HL Deb 02 May 1991 vol 528 cc925-74

8.10 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 5 [Disapplication of sections 1 to 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for authorised motoring events]:

Lord Cavendish of Furness moved Amendment No. 7: Page 3, line 15, after ("be") insert ("included among those").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara I shall move Amendment No. 7 and at the same time speak to Amendment No. 8. These are both technical amendments to the clause which disapplies Sections 1 to 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, for authorised motoring events in public places. Authorisations will be given by bodies prescribed in regulations by the Secretary of State.

The first amendment puts beyond doubt that, although the regulations may specify conditions to be included in authorisations for such events, there is nothing to prevent authorising bodies from imposing further conditions of their own.

The second amendment clarifies the position on payment of fees in connection with applications for authorisation. The Secretary of State has power to prescribe application fees, but he need not do so. The amendment provides that he may instead simply prescribe the person who should set such fees, which would normally be the body authorising a particular event or class of events. These amendments simply provide for smooth operation of the system of authorising off-road motor rallies and similar events.I commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness moved Amendment No. 8: Page 3, line 20, after ("amount") insert ("(or the persons who are to determine the amount)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No.9: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

("Authorisation of motoring events on public highways

.—(1) Regulations made by the Secretary of State in the exercise of his powers under section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 1969 shall require the Royal Automobile Club, before authorising an event under the provision of paragraph 6 of the Motor Vehicles (Competitions & Trials) Regulations 1969, to refer applications to the chief officer or officers of police (in Scotland the chief constable or constables) of any police area in which the route of the event on a public highway lies partially or wholly for their consent.

(2) Without such consent no authorisation shall be made under paragraph 10 of the aforesaid Regulations.

(3) This section shall be brought into force by regulations to be made within twelve months of the passing of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 9 concerns motor rallies. Since I joined this Chamber I have never heard this subject debated. The regulations that I seek to have amended date from 1969. At that time some attempt was made to regulate the use of public highways for the purpose of motor rallies. At that time lengthy statutory instruments were issued which divided rallies into several different categories. The instruments conferred rights to hold certain rallies which are a familiar occurrence in the motoring agenda. In dealing with rallies generally, the Royal Automobile Club was involved in the supervision of the rally programmes to a surprising degree.

The regulations provide that those who wish to use a highway for motor rallies should send their applications to the RAC. That body is under a statutory obligation to consult. Among those it must consult are the chief police officers of the districts through which the rally may pass, either wholly or in part. That gives the chief police officers the opportunity to comment on the suitability or otherwise of the rally that is proposed, and to advise the RAC of any special conditions which the police feel should be taken into account. However, the final decision rests with the RAC.

I must now declare an interest because over many years I have suffered at different times from motor rallies. I now seek to impose the overriding authority for granting applications for motor rallies upon chief police officers. The conditions on our roads have changed enormously since 1969. The volume of traffic on our roads day and night is much heavier nowadays. In my experience when a rally is to be held a person calls at my house and leaves a courteous note which states that such and such a motor club wishes to hold a rally which will pass through my area. Incidentally, the motor clubs may come from outside my district. They can come from another county or from another area. The rallies that I have suffered have been instigated by clubs based in other areas. The note that the clubs leave tells one roughly how many vehicles will pass one's house, and at about what time of night that will occur. The rallies all occur at night.

I usually find that at between 12 to one o'clock early on a Sunday morning, or a little later, about 60 cars will pass my house. The road is so narrow outside my house that two vehicles cannot pass. Therefore, traffic coming one way has to give way to traffic coming in the opposite direction for courtesy to prevail. However, when 60 cars come past in one direction, the traffic coming in the opposite direction is in difficulty. In 1969 the dead of night at the weekend may have been a deader night than it is now in terms of the volume of traffic. Nowadays, many people travel by car at night over the weekend.

The police have been fully informed of local feeling. The police let the RAC know those feelings. On one occasion a rally was allowed to continue and on another occasion it was abandoned. A further note was left at my house. It came from an entirely new source a long way away from my house. The note stated that the motor club wished to hold a navigational rally. Presumably the rally was aimed at people who wished to learn to navigate around the countryside. Those whose house the rally was to pass could not obtain the whole route of that rally. Householders were merely informed that the rally would pass their houses. On one such occasion the police became interested in a rally because a public protest took place at one point on the route, and that concerned the police greatly.

My gall rose to such an extent on one occasion that I threatened to block the road and put up with the consequences. It was intolerable that people could select a lane which was built some hundreds of years ago for horses and carts and use it for a stream of 60 cars. I sat up all night to time them and the interval between one car and another as they went by. I noted what gear changing was necessary because of the level of the lane. I made my views very well known to the police and others.

I have received nothing but courtesy from the RAC. I am not grumbling about that. The police have been apologetic about having no power, though they think that something should be done. Their only powers are those that they have in the course of their duty in relation to traffic control or threats to the peace, for example. They are not in charge of the rally.

The chief police officers know the traffic and road conditions. On behalf of the citizens in their area, they are in a position to exercise the authority to say that a rally is unsuitable for a particular time or area, and to refuse to give permission for it to take place. That is not an irksome request. Who is to be in charge? It is certainly not the RAC, which may not know the route. I have sometimes wondered whether the people who authorise rallies know the roads on which the cars will travel and the congestion that may be caused because of the bends of the road, the camber of the road and the banks on each side of the road. If a car goes off a single-track road it goes into the bank and traffic is held up in both directions. I have experienced such delays.

I am not complaining only about my own interest in the matter. Other people have suffered too. Therefore I want the regulations to be amended to require the sanction of the chief police officer of the area concerned, as stated in the current regulations; their consent must be a condition of the granting of the application. I do not desire to interfere, but there is a limit to the way in which roads can be used for purposes other than normal traffic and communication by car.

I conclude with another example from my area. There is a road which goes through a little countryside and a little woodland. It is a well laid road with road lines and everything. There is nothing wrong with it; it is a good road. I noticed tyre marks on the road which indicated braking. Every now and then there was a long run of scorched surface along a mile of the road. I wondered what had happened; had a drunken driver gone down the road with a lorry? Do you know, my Lords, what I discovered? The local fire brigade were testing the brakes of fire engines on that road. That is all very well, but those tyres were not doing the road any good—and we pay for the roads as well as for the fire engines. I made my representations to a suitable quarter and that nuisance seems to have stopped. Where they are testing the brakes of the fire engines now I do not know, but they are not doing it on that road. To make such obviously unsuitable use of the road reflects badly on the fire authority.

I have stated my case. I do not think that I am being unreasonable. I am bringing the matter before the Committee years after my interest was first involved. I am not complaining about anything that has happened recently because the last event from a Hampshire centre avoided the route that I had complained about.

Who else is suffering throughout the country? It is true that the number of rallies authorised has diminished. The RAC authorised 254 and 253 motor rallies in 1988 and 1989 respectively. The number of authorisations issued has fallen steadily since the peak of 765 authorisations in 1970, which was just five years after the regulations had been brought in. With that, I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I should perhaps begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for missing the first minute of his speech. However, I do not think that I missed any of the substance of what lies behind the amendment.

I remind the Committee that I am a member of the Royal Automobile Club's public policy committee. I do not think that that falls technically within the scope of our rules and regulations, but I thought that the Committee should know that.

