and a reduction of 2,000 in the number of injuries. I would contend that the Bill is not adequate in seeking to accomplish those aims. No reduction is proposed in the legal limit; that is to say, retaining 80 mgs. of alcohol in 100 mls. of blood. I believe that 50 mgs. would be more consistent with achieving the Government's aims. The main factor in diminishing drinking and driving is the risk of being caught, and that is not aided unless the target is accompanied by the application of more resources to attack the problems of drinking and driving. Sir Peter Joslin, the Chief Constable of Warwickshire, said:The best way to prevent motorists drinking and driving is to increase the perception of the risk of being caught".I think he is right. What we want therefore is a real attempt, which will help to change attitudes, rather than to rely on criminalising motorists. But the trouble is that at present the chances of being caught for drinking and driving are very low indeed—about 250 to 1 against.
The Government's approach seems to represent something of a logical dilemma for them. They oppose random breath testing on the grounds that it is unnecessary—that the police already have sufficient powers. On the other hand, they seem to be opposing it in principle. They cannot have it both ways. What is abundantly plain is that they have not convinced the public; they have not convinced all police authorities that the powers are sufficient, because different powers are used in different places; they have not convinced the large number of organisations to which I have made reference; and they have failed to convince 10 Members of another place on their side who voted against the Government on an amendment at Report stage to introduce random breath testing.
Moreover, the idea has been tried—and not found wanting —in Finland, Australia, Sweden and in many states of the United States of America. It is a pity that 410 in so many cases Britain has lagged behind others in introducing vital road safety reforms—the wearing of seat belts, the wearing of helmets by motorcyclists, breath testing, child restraints. Why does it have to be the same as concerns random breath tests? I suspect that we shall follow. Whether we do it in the course of this Bill or at another time remains to be seen, but we shall follow.
I am also disappointed that, notwithstanding the recommendations made in the North Report and the Government's own White Paper, the Government have failed to introduce in the Bill a provision to cover "temporary incapacity due to fatigue, somnolence, or temporary disability". Fatigue, like drink, is a killer.
During the passage of the Bill through another place the Government claimed that it would be impossible to police this provision effectively. The fact is that lorry and coach drivers particularly are exposed to working unsociable hours, often 10 to 12 hours on end, quite illegally. Self-employed drivers have something of an economic incentive to do this, but we should not underestimate the danger that this represents not only to themselves but to other road users. Employed drivers come under pressure from irresponsible employers. Perhaps at a later stage I shall be able to reflect in some detail about some of the experiences I had as Transport Commissioner in dealing with this issue and when the Commission was irresponsibly defeated in its proposals by 12 member states thinking that they could get away with loose regulations in this regard. However, I shall not weary the House with that now.
Of course, the provision of sufficient resources to police the law goes without saying. Those resources have not been made sufficiently available. We shall press the Government vigorously on this point. But action also needs to be taken to ensure that facilities are made available to lorry and coach drivers to enable them to rest properly at service stations on motorways where, all too often and quite disgracefully, they are even denied access. That is not good enough in terms of safety.
I turn next to an issue which has been raised in this House on several occasions. I refer to dispatch riders. We all know that the incidence of irresponsible drivers weaving in and out of static and moving traffic is much more than a daily occurrence, and that by and large it goes unpunished. Again, I recognise that this situation is quite difficult to police and so I would recommend most strongly that the House considers whether insurance should continue to be available to motorcyclists and others engaged in dispatch riding while they hold only provisional licences. That is a matter we can come back to.
I refer next to seat belts. We welcome the news that the Government are proposing to extend the scope of the relevant subordinate legislation requiring adults to use rear seat belts. But why are the Government not a little more bold? In 1988 more than 500 school children, mostly seated at the time, were killed or injured in road accidents involving coaches and mini-buses. Why not, therefore, extend the requirement for children under the age of 14 to wear seat belts 411 where these are fitted in cars? Why not apply a similar requirement for school mini-buses at the very least, new mini-buses?
Hand-held car telephones can represent a danger if they are used while the car is moving, particularly on motorways. While it is true that the present law catches some offenders whose attention can be diverted from the road when these instruments are in use, we believe that a specific offence of using such telephones in conditions where it may be dangerous so to do should be imported into the Bill.
I turn, very briefly, to speed limits. I ask the Minister why it is that coaches in the United Kingdom should be permitted to travel at 70 mph on motorways, whereas they are confined to 60 mph in virtually all other European Community countries. Why should coaches, like heavy goods vehicles, not be banned from using the third fast lane on motorways?
As concerns the driving test, certainly some progressive moves have been made in the Bill and the question of refresher tests or probationary driving is something that we shall pursue in Committee. It might be of value if we were to consider the French example in this regard, where somebody who passes the test is subjected to a probationary period of around six months before obtaining a full licence. In that period the driver can gain experience of driving on motorways and dual carriageways. That can be invaluable. I believe that there is a strong case for the mandatory retesting of offenders. It is disappointing that the Government have failed to implement all the North recommendations in this regard. We support the ideas advanced by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, known as PACTS, which I commend to the House, but I shall not go into the detail now. I repeat, however, that many of the objectives that have been set by the Government are those that we support. We shall do our best to improve those provisions where, in our judgment, improvement is required.
I turn briefly to Part II of the Bill. The Minister claims that this mirrors what he called a "broad strategic approach" on the part of the Government. Rather it is an approach based on palliatives. We would contend that far too much centralisation and too little accountability to local electorates is a continuing theme of this Government's policy in this part of the Bill. This has been applied most particularly to the so-called red routes. We want to see parking regulations enforced more effectively. We want to see better provision of bus services and facilities for cyclists and for pedestrians. Above all, we want to see London provided with a proper, accountable, strategic, planning authority, dealing with all modes of transport in London; an authority that is capable of introducing a comprehensive and integrated approach to provide for commercial transport needs and deliveries, for good quality and affordable public transport and for a cleaner, safer environment. These are all arguments that we deployed in the debate on 6th March on London and the South East.
London is the only capital city in the European Community where so much power lies in the hands of 412 central government and where there is so little accountability to the local electorate. Why has London been singled out for treatment of this kind? These powers are now to be substantially extended by giving the Secretary of State and the traffic director far more draconian reserve powers than ever before and with direct powers of intervention. What is not provided is a policy that will deal with the increase in road traffic anticipated by the Government themselves —80 to 142 per cent. by the year 2025— with all the burdens that that will impose on government expenditure, and the problem of additional congestion and its attendant economic and environmental costs, to say nothing of safety.
Roads are not able to cope with those problems. Red routes cannot cope. Therefore one has to ask: what are the Government proposing to do to limit the use of cars? If the Government are really serious about parking enforcement, then they should do something effective to promote rationalisation of the present unsatisfactory system. However, they have chosen not to do so. My colleague and noble friend Lord Underhill will deal with our proposals to improve the traffic warden service and its training.
What is clear above all is that red routes do not represent a strategy for London, as claimed by the Minister. They were designed to speed up traffic and to invite reluctant motorists to use roads rather than the Underground or the rail services, which are of course in an appalling state. Red routes will do nothing to reduce the volume of traffic coming into central London. We tend to agree with the original view taken by the Department of Transport when, in October 1989, it informed local authorities that it saw,few benefits and many difficultieswith the red routes concept. However, six weeks later —and not uncharacteristic of this Government—the department went on to adopt this policy in its document, Traffic in London.
Our four main areas of concern are as follows. First, the Government's overriding priority is not balanced; it decisively favours the speeding up of traffic, inadequately balancing that need with those of residents and businesses. There has already been a serious decline in turnover revealed in the pilot route in Islington. Therefore, one has to ask: what other steps will the Government be taking in the near future to promote similar pilot studies? Will traders continue to suffer?
Secondly, we believe that the draconian powers of the traffic director are unaccompanied by any proper accountability. Thirdly, it is clear that there has been inadequate consultation. A provision is to be made for the boroughs, the police and London Transport to be consulted—but not those who are most directly affected until, of course, the final traffic orders are made. That is simply not right. Fourthly, we are concerned about the extent of the reserve powers held by the Secretary of State and the Traffic Director over local authorities. That is an issue which needs to be reconsidered.
I turn now, albeit briefly, to deal with one or two further points. I shall begin with parking meters. There is a need to harmonise the parking meter 413 systems and tariffs in the 33 different London boroughs. At present, one cannot tell, from one borough to the next, what coins are needed, the periods in which coins can he used or the type of meter used. Incidentally, would it not be worthwhile taking up the suggestion made in another place, that placing parking meters all around the M.25 would enable substantial income to be derived because of the traffic jams which occur in the area?
We believe that the needs of cyclists and pedestrians must properly be taken into account, especially as regards the priority network. Finally, there are the disabled. In our judgment inadequate safeguards have been imported into the Bill to protect the interests of disabled people, particularly their special needs for parking while shopping or undertaking other business in red route areas. We are not satisfied that the present law suffices in this respect. We argue that the orange badge parking scheme should be recognised in all boroughs in central London by permitting disabled people to park without charge or time limit at meter bays. In no way would that provision pre-empt discussions concerning claims that the badge should be recognised in full. We say that the Bill provides the opportunity to penalise those able-bodied people who seek to abuse the orange badge scheme.
We also say that there should be an offence of parking on the pavement. That is something which specifically affects blind people. Moreover, although the Bill provides that orange badge holders cannot have their vehicles wheel-clamped—a policy we fully support—we also believe that that matter needs to be made especially clear to the wheel-clamping enforcement agencies.
I conclude on this note. Part I of the Bill is good, but it could be much better. We shall seek to achieve that objective. We hope that the Government will strive with us in that regard.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, noble Lords on all sides of the House will be grateful to the Minister for the detailed way in which he introduced this great compendium Bill. I believe the fact that so many people have put their names down to speak in the debate is a tribute to the noble Lord's achievement in having brought the Bill forward. Normally, when we come to deal with transport matters in this House, the Chamber is almost empty, the television cameras have been switched off and the lights are in the process of being dimmed. However, that is usually before I rise to speak. I have no doubt that on this occasion the prospect of hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord 13raybrooke, is the reason for the cameras still being in place. We all look forward to hearing what he has to say.
Any measure which helps to reduce accidents on our roads will be welcomed by Members from all sides of the House. To the extent that the Bill succeeds in so doing, it is welcomed by my noble friends and myself. Therefore, in general, Part I of the Bill will be supported.
414 Before dealing with specific clauses, I should like to make two broad comments. The first is on the subject of breath tests, which will no doubt take up a fair amount of our time. The second is of a more general nature. There is obviously great pressure from all sides to include provision for random breath testing in the Bill. Large numbers of organisations across the whole spectrum of associations interested in road traffic have said that they would like that provision to be included. The purely libertarian argument will be put forward against the introduction of such tests. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has returned to the Chamber; no doubt he will draw our attention to that argument in due course. However, I believe that the libertarian argument has already gone out of the window in the sense that the police can carry out almost any test they wish at almost any time. Therefore, the powers already exist de facto.
Nevertheless, sections of the police want provision for random tests included in the Bill. I wonder whether that will improve or worsen relations between the police and drivers. It would be most unfortunate if the imposition of random tests was to worsen relations. Of course, the ultimate question is whether it will reduce the number of road casualties.
We should also ask whether the resources will be available to do more than is being done at present. I believe that we have a right to consider that question if we are to press for random breath tests in the Bill. Perhaps, therefore, noble Lords will understand from what I have said why I remain somewhat agnostic, although on balance slightly on the side of including such breath tests. My noble friend Lord Falkland who will be speaking at the end of the debate also takes an agnostic position but is, I think, marginally against their inclusion. We wait to be persuaded by the debates which will take place. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, this is not a matter upon which there are party divisions. The noble Lord said that there will be a free vote on his Benches. I point out to him that there are always free votes on our Benches. However, on some issues there is no party line; this is one such case.
The general issue to which I should like to refer is the question of resources in relation to the whole Bill. It serves no purpose for us to put laws on the statute book if they will not he adequately policed. Since the traffic division of the Metropolitan Police was decentralised in 1985, about 800 of its members have left the force. So there are not enough officers now, let alone enough to cover the additional duties likely to be imposed as a result of the provisions of the Bill.
The presence of police on the motorways is another point at issue. I drove down from Nottingham yesterday having attended a certain conference about which some noble Lords may have heard. I was most conscious of the fact that many drivers were exceeding the speed limit. I believe that I saw one police car during the journey. It is people's perception of the fact that they are not likely to be caught breaking the law which affects their attitude. We can put as many laws as we like on the statute book, but they will he abused if they are not adequately policed.
415 The same thought occurs to me in relation to vehicle examiners. Clause 15 replaces Section 72 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. On page 12, at line 13, Section 72A of the 1988 Act is replaced. It provides:The Secretary of State may provide and maintain stations … where inspections of goods vehicles for the purposes of section 72 may he carried out".First, I should have thought that the Secretary of State "shall" provide would he a better wording, but we shall doubtless deal with that point later. Again, will the Secretary of State provide the resources to ensure that vehicle examiners are in place to carry out the Bill's provisions?
I deal now with specific clauses. Clauses 1 to 4 are greatly to be welcomed. They clear up a number of ambiguities in the light of experience. I have no doubt that magistrates will be glad to have the ambiguities removed. We greatly welcome Clause 6, which is what might he described as the sabotage clause, in that we hope that it will prevent or catch up with offenders who go in for the extremely dangerous practices of dropping objects onto the roads from bridges and of leaving items on the roads, causing obstruction and serious accidents. I wonder whether the provisions should include Scotland and why Scotland is excluded from that part of the Bill. It may well be that there is already legislation in Scotland. I should be grateful if the Minister would explain that point.
Clause 6 provides for a new Section 22A of the 1988 Act. I wonder whether it covers cycle tracks, because the cycling associations are worried about whether the provision covers the cycle tracks as well as roads.
Clause 20(5) deals with the duty to give information. The CBI was worried at one stage that it might involve company directors and partners facing the imposition of penalty points on their private driving licences. I gather that that matter has now been cleared up in the schedule, which allows them to be fined but not to have penalty points imposed. It is right that tines should be appropriate in certain cases.
Clauses 29 and 30 relating to rehabilitation courses are welcome. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Falkland will mention that point later. New Section 34C of the 1988 Act will provide:The Secretary of State may issue guidance to course organisers, or to any category of course organiser as to the conduct of courses".The Bill says nothing about the content of courses. The Minister made a slight reference to the point, but we need to know more about the substance of the courses. We heard only the other day that the noble Lord the Chief Whip had been on a course, but that was not the sort of course upon which we would wish to send traffic offenders.
It is good to see Clause 41, which deals with variable speed limits. There is obviously scope for them. Variable speed limits are used much more widely on the Continent than they are here and, I think, used successfully. However we return again to the question of who will ensure that there is adequate policing of the variable speed limits since existing fixed speed limits are poorly policed. If we are to increase the number of police, who will pay for them? I live in a county which is about to be rate-capped because apparently the citizens of Avon require far more 416 policing that the citizens of Somerset; but nevertheless the citizens of Somerset will have to pay for that additional policing. The county council is catching a cold as a result.
It is all right for Acts to place the onus on police forces and local authorities to carry out certain tasks, but someone has to will the means. With the Government keeping such a draconian hold on local government spending, it seems unfair that we should be loading local authorities with more duties without giving them the weapons to do the job.
I turn to Part 11 of the Bill. I was astonished to hear the Minister suggest that it related to a strategic method for dealing with transport in London. It is a gimmick, and no more than that. What we need, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, is a proper transport strategy for Greater London. Red routes do not provide the answer. Noble Lords have heard me say before that the problem in London is that there are too many cars. We must find a way to reduce the number of cars coming into London. That does not necessarily mean speeding up their progress into London. As we all know, the more we speed up the traffic, the more we shift the road block from one place to another. The traffic director is a poor substitute for a London-wide traffic authority. Without a proper authority, the boroughs may face the knock-on effect of red routes, which will he damaging to the roads under their jurisdiction.
Cyclists and the disabled are still worried about their position in relation to red routes. The Bill does not seem to provide much scope for consultation with cycling organisations and I hope that we can put that right before the Bill passes from your Lordships' House. I accept that orange badge holders should park sensibly, but many of the red routes are lined with shops and homes. People who find it difficult to obtain access to such places will find it more difficult if orange badges are not observed on red routes. It is right that there should be no wheel clamping of vehicles with orange badges, but it is also right that where someone with an orange badge has parked in a dangerous position the vehicle should be moved. I hope that provision can he made to ensure that that is done in the minimum number of cases and that the vehicles are moved the minimum distance.
I have no doubt that that is an issue to which we shall return. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is not here, but I dare say that before the Bill leaves this place he will be leading the charge to ensure that orange badge holders receive their fair dues.
We are pleased that the Bill enables London boroughs to enforce designated parking places, but again there is the problem of paying for the staff needed to ensure that they work. What about the other great conurbations outside London? When will they receive the same permissions as the London boroughs?
At the end of the summary of the Bill there is the usual item entitled:Effects of the Bill on public service manpower".It strikes me as being interesting in relation to what I was saying about having enough people to service the Bill. It estimates that the number of people involved 417 will amount to a maximum of some 800 staff over a five-year period, including 250 civilian police staff—there is no reference to extra police on the roads—400 Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency staff and 150 in the courts. Will any of those people be vehicle examiners? On Part II of the Bill, it says:The local authorities will need to employ additional staff for their additional parking powers. Precise numbers cannot be estimated at this stage".What provision are the Government making to ensure that those additional staff can be paid for by local authorities? I think that Part I of the Bill is very acceptable except for the question of resources; Part II is a poor substitute for a proper transport policy for our capital city.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Knights
My Lords, the invention of the internal combustion engine and the subsequent development of the motor vehicle undoubtedly brought with them many advantages and improvements to the country's way of life. But they also brought distinct disadvantages, two of which in particular this Bill seeks to address. Another disadvantage was to create more opportunities, if I may say so, for the police to be criticised. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, felt it necessary today to raise the subject of police actions in connection with the accident on the M.4 last week.
It should be realised that the police, or for that matter the Department of Transport, do not have fog signs on the motorways, apart from one or two experimental sites. What they have are matrix signs which enable them to put up speed limits—advisory only, and most frequently ignored—or to warn if there are obstructions ahead. If the signs had been used to indicate that there was fog ahead, it would have been quite impossible to indicate the obstruction that was ahead in the form of an accident. I do not think that there is anything wrong in the policy of the police and indeed the Department of Transport in expecting people to realise that they are driving in fog without having to be told that by a police officer.
From the inception of the motor car, all users of our roads have been put at considerably higher risk of death and injury, and it was not long before it became necessary to consider the ability of the road network to handle the increasing number of vehicles. It is a measure of our ability to deal with those problems that we find it necessary yet again to add another Bill to the long series that has built up over the years.
I was brought up on the Road Traffic Act 1930, which itself replaced several earlier measures, only to be followed by a number of others during the latter half of this century, and which this Bill now seeks to improve, at least so far as Part I is concerned. Clearly those provisions that deal with the offences of reckless and careless driving have been generally welcomed. In the past it was often difficult to discriminate between reckless (formerly dangerous, and now again dangerous) and careless driving. This resulted in the lesser charge being preferred when the more serious one was really more appropriate. The new definition 418 of "dangerous" should assist in convictions for the more serious offence being obtained when the circumstances warrant it.
I am not so happy about the new offence of causing death by careless driving while unfit to drive through drink or drugs. In the past the generally held view was that the law should concern itself with the nature of the driving, the circumstances of the offence, rather than the consequences of that driving. But I can well understand the feelings of those who consider that, where a person dies as a result of the defective driving of a person whose judgment or skills are impaired by drink or drugs, a more serious charge than simple careless driving should be available.
However, the effect of these new provisions will be that, while driving under the influence of drink or drugs carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment (careless driving alone is not imprison-able), where death results in such circumstances the penalty will rise to a maximum of five years' imprisonment—the same as for causing death by dangerous driving. The actual driving in such cases may amount to conduct that is no more than what was once referred to as someone doing his incompetent best. Bearing in mind that death in these circumstances is often quite fortuitous, I can foresee difficulty on some occasions in deciding on a penalty that accurately reflects the accused's actual culpability and at the same time appears appropriate to the public at large.