I have great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who, as he described, may very well have been disturbed on a number of occasions as a result of rallying. However, he will know, perhaps rather better than I, that the control of rallies has devolved upon the RAC in this country, and the FIA in Europe, as a result of legislation. That control has rested with the RAC, by virtue of regulation, since 1969. That regulation was amended in 1976 and confirmed. So far as I am aware there have not been a great number of complaints concerning the RAC's stewardship of that responsibility.

The amendment states that: Regulations made by the Secretary of State in the exercise of his powers under Section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 1969 shall require the Royal Automobile Club", whereas the Bill before us states at line 10 of page 3 that: Regulations under this section may in particular— (a) prescribe the persons by whom, and limit the circumstances in which and the places in respect of which, authorisations may be given under the regulations". It is strange that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, should have picked out and should wish to name in primary legislation an organisation which is controlled by regulation, whereas the Bill speaks only of the prescription of certain persons without particularising any organisation.

It seems to me that since the regulations to which I referred—those of 1969—have been amended several times without a great outcry, either within Parliament or outside it, there is no reason why the noble Lord's amendment should be agreed to. Essentially, the noble Lord seeks to alter that which has obtained since 1969 under the provisions of paragraph 10 of the Motor Vehicles (Competitions & Trials) Regulations. Under the terms of the amendment, the RAC, which has been responsible for organising, stewarding and supervising rallies in this country, would have to notify the chief officer of police to obtain consent. I cannot see the point of going back prior to 1969 and altering that which has obtained fairly satisfactorily.

The noble Lord said that there had been changes of road usage. Of course that is acknowledged. He said that, whereas previously he perhaps received a courteous note advising him of what may happen in the area, he has not done so. I shall certainly take that point back to the RAC Public Policy Committee and ensure that it notifies people who may be affected. As I said, I am sorry that the noble Lord has been upset from time to time.

I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has proved that the primary legislation before us tonight and the supplementary regulations should be altered. It is not unreasonable to recall that motor sports draw about £600 million of income and employ some 50,000 people. It is not worthwhile to subject them to additional constraints, which I do not believe will make any difference in the long run to the organisation and stewardship of rallies. What has obtained since 1969 has worked fairly well. I can see no good reason for making any alterations and I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Underhill

I intend to deal with the matter briefly, but everyone will agree that my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby put up a good case for his amendment. Obviously, we must take heed if there are cases of grave danger to the public. However, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with his knowledge of the RAC, I recognise that the rallies have provided opportunity for great improvements in car engineering over the years. Nevertheless, if there is danger to the public, we should take note of it.

I should like to ask two questions. I am not particularly conversant with the details of the 1969 Act and regulations. Do the highway authorities come into the matter at any stage? Are they consulted? If there is no mandatory requirement for them to be consulted, do the police consult them before they make a decision on any application? In the event of the police deciding that an application should not be approved, is there any opportunity for either the highway authority or the RAC to join in consultations with the police before a final decision is taken?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

This new clause suggests that motoring events on the highway should not be authorised by the Royal Automobile Club without prior approval from the police. Let me first point out that the RAC does not have any powers to authorise any events on the highway as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, recognised, which involve a race or trial of speed. We are talking about events such as timed events, the movement of vehicles from one off-road competitive stage to another and treasure hunts. Drivers taking part in such events are subject to road traffic law at all times as well as the additional requirements imposed by the regulations themselves. The RAC is already required to notify the police that an authorised event is to take place.

Events of these kinds were first regulated in 1965 and the regulations introduced were based on the recommendations of the Motor Rallies Advisory Committee. It saw its task as striking: a balance between the interests of a sport which is enjoyed by considerable sections of the public … and the interests of the public at large, to whom in some cases rallying activities have proved an undoubted nuisance. Its objective was therefore: … to ensure that motor sporting events take place only in such a manner as not to cause an unreasonable disturbance or annoyance to road users or members of the public generally or danger on the roads". In 1969, new regulations relieved the police of the burden of authorising what the advisory committee called minor events, so that all events requiring authorisation are now handled by one controlling body, the RAC. Complaints are few. When considering applications, the RAC will consider whether the standard conditions laid down in the regulations or any additional conditions imposed are observed; whether the event might prejudicially affect the safety, amenity and convenience of the public; the number of events held or planned on a route; and the suitability of the route.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will be reassured by the offers of help from my noble friend Lord Lucas. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about the highway authorities. They are not statutory consultees. It is up to the police whom they consult when they are notified.

In general, the present arrangements are working well. The police have not indicated that there have been any problems with these authorised events and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I cannot agree that we should seek to place this additional burden on them.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I take that to be a rejection. I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment in order to study the drafting. It was my amateur attempt to get an amendment within the framework of a mixture of statutory authorities and regulations. I was not sure how to do it, but the Public Bill Office put it in better shape and put it down for me.

On the second point, which is much more important, I shall consider not only what has been said, but the principle of allowing a private organisation to have the right of authority over the use of the roads. Such organisations may not be accountable. I shall not go into the matter now, but there is a principle here. It may have been suitable in 1965 when the prestige of motoring organisations stood high and the class of road user was mostly in the RAC class. Other people did not have cars. People do not realise that few people had cars in 1965 compared with the number of road users now.

I also want to look at the legal aspect of what happens if unilateral steps are taken by citizens to stop a nuisance on the roads and they either take the law into their own hands or take proceedings. I shall consider all those matters before the next stage of the Bill. The hour is late and I have taken up enough time and am becoming weary of your Lordships' Chamber just now, so you will forgive me if I let it go at that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Causing danger to road-users]:

Baroness Nicol moved Amendment No. 10: Page 4, leave out lines 22 to 23.

The noble Baroness said: This simple amendment proposes to make the new Section 22A of the Road Traffic Act apply to footpaths and bridleways. As drafted, the section applies to roads over which vehicles may be driven, whether those are busy dual carriageways or quiet unsurfaced country byways used mainly by walkers and horseriders. It also applies to paths where people walk by permission of the landowner, but without any right to do so.

The reason for this is that the term "road" is defined in the Road Traffic Act as meaning any highway and: any other road to which the public has access". Bridleways and footpaths are defined in terms of the public's rights. Therefore, a permissive footpath is a road but not a footpath and the proposed new section will apply to it. It is anomalous that the public should be protected when walking by permission but not when a path is being used by right. The public need that protection. It is not unknown for objects to be placed on footpaths and bridleways so as to cause danger to the public. That is particularly important to horse riders. If the Government believe that the safety of horse riders and walkers is as important as that of motorists, I hope that they will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I well understand the concern of the noble Baroness, but I should explain why it is right that footpaths and bridleways should not be covered by the offence of causing danger to road users. The aim of the new offence is to catch people who obstruct roads where vehicles, their occupants and other road users are endangered largely because of the consequences of the speed they travel. That is not true in the case of obstruction either of pavements or rural bridleways and footpaths. I am not for a moment suggesting that such obstruction is defensible, but it does not normally cause danger and other powers exist to deal with the problem. It is not property a matter for road traffic law. However, the offence of causing danger does apply to cycle tracks which fall within the Road Traffic Act definition of "road" and are not specifically excluded by subsection (5). That is as it should be as there is a real risk of danger there. On the basis of that explanation I hope that thy, noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Tordoff

Perhaps the noble Lord will assist us by letting us know the other powers protecting people to which he referred.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My understanding is that those powers come under the rights of way legislation.

Lord Underhill

Before my noble friend replies, I should also like to ask the noble Lord a question. Perhaps I should have notified him that I was going to put this point. I understand that in the Committee of the other place the Minister said that the definition of "road" covered footpaths and bridleways but in this clause it does not include a footpath or bridleway. He added that the provision would not relate to a remote cycleway which was not analogous to a bridleway. Does this mean that if one has a cycleway not alongside a main road but running through the countryside it would not be covered at all and would be excluded in the same way as footpaths and bridleways are being excluded? If that was the situation it would be a serious matter.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

At the moment I am not in a position to answer the question with precision. I am advised that all are covered by legislation. I will make a point of finding out the position. If the indication I have given is not correct, I shall be pleased to let all noble Lords know.

Baroness Nicol

I am grateful for the care with which the Minister answered the question. The amendment was instigated by the Ramblers' Association which had looked at the present legal situation with care. It is usually accurate in these matters. However, I should like to study what the Minister has said. If he is replying to my noble friend's question, perhaps he could let me have a copy of it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 11: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

("Restriction of delivery for sale by persons on motorcycles

. After section 23 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted—

"Restriction of delivery for sale by persons on motorcycles.

23A.—(1) No person shall be engaged or employed for reward for the purpose of delivery of articles for sale by motorcycles unless he is the holder of a full driving licence granted as a result of a test of competence to drive.

(2) "Articles" in subsection (1) above shall include despatches, papers, packets and hot food (delivered for consumption by the purchaser in domestic or other premises) for sale.

(3) If a person is engaged or employed in contravention of subsection (1) above then the employer and the employee shall be guilty of an offence.

(4) A policy of insurance granted in contravention of subsection (1) above shall be of no effect."").

The noble Lord said: I raised this matter during the Second Reading debate. In that connection I drew attention to the fact that irresponsible drivers with the characteristics of despatch riders engage in rather aberrant behaviour from time to time, which most of us would recognise: for example, weaving in and out of static and moving traffic. In particular, I drew attention to holders of provisional licences. It is in that regard that the amendment is tabled. I say at once that the amendment is tabled in order to obtain some understanding of the Government's position in relation to this. Certainly, it is not something I am proposing to press at this hour.

I have a number of questions that I would like to put to the noble Lord in the course of moving the amendment. Following the tabling of the amendment, a report appeared in the London Biker of April 1991. On behalf of the Despatch Association the chairman, Mr. Steven Smith, said: It would be the best thing that could happen for the industry if learner despatch riders were banned. Too many cowboy companies are prepared to take advantage of young riders, and this would put them out of business". According to that report, I understand that the pizza delivery companies, which rely on a high turnover of young riders, might take a different view, but perhaps that is not the best source of reasonable ideas as to whether or not this proposal, or something like it, should be adopted. Perhaps the Minister can say how effective the courier code is, which the Department of Transport issued some time ago in conjunction with the Despatch Association, and whether or not it is working. Among other things the code says that inexperienced and/or learner drivers and riders should seek appropriate further training and qualifications including full licences, before engaging on courier work. That is very explicit. I am sure it is the experience of all of us that all too often despatch riders, or those engaged by pizza delivery companies and the like, are holders of provisional licences—at least those open and honest enough to display L plates. Heaven knows what others do. I hope that there is not conduct of the kind that I suspect may occur in a minority of cases. Clearly, the good despatch companies want to see the courier code working.

Another difficulty is the question of enforcement. The conduct to which I referred earlier is very much worse if it is undertaken by the holder of a provisional licence engaged in despatch riding. It occurs and it seems to be quite rare that people are apprehended for the sort of driving I described earlier. Yesterday I received a letter from the Association of British Insurers in which they express some concerns about the proposal I am making. Frankly, I believe those concerns are worthy of consideration by me. I would certainly want to cogitate further on what they have to say.

One of the points they make is that insurers are strongly opposed to the proposal that a learner motorcyclist's insurance policy should be invalidated if he undertakes despatch work. That could be in direct conflict with the statutory third party bodily injury and property damage cover required under Part VI of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is known that under the current procedures insurers meet all third party claims even where policy conditions have been breached, although they retain right of recovery against the insured. That is a good point, but I do not think that it is a point that is impossible to overcome with some redrafting of the clause.

Other points are made. One is that rider schemes are very popular among motorcyclists and operate with the minimum of formalities. To accommodate the changes which I envisage would involve insurers in very considerable costs which will be reflected in the premiums. I do not think that that is a good point. Clearly if there is a mischief which needs to be cured and if it were to result in increased premiums (it is not said by how much) it needs to be addressed. Without going into all the arguments that are adduced, I should want it to be put on the record that I certainly want to consider their representations carefully before the matter is taken any further. I welcome their invitation to a meeting.

I return to the fact that I should very much like to hear what the Government have to say in answer to the specific points that I have put to them. I beg to move.

The Viscount of Falkland

As a motorcyclist and one who uses his motorcycle almost every day of the year, I am somewhat sensitive to the overall reputation of motorcyclists—which I think is unfair—as a dangerous group of people. I suggest that motorcyclists fall into broadly three groups. There is the young inexperienced motorcyclist whose experience covers less than perhaps five years. Thanks to the pressure of groups who are interested in improving safety and the Government which have helped to improve and make compulsory learning schemes, casualties have fallen in that area.

The second group consists of the experienced motorcyclists with something over five years' experience. They are generally enthusiastic, safe and ride defensively. In fact, that is the group which is responsible for the quite dramatic fall in accidents with motorcycles that has taken place. It has brought them well ahead of the target set by the Government for the year 2000.

The third group consists of the dispatch riders. I am sensitive about dispatch riders. Every time I rise to speak in this Chamber about motorcyclists, there is always one noble Lord who rises to his feet rather angrily and asks, "What about the dispatch riders?" I have to fall back with a sigh and agree with him, if not vocally, that dispatch riders are a problem, as are those who ply their trade on motorcycles of whatever power, whether it be a small or a large motorcycle. That is the area which has not been dealt with effectively.

The amendment put before us goes a long way to assist with that problem. Against a background of accidents and the evidence that we see every day when we go out on the roads (whether or not we are motorcyclists) of the way in which those who deliver and carry ride their motorcycles, it is quite wrong that an inexperienced rider with a learner plate should be allowed to carry. It does not matter what is being carried, whether it is a pizza or a package. Indeed, I understand that later in the Bill there is an amendment to increase the use of bus lanes for certain categories of motorcyclists. If the Government agree to that amendment, I urge them to exclude those who ply their trade, whatever power of motorcycle they use.

I am not absolutely certain about the insurance aspect of the amendment. The noble Lord has already touched on that point. There are some concerns which need to be addressed about third party liability. It is a clever and ingenious way to implement the main drift of the amendment but perhaps there are some technical difficulties which do not make that possible. Having said that, I agree absolutely that it does not do for small motorcycles with L plates to go buzzing around our roads. They are a danger to pedestrians, cyclists and other motorcyclists. They give motorcycling a bad name and quite markedly increase the chance of accidents, particularly in bad weather in urban areas. I support the amendment absolutely.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for having raised this subject, as at Second Reading he indicated that he would do. It seems to me that we are not necessarily complaining about L plate holders or young drivers. We appear to be talking about abuses by certain sections of the motorcycling fraternity, loosely called the dispatch rider. It is a long time since I rode a motorcycle and I defer greatly on this matter to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. However, I believe that we should seek other ways to bring perhaps a little more orderliness into the commercial use, if I may call it that, of the dispatch rider.