I turn now to the offence of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, which it is not proposed to change, although the White Paper promised that it would be extended to cover driving while unfit to drive by reason of temporary incapacity due to fatigue, somnolence or temporary disability. I take no exception to the fact that that promise has not been carried into effect, as presumably it will still be possible to deal with appropriate cases as driving without due care and attention, as has been the case in the past.
The proposed introduction of courses for drink-drive offenders is an interesting venture. The results of the intended experiment will be awaited with keen anticipation, although I would not see it as having a great impact on the problem. Changing attitudes is much more difficult than improving skills. The big question here is the powers of the police to test drivers for the level of alcohol in their blood, a matter which was pressed strongly when the Bill was in the other place and which will be pressed strongly again in your Lordships' House.
The existing powers under the Road Traffic Act 1988 enable the police to conduct high profile enforcement as a deterrent to drink-driving. It is publicised every Christmas and at holiday times and resulted in 1989 in 541.000 people being required to take a test as compared with 250,000 in 1985. What is at issue is whether the police should have the power to set up roadside checks, applying tests to everyone who comes through without exception, which is the Australian method and about which we hear so much.
Such stop checks, as they were known, to examine vehicles, to check records and licences and to check for 419 stolen vehicles used to be a common feature of police activity without, as I recall, causing too many problems with public relations, which it is feared such checks would attract in future. But Parliament in 1984, by way of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, provided that static checks of this kind should be conducted only for the purpose of searching for persons suspected of committing, or who had possibly witnessed, a serious criminal offence, or intended to commit such an offence, or was unlawfully at large.
A serious arrestable offence is limited to a very short list, including offences such as murder, rape, serious assaults and causing death by dangerous driving. I know that the Association of Chief Police Officers is pressing for such increased powers, but it seems to me to be a matter for argument whether drink-driving is sufficiently dangerous and widespread to justify it being put into the category of serious arrestable offences, certainly while the present system of enforcement, backed up as it is by education and publicity, appears to he reasonably successful.
It was said in another place, for example, on 10th December last at col. 785 of the Official Report, thatthe number of people driving after drinking has almost halved in the past 10 years".It is certainly now regarded as much more socially unacceptable for drivers to take alcohol. Although I know the arguments that are advanced to the contrary, I believe that this approach is to be preferred to the introduction of roadside checks, even if the police have the resources to check considerably more drivers than they do at the moment.
I now turn to the use of technology to check speeds and offences at traffic lights. This is much more acceptable. The provisions relating to evidence in these cases, and the issue of conditional fixed penalties, should make it much simpler to deal with those whom the cameras have shown to be offenders. At the moment this provision involves either a great deal of correspondence or a chase to catch the individual concerned.
I do not propose to comment on Part II of the Bill, which deals mainly with the problem of traffic circulation in London, save to say that I believe the day is not far off when steps will have to be taken in the metropolitan counties to provide for a countywide approach to the problems of traffic movement and management. Further, I cannot see the logic of decriminalising parking offences in London and not doing so for the rest of the country. Local authorities in the provinces have already removed many of their parking meters and replaced them with pay-and-display machines enforced by parking attendants. Where payment is not made, they still have to use the criminal law for enforcement. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House in due course why it is not considered appropriate to decriminalise those offences in the provinces also.
I conclude by saying that changes in the law alone are not sufficient to handle the problems of danger and obstruction on our roads. Ultimately it depends on two factors. The first is improving personal standards and skills, which at present all too often come only from experience. Those skills and standards should be 420 inculcated much sooner in a driver's life. There is insufficient formal or informal traffic education. As a result young adults at the start of their driving careers —that means almost every teenager today—have few restraints on their driving behaviour. I hesitate to put more demands on schools but I believe there is a place there for much more traffic education.
Secondly, the law must be enforced, as the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Tordoff, have said. I am afraid I do not agree with those who at other times have advocated a separate traffic police force, if only because the motor car is too integral to our way of life to be isolated from it. After all, one-third of all reported crime is theft either of or from motor vehicles. There are many other good reasons—such as the resources that would be required —for not going down that road. Given the resources available, I believe the way forward is by a much greater use of the traffic warden service. Here I welcome the suggestions to increase their powers. I hope the Minister will confirm that today. That step would result in an increased interest and feeling of responsibility in what, originally at least, was a somewhat thankless job.
The police, too, must ensure that officers who are posted to traffic duties are used for that purpose and are not diverted to deal with other police tasks. Too often officers who have been posted to maintain traffic flows at peak periods find themselves diverted to respond to a burglar alarm which more often than not turns out to be a false alarm. Once again the matter comes back to resources. Given the adequate provision of resources, the Bill should go a long way towards helping the Government to meet their objective of reducing the deaths and injuries on our roads by one-third by the year 2000. I am sure the House will wish to support the Bill.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Braybrooke
My Lords, first, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his kind words of welcome and to say how honoured I am to be speaking in your Lordships' House. I wish to offer a few thoughts on the comparative effects on the environment of differing forms of transport, in particular air, road and rail. To a greater or lesser extent all transport causes some damage to the environment, be it noise, toxic emissions or inconvenience. All three can be reduced further by intelligent interplay.
Aviation can be referred to briefly. Considerable progress has of late been made both in terms of engine noise and fuel efficiency which is cutting down the discharge of exhaust gases and noxious substances which may damage crops below flight paths in the vicinity of airfields.
Airfields and their ancillaries need a lot of space and much land has to be sacrificed to enable large numbers of people to fly. I live not far from Stansted. The latest expansion of the airport has used thousands of acres and is changing the character of the whole district. As a pilot I am aware that the growth of air traffic has led to very real problems of control in the 421 South East. Fast electrified trains like the French TGV can help to reduce these effects and now represent a serious alternative to short haul aviation.
Before we examine the use of rail transport I should like to comment on road transport and, in particular, the use of the motor car in relation to the environment. The motor car is, of course, much more than a means of transport. Often it is a highly prized possession and the major purchase for many families. Rightly it is much cherished. Most of us drive petrol-engined cars. There has been a certain amount of cosmetic tinkering with lead free petrol. I suggest to your Lordships that if we are serious about the environment we could drive diesel-engined cars, which are not only much more efficient but also much less offensive in their exhaust emissions.
I have been provided with some information by British Gas taken from research carried out by Ricardo Engineering in relation to the Volkswagen Golf motor car fitted both with diesel and petrol engines. The petrol Golf releases to the atmosphere 21 times as much carbon monoxide, four times as many oxides of nitrogen and 18 times as many unburnt hydrocarbons as its diesel-engined equivalent.
The motor car enables its owner to travel from A to B precisely. However, we pay dearly for these privileges. Sadly, as we have heard this afternoon, a large number of people are killed each year on the roads and the cost of clearing up accidents, police involvement and hospitalisation is considerable. I have expressed an opinion with regard to the diesel engine.I must also be honest and admit to a love of certain English motor cars of quality powered by petrol engines. As today is a special occasion for me, I came to the House in such a motor car. The make is well known and is now owned by Ford. People use such cars on special occasions. However, we must remember that approximately 35,000 petrol-engined motor cars catch fire each year. Diesel cars are at least 25 per cent. more efficient. They are longer lasting and at least twice as reliable as petrol-engined cars due to their lack of an electric ignition system. That in itself is a most worthwhile bonus for either sex when driving alone at night on any road, let alone on motorways.
Consideration could be given to the payment for fuel used by company car drivers. That would be a clear incentive to switch to Derv. And such a move, because of the effect on the motorist's pocket, would determine driver behaviour far more effectively than new regulations, speed restrictions and similar measures.
Noble Lords may have heard Anita Roddick, the founder and chairman of The Body Shop, a very large company, say on the Radio 4 "Today" programme last week that she encouraged her executives and employees to use a bicycle to travel to the station. She provided one model of company car to the entire range of her employees, which was a diesel. If they did not like it, they did not get a company car. She also said that we all ought to eat a lot of garlic, but I have not tried that yet!
Have we become too carried away by our love affair with the motor car, which is forever making more and 422 more demands on us? Are we so infatuated that we dare not look elsewhere? I suggest that we should look at alternatives, and in particular at the railway. Here I have to confess to some self interest. I was evacuated to South Wales in 1939 and drove my first steam locomotive—Great Western, of course— at the age of seven. I am still driving them 52 years later. Without wishing to seem immodest, my track record so far has been rather good.
Our railways were worn out by the end of the last war and have suffered ever since from continually changing guidelines. That is another story which we cannot go into today. However, I suggest that increased investment in electrified train services into major cities, combined with sensible fares and policies, would eliminate much urban car travel with major benefits to urban air quality and traffic flow.
Perhaps I may make two observations. British Rail tells me that a double-track railway line requires approximately 44½ feet of land whereas a six-lane motorway, which is probably unable to carry anything like the same weight of traffic, needs approximately 122 feet. Secondly, in terms of haulage, the heaviest train presently running on British railways is a privately-owned train carrying granite on a daily journey from Foster Yeoman's Somerset quarries. The gross weight of the train is 4,692 tonnes, hauled by one 4,500 h.p. diesel locomotive.
To move that quantity of granite by road would involve 144 38-tonne lorries. I checked with my local Ford dealer in Saffron Walden, who assured me that Ford's 38-tonne lorries utilise turbo-charged diesel engines of 360 h.p. each, which, if my calculations are correct, means that the horsepower involved by road is 51,840 as opposed to 4,500 by rail—eleven-and-a-half times as much. I know that that is the ultimate answer for the railway and that it is an exaggerated case. But there is no getting away from the fact that the rolling resistance of steel wheel on steel rail is always far less than that of rubber tyre on concrete. It is a fact of life.
I believe that not only do we want to protect the environment; we also want to protect the people. If we are to achieve that aim we must not only continue with the undoubted advantages of the motor car, which we could barely do without now, but we must also make use of and, more importantly, expand our railway system in order to prevent ourselves being fumigated and totally oppressed by excessive road transport in the 21st century.
Finally, in support of my theme perhaps I may quote from a letter written to The Times recently by Father Donald Bird of Lincolnshire. I have his permission to quote it. He wrote:Sir, in the Saturday Essay on January I 2th Peter Barnard presents a case for those who feel that if God had meant us to use trains he would not have given us Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari. Messrs Ford and Ferrari were not given to us by God but by the Devil. He did so knowing full well that the ultimate results of these gentlemen's efforts is an exquisite form of Hell known as the M25, especially on a wet Friday evening in Winter.No, Sir, The Lord God gave us the Railway. We know this from the evidence of Holy Writ. In Isaiah, Chapter 6, Verse I, we read that his (God's) train filled the temple. Surely it 423 must have been gauge "O" live steam, because in Verse 4, in the same Chapter, we read that the house was filled with smoke. On that evidence, Sir, I rest my case".And so do I, my Lords.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House it is a great privilege and pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, on his most effective maiden speech. I feel that he has probably sold at least 50 diesel-engined cars this afternoon. His expertise in land, local government and transport, and particularly in aviation, will be of great benefit to your Lordships. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing him many times in the future.
Any measures to improve traffic conditions on our roads are welcome. I regret that we are not discussing an integrated transport Bill, but I was nevertheless very relieved to hear the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, give a place to the future of buses in the transport system, particularly in London.
Part I of the Bill is particularly welcome since it is concerned with safety. The revised penalties for major offences and the new sentencing options will be helpful to magistrates in what I well remember as the most frustrating and unpopular area of duty, the traffic court. Part II is aimed at improving traffic conditions in London, but if the measures are successful—there seems to be some doubt about that, but we must assume that it is at least a possibility—it is possible that in the future they could be extended to other cities. We should bear that in mind when we examine their possible side effects.
Traffic management is a very skilful balancing exercise. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, drew attention to the possible spin-off from making it too easy to drive in cities. The aim is to keep the traffic moving, but not to make it move so freely that more road users are attracted from other routes and more travellers are encouraged to use their cars rather than other means of getting to and from their destinations.
In addition, if car travel to and in the city becomes too easy more commuters are encouraged to live further out, thereby increasing pressure on other areas, particularly rural areas. The environmental impact of building yet more motor roads to get travellers to and from jobs in cities has been discussed many times in your Lordships' House and we need not repeat the arguments today. It is important that the balancing act to which I referred earlier should be undertaken with an understanding of all the consequences of seemingly local action.
The cycle campaign network is concerned about the possible effect on cycle routes of the priority route network. In particular it is concerned that the provisions of Clause 54(1) (b), which relates to any other road whose use directly affects priority routes, may have an adverse effect on cycling provision. Such roads may even now be important for the cycling network and many will have potential for cycle tracks. It is essential that cycling organisations should be able to offer their advice in advance of any proposed change of status for such roads. Can the Minister tell me what consultation has taken place so far with cycling organisations and what arrangements can be 424 made for future consultation? I hope that the Minister can give a satisfactory answer on that issue, because if he cannot I may feel obliged to return to it by way of an amendment at a later stage.
Facilitating the safety of cyclists is an obvious way of easing traffic congestion. Cycling is healthy exercise and it does not pollute the environment. It is in the interests of us all that every facility should be given to encourage that means of transport. Cycling even improves the lot of the motorist. I believe that only last week the Department of the Environment issued a pamphlet entitled Wake up to what you can do for the environment. The pamphlet invites us toWALK, or cycle where it is safe to do so—walking is free, cycling can help to keep you fit. USE public transport whenever you can—using public transport reduces congestion".Is the Minister able to say how much consultation went on with the Department of the Environment before the pamphlet was produced? The section from which I have just quoted is headed "On the road" and gives guidance on how to reduce the environmental impact of travel by car.
I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, take a positive attitude in relation to the environmental impact of the car. In the past we have tended to ignore that impact, but I believe that in future we will have to pay much more attention to it. Interestingly enough, that pamphlet makes no mention of the best way to reduce pollution caused by cars, which is to introduce lower speed limits. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the production of the leaflet was discussed at the Department of Transport.
We are told by the Department of the Environment that one of the 19 green Ministers in its list is the right honourable Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Transport. Was he aware of the production of that pamphlet by the Department of the Environment? Was there any attempt to reconcile the aims of the department with the aims of the Bill? We have had many reassuring statements by the Government about the new environmental awareness of every department, and I am anxious to discover how it works in practice. The Bill should give some evidence of a new approach, if it exists. If the new approach is a real one and not just a public relations exercise, should we not expect the Bill to be more alive to the needs of cyclists and public transport, not to mention lower speed limits?
To put it mildly, I am disturbed to see that traffic management in London is to be taken out of the hands of elected local authorities. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis spoke most eloquently on this point, and I wish to support everything he said. Under the Bill responsibility is to be given to an appointed director answerable only to the Secretary of State. So far as I can see, local authorities will become a race of parking attendants. Clearly, London needs an overall plan, but the proposal is an offence in what is supposed to be a democratic society.
London's coherent and successful authority—the GLC—was destroyed for vindictive political reasons. The ill-effects of that destruction rumble on, and the latest manifestation of them is an affront to democracy. I am astonished that this has aroused so 425 little public reaction; I can only assume that the information has not yet penetrated public consciousness. I am sorry that the media have not chosen to pick up this aspect of the Bill. Where is the principle of accountability which the party opposite claims is the linchpin of their approach to local affairs? Perhaps the Minister can explain how a dissatisfied local resident who is not happy about the arrangements inflicted upon him is to isolate them from the hurly-burly of a general election, because that will be the only opportunity he will have to express an opinion on the management of London traffic?
Local traffic is a matter for local people, and the management of it should stay in local hands. I fear we may not be able to do anything about my last criticism of the Bill, but as it progresses I hope we will be able to do something about the other aspects which have yet to be brought up to the standard we expect.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Brabazon for his admirable presentation of the Bill, and indeed for the substance of the two parts, both of which I believe have a valuable contribution to make. I was a little surprised at the weight of criticism visited by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, on the head of my noble friend for what he thought were faults and deficiencies in the Bill. No doubt we shall he discussing those points at greater length at Committee stage.
I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Braybrooke on his maiden flight and successful three-point landing. We were all very much entertained by it.
It is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. I am afraid I am not in complete agreement with her on her views about the management of London traffic because, as I believe my speech will demonstrate, I do not believe it will be possible for the 33 local highway authorities to come together in a consortium to manage something as complex as that.
I shall not speak about Part I, fascinating though many aspects of it are. Again, I look forward to the Committee stage when we shall be able to discuss it at length.
Part II gives the Secretary of State authority to establish in London a system of some 300 miles of arterial/priority routes for traffic, on the lines of his 1989 White Paper, from the periphery to the centre. The major interest for me is that this is the first time the science of traffic engineering has been comprehensively applied in Britain to assist the movement of traffic in a great city. On that I agree with the noble Baroness that other great cities in the country may well follow suit. I hope they will do so when they see the success of this scheme.
Such traffic systems have been applied in cities in the United States for many years. Although the Americans have eight or 10 times as much traffic as we have, on the whole they keep it moving a great deal better. When I was Parliamentary Secretary for Transport (a third of a century ago) I visited the 426 United States and learnt the rudiments of traffic engineering. I invited the chief engineer of the Ministry of Transport to accompany me to have a look at it, but he declined. I felt that was somewhat symptomatic of the British attitude. What I learnt was that in United States cities, traffic engineering was a supplement to conventional engineering science applied to the study of vehicles moving on the highway with a view to getting maximum traffic capacity and safety. I saw that their traffic movement was significantly better than ours. I returned to England anxious to bestow those benefits on our traffic, but I learnt that in the whole of Britain there was no university which taught traffic engineering. I discovered that a one-year postgraduate course was needed in some existing universities. Birmingham was anxious to have one if I could finance the start-up, which would cost £—150,000 quite a lot of money in those days. I raised that sum of money privately by some generous gifts from a number of interests: the motorcar, oil and insurance industries, road contractors, the AA and the RAC. The first principal was a brilliant Pole—a splendid character called Professor Kolbuszewski. The course was soon turning out some well-trained traffic engineers. County highway authorities were never more than lukewarm, with the exception of that admirable character Sir Herbert Manzoni of Birmingham who was always a strong supporter. About three years ago the university decided to close down the postgraduate course as an economy measure. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, and I protested but to no avail.
I make that point to emphasise the measure of achievement of my noble friend the Minister against the discouraging historical background. It is clear that my noble friend and the Secretary of State have prevailed mightily to get the Bill before Parliament, and great credit and warm congratulations are due to them and their civil servant advisers. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the authority to establish a system of arterial routes from the periphery to the centre of the metropolis on which absolute priority will be given to moving traffic for six hours a day, covering three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening in the commuter flow.
I pick up a point that has been made by noble Lords opposite and by the noble Baroness. In the Commons amendments were moved which proposed that the local authorities should design and operate the red route system. They were to form a consortium to do so. As I mentioned earlier, there were 33 authorities. The noble Baroness is perfectly right and it is an attractive idea. However, all experience confirms the difficulty in achieving unanimity among 33 different local highway authorities. Indeed, there was a specific instance of that situation on this Bill. Some local authorities were in favour and others were against the red route system.
A similar situation occurred with the traffic light system. The Secretary of State offered the traffic light system to the local authorities but they rejected it. So it is not possible to expect them to be able to form a consortium to do something so difficult.
427 However, the fact is that London's traffic movement must be considered as a unity. Implicit in the strategy to improve traffic movement is the need for each local authority to surrender a measure of its autonomy as a highway authority in order to make the strategy effective for London as a whole. It is interesting to record that in Committee in another place, the report of which noble Lords will have read, powerful arguments were put forward and amendments moved about the damage to local interests and generally promoting that thought. Nevertheless, in the other House the Bill was agreed in principle. I imagine that in this House also the principle will be agreed, although we shall no doubt argue the details in Committee.
At present motor cars and vans park along the kerb of major routes throughout the day, mostly illegally on single yellow lines, thus denying two lanes of the highway to moving traffic. Worse still, when another delivery van arrives it double parks and usually blocks the whole traffic flow in one direction. The consequence of such haphazard practices is that at peak times the average speed of traffic has fallen to about 11 miles per hour and about half that speed for buses, at huge cost to the commercial life of London. With the introduction of the red routes, no vehicles except buses will he allowed to stop at the kerb from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Strict enforcement of the parking regulations is essential.