That can fall into two areas. First, the ultimate employer should engage only those companies which have a high reputation and so perhaps ease out what are called the cowboys. If we go too far, it may be that we deny youngsters most notably—pizza carriers have been brought into the conversation and they tend to run on the lower powered type of vehicle— both experience and work opportunity. I do not believe that an amendment of this kind is helpful to them. The amendment has a good basis but we should seek to put right what is seen as wrong by means other than this blanket refusal.

The Viscount of Falkland

Before the noble Lord rises, I omitted to say when I spoke last that the danger aspect with young riders is that most of them ride to i deadline. They have a limited time in which to deliver the pizza or the package. The more pizzas or packages that they deliver, the more money they earn. That is one of the main problems with regard to learner riders. They have an incentive to drive quickly and to take short cuts, often going round the wrong side of bollards or islands in the centre of the road. They just do not have the necessary experience.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I can well understand the sentiments of this amendment to ban learner riders from working as dispatch riders or from delivering fast food. As the noble Viscount said, concern about the behaviour of some of those employed in the courier industry has been voiced several times recently in this Chamber. While I share the noble Lord's concern, I am not convinced that legislation along the lines of this amendment is necessary in the interests of road safety.

Last June, the Department of Transport developed a leaflet jointly with a company involved in the delivery of hot food. The leaflet Bike Sense aims to teach some basic road safety to those employed in the delivery of hot food. The leaflet was also aimed at their managers. In September, with the Despatch Association, the department launched the Courier Code, a voluntary code which again had the aim of improving safety on the road. Firms abiding by the code must ensure that riders and drivers are properly trained and hold a full licence before being engaged on normal courier work. In December 1990 the Government introduced compulsory basic training for all those who become entitled to ride a motorcycle or moped as a learner. These are important initiatives that I think should be given time to work.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked how the initiatives were progressing. I think it is probably too soon to say, as they have been in operation for less than six months. Obviously we shall keep a careful eye on the situation.

We must also remember that legislation, even if it were desirable, is of no practical benefit if it cannot be properly enforced. If an offence of the kind proposed by the amendment were to be enacted, there is no doubt that dispatch riders and others engaged in the business would fail to display L plates or trade identification marks on vehicles used for leisure as well as delivery purposes. In order to enforce the law effectively, the police would have to stop and check motorcyclists' licences on a widespread basis. In the absence of evidence of a threat to road safety, this would be a poor use of police resources and could have an undesirable effect on police/community relations.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is rightly concerned about the riding behaviour of some couriers. The introduction of new legislation along the lines suggested in the amendment would not necessarily address the problem and would be difficult to enforce. The initiatives I referred to earlier will help to do so.

Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will agree that the amendment is unnecessary and that we should wait to see what effect the new courier code will have in practice on problems before seeking to impose further statutory restrictions on motorcyclists.

9 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I thank the Minister for that reply. One point that it is necessary to make with regard to the proposal is that employers hold a responsibility. The amendment addresses the question that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, raised about the pressures under which dispatch riders—pizza riders, or whatever they are called—continually operate. Young people—people who are in need of money—are all too often exposed to such unfair pressure.

I hope that the courier code and the leaflet on hot food will work. However, driving to the House as I do almost every day does not give me much room for optimism. I still see the most appalling driving. I hope that in a few months' time the Minister may be able to reflect on what is happening. Perhaps we shall have the opportunity to find out whether there have been prosecutions for such riding. Such prosecutions are few and far between. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Construction and use of vehicles]:

Lord Teviot Amendment No. 12: Page 5, line 16, at end insert:

("() In section 41(2) of that Act, at the end of paragraph (6) there shall be inserted— (1) for the fitting of inflatable restraints in motor vehicles."").

The noble Lord said: The amendment proposes that a new section be inserted in Clause 8, the effect of which would insert a paragraph in Section 41(2) of Part II of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The paragraph deals with construction and use regulations, with particular reference to the fitting in motor vehicles of inflatable restraints commonly known as air bags. There is a small misprint in the amendment on the Marshalled List. The paragraph referred to should be (1) and not (m). I hope that that does not make the amendment ineffective.

My purpose in proposing the amendment is not to confer on the Secretary of State a power that he does not already possess to make regulations as to the construction and equipment under which motor vehicles may be used on the road. Under the 1988 Act the Secretary of State may make a regulation providing for the fitting of air bags in motor vehicles. A specific reference to air bags in the 1988 Act will, it is hoped, bring to the attention of the Committee, to manufacturers of motor vehicles and to the public at large the important contributions that air bags can make in reducing the incidence of fatalities and physical injury caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Perhaps I may first explain to the Committee what an air bag is and how it operates—I hope without employing technical jargon. The air bag is a safety device consisting of a gas generator, a fabric bag, and one or more crash sensors designed to protect front seat occupants of the motor vehicle. The air bags for the driver are stored in the centre of the steering wheel, and in the facia for the passenger. In the event of a motor vehicle sustaining a frontal or front angle collision, sensors located in the motor vehicle set off a gas generated mechanism which fills air bags with nitrogen gas. The air bag contains vent holes which allow the nitrogen gas to escape as the bag is compressed by the occupant of the motor vehicle. The whole operation happens with lightning speed. The bag is inflated in 1/300th of a second. The vent holes allow the bag to be deflated in 12/100ths of a second. Air bags can either be full-sized bags which may be as large as two and a half feet and 12 inches deep. They are designed to provide full crash protection for a belted or unbelted occupant. Alternatively, bags which pad the steering wheel are designed to limit head and neck injuries which occur in higher speed crashes even when a seat belt is worn.

What are the benefits of air bags? Common sense tells us that, given a choice, we would prefer to have our faces and bodies hit with some energy-absorbing item such as an air bag rather than the steering wheel or facia of a motor vehicle.

I wish to tell the Committee what has happened abroad. Research which has been carried in the United States supports common sense. A recent report by the US National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration indicates that if all passenger cars in use in the United States of America were equipped with front seat driver and front passenger air bags, more than 9,000 lives would be saved each year and more than 625,000 injuries prevented. It would therefore not be unreasonable to expect over 1,000 lives to be saved in the United Kingdom, and a substantially reduced proportion of other serious injuries.

What savings does that entail for the National Health Service and emergency services? Although the air bag technology has been available since the early 1970s, the introduction of them in motor vehicles in the United States initially met with strong resistance from various quarters, including the car manufacturers themselves. However, over a phasedߞin period beginning in 1986, in the United States all passenger vehicles must be fitted with an air bag to protect front seat occupants; or a passenger restraint system which automatically clamps the belt around the front seat occupant. What has happened in practice is that the United States motoring public has come to recognise the significant safety benefits of air bag protection. The American press is now reporting the saving of lives and the reduction of serious injuries in hundreds of motor accidents in which the air bag has operated.

In 1989 Chrysler took the industry lead in safety by installing driver seat air bags in all its passenger cars manufactured in America. Ford and General Motors also recognise the benefit of selling safety and now offer the air bag as standard equipment on many of their passenger cars. By 1995 the great majority of new passenger vehicles sold in the United States will be installed with driver and passenger air bags.