Buses will benefit from these measures. They will have better movement and, wherever possible, bus lanes as well. In addition—my noble friend may confirm this—I expect that the director of traffic will co-ordinate traffic lights on these routes and restrain the crossing traffic by phasing the traffic light cycle during the two three-hour periods to give at least a five to one, if not a ten to one, priority to the red route traffic. The phasing would return to normal when the priority ended. That is normal practice in any such system.
Despite those aids to traffic flow there will still be some major intersections where bottlenecks and hold-ups will occur. The right solution then is to construct an underpass. Traffic engineers know where they should be sited. However, I understand that the Treasury has already turned them down. I urge my noble friend the Minister and the Secretary of State to return to the Treasury with renewed strength. I am certain that the expenditure on an underpass at a major intersection will be justified many times over on economic grounds. It is worth mentioning—I recall my personal experience a third of a century ago—that the Hyde Park Corner east-west underpass was built and that has saved its cost many times over.
To conclude, I believe that the red route concept is a bold and imaginative move. It is enormously difficult for the Minister to carry with him such a huge body of local authorities but he has evidently gone a long way to doing so. I am certain that it will bring substantial benefits to the traffic flow of London. It will prove to be for the prosperity of London as a whole. I warmly support the Bill.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, on his thoughtful, wide-ranging and witty contribution to the debate. I have an additional reason to mention his name. For many generations his family has been connected with a college in Cambridge with which I have certain links. I am very glad that there is every prospect that he will continue to play an active part in our affairs.
In declaring my interest as President of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, I should make clear that I have a particular interest in those aspects of road traffic law which, in addition to ensuring that vehicles are safe to use on the road, also provide protection for the car buying public, especially those who buy used cars. I was struck by the comment of the Secretary of State for Transport at Second Reading in another place. He said:The purpose of the Bill is to save lives—it is as simple as that. Many of its provisions will make an important contribution towards continuing the significant improvements in road safety that we have seen in recent years. Although there has been considerable progress, I am conscious that much remains to be done".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/12/90; col. 687.]In introducing this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, spoke very much to the same effect.
During the last Session, with the assistance of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration and the Automobile Association, I introduced a Motor Trade (Consumer Protection) Bill. That was a measure which, in seeking to provide greater protection for road users and car buyers, considered some of those things which, as the Secretary of State said, remained to be done. While the Bill which I introduced successfully completed all its stages in this House, it ran into difficulties when it reached the other place. The Bill was concerned with three areas of the motor trade: unroadworthy cars, "clocked" cars and insurance write-offs. I wanted to tighten the defence under Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, to prevent dealers too easily evading conviction for selling unroadworthy cars, and to give trading standards officers the power to take action in such cases. I was concerned that too many motorists had been defrauded and misled for too long by the crime of "clocking" or winding back car milometers. I also drew attention to the way in which insurance total write-off vehicles currently can be inadequately repaired and resold to unsuspecting customers without going through any official safety check.
I am pleased to see, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, indicated in his opening remarks, that the Road Traffic Bill goes some way to answer a part of these issues and that in Clause 16 there is an amendment to the Road Traffic Act 1988 which will require dealers charged with offering to sell an unroadworthy vehicle to prove that they took all reasonable steps to ensure that any prospective purchaser would be aware that its use on the road in that condition would he unlawful. My proposal would have required that that be done by a prominent notice on the car windscreen. I am not sure why that 429 approach was favoured since it would have left dealers and the courts in no doubt about the condition of the car. I also went further and suggested that if a dealer sold an unroadworthy car, a defence would be available only if all sales documents prominently indicated that the car's use on a road would be illegal.
It is an important issue because random checks by trading standards officers have shown that over a wide area in April 1987 more than 75 per cent. of vehicles inspected on garage forecourts were unroadworthy —some dangerously so. In an earlier check of 50 used cars offered for sale in a London borough all were found to be unroadworthy. However strong the offence, it will he to no avail unless it is effectively enforced. My noble friend Lord Tordoff referred specifically to resources. Currently in the case of unroadworthy cars it is solely down to the police and the Department of Transport vehicle examiners, neither of whom are able to devote any significant resources to inspecting cars on dealers' forecourts. It appears to be the case that no prosecution for this offence has ever been taken by the vehicle examiners.
I suggested that trading standards officers, who have already have wide responsibility for the safety of many products and materials, and who spend much of their time dealing with the problems of used cars, should also have the necessary enforcement powers in order to give a greater chance for this important provision to be effectively enforced. However, when the matter was raised in another place during the Committee stage of the Bill on 7th February the Minister indicated that it was not necessary to extend the power to trading standards officers and that he would consider the lack of prosecutions brought by the vehicle inspectorate.
The Minister believed that the lack of prosecutions did not necessarily mean that the inspectorate was not active as it might carry out inspections and issue warnings and prohibition notices instead. I shall be interested to know the result of the Minister's considerations. My own belief is that any activity on garage forecourts by the vehicle inspectorate will have been almost solely in conjunction with trading standards officers and on the understanding that the burden of taking any legal proceedings would fall on the trading standards officers and not on the vehicle inspectorate.
Perhaps it is timely to question whether the Department of Transport now has a policy of reducing, for reasons of economy, the number of prosecutions which it is prepared to undertake. I ask that question because I have been shown a very recent discussion paper from the Department of Transport concerning another area of work where trading standards officers and Department of Transport examiners already have dual enforcement responsibility.
The work is concerned with stopping lorries on the highway to determine whether they are overloaded. In its discussion paper, the department is proposing to relax significantly the amount of overload which would presently result in prosecution. In paragraph 18 430 of the proposal it puts forward as one of the arguments the costs of attending court, preparing cases, and employing legal representation.
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which through its members employs a significant number of trading standards officers engaged on that duty, has already expressed grave concern about the proposed relaxation in prosecution criteria and will be looking at the matter further. However, taken with my anxieties about ineffective enforcement of the provision relating to unroadworthy vehicles, I wonder whether the proposed relaxation is part of a broader plan to reduce costs.
When it comes to adding mileage information to the DVLA vehicle database in order to deter the clocking of cars, I was told during the passage of my Bill that such a scheme would be too large an investment for the Government; and that the trading standards organisations should consider working with private companies already in the business of tracing and recording vehicle histories.
When the Motor Trade (Consumer Protection) Bill failed, the Institute of Trading Standards Administration did just that and spent many months of detailed work with a company known as HP Information plc. The scheme should have been finalised last month. However, HPI was acquired suddenly by another information-providing company. The future of this commercially backed mileage recording scheme is therefore in the melting pot. In view of the importance of the issue, there should be another look at providing statutory backing for such a scheme.
Finally, in the case of cars which have suffered significant accident damage and are categorised by insurance companies as a "total loss" or "write off', it is surprising that there has still been no attempt to ensure that they cannot be put back on the road without passing a stringent safety check. Somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 cars a year are written off by insurance companies, and half of those are repaired and re-registered. Random tests carried out over a period of years suggest that from 12 to 16 per cent. of those latter vehicles, when repaired and offered for sale, are unsafe. I know that the Department of Transport has instigated its own survey into the standard of repairs on 500 total loss cars. Insurance companies now voluntarily pass information about total losses on to Swansea. It is surely a small step to requiring that those cars cannot be registered until they have passed a suitable test.
The Bill before us would be much strengthened in its objective of making the roads safer if it were amended to take account of the points that I have raised. I trust that appropriate amendments will be brought forward at Committee stage.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I welcome the Bill. My interest relates to measures that make our roads safer and more efficient. Growing road traffic increases the pressure on road space and we need constantly to update the law governing the use of roads. I am also 431 delighted that more emphasis is being given to bus priorities in London through the proposed red routes as a result of the private scheme now taking place.
I now take a turn that is neither specifically to the left nor to the right. I wish to deal with a part of the Bill which has not yet been addressed and with one issue thereafter. The first issue relates to what will be for many areas of the country totally new classes of road traffic. I refer to light rail vehicles and trolley buses. Your Lordships may well be aware that, although there is a street-running tramway in Blackpool along the promenade, it does not share the general roadway with other traffic except on short sections of road. The situation will begin to change by the end of the year when the Manchester Metrolink opens. It will run on-street through the heart of one of our busiest cities. In the next two years an even more extensive network of street-running light railway will open in Sheffield. In Bradford, the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive has parliamentary powers to build and operate trolley buses. Many other light railway schemes hope to follow in the footsteps of Manchester, Sheffield and Blackpool, and indeed the West Midlands. The Minister for Public Transport expressed the hope in another place that a dozen might be running by the end of the century.
Despite what it may seem, this is not a digression from the Bill now before us. I have researched the application of the current road traffic laws relating to light rail vehicles and trolley buses and have found some alarming gaps. For example, at present a constable does not have the power to stop a light rail vehicle when it is running on the road. In addition, certain laws relating to road speed limits do not apply to such vehicles. Those are only two of many examples.
The reason for the gap is that it is almost 30 years since the last major street tramway was in operation in the United Kingdom—with the honourable exception of Blackpool, whose authority knows about the comments that I am making this afternoon and the amendments that I intend to table. The last street tramway to close was in Glasgow. Trolley buses had disappeared from the streets by the early 1970s. Since then a great deal of legislation relating to road traffic has been introduced, but little applies to light rail vehicles and trolley buses. They are controlled only through legislation of varying degrees of antiquity and through local bylaws. That is not a satisfactory situation as has been recognised by the Department of Transport. The department has consulted extensively on certain issues but for whatever reason has been unable to bring forward legislation specifically intended to deal with street-running light rail vehicles and trolley buses.
One of the ways in which Members of this House can improve the Bill is to seek to amend it by bringing light rail vehicles and trolley buses within the scope of road traffic regulations where appropriate and where it is clearly in the interests of public safety. If the House were to do so, innovative modes of public transport would be able to develop within a clearly-defined single framework governing their operation on the roads.
432 I turn now to Clauses 11 and 12. In respect of Clause 11 and the inspection of vehicles I shall table an amendment to provide that when coaches are taken off the road for testing it should be for only two miles instead of five. The testing period should he limited to half an hour instead of having an unlimited period. My reasons for suggesting that are, first, that many coaches come from the Continent and their passengers must make connections at various points. Secondly, many stations have no comfort facilities. That is particularly important for middle-aged and elderly passengers who normally travel on such coaches. However, a football team could experience such problems. Thirdly, if the coach is delayed the driver might be taken out of time in respect of regulations relating to driving hours. The vehicle could be delayed for six hours before a replacement driver was found. I shall also table an amendment providing for a qualified constable to prohibit vehicles from being driven by unqualified drivers.
I look forward to developing those points at later stages of the Bill. This is a necessary Bill with great potential.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I am an owner and driver of two cars, one in the North of England and one in London. The reason is that it is immensely difficult for a severely disabled person to move around without a car. Being unable to walk, the lack of suitable public transport and the taxi drivers' lack of knowledge of disabled people, even though many cabs have been made suitable for wheelchair users, add up to a difficult situation. That is one example of the extra costs that are incurred by disabled people.
The problems on our roads, with so many coned-off areas making long delays and traffic jams inevitable, have made many motorists so frustrated that their stress levels must sometimes reach breaking point. I have sat for long hours on the A.1, M.1 and M.6, and even last Friday on the A.40 to Oxford I experienced long delays.
I cannot speak in the debate without commenting on the horrifying pile-ups in fog which have killed so many people on our roads and motorways. Surely with modern technology providing stronger lights, with far stricter enforcement of speed limits which if not adhered to would result in guilty drivers losing their licences and with more police vehicles visible on motorways and other roads such madness and tragedies might be avoided. Can we not make some provision in the Bill to try to avoid the worsening carnage which occurs on our roads in fog?
Between 5,000 and 6,000 people are killed on our roads each year. If noble Lords saw a pile of 6,000 dead bodies in Parliament Square I am sure that we should be horrified. We must not be complacent in saying that our figures are no worse than in some other European countries. Some countries have an even worse record than ours. Other countries should also try to do better. In addition to the Bill, can we not have a concerted publicity campaign directed towards the prevention of all kinds of road accidents? When 433 lorries and other vehicles pound past drivers on the motorways, the spray, slush and water mixed with exhaust are hazardous and disturbing. Various Ministers in this House have often said that improvements are to be made, but still the problem persists. Can the Minister give us hope of forthcoming improvements?
I receive letters from people with varying problems but the most tragic and desperate have been those that I have received from people who have had a family members killed by a drunken driver. Even worse are cases concerning drunken drivers who have killed on two separate occasions or perhaps more. Many people will welcome Clauses 3 and 4, which deal with causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. But people who have been seriously injured by such a driver or whose friend or relation have been killed will feel that the Bill does not go far enough. I should be grateful if the Minister would expand on the testing of people who have taken or are suspected of taking drugs. Drugs are complex and their measurement in the body may not be as easy as that of alcohol.
I welcome Clause 29 providing for courses for drink-drive offenders because rehabilitation is a step in the right direction. Such courses should be available in every prison and more should be available in the community. Who will run the courses? Will they come under the probation service, some other organisation or even the Department of Transport? Alcohol and drug abuse and illness and addiction are not simple matters. A one-off drinking binge is one thing but the habit of drinking and taking drugs cannot be cured by attending just a few sessions. Many abusers undergo intensive programmes of treatment, but, with every good intention, they often lapse back into their old habits. Who will monitor the courses? I am glad to hear that they are to be monitored. Which department will hold the information? The Department of Transport, the Home Office and the Department of Health all deal with the problem. Perhaps we need a new department—the department on addiction—with a Minister to co-ordinate all the problems.
I have been lobbied, as I am sure other noble Lords will have been, by many organisations representing a wide selection of the public on the need for random breath tests. There is great anxiety throughout the country that we need safer roads.
I move on to another aspect which is equally important and equally complicated but not so dramatic; that is, matters concerning disabled people. Anyone at any time may become seriously disabled as a result of an accident or illness. It is not just those people who suffer; their families suffer too. If adequate facilities are not available in the community to enable disabled people who are able to do so to go about their daily lives there will be problems.
Part II contains measures to improve traffic conditions in London. However, they could adversely affect disabled motorists if certain changes cannot be agreed. Part II offers an opportunity to introduce urgently needed improvements in the orange badge scheme and provisions for disabled motorists in 434 central London. That need will increase with the strengthening of parking controls in London. Disabled motorists are those whose disabilities make it necessary to resort to the use of a private road vehicle in London because the public transport network is inaccessible to them.
If the needs of disabled motorists are not to be overlooked, it is essential for there to be specific reference on the face of the Bill to those needs and how they can be met. Such references need to appear at various points in that part of the Bill dealing with priority routes and red routes where parking is generally abolished and strict controls placed on loading and unloading.
A person who is unable to walk and unable to use public transport is entirely different from anyone else. A red route could become a no-go area for disabled people if proper provisions are not agreed. There should be specific mention of the needs of disabled motorists in Clauses 45, 47, 48, 49, 50 and 57.
Many people believe that if one is an orange badge holder one can park almost anywhere. That is not the case. I have been involved with orange badge legislation over the years. There are still problems, but disabled people who are badge holders are anxious that the scheme should not fall into disrepute. Disabled people are dismayed when the badges are used by non-disabled people. Disabled people are asking for the mere display of a badge when the vehicle is not being used by a disabled badge holder to be made an offence.
Because the orange badge is not recognised in central London and those boroughs have their own badges for people living and working in the area, disabled people who need to travel around London on business or pleasure have no parking concessions whatever. It would be very welcome if the Minister would meet with interested Members of your Lordships' House and representatives of some of the disabled organisations such as RADAR before the next stage of the Bill. We may find satisfactory solutions and thus save some of your Lordships' precious time.
I have spoken with the Minister about the matter of taxi drivers and disabled people. However, I should like to mention it to your Lordships. Many taxis in London have now been made suitable for a person in a wheelchair. I travel to and from stations a great deal and I use taxis. I find that many of the drivers refuse to take disabled people. When tackled on the subject, their excuses are that they do not know how the ramps work, they are frightened that they will do the wrong thing or just cannot be bothered to give the few moments of extra time required. When one thinks that many people who help the disabled day in and day out are often women who are not very strong, that is a sorry state of affairs. So often what is vital is not just the adaptation of equipment, such as a taxi, but the training and advice given to the operator so that he knows what to do. So many taxi drivers have said that the ramps are still in their plastic wrappers in the boot of the taxi. Perhaps the Minister will say when he will do something about the problem as regards the cab 435 firms and owners of private cabs. Disabled people are not being treated as citizens but are being abandoned and have no other alternatives open to them.
As I travel around London I notice that vehicles delivering goods hold up traffic for long periods. Would it not be possible for that to be done after the shops and offices have closed, especially in the City where there are not many residential areas and people sleeping would not be disturbed? That would not include small vans delivering food, flowers and such commodities as newspapers but apply only to heavy vehicles which take up half the road.
My three priorities for this Bill would be preventing accidents on the road, keeping the traffic flowing and giving disabled people facilities so that their daily life does not have to stop.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill to us so clearly. As he said, the North Report was published in April 1988 and the Government's White Paper was published soon after that. On 5th April 1989, as noble Lords will remember, I introduced a short debate on the road user and the law. Now, at long last, there is a Bill which will implement the North Report's proposals to reduce accidents, death and injury on our roads. Like other noble Lords and everyone involved in road transport and safety, I welcome the Bill.
The proposals in Part I have the potential to make a valuable contribution towards making our roads a safer place for road users. However, this Bill will not do that by itself. There must be a big change in driver behaviour and awareness before we shall achieve the target of a one-third reduction in road casualties by the year 2000.
Like other noble Lords, I warmly welcome the use of automated video-based technology to assist in the detection of speeding vehicles and to provide evidence for the purposes of prosecuting not only drivers of speeding vehicles but also traffic light jumpers. That is becoming widespread. Perhaps my noble friend will tell me whether such technology will be used also to keep the junction boxes clear and if so, what sort of penalty that would carry. I am told that in Scandinavia where cameras are in use, there are more boxes than cameras so that drivers do not know which boxes are operational. I am told that that works very well, and perhaps we should consider that.
I am sorry that there seems to be no mention of motorway driving to stop "tailgating" and, more importantly, to enforce lane discipline. I am told that in Belgium and perhaps in other countries that is a fixed penalty offence which works well. I ask my noble friend to give that matter serious thought and perhaps to table an amendment at Committee stage.
Clause 29 is going in the right direction but the type of course—and thereby the course content—must be such that the offender's attitude towards using a motor vehicle whilst unfit through the use of drink or drugs is changed, and that his or her behaviour reflects that changed attitude. I am told that the courses presently available in this country are varied in content and largely operated by the probation services 436 in association with the local road safety officer and/or the police. Much of the content is didactic in nature, and little objective evaluation has been conducted to ascertain the actual value of the courses. That is not to say that I or RoSPA do not support the concept; far from it. I wish simply to say that greater investment of resources will be required to produce a standard—proven—course which is likely to provide the most appropriate environment for the problem drinker in which to change his or her ways.
There is little point in requiring attendance on specific courses if they do not accomplish the desired result; that is, presumably stopping the drinker wishing to drive his or her motor vehicle while unfit. The involvement of the TRRL is welcomed. However, there may need to be a lengthy running-in period during which various schemes are tested.
Clause 31 only makes it mandatory for a court to order an extended driving test for a restricted range of offences. In so doing the Bill fails to implement a major recommendation of the North committee, which proposed that the courts should order a mandatory extended driving test for all driving offences attracting disqualification of 12 months or more.
I and others fail to understand the logic in omitting drinking and driving offences from the re-testing proposals. Drink drivers are by definition irresponsible. Their omission from the re-testing removes a useful penalty. We believe that the re-testing proposals should he extended as North recommended: to cover all offences requiring disqualification of 12 months or more. Both clauses go in the right direction, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft advised me that the voluntary services welcomed them also.