As regards European car manufacturers passenger cars manufactured by Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche and Volvo which are exported to the United States provide the air bag as standard equipment. Japanese manufacturers also provide the air bag as standard on their luxury passenger cars exported to America. They plan to offer similar protection on their lower range and smaller motor vehicles. It is worth noting that the Japanese Government have requested Japanese manufacturers to provide for the Japanese market levels of protection equivalent to those offered on vehicles exported to the United States. The manufacturers have agreed to implement that request.

What is of particular interest is that, while some of the motor cars exported by Jaguar to the USA are fitted with the air bag, that safety feature is not currently available in the United Kingdom market. The cost of fitting air bags would not be prohibitive. The industry target cost in the USA for driver and passenger air bags is approximately 300 dollars in volume production. The equivalent sterling figure is £170.

There is no suggestion that the air bag should replace the seat-belt; it should be a vital supplement. According to the United States Department of Transport the air bag, or combination of air bag and seat-belt, provides better protection at higher speeds than does the safety belt alone. It will provide better protection against fatalities and serious injuries, including brain damage and spinal injuries. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

I do not doubt that air bags have the advantages enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, However, is it not the case that they also have grave disadvantages? I understand that if an air bag inflates when the windows of a car are closed —in our climate that is most of the time, particularly as most cars are fitted with fans or airconditioning—the sudden pressure change can break the eardrums of every passenger in the car. No one would deny that that a considerable disadvantage despite the obvious benefits that may result from minimising injury impact. The air bags can inflate at a low impact, below the speed at which injuries would normally occur. If that is correct it may nonetheless be reasonable for people to fit air bags voluntarily. However, I suggest that it is unreasonable to force people to have air bags in their cars if when operated their eardrums are likely to be broken.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raises an interesting point. However, my noble fiend has illustrated a provision that might well be desirable. I am disappointed that, since seat-belts were introduced as a compulsory fitment in cars, the manufacturers have failed to improve their construction an I use in any significant way. For many people seat-belts remain uncomfortable, unadjustable and, as regards locking and unlocking, a matter of fear. Rather than introduce further legislation, I suggest that my noble friend's department should urge seat-belt manufacturers to spend a little more time and money on research and the development of seat-belts which are more acceptable to more people.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act already provides sufficient power for a requirement on the fitting of inflatable restraints, which are generally known as air bags, as my noble friend described them, to be included in construction and use requirements. To that extent, my noble friend's amendment is not necessary.

My noble friend Lord Teviot sounded almost as though he were making a commercial for air bags, although I am sure that he has no financial interest whatever in their introduction. Air bags are growing in popularity in the United States, where seat belts are less widely worn than in this country. In Europe, air bags tend to be optional extras in luxury cars. They are effective in frontal crashes, whereas seat belts are also effective in rear impacts and when a vehicle rolls over. Also, seat belts are cheaper. Therefore, air bags should be seen as supplements and not alternatives to seat belts.

The Government support all improved safety measures. They recognise the potential offered by air bags. We announced in another place that we have commissioned research to monitor development into such devices.

I was interested to hear the statistics quoted by my noble friend as regards the advantages of air bags. I wonder whether those statistics are in addition to the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I was interested also in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as to the possible disadvantages of air bags and in what my noble friend Lord Lucas said as regards improvements in the manufacture of seat belts. However, I must say to my noble friend that I have noticed considerable improvements over the years as regards the latter. My car has adjustments at shoulder level, which I did not have previously.

My noble friend's amendment is not necessary because the powers are already available under the Bill. As I have indicated, a great deal more research needs to be done—and it will be done—before we take this matter further forward.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Teviot

It had completely escaped my attention that the power is already in the Bill and that my amendment is unnecessary. If that is true, it is splendid.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, talked about the disadvantages and I have not heard about those. I am sorry that I sounded like a commercial, but when one is introducing an amendment one must take trouble to get it right.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that I do not wish this to be made law but I wish it to be put on the list of matters to be considered by the Secretary of State. This will be the 14th such matter and there are many other items on the list. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for mentioning the lack of progress as regards the manufacture of seat belts. That was hotly denied by my noble friend, or at least it was tepidly denied. He believed that there had been some progress.

Air bags have saved lives. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned the weather in the United States. The Americans are rather more careful about their health than the stoic Brits. They would not use air bags if they did not believe them to be safe. There have been awards for spinal injuries and brain damage exceeding £1 million, which is a great drain on the insurance industry. That in turn must be paid for by the man in the street.

However, I shall read what my noble friend has said. I shall be delighted if the amendment is unnecessary. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Clinton-Davis

I have given notice of a question which I wish to ask. There is a problem for drivers as regards the need to harmonise instruments and controls, particularly on motor cars, in the interests of safety. If one moves from one vehicle to another, instruments and controls may be in a completely different place. It is then difficult to adjust easily to the new situation. Has the European Commission made any progress in dealing with that problem? If there has been progress, what is the projected effect as regards imported cars, particularly from Japan? Will they be required to comply with the provisions if they come to pass?

Lord Brabazon of Tara: I shall try to deal briefly but comprehensively with the noble Lord's question. I am grateful to him for giving me notice of it. The EC and member states are working on a scheme to develop a European whole vehicle type approval. That will enable manufacturers to seek type approval in any member state on the basis of harmonised standards. That will take some time. There is no specific timescale for reaching agreement. At present all mass produced motor vehicles whether made in this country or overseas must comply with national type approval standards. These are based on standards agreed in the EC and other international organisations. Therefore, imported cars would have to comply with those standards. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's point.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Vehicle examiners]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 13: Page 6, line 35, leave out ("he considers necessary") and insert ("are required").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment which I can take very shortly. We welcome the Minister's idea. I would like to know what he has in mind as regards numbers. For example, I know that the AMA will support moves to ensure the establishment of a vehicle inspectorate which relates to the numbers required to provide an effective level of service. That is what I have been told by that organisation and it is a view which I share. I would like to hear from the Minister on that point. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

The decision as to how many vehicle examiners are necessary must be for the opinion of the Secretary of State. That is what the law says now and that is how we propose to leave it. The amendment would not tell us how to determine how many vehicle examiners were required. That decision will always have a subjective element because a great deal of enforcement of vehicle standards is carried out by the police. I can however assure the noble Lord that we are satisfied that there are sufficient vehicle examiners in post to carry out their functions under the Act, both for annual inspections and for road-side checks. I do not deny that the number of examiners has decreased slightly in recent years, but productivity has improved. I am sure that Members of the Committee would not object to that.

We must also remember, so far as road-side checks are concerned, that output is not simply to be judged by the number of prosecutions for construction and use offences. Prohibition is very practically as much an alternative as a supplement to prosecution. Overall therefore I am fully satisfied that the vehicle inspectorate is fully resourced to carry out its important responsibilities in relation to defective and overloaded vehicles. At present there are 440 vehicle examiners in the vehicle inspectorate. There are 220 traffic examiners who are appointed as vehicle examiners but who carry out largely non-technical work. With that assurance I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

The Minister appears to be saying that present numbers will suffice. I am not at all happy about that situation. I would not wish to comment about that proposition in too detailed a way at this hour. I worry about the number of people engaged in this kind of pursuit and many others who are there to invigilate adherence to the law. It does not happen sufficiently in a number of areas and I am not satisfied that it is happening here. The Minister has told us of the current position. He has also said that the Secretary of State has the power to increase the numbers but it looks as though he will not wish to exercise it for the time being. I shall look carefully at what he has said. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Inspection of vehicles]:

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 14: Page 8, line 1, leave out ("(not being more than five miles from the place where the requirement is made)") and insert ("(not being more than five miles from the place where the requirement is made in the case of goods vehicles and not more than two miles from the place where the requirement is made and with a maximum delay of thirty minutes at the place of inspection in the case of public passenger vehicles)").