In the White Paper, paragraph 3.23, headed "Traffic Signs", says that the Government intend to simplify and clarify the legislation on traffic signs. That does not appear in the Bill. Perhaps my noble friend could say what is proposed. Likewise, I see no reference to day fines in paragraph 12.20 of the White Paper.
Under Clause 2 of the Bill—"Careless, and inconsiderate, driving"—can we not include the use of car signals? All too often drivers turn without using their indicators, which, if not inconsiderate to pedestrians and other drivers, is at least careless driving.
Under Clause 22, will the police be able to use video equipment in their cars as recommended by North in the White Paper in paragraph 5.1? Perhaps my noble friend can advise me. Many of us, and North, are specifically concerned about enforcement of the law by the police and the courts. Who worries about penalties and the outcome of offences if they think there is little chance of being caught in the first place? The cameras will go a long way to help but we need more police on our roads and motorways. I am not in favour of a new police force to deal with traffic. I suggest we leave it as it is; but let us have more police on the roads in marked cars and not plain ones. I know it is not relevant to the Bill, but perhaps we 437 could have more uniform sentencing. At present all too often a different sentence is given for the same offence; there is too much variation.
Random breath testing was mentioned. I am not in favour of it. The most appropriate means of deterring the drinking driver is better and more obvious enforcement.
Part II of the Bill concerns the red routes. I am totally in favour of them; they must improve the movement of traffic in London, so long as drivers do not block the junctions,—something that I have already mentioned.
Paragraph 6.6 of the White Paper states that the Government recognise the importance of improving public understanding of the law; that it is proposed to produce a clear and simple guide for the lay person to understand and a revised Highway Code. I hope that my noble friend can give me news of that and say when it will be produced.
This is the first time for a long time and may be the last for some years that we shall be able to amend driving offences in depth. Let us take the opportunity to bring the laws up to modern times to meet the changes that are taking place. North and his team did a good job. Let us do it right and not have another report like this for some time to come.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I was appointed Minister for Transport in July 1954 by Sir Winston Churchill. It follows that I have seen a number of road traffic Bills of one kind or another. This Bill falls into two parts. Part II deals with London. Part I deals with general road traffic law. It is on that part that I wish to express a little mild surprise.
We have heard already—most movingly I thought —from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, about the enormous number of casualties occurring on our roads. Every year over 5,000 people are killed and some 300,000 injured. It struck me during the debate that those appalling figures appear to have made remarkably little impact either on your Lordships' House or on some of the terms of the Bill. If casualties of anything like this nature were incurred in any other form of transport, in the air or on the railways, there would be the most appalling outcry and a demand for drastic measures. This steady figure, which has been maintained to a greater or lesser degree over a number of years, does not seem to stir people into feeling that drastic action must be taken.
I am not sure that that detachment is shared by those outside. A great many people who have suffered the loss of a relation, friend or a dear one, feel bitter about the appalling number of casualties on the roads. I wonder whether the Government are giving particular thought to this matter. The M.4 catastrophe of a few days ago undoubtedly aroused and focused public attention on the matter to a greater extent than perhaps has been the case for many years.
So that I do not appear to be simply bemoaning the failure of successive governments to deal successfully with the matter, let me put forward one suggestion which was briefly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord 438 Clinton-Davis. I refer to the question of speed limits. It is the fact that on the highways of the United States the prevailing normal speed limit is 55 miles per hour, though I accept at once that in certain states that is modified to allow 65 miles per hour.
On the whole, the highways of the United States are magnificent, as those noble Lords who have travelled on them know. They cover long distances. It does not seem to be self-evident that we in this country, with our high casualty lists, are necessarily right in maintaining a higher speed limit of 70 miles per hour which, as has been pointed out, includes not only cars but also coaches. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who drew attention to that point in regard to coaches. I agree with him. I suggest that the question of speed limits needs careful consideration.
I do not know whether your Lordships saw a most interesting letter in The Times of last Saturday from Professor Miles Irving who is the chairman of the external affairs board of the Royal College of Surgeons. In that letter he drew attention to the dangers resulting from high speed on the roads and to the desirability of tightening up on speed limits. In an interesting aside he said that there were two ways of seeking to deal with this very serious loss of life. The first was to reduce permitted speeds and to enforce them. In parenthesis, those of us who travel on our roads know that the 70 miles per hour limit is not enforced and that, from the point of view of police action if not as regards their own neck, anybody can safely travel at 80 miles per hour or more.
The professor makes the point that speed limits should be rigidly and properly enforced. He also said that one wants to establish that decent standards of social behaviour do not include driving fast and endangering your own life or the lives of other people. I commend to the Government that very interesting letter which appeared in The Times. It is from someone who speaks with the peculiar authority of his position.
In the great United States 55 miles per hour is the normal maximum speed on the major highways, and that is all that they consider permissible. That raises the question of whether we are right to go on year after year on the basis of an unqualified and unchallenged 70 miles per hour. I emphasise, as I tried to do a moment or so ago, that it will be no use altering the speed limit unless there is proper enforcement. On the highways of the United States there is very strict enforcement. Those provisions give us cause to wonder very seriously indeed whether we are right to maintain that high limit.
Mention has been made of the possibility of a random breath test. I am against that. It would damage the relationship between police and public if the ordinary driver were to feel that any policeman can suddenly stop him and breath test him in slightly humiliating circumstances and, in a large number of cases, unnecessarily. The relationship between police and public would not be helped by that. The present powers of the police go a long way in that direction and I do not think that they are inadequate. Therefore, if noble Lords discuss this matter in 439 Committee I hope that we shall reject the proposal, though I fully understand the sincerity and the very proper spirit in which it has been put forward.
I return again to the subject of speed limits. It is quite absurd that it should be permitted for car manufacturers and dealers to advertise publicly that the cars which they make and sell can be driven at twice the legal speed limit of this country. To advertise such a fact is an incitement to the public, and to purchasers in particular. That kind of advertising should be prohibited. Just as advertising of other criminal activities is a breach of the law so should advertising be which suggests that if one of these cars is purchased you can break the law in it with some ease.
I am delighted at the proposed appointment of a director of traffic for London. We do not want to bring in the local authorities, but we need a central authority. A director of traffic under my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is the right answer. I hope that the director will be backed with sufficient authority. I very much favour the red routes, though as a personal prejudice I wish that they were called blue routes. I very much favour the idea of these routes. I hope that they will be designed to effect what is really needed in London traffic—that is to say, to link up the motorways coming into outer London with the centre of the city by roads which are kept clear so that they can be moved on effectively. That would be a very great improvement.
In my opening remarks I referred to my past experience. I put forward one idea which I hope that my noble friend will consider. In the 1950s we were already very much concerned with traffic congestion in London in the rush hour. We arranged to negotiate with many of the major employers for the staggering of office hours in order to secure that people went to and from their offices, but not all at the same time. For example, it was arranged that for three days of the week particular offices should open at 7.30 a.m. or 8 a.m. and close at 3.30 p.m. or 4 p.m. so that those attending travelled outside the main rush hour. Equally, on the other two days of the week, the offices were to open latish, at 9 a.m. or 9.15 a.m., and stay open until 6 p.m. or 6.30 p.m.
That arrangement was taken up on a wholly voluntary basis; there was no compulsion about it. It did effect considerable relief for people who have to travel to and from work in central London. That arrangement could not apply to people at the top of their organisations who had to be at their offices when other heads of organisations were also at their offices. However, that provision applied very effectively to the large clerical and administrative staffs that large companies employ in central London.
After I left the Ministry of Transport that idea was dropped. I do not know whether any thought has been given to reviving it. That arrangement is no more than a palliative and not a cure. It means that more people travel over a wider spread of time and therefore with less congestion to compete with than they might otherwise encounter.
440 The other major problem in central London is the unloading of vans on busy traffic routes. As I understand it, the red routes proposal will restrict unloading to certain hours in respect of offices on those routes. I wonder whether that is sufficient. I wonder whether we should not restrict unloading of any considerable size and weight to late evening and weekends. I do not know whether noble Lords ever have occasion to travel in Beauchamp Place which is a vital traffic connection between routes into London and a good deal of south-west London. Beauchamp Place has a double yellow line on either side but almost always there is a large number of vehicles parked loading or unloading goods in complete disregard of the double yellow lines and without any visible intervention by the authorities or the police. There is a need for much stricter enforcement of the double yellow lines, not only on the red routes but generally on busy traffic routes. That is one of the ways in which we can ease the problems of London.
Several noble Lords have spoken as though the way to deal with the problem is simply to discourage the entry of cars into London and to compel people to use public transport. That is not a very sensible idea. The individual journeys that people have to make do not always coincide with the public transport system. Many people have to use their cars coming from home to the office, quite apart from the problems of the disabled person, so eloquently referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham.
While doing all we can to boost public transport and to improve it in many ways, we have also to try to prevent obstruction of the roads which will stop people from using their cars if they decide so to do. To do otherwise is to challenge the whole spirit of today. Possession of a car now goes far down the economic scale. It is widespread and it represents what I am sure people of the present generation regard as a necessity of life. Therefore it must surely be right that government should seek to provide the best possible means for those cars to get to and from their destinations.
At the risk of appearing to indulge in repetition, perhaps I may suggest that the unloading of vehicles and the setting up of builders' skips on important traffic routes should be firmly restricted. I realise that this will cause some hardship and some expense, but the greatest good of the greatest number suggests that there should be the greatest possible freedom to use roads for the purpose for which we build roads—to enable people to use them and to get to and from their work.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I must start by apologising to the House for the fact that I have a long-standing engagement at a quarter to seven. I shall of course do my very best to be back for the Minister's winding-up speech but I apologise to those of your Lordships whose speeches I may miss in the interim.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for his very full introduction to this wide-ranging Bill. So comprehensive is it that one really only has time to deal with four or five aspects of it. First, I should like 441 to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, on his thoughtful, thought-provoking, dryly humourous and powerfully delivered maiden speech.
Perhaps I may very briefly comment on the statistic of 5,000 deaths given by the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Of course every single fatality on the road is a tragedy for somebody, but we really ought to remember what I think has been forgotten—that the number of fatalities per vehicle mile has fallen by a staggering 94 per cent. over the past 55 years. Deaths and injuries have also fallen in absolute terms as well. That is a magnificent achievement. Britain is now one of the safest countries in the world in which to drive, although it has to be said that the statistics for pedestrians are rather less good.
Perhaps I may start at the middle, as it were, by touching very briefly on Clause 40, which deals with the powers of local authorities to regulate parking attendants. I entirely agree with the submission of the Automobile Association that local authority parking attendants should be compelled to wear a nationally recognisable style of uniform. But one further safeguard is required; namely; that such parking attendants be remunerated in the conventional way by means of a daily, weekly or monthly wage or salary and not on a piecework basis—in other words, according to the number of parking tickets issued.
A dentist of my acquaintance, who practises in the Wimpole Street area, has a patient who is somewhat infirm. Recently her husband drove her to his surgery for treatment. He managed to park right outside and, leaving his engine ticking over, got out of the driver's door and walked round to the near side of the car so as to open the passenger door and assist his wife out of the car on to the pavement. While he was in the middle of doing this a parking warden came along and slapped a ticket on his windscreen. When he protested the attendant merely shrugged his shoulders, said he was just doing his job and then added that all parking attendants in the City of Westminster receive supplementary pay according to the number of tickets issued. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is an intolerable way of doing things, is open to every sort of abuse, is liable to stir up bad blood between the citizen and the authorities and is something that ought not to be perpetuated.
I revert now to the early clauses of the Bill. The reintroduction of the offence of dangerous driving—it is a reintroduction and not an introduction as the Minister seemed to suggest—and the fiasco over the interpretation of the word "reckless" is rather extraordinary. I guess that 999 people out of 1,000 would interpret "reckless" to mean objectively reckless and not subjectively so. The notion that an individual can be so drunk or so doped to the eyeballs that he is incapable of realising that he is being reckless is an odd one. Having said that, I do not doubt that the Government's legal advisers know exactly what they are doing and have got the wording right at long last. It would nonetheless be interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, when he winds up just how many people have escaped 442 conviction on the grounds that they were "unconscious" of their recklessness, so to speak, or merely plain unconscious.
I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Knights about the proposal to introduce a new offence of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. This is perfectly reasonable in theory—but I must point out a possible flaw. Someone who takes antihistamines for hay fever, for example, is, technically speaking, driving under the influence of drugs. It is a drug that affects the central nervous system and may adversely affect driving. It would be terrible if an accident was caused thereby, but I wonder whether Parliament really intends to send people to prison for up to five years if they have killed somebody accidentally as a result of taking antihistamines. Perhaps it does, perhaps it does not, but it is something that we ought to think about.
As we have heard already today, certain pressure groups sometimes use statistics that are a little dubious, to say the least, to try to bully the Government into introducing random breath tests. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that this is a move we should totally oppose. I think my noble friend Lord Knights would acknowledge that the public perception of the police today is not what it was in the days of "Dixon of Dock Green"—by "the public", I mean people of all ages and all classes. It is regrettable but it is a fact. Random breath testing would make relations shakier still. For a perfectly innocent person to be stopped by somebody in uniform at a roadblock and made to blow into a breathalyser is humiliating, and something which, willy-nilly, one associates with authoritarian regimes. Moreover, it would undoubtedly cause a substantial number of road users to be late for work or for business appointments or to miss their planes or trains. All of this would add to the possibly subconscious feelings of resentment against the police that are bound to result. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will notice that I am not actually using pure libertarian arguments at the moment. I have plenty of those up my sleeve but I shall save them for a later stage.
There is another factor which has not yet, so far as I know, been mentioned in either House. A proportion of people who suffer from chronic or acute sinus or middle ear conditions are bound to experience discomfort, pain or possibly even harm when they are forced to blow hard into something. The proportion of those suffering from the conditions I have described and who are thus affected may be quite small; but even if only a couple of hundred mainly innocent people suffer discomfort, pain or harm from being subjected to this procedure each year, it is a couple of hundred too many.
What most people do not realise when talking about drink driving is that, although approximately 16.4 per cent. of fatalities on the road are said to be drink related, though not necessarily caused by drink —we must not forget that and it is a point which we shall come to at a later stage, too—no fewer than 5.1 per cent. are drug related. Of these just under half are related to illegal drugs, mainly cannabis, and just over 443 half to perfectly legal drugs, such as sleeping pills, tranquillisers, antihistamines and so on, which can be bought across the counter or obtained on prescription. No breathalyser is capable of detecting such drugs.
The other equally objectionable proposal which has been made is that the long-established legal limit should be lowered by a factor of almost 40 per cent. With the exception of the fortunate few who are lucky enough to live near an all-night bus route—I do not suppose that there are many of them—such a move would ruin the social lives of most single people. I refer to widows, widowers, divorcees, bachelors, spinsters and so on. In other words, all those people who have no one with whom to share the driving of a car. Whether latter day puritans like it or not, drinking wine, beer, cider or spirits on social occasions in moderation—I emphasise the word "moderation"—is part of our Western European culture. We do not live in an Islamic fundamentalist society—at least, not yet.
None of what I have said thus far means that I favour leniency for those, whether they be drunk, drugged or sober, who cause death by reckless driving. Indeed, that would be a ridiculous accusation against one who managed, with the aid of other noble Lords from various parts of the House, to persuade the Government to increase the minimum disqualification period for this dreadful offence. Indeed, it is good to see that judges are responding to the changes in the law by imposing much longer period of disqualification than was the norm five or 10 years ago. Long may that practice continue.
However, I am somewhat uneasy about the requirement for convicted offenders to retake the driving test. Punishment ought transparently to be a punishment, whether that means imprisonment, community service, a fine or disqualification. The requirement to retake the driving test should only be imposed for strict practical reasons; I believe that it is unsuitable as a form of punishment. People who drive recklessly do not normally do so because they are unskilled in the art of driving; indeed, they are very often pretty good drivers in the normal way. People drive recklessly either because they are drunk or drugged, or because they are vain, aggressive, had tempered, impatient and so on. Such qualities are not normally revealed by a short driving test: it is easy to conceal such qualities in the rather artificial situation of a test. None of those comments implies any criticism of the provisions contained in Clause 29, which are designed to wean chronic drink drivers off drink. That is a different matter and one which is well worthy of support.
I am also somewhat unhappy about Clauses 31 and 32, which provide for the forfeiture of vehicles, because of the capricious and random nature of the punishment which is thereby effectively imposed. However, that is a matter which perhaps should be left for consideration in Committee. None of those criticisms are meant to imply that there is not an enormous amount to be welcomed in the Bill, especially in Clauses 6 to 24.
In conclusion, perhaps I may highlight one other important problem which may or may not be adequately dealt with by the provisions in Clause 8. 444 Those noble Lords who habitually travel long distances by car will be all too aware of the objects which can fall off the hack of lorries that is, not in the popular sense, which implies dishonesty, but in the literal sense, which implies the possibility of injury or even fatality.
The problem is not confined to lorries. For example, about two years ago I was driving north out of London with my wife. On the delimited stretch of road between the point where the A.41 converges with the A.1 and the Mill Hill roundabout, I found myself travelling behind a motorcycle. I noticed that a spare crash helmet had been perched on the pillion. Suddenly the crash helmet fell off right in front of my car. I was travelling at 70 miles an hour and it was impossible to avoid it. I ran over the helmet with the most almighty thump: indeed, I thought for a moment that my sump had been cracked. In my rear view mirror I saw the crash helmet spin at least 20 feet up into the air and land on the bonnet of the car of the terrified driver who was travelling behind me. It was a pure miracle that no one was hurt. However, if the following vehicle had been a petrol tanker or a Land Rover carrying cylinders of propane gas or if the helmet had hit the windscreen rather than the bonnet of the following car, there could have been a very different outcome.
I submit that we must make every effort to minimise the frequency of people who are correctly and legally driving at speeds of 60 mph or 70 mph having to swerve to avoid, or effectively being blinded by, objects falling from vehicles travelling in front, whether they be motorcycle helmets, huh caps spinning off old bangers, tarpaulins blown from the roof-racks of cars or building materials and pieces of packing falling off the back of commercial goods vehicles. Just as the sudden occurrence of fog patches on motorways can lead to serious accidents taking place, so are such incidents capable of causing dreadful accidents of the type which occurred on the M.4 just a week ago.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, at this stage of the debate it is not easy to be original because so much has already been said. Indeed, I find myself very much in agreement with many of the remarks which have been made. As a lifelong pedestrian and someone who has never been and never intends to be a licence holder, I must welcome almost everything contained in Part I of the Bill. But I must say that I may find myself on the side of those who support the introduction of random breath tests as regards drunk driving.
In listening to what has been said thus far, I wonder whether one should not go further. As has already been said, I believe that we must continue to try to make drinking and driving less socially acceptable. We have had a small degree of success in that respect so far but there is still a long way to go. I wonder whether we should not take a leaf out of the Swedish book. That country not only imposes a much lower limit but has additional offences regarding the involvement of others by association. Thus, I believe that we should penalise those who provide a driver with drink; for 445 example, innkeepers or party hosts. Further, I believe that we should certainly consider the Swedish example and penalise those who are in the car at the time that the offence takes place. In Sweden, such people become accessories to the fact.
I spent three years in Sweden in the mid-seventies. I realised at that time that the combination of a pretty vicious limit, very severe penalties and the added concept of guilt by association had a powerful effect on people's driving habits. In particular, at parties one saw very low levels of drinking. Moreover, if people became aware that the police were carrying out random checks in the area, low drinking very often became a policy of no drinking. That is a step that we should certainly consider.
As a pedestrian I am by definition in favour of any provision which seeks to improve the flow of public transport. Therefore, I am largely in favour of priority routes, although I realise that they have to be refined, not least in respect of those whom one might call riparian landowners; that is, those who run shops or own houses alongside such priority routes.
I remind noble Lords, as we have already been reminded, that any provision which makes buses travel quicker and more reliably must be fought for and emphasised. The greatest resource we have in London in dealing with congestion is the unused bus with its 14 per cent. occupancy in the off-peak periods. Of course that is a very small share of the traffic but it has a large potential for moving people.