The noble Lord said: This amendment gives new composite power to inspect public passenger vehicles and goods vehicles. My amendment asks for the testing to take place at a place which is not more than two miles away and for, a maximum delay of thirty minutes at the place of inspection in the case of public passenger vehicles".

The reasons for this amendment are plainly obvious. It is essential that a coach or charabanc—call it what you will—carrying passengers should be delayed for the minimum time. I say that for the following reasons. The coach may well be on a tight schedule, to catch a ferry or make a connection. Delays could affect, in particular, elderly passengers —many elderly people travel by coach—as well as young children if the coach is sent to a testing place which is unlikely to have facilities. A delay could take a driver out of his driver's hours limit. A considerable delay could then follow before a replacement driver was found, thus causing maximum inconvenience by ruining holidays unnecessarily.

Recently I visited the headquarters of the Vehicles Inspection Funding Agency at Bristol. I was very impressed by the way that establishment is conducted. It was a very fruitful visit. I gather that no vehicle has ever been taken more than one mile. I am therefore not too worried about that aspect. However, for the reasons I have stated, I feel strongly that my noble friend should give the utmost consideration to the time limit of half an hour. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, has made a very good case for his amendment. I noticed that he continually referred to the position of a coach whereas his amendment refers to public passenger vehicles, whether coaches, buses or whatever. That point should be noted. There is nothing in the amendment which changes the position with regard to heavy goods vehicles. That point should be noted by the Committee. The amendment seeks to impose tighter limits on the distance a vehicle examiner can require PSVs to travel in order to have them inspected. The noble Lord also includes a time limit.

I regard this as a quite reasonable amendment. I hope the Government will accept it. However, one point must be made absolutely clear. In the case of PSVs this provision should apply only when the vehicle is in service. It should not apply when the vehicle is not carrying passengers. The cause for delay does not then arise and the concern about safety will not be so great. It is when vehicles are in service that we war t them confined to this shorter distance and for the time limit to be imposed. I do not know whether that point can be dealt with at a later date. Perhaps the Minister will have some remarks to make on it.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I understand and accept my noble friend's wish to minimise the delay and inconvenience to the travelling public by limiting the distance over which public passenger vehicles can be diverted for inspection and by limiting the time taken for an inspection. However, I do not believe that this should be allowed to detract from the primary task of ensuring that such vehicles are roadworthy. Clause 11 of the Bill replaces the existing separate provisions for goods vehicles and passenger vehicles with new composite powers of inspection. It is quite reasonable to allow for vehicles to be diverted to a place at which a proper inspection can be carried out.

Rather than impose one or two restrictions in the primary legislation, I believe the needs of passengers would be better taken into account by a code of practice on the arrangements for inspection of passenger carrying vehicles. The code could cover the maximum time to be taken for an inspection, and the arrangements for providing passengers with waiting facilities. It would have the advantage of being more flexible, or covering a wider range of matters and it could be revised, if necessary, in the light of experience. The department intends to develop a code for discussion with the Bus and Coach Council and the police.

It could also take into account the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I hope that my noble friend will agree that that will provide a more flexible and responsive approach. I therefore invite him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Teviot

Obviously I am very pleased. A code of practice is exactly what I hoped my noble friend would suggest. The matter must be gone into in much more detail. However, I must take up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. It is true that I referred to coaches rather than buses. But there again, buses do not normally have to meet the same deadlines as coaches. Of course it is possible that they do, but as for the dear old things that I used to drive, there was usually another one following within 10 minutes or half an hour. The thrust of the amendment concerned coaches. Nevertheless, I take note of the noble Lord's point.

As regards empty coaches, it could be a case of someone simply going home; but it could be a feeder and, therefore, most important. I do not want to exclude that possibility without further consultation. However, I accept what my noble friend said and look forward to reading the code of practice. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 15: After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("Seizure of Heavy Goods Vehicles

. In the Road Traffic Act 1968, Part V, there shall be inserted after section 60 new sections as follows—

"Seizure of Vehicles.

60A. A vehicle used in contravention of section 60 of this Act shall, on the laying of information of such use by an officer before a licensing authority and on the subsequent direction of that licensing authority, be liable to seizure."

Interim Disposal of Seized Vehicles.

60B.—(1) Any vehicle seized by an officer in pursuance of a direction made under section 60A of this Act shall be delivered by him to the local authority in whose area the place of seizure is situated according to such arrangements (including the sharing of expenses) as may be agreed between the local authority and the licensing authority or, in default of such agreement, as may be determined by the Secretary of State.

(2) While any vehicle seized under section 60A of this Act is in the custody of an authority in pursuance of this section it shall be the duty of that authority to take such steps as are reasonably necessary for the safe custody of that vehicle.

(3) In this section "local authority"—

  1. (a) in relation to England, means the council of a county, a metropolitan district or London Borough or the Common Council of the City of London;
  2. (b) in relation to Wales, means the council of a county;
  3. (c) in relation to Scotland, means the local highway authority."

Ultimate Disposal of seized Vehicles.

60C.—(1) A vehicle seized under section 60A of this Act shall on an application made for the purpose by its registered keeper or its owner to the licensing authority who authorised the seizure be returned to its registered keeper or, on proof thereof, its owner within one year of its seizure and provided at the time of such application it shall be—

  1. (a) an "authorised vehicle" as defined in section 92(1) of this Act, or
  2. (b) on proof thereof, a vehicle the declared use of which is exempted from the provisions of section 60 of this Act,
and provided that any expenses aforementioned in section 60B(1) of this Act arising from the safe custody of that vehicle or any fees arising therefrom as from time to time be determined by the Secretary of State have been paid by the applicant.

(2) If not reclaimed under the provisions of subsection (1) of this section a vehicle seized under section 60A of this Act may be disposed of after one year from the date of seizure in accordance with instructions as may from time to time be issued by the Secretary of State."

Right of Appeal.

60D.—(1) Where a vehicle is seized under section 60A of this Act and within six months of the date on which it was seized no person has been charged since that date with an offence in relation to that vehicle under section 60 of this Act and that vehicle is still detained, a magistrates court shall, on an application for restitution made for the purpose by the registered keeper or, by the owner or, by the person from whom the vehicle was seized or, by an officer, make such order respecting the disposal of the vehicle and award such reasonable costs as the court may determine.

(2) Any proceedings in Scotland under this section shall be taken by way of summary application in the sheriff court; and in the application of this section to Scotland references to costs shall be construed as expenses."


60E.—In section 60A, section 60B and in section 60D of this Act an "officer" means an examiner appointed under section 68 of the Road Traffic Act 1968 and any person authorised for the purposes of the aforesaid sections by the licensing authority for any area."").

The noble Lord said: We welcome the legislative changes projected in the Bill. We certainly hope, as does the Minister, that they will lead to an improvement in the way in which vehicle and motoring offences are enforced. However, the Minister will know that licensed operators of commercial vehicles have expressed considerable concern that there is no provision in the Bill which would have the effect of containing the activities of those who operate heavy goods vehicles for hire or reward and who operate on their own account illegally. Official authorisation to operate goods vehicles is required by the Transport Act 1968, as amended by the Road Traffic Act 1974 and the Transport Act 1982. There were further regulations in 1984 which are also relevant.

The fact is that bona fide operators are worried because they know that the operations of the cowboys —all too often illegal operations—prejudice public safety. They have a bad effect on the environment, they avoid proper vehicle inspection and they distort fair competition. Those are very serious matters. They want to see a level playing field—to use that awful term which is imported into every argument about the European Community. However, that is what they want and it is something which they do not have at present.

One of the problems is that a vehicle operator who behaves in that sort of way and who chooses to ignore the requirements of the law may be able to operate for gain almost indefinitely. The problem was the subject of the BBC television programme "Watchdog" only recently. Moreover, the process of law for road traffic offences is very slow. There is an extended delay first between the commission of the offence and then between the procedure of bringing the person or company involved to court and the final appearance in court. In the interim period illegal operators are able to continue to trade and they may even do so after a court appearance and sentence, despite the fact that there may be irrefutable evidence of their status held by the traffic area offices.

There is a loophole. We are anxious to hear from the Minister how it may be closed. The extent of the problem was graphically illustrated by the traffic commissioner for the metropolitan traffic area. He became aware of the worrying extent of the problem back in 1987 and reported on the situation in his 1987–88 annual report. I shall quote briefly from that report. He said: It does appear to me from talking to the police and traffic examiners and examining prohibition notices that there are a substantial number of heavy goods vehicles operating outside the law. Many are located in the East End and engage on muckaway work". I represented an East End constituency in the other place for 13 years, and I know that that is only too true. He continued: Some are relatively large companies whose O licences I have removed. They are well known to the police and my traffic examiners. Acquiring the evidence and serving summonses is not easy, and even when successfully prosecuted, fines often seem to go unpaid or are not a deterrent. We need to be able to impound the vehicles".

In the traffic commissioner's 1988–89 report he said: There are still many people operating lorries within my area who do not have an O licence, and several others who continue operating with impunity, despite having had their licences removed. Indeed, I am aware of one operator who has had three separate O licences revoked. I am left with the impression that the construction industry in particular is pretty cavalier about whom it employs if the rates are right. It is perhaps not surprising that we have the blight of fly tipping in London. There is a need for a concerted effort to deal with illegal operators".

The trouble is that no one has done anything about that problem. In October 1989, the traffic commissioner arranged a check of 5,500 vehicles in the East End of London. The remarkable thing is that that check showed that approaching 10 per cent. of vehicles were not displaying O licences. There were subsequent checks at the demolition of a large site in Horseferry Road—that is just an example—right under the eye of the Minister's department. It showed that 30 per cent. of the tipper trucks engaged were operating illegally. That is a serious state of affairs. I do not hold the Minister responsible. I do not expect him to venture outside Marsham Street to engage in such an operation. Though why not? It would be a useful effort, but I do not expect him to do it.

People choose to operate without an O licence to avoid the quality controls that the system imposes. Illegal operators tend not to maintain their vehicles adequately, and it is road safety that suffers. Fifty out of 100 vehicles given mechanical safety checks in October 1989 failed. It is also true to say that having decided to break the law in one regard, such people break it in so many others. They are likely to fly tip, to abuse the rules on drivers' hours, fail to tax their vehicles and so on. They are frequent offenders. They are recidivists, and that casual attitude is unacceptable. Legitimate hauliers, as well as the general public, are the people who suffer from such activities.

There is a clearly identified need to be able to strike at the illegal operators' pocket with the minimum of bureaucracy. The only viable way is for licensing authorities to be given powers to impound vehicles similar to the powers of confiscation which HM Customs and Excise exercise. The financial penalty of losing one vehicle could be a real deterrent. In addition, if the law were to get round to imposing such a message it would get round to the illegal operators. The deterrent effect would be real.

The powers should be used only in the most flagrant cases and those which are repeated frequently. In order to ensure that justice is done, a right of appeal is provided in the new clause. There is an overwhelming case for action to be taken. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I have a good deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and, as I said after he spoke on Second Reading, I have a good deal of sympathy with what lies behind the amendment. He accurately described the current situation. He described who flouts the law and the other offences committed by them; for example, no road fund licence, probably no insurance, no test certificate, and so on. All this is wrong, as the noble Lord says. The commissioner's report he referred to is replicated, but not always in print, by other traffic commissioners up and down the country. I have some doubt about whether the remedy he offers by virtue of the amendment is right. It seems just a little severe. Going down this road of confiscation of property, in parenthesis I wonder whose property it is—whether it is that of the driverߞoperator or a financial leasing company. However, that is a detail. Whoever owns the property, to confiscate and impound it and, after certain procedures have been gone through, to dispose of it seems wrong.

It is evident from what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, that in inverted commas, "something has to be done". I wish I could offer a solution this evening. I ask my noble friend the Minister to take the matter seriously. If he does not like the amendment, which appears at first sight to be complicated, perhaps in his answer or at some other time he could tell us how the department will consider removing this scourge from the haulage industry. It is unfair. It will benefit neither the employers of such hauliers nor the public if the practice is allowed to continue. In that regard, I have great sympathy with the noble Lord. However, I am not sure that I totally go along with his solution.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to Marsham Street, which causes me to rise to my feet. I have seen the vehicles being clamped or locked by the police and taken away. To save my noble friend muddying his feet every day, as I do, walking down Marsham Street, I confirm that these lorries are being taken away. It is not my subject, but they are removed by the police on a fairly regular basis.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said about the unfairness and potential danger of unlicensed operations. I assure him that the Department of Transport is taking action to deal with the problem. I can see the site to which he referred in Horseferry Road from my office window, although I must say in my own defence that since I have been back in the Department of Transport the site has been cleared. Only the vehicles involved in construction rather than demolition are currently involved. I suspect that they are of a different nature. However, that does not alter the fact that we take the matter seriously.

Special checks are currently being undertaken by the department's traffic examiners in co-operation with the other enforcement agencies. The idea is to target operators running their vehicles illegally and in the first place to prohibit any vehicles which are found to be overloaded or with safety defects. I should explain that a prohibition cannot be ignored; the vehicle is held at the place where it has been checked until the defects are corrected. Such checks are already being mounted in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

We are also looking at ways of making these checks even more effective by combining the information available to the different enforcement agencies and targeting them against rogue operators. Many unlicensed operators are in the waste disposal business. A new registration system is being introduced to control carriers of waste substances. We are exploring ways of linking this register with the computerised goods operator licensing system. We are also developing closer liaison and co-operation between the enforcement agencies, and this will in due course be supported by a computerised enforcement system of information to which all the agencies will have access under strict security rules.

Some of the abuse could be prevented through the co-operation of those who employ goods vehicle operators on contract work, for example, at construction sites. The department is itself a major employer of contractors on road construction work. Much work at building sites is subcontracted to operators, including some who are known to operate without licences. We are seeking the co-operation of the major civil engineering contractors in helping to stamp out this practice and to eliminate the problem of illegal operations.