My concern is not about Parts I and II of the Bill; it is about resources and enforcement. In his introduction, my noble friend Lord Brabazon sought enforcement which is more effective, strict and uniform. He also promised us that it would be consistent. Indeed, he managed to use the word "enforcement" on six other occasions when speaking about priority routes and parking reform. Following him, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, also made much use of that word, not least when he asked whether existing laws were being enforced. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, managed to find a sort of synonym for the word. He said that laws were no good if they were not adequately policed. The words "police" and "enforce" may not be in Roget's Thesaurus in the same paragraph but they deserve to be in the context of this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Knights, excellently put forward the case as seen by the police. He called for high profile enforcement.
However, what stage have we reached thus far? A modest straw in the wind was provided during transport questions last Monday in the other place. My friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic revealed that during the whole of 1989 only 1,250 people were convicted of riding a bicycle after dark without lights. That is a nationwide figure. I should have thought that the Cambridgeshire constabulary, in one of the high profile actions to which the noble Lord, Lord Knights, referred, could have produced that many convictions in one night in Cambridge, which, after all, is dominated by the bicycle. One has only to walk around London, as I frequently do, to see the number of cyclists riding without lights after dark.
446 Another aspect of the lack of enforcement is shown by the number of offences I observe, for example, during my daily walk from Portland Place to Westminster. What did I spot today? I spotted cyclists on pavements; even worse, a cyclist on the pavement cycling the wrong way up a one-way street while using a portaphone; and strings of cars using Oxford Street. Oxford Street is signposted clearly as being accessible only to cyclists, buses and taxis. What do we find? One sees eight cars or commercial vans crossing Oxford Street. When the lights change there is nothing crossing, but when they change again one sees five vehicles going in the opposite direction. Again I ask, where is the enforcement? The law is an ass if it is not enforced. That has been said many times in the House in many contexts, and I fear it will be said many times in the future. The ultimate offence relates to red traffic lights which are nowadays regarded as advisory rather than compulsory.
Why do we not have enforcement? Is it a matter of resources? Is it caused by the public relations element —the fact that the most frequent contact the police have with the public is when they deal with motorists. Is it caused, as the noble Lord, Lord Knights, said, by the divergence of the police from traffic duty to deal with the burglar alarm that rings falsely? Is it the triviality of the offence? I return to my offence of riding a bicycle without lights—although it is not my offence, because I do not have a bicycle. I am whiter than white in that context. Is it because there are more important offences to be dealt with? Is it merely the public attitude, so well enunciated by my noble friend the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis? My noble friend said that drivers treat being caught as an occupational hazard. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that the chances of being caught were low. Therein lies our problem: we return to enforcement. I hope that I have summed up the problem of enforcement and the weaknesses of the consequences and—dare I say it?—the enforcement of the Bill.
Lastly, I turn to the subject of bridge-bashing. It is a subject that I trailed in the debate on the Address. It is where lorries or buses collide with bridges over which British Rail or other railway undertakers run trains. At that time I was worried that not enough was being done about trucks and buses hitting those bridges. I gather that in 1990 there were some 900 incidents, and each incident is potentially lethal. The effect on a train travelling at 125 mph, or even 60 mph, which has been deflected, even marginally because the track has been skewed a little, can be serious, despite the inherent strength of nearly all British Rail's rolling stock.
I welcomed the conclusions of the joint working party, summarised in the two latest reports of the Railways Inspectorate. I welcome the support that the Department of Transport gave to those conclusions. I am pleased to note the work that British Rail is doing. I am encouraged to see that 12 out of the 40 local authorities that have at-risk bridges have responded positively to Sir Bob Reid's initiative. I am worried 447 about the four local authorities that declined to take action and the 16 authorities that did not even bother to reply to his letter.
I hope that my friends in British Rail can continue to count on the department for support, especially in relation to the variable cab indication of height and the steadily renewable or redefinable cab indication of height. I hope that enforcement will not take place only at ports of entry such as Harwich. I was delighted to hear that there have been a reasonable number of convictions. There should be spot checks on the highway and attention should be paid to the point during HGV and PSV training and examinations because it is an aspect of road safety that can be readily enforced at no great cost to anyone.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill, implementing, as it does, the final recommendations of the North Report and the provisions of the White Paper. Both parts of the Bill will make a significant contribution to road safety and to a lesser, but nevertheless important, degree to the improved movement of people and goods through the streets.
I am pleased to see Clause 20 which introduces corporate liability for offences committed by company drivers. In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, drew our attention to offences committed by HGV drivers. He mentioned the submission of the Road Haulage Association which called for a stricter licensing regime. I do not know whether it is the noble Lord's intention to pursue that point, but if he does he may well have my support.
I shall turn to some specific provisions. We have had a great deal of discussion about Clauses 3 and 4 which relate to drinking and driving. I agree with the view on that part of the Bill expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Knights. It is all very well for Mr. Peter Joslin to say that many people drink and drive because they do not believe that they will be caught. The only thing I shall add to what the noble Lord said, is that if the current provisions which give the police wide discretion—my noble friend the Minister referred to this point—were exercised by all police forces to a common and higher standard, the public would have a much greater awareness right across the board. A higher profile would be created and it is likely, especially in view of the change in social attitudes, that more people would resist the temptation to drink and drive because they would have a greater fear of being caught.
It is not good enough for different police forces to have different standards for enforcing what is national law. We should not merely content ourselves with giving drinking and driving a high profile at Christmas and other Bank holidays. The offences occur throughout the year to a greater or less extent.
Perhaps I may also add to the noble Lord's earlier remarks. He referred to the tragic accident on the M.4 last week. He gave some defence of the police and the Department of Transport. I share his view in that regard, particularly as even where there are speed signs they are only advisory. We may have to look at 448 that. Even though there are few of them, perhaps they should be obligatory. But it is nonsense to suggest that either the department or the police were at fault because some road speed advisory signs were not switched on, when it was as plain as the windscreen in front of the driver that hazardous conditions obtained.
The following day, on Wednesday, I had to drive from Bournemouth to London in similar but not as severe conditions. It was amazing! With the radio reminding listeners of that tragedy on the M.4, with 10 deaths and 20 or 30 serious injuries, cars were thrashing past with no regard for life nor limb, nor anybody else. There is little that a policeman can do unless we have a couple of police cars every mile or so on the road. Speed is a personal responsibility, as is drinking and driving.
I want to turn to Clause 16, the hobby-horse of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I have some doubts here, and I shall look at the specific provisions that the Minister described as "closing a loophole". As a road safety measure, I cannot at first sight see much merit in Clause 16, since very few accidents—never mind the injury aspect are connected with mechanical failure. As a consumer protection measure, perhaps this is good. However, my first cursory survey of the clause, against the background that I have in the motor car industry, suggests that it is not going to be very meritorious.
Clause 18 deals with physical fitness. I shall want to discuss at a later stage eyesight testing and the declaration of a change in the circumstance of health that is currently required, and which is somewhat flouted. I have long held the view that the present number plate eyesight test is not quite good enough. Although one may see in a number of reported court cases that a driver has said, "I did not see it coming from my left", or wherever, sometimes this is a matter of perception. He did not perceive it coming. He was not aware of it for other reasons; but too often because of common eye defects the driver may not have seen the hazard. We ought to look again at that.
Turning to Part II, I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, had to say regarding car parking attendants wearing nationally identifiable uniforms. I have spoken in your Lordships' House on this point on previous occasions because I am seriously worried at the proliferation of uniformed people. Sometimes they are security guards; sometimes they are wardens from the police authorities; sometimes they are from the local authority; and sometimes they are railway police. There are all sorts and manner of people who wear grey and blue uniforms, with epaulettes bedecked with gold, badges, insignia, and so on. That is extremely perplexing to everybody. When challenged, it causes a little ruction between the officer and the motorist.
When we come to Clauses 44 and 46, I am happy about priority route designation, holding that in general—not necessarily in particular—the roadways are designed for the movement of traffic and not the resting of vehicles or skips, and not the parking of them. I say this in general terms. This is going to be helpful. However, I do not accept the premise that the 449 noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, suggested that to make the roadways more accessible we should have a positive reduction of cars coming into London. That is not a very democratic way of going about things. I would look upon priority routes as one of the traffic management systems that can be employed effectively and quickly, bringing some immediate alleviation to the problem while other and more important long-term solutions are worked out.
I have some doubts however as to the effectiveness of the traffic director. As I read Clause 46, the traffic director is responsible for designated roads only. He also has powers to deal with certain of the provisions under the New Roads and Street Works Bill, hut, as I read it, for designated roads only. I would prefer to have a city traffic authority, whether it is Greater London or Inner London. That office should be a functional office; it should be an appointment; and it should not have any political connotations attached to it whatsoever.
I think it was my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford—and it might also have been my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter—who talked about the democracy of local authorities. When one has 21—shortly to be 22—crossings over and under the Thames controlled by 33 different boroughs (some of those crossings controlled by two and three boroughs), one cannot see how any joint committee of 33 boroughs is going to be at all effective. I should like to see provision in the Bill for the traffic director to have a greater authority. I should also like to see in the Bill enabling powers for the Secretary of State to appoint traffic directors in other cities and metropolitan areas where it is necessary.
Finally, I want to touch on the matter of parking and parking charges. Parking in cities is largely in the hands of the local authorities and also British Rail, although there are two major private companies which have a large share of that market. As I understand it, provision of parking facilities is not a service within the meaning of fair trading legislation. That provision is exempted. Therefore, we do not see the rights or the interests of those who seek to park and the relative charges being given any further consideration, in the way in which other services are controlled.
Where charges are concerned, I have always had great difficulty in accepting that there should be different charges for different areas made by different people. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that the aim of parking charge variations was to develop parking facilities and controls. However, he then said that he would table amendments at a later stage in this regard. In 1986 and 1987 over £20 million was collected in the London boroughs in parking charges, and £12 million was spent. Where did the rest of the money go? Similar proportions of moneys are involved across the country. Those charges should not be used by local authorities as a support for their general income. These are charges and fees, not taxes. The question of hypothecation does not arise. We shall have to consider much more carefully a number of other points in Committee. However, as I said at the outset, I give a warm welcome to the Bill.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, when I added my name to the list of speakers for the Second Reading of this Bill, I thought this was one Bill in which I should not have to declare an interest. However, I find I must declare an interest in that I am in receipt of a small pension from British Rail. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, on making his maiden speech non-controversial. To do so on such a topic was a brilliant effort. I felt, in listening to the noble Lord, that at last there was another noble Lord who would support me in defending British Rail.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, rightly mentioned that one of the easiest ways to solve London's traffic problem was by staggering working hours. As I stated fairly recently when making a speech on London, if one staggered working hours one would dramatically reduce the congestion and overcrowding on railway trains coming into London.
I have a particular query for the Minister. I have read through the Bill and I note that it contains some 70 clauses. I believe the Bill has some omissions which I shall refer to. Part I contains provisions relating to driving under the influence of drink or drugs. New Section 3A(1) refers to causing the,death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicleunder the terms of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). Subsection (3) of that new section states:Subsection (1) (b) and (c) above shall not apply in relation to a person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle other than a motor vehicle".If I have understood that provision correctly, it means that a person driving a mechanical digger or a crane does not have to be breathalysed if he is drunk. If that is the case, there appears to be a terrible omission in the Bill. I cannot believe that is the case, as the Bill is so good in so many other respects. I hope that I have misunderstood the position.
I am worried about the extended driving tests. I believe the Minister said those tests would be twice the length of the normal driving test. I am in a slight difficulty here as I have never taken the normal driving test. On the other hand I have taken the advanced driving test, which I passed. From everything I hear, it appears that the ordinary driving test is very simple. The point that I find worrying about the normal driving test is that a driver can pass it in a small car driving along quiet roads in quiet villages and, having passed the test, can jump into a high powered car—as one speaker has pointed out, some cars are advertised as being capable of reaching speeds of 140, 150 or 160 miles an hour—and drive on a motorway with no conception of the speeds that a high powered car can reach. Further, one only takes a driving test during the day and therefore when one first takes a car out at night one has no experience of what night driving is like and no training for such driving. Nowadays one sees a great many cars with headlights that are badly tuned. Such cars only have to hit a slight hump in the road for their headlights to dazzle other drivers. I see such cars every day when I drive home from the station. I do not know how the extended driving test will differ from the normal test and I hope that the Minister will issue more information on that point.
451 Reference has been made to courses for drivers who have lost their licences as a result of drunken driving. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, asked what the courses would consist of. That is a valid point. What will the courses be like? Will they take place on the road or in the classroom? What is their objective? It has been suggested that, if a driver loses his licence through drunken driving, he should be made to retake his test. What is the object of that, apart from constituting an added punishment? There may be men or women who, without realising it, have had too much to drink on a particular occasion and who merely get into their vehicles and decide not to drive. However, such people can be arrested, go to court and lose their licences because they are said to be in charge of a motor vehicle while being over the prescribed limit. These are people who probably drive carefully and considerately every other day of their lives. What about the drivers who drive recklessly and dangerously? They cut up other drivers time and time again and they are inconsiderate. They do not give a damn about anyone else. Those are the drivers who should go back to school and be taught the basic concepts of driving a motor car, as their bad habits have clearly crept in without their realising it.
One noble Lord mentioned red and amber traffic lights. Nowadays people often believe that they should cross the traffic lights if they think they can do so safely. When I am at a set of traffic lights and the lights change to amber I have to look in my rearview mirror to make sure that a car is not driving fast close behind me. If I put my brakes on and stop in such a situation —that is my inclination—the car that is following me will run into the hack of mine.
My only knowledge of priority routes relates to the one at Archway. The other night I listened to some shopkeepers featured on a television programme who claimed that they would be made bankrupt by the priority route. They insisted that no one, neither car drivers nor bus passengers, would be able to stop near their shops. The shopkeepers claimed they would be driven out of business. The red routes will affect tens of thousands of small shopkeepers. I should have thought that those were the very people who would vote Conservative in the next election. But will they vote Conservative if they have just lost their businesses? The Government are taking an awful risk there.
I was delighted to see that cyclists, who use the roads without any payment whatsoever, will be legally obliged to behave better on the roads. On another occasion when I was driving home from the station on an unlit road, I came upon a cyclist who was riding along in the dark with no reflectors and no rear or front lights. Such cyclists are an absolute menace. Often when one is stationary at traffic lights a cyclist will come along, weaving through the traffic and setting off before the lights have changed, so that he can get away first. I believe it is a good thing that such cyclists are being made to change their ways.
As always in this Chamber, heavy goods vehicle drivers come in for a lot of hashing. I admit that a great many heavy goods vehicles are grossly overloaded. Sometimes perhaps the driver knows, but 452 surely it is the responsibility of the people who load the vehicle. They are the ones who should be apprehended, not the poor driver, who is merely told what to do. If time after time he refuses to drive a vehicle because he thinks it is overloaded how long will be keep his job?
It has been suggested that the blood alcohol limit should be reduced from 80mg to 50mg. What is the point of that if everyone admits that at the moment the chances of being caught are slight? I do not believe that. I do not drink and drive, but people say that one will probably get away with it. It is an awful risk. If people are getting away with it when the limit is 80 milligrams the police will not be able to cope if the limit comes down to 50 milligrams. A noble Lord said that it would ruin the social fabric of the country. One must have a certain amount of sense. As I said, I do not drink and drive; or I may have one glass of wine and no more until I get home. What I do when I get home is quite a different matter, but I do not drink and drive.
Many noble Lords have mentioned random breath tests. The police have sufficient power at present. They can stop a driver and ask for documents. What is the point of that? One does not have to carry one's licence and insurance documents; one has to take them to the nominated police station within 24 hours. A number of cars are driven at night with only one headlight, one sidelight, one rear light or no number-plate light. The police do not need a change in the law. They are doing it now. They stop the whole lot and go through every single one. The police have a bad enough reputation today without being made even more odious to the citizen who considers himself to be law abiding.
I should like to finish on the subject of the orange badge scheme. I wish the Bill provided that wherever a parking space is designated for orange badge holders anyone parking there who does not have an orange badge is to be prosecuted. When I go to my local supermarket if I see a car parked in the wrong place I put a note on the windscreen or find the driver. There are people who have difficulty in walking. I suffered from that problem for several months last year when my feet were in plaster and I had to walk with crutches. I did not have an orange badge so I could not park in designated parking places.
I have said that that was to be my last point, but I should like to return to the question of drink-driving. What I say may be taken the wrong way; it may be thought that I am being frivolous, but I am not. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that one in six deaths on the roads in this country was drink related. To show how dangerous such statistics are I should like to point out that if one in six deaths are drink related that means that five out of six are not. It could therefore he said that one is safer if one drinks and drives than if one does not drink. I know that that is not true, but people will use statistics incorrectly and to give a false picture.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I owe the House an apology for not being able to be in my place for the whole of the afternoon. I was here for several 453 speeches but I had a very important meeting and therefore could not listen to the wise words of so many of your Lordships who care as deeply as I do, which is a very great deal, about the roads, traffic and the problems of driving in this country.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the way in which he has given us an insight into what I regard as a very important and long overdue Bill. There is a great deal in it and it is very well laid out. It is understandable, which some of the Bills brought before your Lordships' House have not been.
We have been told that in 1990 there were 24 million vehicles on the roads of this country. That is a very high number. I also made a note of the percentage of accidents, which was very high. Your Lordships have heard the figure so I shall not repeat it.
Part I represents an attempt by Parliament—and it is only an attempt—to make the punishment fit the crime. Without the police, without the magistracy, without the deterrence and without the Crown Prosecution Service which is enabled to bring prosecutions, the punishment will never fit the crime. In Clause 3, relating to the offence of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, a prison sentence is prescribed. In my view that should be mandatory. It is part of the deterrent. If a person—and noble Lords will have realised that I did not say "a man" but "a person"—knows that he or she has drunk too much that person will know what the punishment will be. In my view, without any question whatever, the sentence under Clause 3 must be a prison sentence.
In the course of my magisterial work I have found that the ability to deprive someone of their liberty for even as short a time as five days and five nights is a deterrent. There is no need to put someone behind bars for even 28 days, costing the country a great deal. Of course it depends on the seriousness of the offence, but it seems to me that as little as between seven and 14 days loss of freedom is a deterrent and is certainly a punishment where someone has taken another person's life.
In another part of the Bill it is provided that the police must have authority over roadworks. I do not know how that applies in this Bill. This House has been deliberating on the "holes-in-the-road" Bill and I do not know whether under that Bill the police are to be given powers to stop roadworks if they are dangerous or to move people on. I should like to know either now or at some other time whether that is so. I feel that the police should have such a power.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and no doubt other noble Lords, referred to the orange badge scheme for disabled drivers. That is always a difficult problem because there are so many cheats on the road. Orange badge holders are often unable to find anywhere to park. Then someone walks briskly up to a car that he has parked in a place that we thought might be our own. In those circumstances, I say very deferentially, "I wonder why you have parked in this particular bay, which is for orange badge holders". The reply is, "I 454 don't hold an orange badge but I have such a terrible heart that I feel that I must have a special place to park". They get away with it every time.
Whether bus lanes are to be retained as they are or are to be called something different I am not quite certain. But I want to allude to them because, as we all know, taxis, buses, the fire service, the police and the ambulance service are all allowed to use bus lanes. I have been asked by the medical profession, who I think have written to the Minister through the BMA, whether room can be found for emergency doctors, people who because of their expertise are called to accidents or hospitals.
Frequently, they are caught up in big queues of cars and are not able to get to the hospital in good time. They have been told they are not allowed to use bus lanes and if they are picked up it may mean court proceedings and a fine. They certainly lose a lot of time on their way to an accident, to a hospital or to somebody seriously ill in the home. All of that causes a very great deal of trouble and, I understand, has on several occasions caused loss of life through their not being able to get to the scene in good time. Those doctors have green cones which they can place on the roofs of their cars which light up when plugged into the smoking socket. I am assured that they would hardly ever be used but are necessary for certain emergency doctors.
The other day when I was driving—not in a hurry, though I could have been—from one end of Cromwell Road to the far end of Piccadilly the journey took me less than 10 minutes. I did not stop once. The lights were green and phased right the way through. Together with a lot of other cars I was able to go right the way through for perhaps two and a half miles. I understand that Brussels uses a system of phased lighting on its major routes all the time. I was wondering whether we could not use such a system to control traffic. Maybe that would be too difficult, but it seems to me to be a fairly cheap way of controlling traffic if one can go from one part of London to another by phased lighting.
I am interested in the establishment of a traffic director. I wish him luck, but I think he will have an awful job coping with the different local highway authorities, all of which like their own way of doing things and do not like to be told by anybody what to do. However, if there is a traffic director I hope that he will take account of the problems of disabled people. Oddly enough, disabled people have to shop and visit doctors occasionally.
As far as random breath testing is concerned, we have been assured by the police—and I think this is correct—that they already have enough authority. But I believe it would be a deterrent to people who drink and drive if they knew there was random breath testing. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what has been done by way of research.
As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, Clause 18 requires a person filling in a licence application to say whether he is physically fit to drive a car. The question of a motorist's eyesight has come up before in your Lordships' House; it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who unfortunately is not here 455 this evening. I am told by opticians that many people with bad eyesight are driving cars on the roads of this country. That leads to a foreshortening of the view of oncoming cars and eventually to accidents.
My final point relates to high level brake lights, which is a point I have raised in your Lordships' House before. As we now know, they are fitted to nearly all London taxis. They certainly prevent accidents. When driving, at eye level one can see through the back window and front window of any vehicle other than a lorry and see whether brake lights are being used. If the lights come on one is instinctively aware of trouble ahead even 10 cars away. In the United States of America the fitting of these lights to all new cars is compulsory. Research has shown that on the basis of a controlled group there are 54 per cent. less accidents suffered by cars fitted with these lights. Our authorities here have carried out tests only in the laboratory; I believe that they should get out on the road and do more tests. The EC is in the process of issuing regulations to make the fitting of these lights in cars compulsory. Meanwhile, for the cost of about £10 we can install them in our cars and that will prevent accidents. I do not say that lightly: I have seen it done. I know from personal experience of driving all over the country that a red light prevents accidents.
I have practically no bones at all to pick with the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage through the House. I hope that its provisions will be taken on board by motorists in this country because that needs to be done. I wish the Government well with the Bill.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I found it interesting that many noble Lords, including Lord Brougham and Vaux, mentioned tragic injuries caused on roads. We are all aware of that. I have little sympathy with cases involving self-inflicted injuries, because that is just a parallel to somebody smoking himself to death, or whatever else he chooses to do. The people for whom I have great sympathy are the innocent parties killed by dangerous drivers because of either drink or drugs. I was stunned to hear what Lord Monson said. I am sorry he is not here now. I know the noble Lord is a great believer in freedom. However, to say that you should be able to take antihistamine pills, having been warned that you may fall asleep, and then feel free to drive is to me unbelievable. That is the whole purpose of saying that people taking that type of tablet which makes driving dangerous should not drive. I view that matter just as seriously as a case where a driver has taken too much alcohol.
One would not be surprised that I favour a random breath test, bearing in mind my Australian origins. Random breath tests have proved successful in Australia. As a magistrate, I know that a policeman has to produce all sorts of detailed and difficult points even to justify his pulling up of the motorist. He has to say that he saw him driving erratically, that one of his signals kept going and so on. Some sort of reason for stopping the motorist has to be adduced. I do not believe that the breath tests which are carried out are 456 as random as one likes to think. Breath tests are carried out because people are suspected of having had too much to drink and are therefore stopped. Therefore I believe that there is nothing but good in a random breath test.
The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, who recently joined us in this House, brought in the first drink-driving laws. She was brave enough to do it because she was not a driver herself. For that reason she saw the situation very clearly. It is time that we moved on and took some action to stop drunk-driving. I believe that the random breath test is the answer. I have with me a letter—I understand many noble Lords have received a copy of this—from Professor Sims of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which believes that a prominent part of the framework of action is to introduce random breath testing.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, told the House about the situation in the USA, where lane hopping is not allowed. It is a tremendous hazard. Driving on the motorway one can suddenly find a car speeding past, cutting across in front and even cutting across to the inside lane, then coming back and repeating the manoeuvre. I am told that the reason for doing it is that in that way the driver can fool those who are checking on the speed limit. That may be the reason—I do not know—but it is incredibly dangerous.
Many noble Lords mentioned that the 70 mile per hour limit is not enforced. I completely agree. Driving along the motorway at exactly 70 miles per hour you always find someone sitting on the tail of your car, flashing his lights, making it quite clear that you are nothing but a nuisance and insisting that you get out of his way. Yet you are driving at the correct maximum speed for that road. This is a matter of great concern.
I am delighted to welcome a director of traffic. I have spoken often in this House in favour of a director of traffic. The problem in London is that each borough looks at its own patch. It does not worry about what is going on across the border but is only interested in moving people out of its own area. A director of traffic should be able to take a strategic view of the overall London position and should be of enormous value.
The red routes listed in Clause 54 are a good move. I heard two Members of the House refer to unloading at night. That is marvellous in theory, but not in practice. Statistics produced by the Greater London Council showed that the number of people living close to places where there is unloading at night is very high indeed. Perhaps unloading could be done at off-peak times in the day, or specific hours could be worked out in relation to particular areas. However, the solution of having all unloading done at night is not as simple as it appears to be.
Beauchamp Place was mentioned. I must stress that that is in the Royal Borough, which does not have the privatised wardens that Westminster employs. During the debate we have heard complaints about the over-efficiency of Westminster wardens. That is 457 probably true, but the wardens cover their area within 20 minutes and return to cover it again in 20 minutes. That means that no one can outstay his entitlement.
We have all heard horror stories about that situation. I myself heard one today about a patient who was going to the dentist—of all things! I saw a similar incident in my own street. I saw a woman helping an elderly disabled person out of a car. Standing right beside her was a Westminster parking warden—not an official warden with a yellow armband, but a Westminster warden. The woman turned to me and said, "I don't know what to do. I have to take this patient into the pharmacy to get her medicine but this warden says that I cannot even pull up here to let her out of the car". I took issue with the man. Fortunately at that time another car pulled out of a meter bay immediately behind us. I rushed to the space and stood there, saying to other motorists, "You must wait because there is a lady who needs this space for a disabled person". I have to tell your Lordships that I was abused fairly soundly for trying to keep that space. However, that immediate problem was resolved.
Clearly there must be some direction or degree of guidance given to the wardens about when to use their discretion. Certainly there have been many complaints made to the City Council because no few minutes of grace are allowed on the meters. Someone is always standing beside the meter and waiting for it to tick up. That is not fair. Anyone can make a mistake of a matter of a few minutes. If guidance is adequate, especially in cases of disabled people, the system could work quite well.
Builders' skips have been mentioned. When I was holding my dental surgery in the City of London to park a skip was not allowed at all. That is going back maybe 20 years. The skip had to be brought, everything had to be loaded into it and it then had to be taken away within a certain number of hours. I greatly resented the fact that the local authority could not charge for the skip when it was put in a parking bay and occupied it for weeks and months. Now a charge can be made, so that problem has gone.
I am pleased to see that there is a new offence, of causing death while driving. I personally feel quite deeply about that. As a magistrate I have always thought the present situation most unfair. There was the case of an elderly man in Clapham who was crossing the road and was knocked down by a car. The driver was found guilty of careless driving. He said that he had seen the old man quite clearly but he thought that if he went faster he could miss him. The old man went faster to get out of his way and the two collided. The old man died. The clerk of the court told us that we must totally disregard the death. We in the magistrates court were not allowed to consider that fact. Neither were we allowed to consider it in a case which occurred on a stretch of the M.40 near White City. A driver on the 40 m.p.h. section was hit by a car driven at great speed by a man under the influence of drink. The impact was such that the victim was catapulted out of his car. The police had to search and eventually found the body 150 yards away in the hedge 458 on a housing estate. We were told that in such cases the death could not be any part of our consideration at all. I believe that it is good to have that new offence.
The power to order a new driving test is good if the power is discretionary, but not if it is mandatory. In many cases of people driving under the influence there is nothing wrong with their driving; it is the alcohol that does the damage. I do not think that it would be right to have an automatic re-test. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, one can drink in moderation. I do not agree with him that one is ruining the lives of single persons, widows and divorced people if one does not allow them to drink to a point where, when they drive, they damage other people.
Pedal cyclists were also mentioned. Again, statistics show that many pedal cyclists are involved in accidents and cause accidents because they ignore traffic lights. Noble Lords may have seen, as I have, a pedal cyclist pulling up at traffic lights which are showing red. He gets off his bike and walks it across totally ignoring the traffic lights. Alternatively, he rides ahead waiting for the lights to change and then rushes out. The roads of London are very narrow and pedal cyclists cause great chaos in some places.
I am sorry that Clause 11, which gives powers to inspect the public passenger vehicles, does not cover minicabs. Noble Lords will know that I hold strong views that minicabs should be inspected and licensed. A local authorities Bill was passed through this House, but it was defeated in another place by the black taxis lobbyists on the grounds that they do not want any recognition given to minicabs. The black cab drivers said that there would be an understanding and that things would improve. New ideas which they themselves were to bring in would work wonders. Instead, there is the same situation that has existed for years. Minicab drivers do not have their vehicles tested. There is no guarantee that the drivers have a licence. In London many thousands of minicabs are not legally entitled to apply for hire, but they certainly do so. It is time that the black cab drivers woke up to the reality of the situation and appreciated that if they do something to control minicabs—it is only in London that there is no control—the public and the cab drivers themselves would be better off.
Part II, in Clause 44, provides for the designation of routes. That is good. Clause 45 issues guidance to local authorities. That is good. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, referred to the difficulty of the traffic director to cope with the London boroughs. I support her on that. The traffic director will have to deal with a hotchpotch of mixed boroughs rather than individual boroughs. I believe that that will be difficult. It is important to work out how those provisions will be effected.
Clause 54 regulates the exercise of the powers of London authorities in relation to priority routes. There is a slight problem. Some of the local authorities already have designated parking areas in what will become the red routes. Local authorities consider it important that they still have control over those places, as they always have had, if it is appropriate that such places remain in use. Part of that reasoning is that they would lose a lot of income if they did not 459 have that control. There are occasions when parking meters and bays have to be suspended. The authorities want some provision for such occasions.
Clauses 66 and 67 concern me most. It is important that the Minister has time to consider the issue before the next stage. Clause 67 permits different charges. Clause 66 covers parking guidance to the boroughs. The provisions for the setting of new charges by the boroughs for penalty charges, charges for wheel-clamping, the towing away and storage of vehicles are splendid. However, the changes will not be set by an individual borough to suit its own area; it will be undertaken by a joint group of London boroughs.
My husband serves on the London Boroughs Grants Committee. It is an all-London combined body. It met this week. He had received only the first four sections of the agenda; there were 1,304 pages. He later received more pages. How can anyone take those in and deal with them? How can 32 London boroughs, or 33 if one counts the City, possibly come to any agreement? Enfield will have no interest in what Westminster does; and vice versa. Different conditions will apply. In Enfield there was a need to prevent people parking all day in a shopping area next to the station. Commuters from out of town left their cars all day. Local people could not shop because of that. Enfield needed to introduce a system of different times of parking. It did so; and it worked very well.
The guidance and setting of the charges are linked. After the guidance the procedure is too complex. Issuing parking guidance involves six stages. First, the London Planning Advisory Council has to produce a draft. Secondly, the boroughs consider the draft. Thirdly, the London Planning Advisory Council (LPAC) considers the response and issues the advice. Fourthly, the Secretary of State issues the draft guidance to consult the police, London Transport, the borough associations and others. Fifthly, the boroughs consider and respond to the LBA and the ALA. Sixthly, the Secretary of State issues guidance.
Setting the new parking charges involves four more stages. Seventhly, the boroughs set up a joint committee. Eighthly, the joint committee recommends charges to the Secretary of State. Ninthly, the Secretary of State issues the charges. Tenthly, the boroughs implement the charges. Those procedures involve LPAC twice, the boroughs four times, the joint committee once and the Secretary of State three times. There are 10 stages in all. It could take one year, and LPAC believes that it will take five months to reach the third stage.
Some parts of the procedure are reasonable; some are not. It is reasonable that the London Planning Advisory Council should be involved in the broad strategic parking issues. It is reasonable that the Secretary of State should have reserve powers to act against the authority producing unreasonable charges. It is reasonable that penalties imposed by the police and boroughs should be co-ordinated. A compromise might be that the boroughs work out their own parking charge scale and give that, with one month's notice, to the Secretary of State or to the traffic director. If he did not object, they would then be free to act on it.
460 There is a precedent for that with the boroughs proposed traffic management schemes on designated roads. However, it is not reasonable for LPAC and the Secretary of State to be involved in the setting of ordinary parking charges for each area or all areas. It is not reasonable for boroughs to lose the power to tailor the charges in their area to their costs, their need to deter illegal parking, and the need to restrain inessential trips. It is not reasonable to impose new delays on the ability of the boroughs to change the charges. It is not reasonable to involve two separate, unwieldy, London-wide committees in the process.
I give an example. Westminster has four different parking tariffs with three levels of excess charges. Maida Vale has the lowest charge; it is 50p an hour to park and the excess charge is £10. In Mayfair and theatreland it is £2 an hour to park and the excess charge is £30. The procedure must be simplified. I shall not go further into that issue now. We shall discuss it, and I shall bring forward amendments at Committee stage. However, it is important that we either remove LPAC from the charge setting process and allow autonomy to the boroughs, or we find some other way of simplifying the system. We have to keep bureaucracy to a minimum. It should be simple to use the principle that has always existed: that the charges for parking meters should be set on a basis to provide a regular turnover of meters for others wishing to park. Such meters are not designed for long-term on-street parking, for which residents' parking and long-term non-resident parking in off-street car parks is available.
This is an excellent Bill. However, I have plenty about which to worry the Minister at Committee stage. While I cannot see the Bill making speedy progress through the House, I support it.
§ 7.27 p.m
§ Lord Strathcarron
My Lords, the new Road Traffic Bill will go a long way towards improving road safety and conditions. I am sorry that there is no specific mention of motor cycles, even though there are 980,000 in use, which is a considerable number. I believe that the use of motor cycles should be encouraged as they are well suited to modern traffic conditions and do not cause traffic jams.
A motor cyclist needs only a third of the space of a car. A motor cycle uses about half the petrol. Ninety-five per cent. of them will run on unleaded petrol. Eighty per cent. of commuting cars carry only one passenger. Therefore three solo motor cyclists may use the same space as one car driver. Motor cycles cause negligible wear and tear on the roads. At the end of their lives they are dismantled for spare parts and are not an eyesore like derelict cars.
Furthermore, motor cycling is more healthy than travelling in crowded public transport. The rider enjoys the freedom of movement and ease of parking denied motorists today. However, solo motor cycle bays become overcrowded. I hope therefore that our new traffic director will recommend enlarging the present parking bays and creating more of them.
Motor cyclists should be allowed to travel in lanes which are at present reserved for buses, taxis and 461 pedal cycles. When I suggested that in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion I was told that motor cyclists would run over pedestrians. I presumed that they would already have been run over by the buses and taxis but that the pedal cyclists were more lethal because one could not hear them coming. If dispatch riders were allowed to travel in bus lanes they would stop frightening everyone to death weaving in and out of the traffic as they do at present.
Another danger to motor cyclists is the spillage of diesel oil, particularly on roundabouts, which is a major hazard. It is often invisible and has the same effect as driving on ice. As the bike leans over to travel round the corner it simply slides away. On a straight road one might have a sporting chance of correcting it. I should like to see anti-spill fuel tanks made compulsory under the construction and use section of the Bill.
Another great danger to motor cyclists is the increasing use of bumps in the road, or "sleeping policemen" as they are known. A rider unused to an area travelling on a dark and wet night could come to grief. I suggest that the approaches to sections of roads with bumps should have illuminated and reflective warning signs.
Traffic congestion would be eased considerably if all vehicles were allowed to turn left at a red light, having first stopped to see whether the road was clear. That is common practice in America, where it works extraordinarily well, although of course the traffic turns right. At crowded junctions with pedestrian crossings a large sign merely reads, "Don't turn on red", and therefore there is no danger to pedestrians. When I made that suggestion the official reply was that it was better to have a system of phased lights. However, many thousands of traffic lights are not phased, particularly in suburban areas.
I am pleased that the Government have not given way to the pressure groups which are demanding random breath testing. The police already have adequate powers to stop motorists at any time. It is legal for them merely to ask to see the tax disc and therefore there is a minor form of random testing.
I have been stopped in France twice in the course of a year and subjected to a random breath test. The last time was about two weeks ago when I was returning from the Geneva Motor Show travelling on a minor main road. When going over the brow of a hill I was confronted by about 20 gendarmes holding what I thought was a blue football. I thought that they were about to indulge in some strange French game. Not a bit of it; they were holding large breathalysers. Everyone travelling on the road had to blow into them. Not a drop of the demon alcohol had passed my lips all day so in that regard I was all right. However, I had great difficulty blowing it up and had to get out of the car to get enough breath to do so. I have not tried our British model, I am glad to say, but the French breathalysers were enormous and are hard work to blow up.
Anyone of a nervous disposition could be most distressed by the whole affair. I am not of a nervous disposition and therefore I was not distressed but I felt 462 insulted and annoyed. Random breath testing which involves queues of people would do nothing to improve the good will of the motorists towards the police. I do not condone driving over the limit, but one should put the whole matter in perspective. Out of 5,000 fatal accidents only one-quarter are drink related and one-third of those are drunken pedestrians.
I am convinced that more fatal accidents are caused by people who cannot see properly than by drivers who are over the alcohol limit. When I have raised that point in the past I have always been told that no statistics are available to prove it. Of course there are no statistics because no one has ever compiled any. I have never heard of a driver being made to have an eyesight test after an accident. No one seems to take the subject seriously, probably because it is respectable to have bad eyesight but not respectable to be over the limit. At the end of the day it is irrelevant whether one is run over by a drunken driver or by one who cannot see.
I have a number of elderly friends who drive but who cannot see at all well. I am frightened of meeting them during the day and horrified in case I meet them at night. Professor Cook of Brunel University has made a study of the subject. It is his opinion that about 20 per cent. of drivers suffer from low luminance myopia, which one might call night blindness. He believes that the condition is responsible for a number of unexplained accidents. That is a disturbing thought and I hope that one day some form of eyesight testing will be introduced in the interests of road safety. With those few observations I welcome the Bill.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Brocket
My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name on the list of speakers but I wish to make only a few brief comments. Many are made in the light of experience of my local police force. Clause 12 deals with the power to prohibit the driving of unfit vehicles. That is all very well but the trouble is that most people who drive unfit vehicles—for that one can read "wrecks"—are not very law-abiding citizens. On the whole they are ticked off, their name is taken and they continue to drive their unfit vehicle. My local police force has a terrific problem with such incidents. Its record books show the same names cropping up repeatedly. Drivers are ticked off for driving an unfit vehicle but continue to do so. Provision should be made to force them to take notice of being banned, be it by taking measures against the drivers or against the cars. I know of a recent case in front of magistrates in which the driver had been banned three times but was still driving. They were wondering what to do with him. There should be some way of dealing with such people. The same problem arises in relation to Clause 19; offenders are banned but they continue to drive.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised the question of eyesight. I saw a classic example yesterday on the M.25 at its junction with the M.3. A middle-aged couple were in a car which changed lanes at the roundabout and drove into a green Transit van. Bits flew all over the road. The couple got out and looked 463 at each other. The van was undamaged but their car was only just drivable. We made sure that they were all right and they got back into the car. The driver drove straight across the roundabout and hit an Audi travelling at about 60 miles per hour, so two cars were now in pieces. I spoke to the couple and discovered that the driver, who was only 50, was as blind as a bat and could not see a thing. The only reason why his wife was not too concerned was because she was deaf and could not hear anything. I can add to that case by saying that my wife cannot drive at night because she cannot see too well. I am a night-time chauffeur on most occasions.
Clause 29 relates to courses for drink-drive offenders. I shall be interested to know what form the course will take. I believe that most people who are over the limit are not drastically so; to put it bluntly, they are not paralytic. They have not an alcohol problem but a problem of responsibility. I shall be interested to know the form that the courses will take but they must tackle the responsibility aspect.
Clause 33 relates to the conditional fixed penalty offer, which is close to my heart. I am all in favour of fixed penalties but of paying on the spot. The Germans have a wonderful system of collecting the money from the driver there and then. One may wonder whether the policeman is crooked, but he must give a receipt and pay the money in within 24 hours (one can hand it in at the police station the following day). If he has not done so he will be for the high jump; he will leave the force rather rapidly. I am in favour of that system. The sheer volume of paperwork created by fines is mind boggling. The amount of paperwork which a policeman must do when he comes off his beat is almost enough to make him want to leave the force.
Clause 39 refers to meter charges. My noble friend Lady Gardner remarked on this matter. Nowadays one needs a mortgage to fill a meter, particularly in central London. The cost of using a parking meter in central London is four to six times more expensive than it is in central Manhattan. Our meter rates have gone completely barmy. Last week a meter was stolen, although I cannot remember where from. My American friends understand that theft because they believe that we must regard parking meters as banks on sticks because there is so much money inside them. The stolen meter must have been extremely heavy containing so much money!
Clause 44 deals with red routes, and I have always been in favour of them. They are a brilliant idea. In Germany and America they work very well. I was sad that there was only one experimental route—Archway. In order to test the system properly there should be quite a few experiments on the arterial routes leading into London.
When we go ahead with the red routes, I wonder how we shall make sure that they are kept clear. I suppose, rather like wheel clamping, we could franchise various routes to operators. However, we must be ruthless and we must make the fines very expensive. We could charge £100 if a vehicle is lifted off a red route and give £50 to the operator and the balance to the local authority. That would be a good 464 deterrent and also a good encouragement to the operators to make sure that the routes are kept clear. However, will diplomatic cars be included? I wonder how many diplomatic cars will be put on the back of trucks. If one uses Baker Street as a commuter route every morning one can see many diplomatic cars outside the department stores, their occupants doing their shopping.
There is a social point as regards red routes. Many of the shops with premises on red routes will be like shops in the middle of the Sahara. Not much will happen. There must be a way of compensating those shopkeepers, because their profits will plunge.
Clause 57 deals with planning. When planning authorities grant planning permission for retail premises or premises which create business in towns, I hope that they will stipulate as part of that planning permission that adequate parking shall be available, particularly in the case of shops. In the United States, if the parking does not exist or cannot be provided, then the facility is not granted. If one wishes to build a new shop or department store, then adequate parking spaces must be made available. That ensures that streets do not become clogged up. Provision must be made to rectify the lack of parking in the older parts of London where it is not possible to build car parks. There must be some creative thinking in that area.
Otherwise, I support the Bill and I believe that it will be a great improvement on the present arrangements.
§ 7.44 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, it would be churlish not to join with other noble Lords in welcoming the Bill. Part I may well achieve some increase in road safety and Part II may well reduce congestion. However, the Bill is fundamentally flawed. That is not the fault of the noble Lord who presented it so clearly. I do not blame anybody because I do not believe that the problem is easy to solve; it is due to the sheer number of cars on the roads.
The aim of the Government is admirable. They wish to cut the number of road accidents by one-third by the year 2000. As I said the other day on a Question on motor cycling, the progress towards that aim is not very encouraging.
I have just worked out that it was 31 years ago that I wrote articles about British cars for distribution to foreign journals. During that time I had to stretch the truth a little. I did my best at the job. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, will agree with me that in 1960 British cars were not very reliable. But they were becoming more attractive and at that time the British car manufacturing industry was doing quite well. Tyre technology had not developed to the extent to which it has now and we know that over the past 30 years there has been a dramatic change in the fortunes of the British car industry and indeed of the world car industry, particularly in Japan. The result of those changes has been that there are a very large number of cars on the roads, particularly in the developed world. Those cars have become increasingly 465 more reliable and attractive. They now include technology which in 1960 we should have thought was impossible.
Electronic chip technology performs various functions in the motor car. Indeed, marketing in the world manufacturing industry has become so competitive that refinements are used in it which most drivers do not understand. I do not know whether most drivers understand the difference between a 16-valve motor car and an eight-valve motor car. I wonder whether they know what the characteristics of a two-wheel drive motor car are in comparison to a four-wheel drive motor car; and I wonder whether they understand some of the possible dangers of the technology of anti-lock braking systems.
In short, over the past 30 years there has been an increasing number of cars on the road. Of course it is good that many people are now able to afford the luxury of a motor car and that cars have become extremely sophisticated and reliable. They are high performance cars. Many have become extremely boring to drive. They would not be boring to drive if there were fewer of them because there would be more road on which to benefit from the car's performance and so on.
Various factors are involved in road safety today. Cars are so good, there are so many of them on the road and there is so little space in which to use them that motorists have become extremely frustrated. Perhaps it is a characteristic of the meandering nostalgia of progressive middle age, but I believe that today drivers are more aggressive and selfish than they were 20 years ago, let alone 30 years ago.
It is interesting to observe the behaviour of people in accidents such as that which took place on the M.4. I was travelling to London on that very day but I used the A.303 and fortunately avoided that road. Having observed people driving in fog or bad conditions, I believe that they feel cocooned by all the high technology and luxury. They are less aware of people around them. Indeed, on top of all the advances which I have described there is now the advent of highly sensitive in-car entertainment to which people turn when they are frustrated or feel like a change of mood.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, people become even more frustrated when they use their hand-held cellular telephones because they cannot get through to the people at the other end. Every day, particularly on motorways, I see drivers straying from lane to lane holding those telephones. I know that it is careless driving to behave in that manner and I should be interested to know how many prosecutions have been brought against people driving carelessly holding their hand-held cellular telephones.
The scene has changed; it is no longer pleasant to drive. That is one reason I have returned to riding a motor cycle. Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, the high priest of motor cycles in your Lordships' House, I drive my motor cycle more than I drive my car. I am less frustrated on the motor cycle. I feel safer. If a motor cyclist reaches the age that I have, in middle-age we motor cyclists learn to be defensive in 466 our driving techniques. That is one of the aspects of motor cycling. If one continues to drive a motor cycle into one's fifties, one becomes a defensive enthusiast, and that is reflected in insurance premiums.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is not in his place, but I believe it was he who said that heavy goods vehicle drivers were particularly reviled in your Lordships' House. I fancy they are not so reviled as motor cyclists. Every time the subject is debated we hear a lot of angry talk, particularly in regard to dispatch riders and messengers. That is understandable. However, I feel that it is aimed at all motor cyclists for varying reasons.
Motor cyclists who carry goods and work for hire have a different motive for riding a motor cycle. They drive extremely quickly in order to earn money, and that is the problem. I agree absolutely that it is intolerable for the situation to continue where people are allowed to ride motor cycles professionally on a provisional licence. The Government must address that problem. It is not only dangerous but causes much offence. It is dangerous to pedestrians as well as other motor cyclists.
In the excellent and amusing maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, in which there were many interesting points, mention was made of company cars. I congratulate the chief executive, if that is who it was, of Body Shop for encouraging her employees to have a company bicycle. I should imagine it was not very popular. An inordinate amount of time in companies is spent deciding who should have which motor car. Inevitably in the end everyone receives a dull one; they are much too big and the drivers do not have the same appreciation of the car as an owner. We shall ultimately need to deal with company cars because congestion in the cities and the commuting process is aggravated by them. However, we face the built-in conflict with manufacturers, the interest of government and the Exchequer, other road users and public transport in that regard.
I do a little cycling and find it the most exciting form of transport. One risks death and injury in a hundred different ways every time one rides a bicycle. They are a very brave body of men and women who practise cycling. On the other hand, now I have complimented them, I must say that they are the most irresponsible section of the road-using community. Although we should encourage cyclists to use their cycles on the roads, even to the extent of giving more lanes to them, in return they must do so in a better and more responsible way. Cycling organisations should ensure that cyclists obey basic road laws which are properly enforced by the police. All the anecdotes we heard this afternoon have shown what an important area that is.
I shall not go into the topic of motor cycling again. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, covered it very well. However, the aim of the Government to cut accidents in regard to motor cyclists by 40 per cent. by the year 2000 is well on target. Motor cycle accidents have been reducing gradually over the past 10 years on a regular basis. The standard of motor cycling in this 467 country, leaving aside the professionals that I denigrated, is extremely high. Most motor cyclists ride responsibly and defensively.
In regard to drink-driving, as my noble friend Lord Tordoff said—and to use his expression—I am an agnostic. Most noble Lords know my views in that regard; I abhor it. However, apart from anything else, I have certain anxieties about the ability of the police to exercise random breath testing in a way which would maintain their relations with the public. Where drink is concerned it is important to have proper identification and rehabilitation of drivers who have offended more than once—not just more than twice or three times—to ascertain whether they have a drink problem and to ensure that they are rehabilitated if necessary. Like other noble Lords, I ask what would be the content of the rehabilitation courses for such offenders.
I am somewhat pessimistic whether congestion will be relieved by the proposals made by the Government in Part II of the Bill. I am hopeful that it will be. I should like to see more people using public transport, cheaper buses and more of them. I should like to see fewer cars in areas where buses are carrying people to and from their place of work. The best driver is an enthusiastic driver who drives for pleasure. The best drivers are not those who own company cars and drive as a routine to work. That may be a contentious view but it is relevant to the debate.
I accept the Bill and its contents gracefully. I wish it well but I have reservations.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Braybrooke, for his maiden speech. I note that he is keenly interested in transport matters. That, together with his wide experience in local government, means we welcome him to our transport group as one of our transport fraternity. We need more like him. I congratulate and thank him for his speech.
Noble Lords will recall the debate on road users and the law in April 1989. On that occasion I said from this Dispatch Box that the Opposition in general welcomed the recommendations and the response of the Government to the North Report. When we consider Part I of the Bill we must consider whether it fulfils the objectives of North and the general trend of the Government's White Paper.
Perhaps I should mention at the outset that the North Committee in its report stated that the law would be most effective when it is seen to be laying down necessary and reasonable standards for road user behaviour. It went on to say that, the law should be made accessible and clear to the average road user. It added that,no law will be truly effective if it fails to command the confidence of the community".I believe that that view was reflected in many of your Lordships' speeches. It involves the important question of enforcement. I do not suppose the Minister will be able to reply immediately, but I should like to feel that when the legislation in Part I is enacted, there will be the widest possible consultations on how to achieve the maximum possible effective 468 enforcement of all the provisions. Unless we do that we are wasting our time in considering so much new legislation.
The Bill reflects the recommendations of North that the present offences should be replaced by ones which consider more firmly the standard of driving. I am sure that most people will agree with that general aim. At Committee stage the Minister must consider whether or not the various provisions achieve that desirable objective.
In general we approve the provisions for the new offences of dangerous and careless driving. We give full support to the offence of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink and drugs. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis emphasised that in the other place the Opposition pressed for the inclusion also of incapacity through fatigue. In his remarks he mentioned the need for there to be suitable and adequate parking facilities for the drivers of heavy goods vehicles. Only today I received a communication from a regional office of the Transport and General Workers Union pointing out the closure of one such place to drivers of heavy goods vehicles. This will obviously have some effect.
I should like to ask the Minister what kind of enforcement there will be to carry out the law concerning drivers' hours and rest periods which are quite clearly laid down. How effective is the enforcement on tachographs? There has been general acceptance of them although there were suspicious feelings at the outset.
We have had a great deal of discussion today about random breath testing. I believe that the public now generally accept the serious concern that there is about drink and driving. As my noble friend said, there is wide support for random breath-testing from a substantial number of influential organisations. Their opinions cannot be dismissed out of hand. In particular I mention the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Road Safety and the Consumers' Association. Both organisations approach the problem from different angles. They both strongly support random breath-testing.
The noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, queried whether the introduction of random breath tests would disrupt relations with the public. We have sound information from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. In a survey, the results of which were published last November, 77 per cent. of the responses were in support of random breath-testing. Surely nobody would query the research work carried out by the TRRL. We have the argument put forward by ACPO and the noble Lord, Lord Knights, who referred to the fact that random breath-testing meant checking without any exception. If random breath-testing is accepted one has to determine how it should be carried out. There will have to be strict guidelines. There can be either an extension of the present random selection that the police make or there can be proper stops in which, say, each of 10 motorists is checked. The regulations will have to be considered later on. The important point is to make a clear decision as to 469 whether there should be additional random breath-testing above that which we have now. It has always seemed wrong to me that we should have to rely on a pretext or a subterfuge for the police stopping a person to check whether he or she is guilty of a drink-driving offence.
As my noble friend emphasised, on this side of the House there will be a free vote on this matter. It is a very important issue and I hope that there will be a free vote throughout the House. It is not just a question of the detection of individuals, but of deterrence. Random breath-testing will be an important deterrent. The important issue is as to how we can deter more people from engaging in drink-driving.
There are 43 clauses in Part I of the Bill many of which have new or extended powers. We have general agreement on many of them. I am certain that we shall have a very full and interesting Committee stage. I appreciate—and I am certain that other noble Lords do also the fact that the Minister has stayed throughout and has heard every single word of this debate. I am certain that he will find that beneficial when we come to the Committee stage. There are no politics in this matter, except on one issue to which I shall refer later. In Part I of the Bill we are all after the same objective: namely, how can we make our roads and the travelling public more safe.
There are so many important provisions in Part I. I shall mention only a couple. I welcome the provision for the use of camera technology. On a previous occasion I stressed how important that can be in detecting speeding. I said how important it can be as regards people who jump the red light. I use a car to come here on some days, but today I came by London Underground. It depends how late the House is going to keep me at night. That is a very important factor. The worst offence that I have come across concerns the number of people who jump the red light. That is a most dangerous practice. I hope that the introduction of camera technology will do something about that.
I hope that we shall not be faced with the situation that we reached over the introduction of the radar speed equipment. It took three amendments before the Government accepted that there had to be an approved standard for equipment. If we intend to include this provision in Part I of the Bill there must be an approved type and standard for equipment in order to achieve accuracy and reliability. I hope that the Government themselves will introduce an amendment to that effect.
The other provision in Part I to which I wish to refer is variable speed limits. There will need to be a great deal of co-ordination between the various highway authorities if that is to be introduced. I can see the beneficial effect of introducing that provision. In order to have co-ordination there may have to be effective consultation between neighbouring highway authorities.
I am pleased that reference has also been made to a possible review of speed limits. Reference has been made to a limit of 60 miles per hour for heavy goods 470 vehicles. If my memory is correct, there is now a procedure for limiters to be put on coaches. I believe that measure was approved in 1988. Is any effort being made to ensure that there are speed limiters on heavy goods vehicles? Most of the goods vehicles which pass me, often driven by very competent drivers, are travelling far faster than 60 miles an hour. In fact many of them attempt to pass at 70 miles per hour coaches which are also supposed to have speed limits imposed on them.
I now move to Part II of the Bill. Part I of the Bill is non-contentious though there will be many differences of opinion at Committee stage. Part II is a very controversial part of the Bill. I am sorry that it has been added to a Bill which deals with road traffic law. That will upset some of our discussions. In our debate on transport, with particular reference to London and the South-East, considerable emphasis was placed on the need for a central strategic planning authority for London. This part of the present Bill reinforces the need for such an authority.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, my noble friend because we were engaged in getting through the provision for the compulsory wearing of seat belts. He asked how we could possibly get 33 London boroughs to agree. I believe that another noble Lord made the same comment. They can be made to agree if there is one central strategic authority, which is what we must have for London. If ever there was an argument for that provision it was that comment from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.
Arising from the road assessment studies, the Government conceded that the construction of new roads is not the answer to London's transport and its congestion. Having accepted that, we now have a rather piecemeal approach without the sound co-ordinated approach to the plans for London transport.
Reference has been made to buses. They cannot be treated separately. I welcome some of the approaches that the Government have made about them. There has to be a co-ordinated plan for the whole transport system of London. We have the Government's decision on the network of priority routes which are commonly called the red routes. The Government frankly state that the objective is to enable traffic to move smoothly and to avoid congestion.
How will the encouragement of more through traffic to move quickly persuade people to leave their cars behind and use public transport? That is the last thing they will do if the traffic can move effectively. Moreover, when the traffic has reached the end of the red routes where does it go? Noble Lords who attend this House are very fortunate because we have a car park outside. If one goes across the road one finds that it is impossible to get a parking place in the underground car park. There is always a notice displayed to the effect that the car park is full. Employers are paying for season tickets for many of their senior employees to use the car park. I know an individual who had one. Through traffic passing quickly does not encourage people off the road but possibly encourages more people to come into central London, with all the problems that causes.
471 Both the Conservative-controlled Association of London Boroughs and the Labour-controlled Association of London Authorities oppose this Part II of the Bill. Neither accepts the concept of red routes. Even those who may favour red routes surely must query the proposal to appoint a director. There are concerns about his powers. He will be accountable only to the Secretary of State. In fact, as someone commented in another place, he is a one-man quango. The director will designate a priority route network and in the preparation of this network plan he need consult only those boroughs and associations as he considers appropriate. By and large the local authorities will be bypassed and the public will in no way be consulted on the desirability of a red route going through their area. Local authorities may be directed by the director to vary their local plans. There is even the draconian power to fine local authorities if they do not fit in with the director's plans or do not exercise compliance with the director's wishes.
I know the Minister said that this is only a fallback power which he hopes will never be used. I can recall that some of us tried to provide a fallback power in the New Roads and Street Works Bill but the Government refused to accept it. This Bill contains very draconian powers. I hope that we shall give this part of the Bill very serious consideration.
Various noble Lords will have received, as I have, communications from at least two of the organisations concerned with the mobility of the disabled. There is not time to deal with the issues tonight, but I hope that when amendments come forward noble Lords will be as sympathetic to matters concerning the mobility of the disabled as they have been on previous occasions. I hope too that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will be as sympathetic as he was when these issues were raised on the New Roads and Street Works Bill. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for her very moving address on this issue. When we are dealing with transport matters in London, including the red routes, we should not overlook the important question of provision for the disabled.
Perhaps I may ask a rhetorical question: where do the pedestrians and cyclists come in? The only place I can see cyclists referred to is under the offence of reckless cycling. On the road I use coming through to the City there is now a cycle path. I was a keen cyclist. Noble Lords can see that I am now too old to be a cyclist but I was once captain of my cycling club and rode a regular tandem. Some motorists treat cyclists very badly and allow only about six inches when passing them. We should bear in mind the reckless attitude adopted by motorists towards many cyclists. The cycle paths are a disgrace. The Government can learn a great deal from cycle paths in the Netherlands, not only those that cross the countryside but those in towns as well, with their own traffic lights. We must give further consideration to the question of pedestrians and cyclists.
I am sorry if I have taken too much time but I must make a final point. I was asked by my noble friend to deal with it. We welcome the Government's change of attitude regarding local authority parking provisions. 472 All parking provisions are now given to local authorities except those connected with red routes and the neighbouring areas. Parking guidance is to be given by the Secretary of State. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what exactly will be the nature of the consultations before that parking guidance is given.
There is also the question of the number of officers who will be carrying out this work. There is at present a severe shortage of Metropolitan Police traffic wardens in many areas. If local authority parking attendants are to be provided for in the Bill, we must ensure that there will be adequate numbers. We must ensure that adequate training is given. I support noble Lords who have suggested that there should be a recognised uniform for all local authority parking attendants. We have separate police forces and separate fire services, but there is always one common recognised uniform. We need to have the same in connection with local authority attendants.
I wish to raise one further matter. If we are to have adequate numbers of parking attendants to enforce all the parking provisions, how will they be controlled in areas where roads can be very dangerous? I have previously criticised the complete lack of parking controls in my own area. Will the transport supplementary grant, which I believe can cover certain safety provisions, be extended to ensure that local authorities have the finance in order to employ a suitable number of parking attendants or will this be taken into consideration in the standard spending assessment for local authorities? It is little use giving local authorities power to carry out parking enforcement, which they will welcome, unless we make sure that they have the resources to carry out the job. It is the same as passing laws to deal with road traffic conditions and not having the proper means of enforcing them. We must provide the resources necessary to enforce all of Part I and also those provisions in Part II of the Bill.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am grateful for the general welcome in the House for the broad thrust of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has just said, I am sure we all agree that we should be working to improve road safety and ease congestion on our roads.
Perhaps I may join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Braybrooke on his contribution to a debate that has ranged widely. I hope that we shall hear more from him soon on transport subjects.
The Bill is not and does not purport to be the Government's sole contribution to road safety. The House will be well aware of the wide range of government initiatives in this field. I have in mind in particular the compulsory wearing of rear seat-belts, on which draft regulations were issued on 14th March, and the proposals for the compulsory fitting of speed limiters to heavy goods vehicles, announced in another place on the 7th February.
Although it is not everything, the improvement of road traffic law is a vital element in our road safety strategy. The new offences, the new penalties and the 473 new and improved enforcement through camera technology are not simply aimed at conviction rates. We hope that they will change drivers' behaviour.
Equally, the Bill's traffic management provisions do not lay claim by themselves to solve the problems of congestion in London. They are an important new thrust for improving the movement of traffic in London. The new local authority parking system will trigger the release of substantial numbers of police traffic wardens to enforce prohibited parking on the priority routes and other important roads in London. That will bring direct benefits for traffic movement and for road safety.
The provisions of the Bill should be seen against the background of our policies for improving traffic conditions in London. We are widening the M.25, and the New Roads and Street Works Bill which has been considered and passed by this House will make an important contribution towards reducing obstructions due to utility works. Moreover, we now have 300 junctions controlled by SCOOT which is a computer-controlled technique to adjust traffic-light timings to match the traffic flow. More than twice that number of London traffic lights will be controlled in that way by 1993. I hope that that will please my noble friend Lady Macleod.
In outer London detectors are being fitted to give buses priority at traffic lights. We are introducing variable message signs to advise drivers of any problems ahead. We shall be introducing a new system of direction signing which could save £35 million a year in wasted mileage. New driver information systems are also being introduced.
I should like to respond so far as I can to the points raised by noble Lords during the debate. As regards the road traffic law provisions of the Bill, many noble Lords raised the question of random breath testing. Let us he clear on the matter. When my noble friend Lord Waddington was Home Secretary, he gave a full explanation in another place on 21st March 1990, of the extent of police powers. We have concluded that the police have adequate powers to order roadside breath tests. It is lawful for a police officer in uniform, acting in the execution of his duty, to require the driver of any vehicle on a road to stop. The police officer who stops a vehicle on a road for the purpose of investigating whether its driver has alcohol in his body is acting in the execution of his duty. Accordingly, it is lawful for a police officer in uniform to stop vehicles at random for that purpose, provided that there is no malpractice such as oppression or capricious conduct on the part of the officer.
It is lawful for a police officer in uniform to require a driver who has been stopped in such circumstances to provide a specimen of breath for a breath test, provided that the officer has reasonable cause to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his body. It is clear therefore that existing powers are sufficient. Indeed, they have permitted a tripling in the number of breath tests over the past decade. There has recently been a welcome downward trend in the proportion of positive breath tests. Therefore, I do not believe that a further power to institute formalised roadside checks 474 would be an effective approach to policing the problem of drink-driving. Indeed, it may act as a constraint on the police. Why should the police want to administer breath tests where there is no suspicion that a person has been drinking? For the latter reason, I cannot see why the police should want what has been described as "unfettered discretion". Surely they have all the discretion they need at present.
Of course I appreciate that the checkpoint approach has brought about a reduction in drink-driving in such countries as Australia. However, in many cases it has proved to be a temporary phenomenon. Our approach—that of changing attitudes—has brought about a larger reduction. Existing police powers have been shown to be sufficient for the job of bringing down the incidence of drink-driving. The case for change has not been made out. Moreover, apart from the remarks made by the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Clinton-Davis, and by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, I have not heard much support in the debate this afternoon for such a change.
I turn now to deal with other road traffic law points which were raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred especially to the question of corporate liability and employers' responsibilities for heavy goods vehicle offences. Employers of heavy goods vehicle drivers are required to have an operator's licence. They must give undertakings to the licensing authorities that they will operate vehicles safely and within the law. Enforcement is aimed at ensuring that the operator and his driver comply with undertakings and other requirements of road traffic law. Of course, an operator's licence can be revoked if necessary by the licensing authority, usually following prosecution in court.
The issue of fatigue experienced by lorry drivers and suitable rest provisions was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Clinton-Davis. The causes of such fatigue are complex. The rules governing the hours worked by drivers provide for adequate rest and driving limits. Those are the paramount factors in preventing overtiredness. There are currently 45 motorway service areas in London all of which provide separate parking for lorries. Plans for a further 20 such areas are at various stages of development. Some motorway service areas provide lodging accommodation including showers, shaving points and separate catering facilities for commercial drivers. However, on some all-purpose trunk roads there is a shortfall in the provision of' facilities for heavy goods vehicles. I agree with the noble Lords on that point. Discussions have been held with the local authority associations and with the private sector to promote the provision of more and better facilities where needed. I am encouraged by the fact that lorry facilities are being planned and provided by the private sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also referred to heavy goods vehicle speed limiters. We have recently consulted on their compulsory introduction for new 475 vehicles. There is also the possibility of some retro-fitting. We shall shortly be bringing forward draft regulations in this respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, particularly requested that seatbelts should be fitted in minibuses and coaches. The Government would also like to see good quality, easy to use and retractable seatbelts being fitted to all seats in minibuses and coaches. Indeed, seatbelts have been required to be fitted to all front seats on new minibuses and to exposed forward facing seats on new coaches since 1st October 1988.
We have been pressing the EC Commission for some years to amend the relevant directive so as to allow us to require seatbelts to be fitted on all seats in both minibuses and coaches. As a result of that pressure, the Commission has requested that proposals be put forward by the end of 1991. We hope that they will be suitable for our requirements.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned the use of car telephones in vehicles. I do not believe that it is necessary to create a specific offence as regards using a car telephone when driving. It has already been established that such behaviour can be dealt with by one of the bad driving charges, such as careless or inconsiderate driving. However, I cannot at present tell the noble Viscount how many prosecutions have taken place. Of course we have emphasised in The Highway Code the risks involved in using a car telephone when driving.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and other noble Lords mentioned police resources for enforcement of the provisions in Part I of the Bill. There have been significant increases in police force establishments over the past 10 years. But of course there can never be enough police officers, as noble Lords pointed out this afternoon, to meet all the calls for increased enforcement, whether for traffic or other offences. The chief officers of police have to target their resources so as to have the maximum impact in accordance with local and national priorities. I can tell my noble friend Lord Mountevans that in 1989 about 8.7 million alleged motoring offences were dealt with by the police. That was an increase of 2 per cent. over the figure for 1988 and represents a continuing rising trend.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I have with me the same sort of Home Office statistics. It appears that 8.7 million or 8.9 million cases were dealt with by the police. However, how many people got away completely? That is the nub of the enforcement problem.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I cannot possibly answer that question. No one knows how many people got away. Indeed, no one ever will. The key proposal in the Bill is to improve enforcement through the use of technology. We hope that that will also act as a deterrent.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also referred to Clause 6, which deals with endangerment. He asked why that provision did not apply to Scotland. It is unnecessary to apply to Scotland the new offence of 476 endangering road users as common law adequately covers the statutory offence and penalties up to life imprisonment could apply in serious cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and others referred to rehabilitation. The courses will be designed to educate drink-drivers and encourage self-examination of attitudes. The Secretary of State will have to approve courses. He will do so by incorporating conditions which allude to course conduct. Precise details will initially be a matter for the course organisers. They will put forward proposals to the Secretary of State.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who asked about vehicle examiners, that resources will be adequate. Although the number of vehicle examiners is not increasing at the moment, there are efficiency gains, and vehicle conditions are as much enforced through the annual roadworthiness test as they are by the powers of prohibition.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, not unexpectedly, referred to the sale of unroadworthy vehicles. He will recognise, as do the Government, that provisions in the Road Traffic Act 1988 relating to the sale of unroadworthy vehicles have been criticised for being easily circumvented. Our proposals to strengthen the law were included in our amendment to the Bill in another place and are now contained in Clause 16. I believe that the new clause will help close the loophole which unscrupulous dealers have used to escape conviction.
The noble Lord also referred to the overloading of heavy goods vehicles. We are worried about the low level of fines imposed for overloading offences. That is why we are consulting about a possible change in policy to concentrate prosecution efforts on the most serious cases; in other words, on those vehicles which are more than 10 per cent. overloaded. No decision has yet been taken. The most effective means of enforcement is the prohibition on overloaded vehicles until the weight is reduced. We shall continue to prohibit all vehicles which are more than 5 per cent. overloaded.
My noble friend Lord Teviot mentioned an interesting point about the application of road traffic law to light rail vehicles, trams and so forth. I share his concern about the application of the Road Traffic Acts with the imminent introduction of street running light rail systems. I shall await with interest my noble friend's detailed amendments in Committee. I should warn the House that that could be a complicated matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to anti-spray devices. Since 1984, vehicles registered in Great Britain with a maximum weight of more than 12 tonnes have been required to be fitted with spray suppression devices meeting the specification of British Standard BS200. The provision, however, cannot be legally required on vehicles registered outside this country.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, as everything will be European next year, could there not be a European regulation?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I would not go as far as the noble Baroness. However, a European Community directive has now been agreed for spray suppression equipment the performance requirement of which is similar to our British standard. Although the directive is not mandatory, we hope that other Community member states will implement its provisions. That would have the effect of reducing the number of vehicles on our roads which are not fitted with that equipment.
The noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Brocket, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, asked about rehabilitation courses. The courses will be approved by the Department of Transport. Voluntary and private sector organisations will be involved in running them. The experiment will be monitored by the Department of Transport's Road Research Laboratory, reporting to the Secretary of State for Transport. Officials from the Department of Health and the Home Office will be working with the Department of Transport in setting up and monitoring those courses.
On orange badge offences, the noble Baroness will be aware of the proposal to introduce a new passport-style orange badge with a photograph. It should be a major step towards dealing with abuse. The badge will not be displayed permanently on the windscreen. The motorist will leave it on the dashboard when parked. So an offence of falsely displaying an orange badge will not be needed.
My noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux mentioned the retesting of drink drivers. He asked why we had not made that compulsory in the Bill. Compulsory retesting will, as he said, not initially apply to all drink drivers. We consider it more appropriate for those drivers who have displayed a serious deficiency in their standards of driving through their conviction for dangerous driving. However, courts will have discretion to order an extended retest for drink drivers when they think fit.
The Bill also contains enabling powers for the Secretary of State to extend, by order, the categories of disqualified drivers who are subject to compulsory retesting. We shall consider whether an extension is desirable in the light of experience.
My noble friend was also worried about tailgating. It would not be appropriate to create a specific offence. Such behaviour can be charged as one of the bad driving offences. Prosecutors have the discretion to bring a charge of careless or inconsiderate driving. In certain circumstances the behaviour may amount to a more serious charge such as the new dangerous driving offence. A specific offence would unduly restrict the prosecution.
The new technology will initially be used for speeding and red light offences. There is power to extend the list of offences by order. The changes made in the Bill will, as envisaged in the White Paper, enable us to make full and effective use of technological developments.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the type approval of camera technology. I can assure him 478 that the Bill already provides that the equipment used to detect speeding and red light offences will have to be type approved.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter mentioned speed limits and compared those in this country with those in the United States. I recognise the importance of setting a speed limit which achieves a balance between the efficient movement of people and goods on the one hand and safety on the other. The department keeps that issue under review. Recent initiatives have included the introduction of 20 mph zones in residential areas, and the announcement of our plans, to which I have already referred, to introduce speed limiters on heavy goods vehicles, consultations on which have recently been completed. The majority of the respondents were in favour of the proposals.
On the advertising of the speed of motor cars, we are concerned about the undesirability of promoting cars by emphasising their speed. Discussions have taken place between the department and the Advertising Standards Authority which is seriously considering the issue. It already bans advertisements which it considers place undue emphasis on speed or encourage any other unsafe practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked how many people had escaped conviction for reckless driving because of the defence that they were unaware of the risks that they were taking. That has happened. What is more, that defence has discouraged the bringing of prosecutions for the more serious offence. Careless driving charges are sometimes brought instead. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about the extended driving test and whether it would include motorway driving. It is not feasible to include motorway driving. There are insufficient test centres within easy reach of motorways. Noble Lords have only to look at a map of the motorway system to realise that there are large parts of the country which are many miles away from a motorway. The extended driving test will allow skills to be tested over a wide range of driving conditions, including fast, open road conditions.
My noble friend Lady Macleod referred to police powers at road works. The Bill contains no provision for police to control road works. That issue was dealt with in the New Roads and Street Works Bill that we have just passed. Clause 6, which creates the offence of endangering road users, refers only to a person who obstructs the road without lawful authority. It would not be appropriate to apply that offence to those who have proper authority to undertake street works. Provisions for the control of street works are made in the New Roads and Street Works Bill.
Finally on this part of the Bill, my noble friend Lord Mountevans referred to bridge bashing. Work is in hand by the department, British Rail and the local authorities to implement the working party's recommendations, including the provision of improved signing and warning systems at the most vulnerable sites.
Turning finally—I am aware that I have many points to answer and I shall not be able to cover all of them, but I am doing my best—to Part II of the Bill, 479 I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Nugent of Guildford and Lord Boyd-Carpenter in particular for their warm welcome to this part of the Bill.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the need for a strategic transport authority for London, notably the noble Lords opposite—in fact, only the noble Lords opposite. We have heard these calls many times before, but I must repeat that the Government have no intention of re-creating a GLC-style authority for transport in London. We do not want the grand strategic plans and additional bureaucracy that such an authority implies. It is salutary to recall that the Greater London development plan took 11 years from the start of preparatory work until ministerial approval, and was out of date before the work could begin. What we want is action to tackle London's urgent traffic problems. We have set the broad framework within which those with transport and traffic responsibility are working. This is producing results, and the measures in Part II of the Bill will make a significant further contribution.
I have listened to the concerns about the role of the London traffic director. His organisation will be small and his prime function will be confined to improving the movement of traffic on London's roads. In our view setting up and running the priority route network needs to be co-ordinated if it is to be effective, and that is why we need a traffic director. A piecemeal and uncoordinated approach will produce sporadic improvements, moving traffic on more efficiently from one black spot to the next. I do not accept that the solution is for the local authorities—all 33 of them in London—to co-ordinate an overall approach. Like my noble friend Lord Nugent, I doubt that they could agree a single strategic view.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked whether there could be traffic directors and red routes outside London. The need for co-ordination outside London is not as great as it is in London, so we are not proposing traffic directors for other towns and cities. It will be for local authorities to consider the introduction of priority routes in their areas, using their existing powers and negotiating enforcement with the local police.
The traffic director will be under a duty to consult local highway authorities, the police and others in preparing plans. He will not be a highway authority himself, and his default powers will be used only if the local authorities refuse to co-operate. He will need the consent of the Secretary of State to implement plans on local roads and will be bound to follow the normal statutory procedures. So far as his accountability is concerned—a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred to—he will be working within the guidance and objectives from the Secretary of State, and there will be consultation on guidance. In fact there is an enormous amount of consultation built into the Bill and into the arrangements.
I have listened to the concerns about the operation of the pilot scheme in north London. I believe them to be slightly alarmist. The trunk road section of the scheme became operational on 7th January. There were some teething troubles early on, but many adjustments have been made and initial indications 480 are that traffic appears to be moving more freely. The new signs and lines seem to be well understood, and space appears to be available in areas marked for loading and unloading, so deliveries are not unduly hampered. The full range of benefits will become available when the scheme is fully implemented. Comprehensive surveys will take place throughout 1991, and it is only when these results are known that the full picture will take shape.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred particularly to damage to traders on the routes, but overall red routes should provide efficiency gains for delivery of services. I accept that businesses may need to make some adjustments but their interests will be fully considered in the pilot scheme. They should benefit from a safer, cleaner and less cluttered environment, and that is particularly important for shops.
It has been suggested that red routes will encourage further traffic into central London. I do not agree with that. Additional capacity will help existing road users, including buses, pedestrians and cyclists, and it can be used to draw traffic out of residential areas, which is a particular benefit. We shall not be encouraging traffic growth or more car commuting to the centre. Careful allocation of additional capacity and local authority parking policies, supported by the record current investment in public transport, will be influential in maintaining the downward trend of car commuters.
So far as the environment is concerned—my noble friend Lord Braybrooke made particular reference to this in his speech—this Bill will help the local environment by reducing air and noise pollution. Sound traffic management helps to keep vehicles moving and thus reduces the emissions caused by stop-start traffic. Many existing measures are already at the disposal of local authorities but the Government are providing new advice on civilising road transport through traffic calming, parking control, bus priority and better road signing and traffic control. Illegal parking is also a major cause of congestion. Red routes in London will create a system of through routes to keep traffic moving and also help buses, cyclists and pedestrians.
So far as the application of a new system of permitted parking outside London is concerned, Part II of the Bill has been brought forward to deal with the traffic problems in London. Parking proposals are in response to detailed consideration by the Home Office working party, which concluded that the main problem was in London. I accept that there are problem areas outside London, but we consider that we should tackle the problems in London first. But I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Knights, that the Government will reconsider the case for extending the system outside London in the light of experience.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked about consultation with cycling organisations. Cycling organisations were consulted over the Government's traffic in London proposals in December 1989 and the traffic in London legislative proposals in June of last year. These consultation documents led to Part II of the present Bill. The noble Baroness also asked rather curiously whether the Department of Transport had 481 been consulted in the publication of the Department of the Environment's latest Wake Up booklet, as it is called. I would go further. Not only was the Department of Transport consulted and co-operated fully with this edition of the book but the latest edition was in fact launched by one of my Department of Transport colleagues, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, on the 4th of this month, so we were fully involved all the way through.
Turning now to the point on disability, raised particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and my noble friend Lady Macleod, my honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic gave an assurance to the Standing Committee in the other place that the Secretary of State's traffic management and parking guidance, which are the basic policy documents for the traffic director and the London authorities to take into account as appropriate, will address the needs of disabled people.
Examination of the pilot red route in North London at the moment will show that disabled people have benefited from that and that special exemption allows vehicles to stop on red lines to pick up or set down disabled people who qualify for orange badges; orange badge holders can also use waiting and loading areas, plus exclusive use of bays reserved for them at selected sites such as hospitals and places like community centres. We shall be looking at the lessons from the pilot scheme for the red route network as a whole.
I am coming to an end, as noble Lord will wish me to do, but I have two more points. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth referred to local authority arrangements for enforced permitted parking and uniforms in particular. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, also referred to that. Uniforms, pay and conditions are matters for the local authorities, and the joint consultative committee which the Bill proposes that the local authorities should establish will consider issues of common interest. One of the joint committee's functions will be to appoint parking adjudicators who will be a safeguard for drivers and owners who are aggrieved at local authority enforcement action. It will be independent and consider appeals from road users and owners who are not satisfied with the way their representations to local authorities have been dealt with.
As regards consultation on parking guidance, we shall set out guidance in our advice to local authorities for them to co-ordinate their action on parking in London. We shall describe the new system of permitted parking and the designation of special parking areas. We shall include advice on their introduction. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that there will be consultation on the draft guidance. We shall include in that consultation the police, London Regional Transport, the Association of London Authorities, and others as appropriate.
I am conscious that I have not been able to answer all the points that have been raised in the debate this afternoon, but I have already well exceeded my time limit and there is further business to be dealt with. I am grateful to noble Lords for their patience. I can tell 482 that we shall have an interesting and productive Committee stage. This Bill is an important element in the Government's strategy of improving efficiency and safety in all modes of transport. It should be welcomed, and I hope the House will allow the Bill to receive a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.