There remains the proposal put forward in this amendment of providing powers to impound unlicensed heavy goods vehicles. I would not rule out this possibility in the longer term. We would, however, have to be very clear that the sort of measures that I have just described and the action already in hand are not proving adequate to deal with the problem. The power to impound and forfeit vehicles is a much more draconian measure, as my noble friend Lord Lucas pointed out. I believe we need to be sure that all other measures which can be taken within existing powers have been taken before we can consider whether impounding is necessary.

The problem described by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is very real, and we are determined to tackle it. But in view of what I have said and the assurances that I have given, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I thank the Minister for that reply. I shall certainly examine with great care what he has said. However, the problem is that time is of the essence and I am not really convinced that the measures the Minister is undertaking will have the effect that is desired within a reasonable time. While we are in difficult economic circumstances the time for urgent action becomes more marked than ever. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said the action that is proposed is too draconian. After all, the action has been recommended by the traffic commissioner for the metropolitan traffic area. There is no more authoritative source than that. The commissioner has become convinced that other measures will not work. That is what gives rise to my scepticism about the Minister's remarks. After all, there are similar powers of confiscation, draconian though they may be, exercisable by Customs and Excise. However, as I have said, I will examine with care what the Minister has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Underhillmoved Amendment No. 16: After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("HGV front underrun guards

. In section 41(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted after "In particular, the regulations" the words "shall make provision for the fitment of front underrun guards to such vehicles as the Secretary of State may prescribe and".").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to enable the Secretary of State to bring forward construction and use regulations to fit front underrun guards to heavy goods vehicles. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has advised me that no fewer than 300 car occupants are killed in Great Britain every year in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles. Research conducted at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory indicates that 195 of those—that is 65 per cent.—are killed in collisions between the fronts of cars and trucks travelling in opposite directions. These accidents are particularly severe for several reasons and comprise the type of accident where seat belts can provide little protection. The council has furnished me with technical arguments stating why these accidents are so severe. However, I shall not read out those arguments now as time is rather short.

Protection for car occupants in these impacts can be achieved by lowering the front structure of the truck. Front underrun bumpers are relatively inexpensive to produce and can be readily fitted to most trucks. As the Committee will be aware, rear and side underrun guards are already a mandatory requirement on all United Kingdom registered vehicles. Therefore, a national performance specification could now be devised for front underrun protection. This amendment would make a significant contribution to road safety. I believe it is an amendment that the Government could readily accept. I beg to move.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I have added my name to this amendment because I have some sympathy with its aims. I have taken the matter up with my colleagues at RoSPA. I am informed that experimental studies at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory show that an energy absorbing truck front underrun guard with a ground clearance of 300mm can protect seat-belted car occupants from fatal and serious injuries at closing speeds up to approximately 40 miles per hour. I hope that something can be done. It might take a little time to bring in regulations but in the long term I hope that that can be done. I have considerable sympathy with the amendment.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I too have sympathy with and understand the noble Lord's desire to see heavy goods vehicles fitted with front underrun guards. We agree that there are potential road safety benefits to be gained from such a requirement. However, I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that the figure that I have is not as high as his. My information is that an analysis of 1988 road accidents involving heavy goods vehicles indicates that it is possible that about 80 lives could have been saved if all HGVs had been fitted with satisfactory front underrun guards. That would be a very useful figure to achieve.

As the noble Lord will be aware, there are international standards for vehicle manufacture, and we are therefore pressing hard to reach agreement in the relevant international organisations on this issue. We have made a proposal to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which sets the standards for new vehicles. The subject is under active discussion there and, I am glad to say, has received strong support from other countries. It is too soon to say when a proposal might be agreed.

The amendment is not, however, necessary. Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act already provides sufficient enabling powers for the introduction of such requirements in secondary legislation. As I have said, we are working towards an international agreement. I hope that we shall be able to achieve that soon. If we do, we shall not hesitate to bring forward regulations under Section 41. I hope that in those circumstances the noble Lord will realise that the amendment is not necessary.

Lord Underhill

I am delighted to know that the Minister has genuine sympathy with the principle behind the amendment. I shall not argue about figures except to say that the figures which I quoted are those of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory.

It is interesting to know that there are already powers for making regulations. However, I cannot understand why we have to wait for an ECE regulation. I know that it would be helpful if all the ECE countries worked together, but we are dealing with vehicles registered in the United Kingdom and the saving of a considerable number of lives. While I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment, I hope that the Government will consider that it is possible now, as the Minister has said, to introduce secondary legislation to put into effect the intent of the amendment. I do not think that we ought to wait for general European agreement if we are in a position to apply this by regulation now for United Kingdom registered vehicles. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 17: After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

Seat belts in minibuses

(". In section 41(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted after the words "In particular, the regulations" the words ''shall make provision for the fitment of seat belts in minibuses and".").

The noble Lord said: The noble Lord adverted to this issue in response to a point that I made in this regard at the Second Reading of the Bill. He said then that, The Government would also like to see good quality, easy to use and retractable seat belts 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". —[Official Report, 18/3/91; col. 477.] He went on to say that the Government had been pressing the Commission for some years to amend the relevant directive to allow seat belts to be fitted on all seats in minibuses and coaches.

I think that the Minister has been misquoted as saying: As a result of that pressure, the Commission has requested that proposals should be put forward by the end of 1991". I presume that that should read, "the Commission has been requested". I assume that that was what was requested at the Council. As Transport Commissioner from 1985 to 1989 I cannot recall, though I could be mistaken, that the Government were pressing for that then, but, be that as it may, I am glad to hear that the Government are now pressing the matter.

However, minibuses are used in this country rather more than anywhere else, as I understand the position. They are used particularly in relation to the conveyance of handicapped people and children, in connection, for example, with taking children to and from school, and handicapped people to and from places where they are able to work. To that extent, I should like to know why we are not able in those circumstances, as it is essentially a British problem, to apply that kind of policy, giving notice to the European Commission, here and now in this country.

I should have thought that it was necessary with regard to new minibuses. As regards older minibuses, perhaps it is something about which we can think again, but I hope that the Minister will use this vehicle to introduce a proposal of this kind as he clearly supports it in principle. Is there a Community reason which prevents that from happening? Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Tordoff

I should like to raise one query. I have every sympathy with the desire to have seatbelts in minibuses because a large number of casualties are caused throughout the country by minibus accidents. Minibuses are now frequently used in stage carriage work in and out of towns. Presumably the definition here w mild not apply to those kinds of minibuses which are used as small, what we used to call, corporation buses. The measure would probably need some amendment even if the Minister was minded to accept it, which, as in the case of most amendments tonight, I do not think he is.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I wish that I could accept the amendment because, as I said on Second Reading, we very much sympathise with its objective. We should like to see the compulsory fitment of seatbelts in all new minibuses. Unfortunately, however, the current EC directives dealing with the fitment of seatbelts make no provision for such a requirement. It would not therefore be possible at present to enforce any domestic regulation to that end as we could not prohibit vehicles which were in compliance with the directive. That is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, regrettable though it is.

We have, however, pressed the European Commission for some time on this issue. Our aim is that the relevant directives should be amended to permit compulsory fitment. As a result, it has been agreed that the Commission should bring forward proposals with a view to possible amendment of the directives by the end of the year. We hope that they will provide what both the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, seek.

I should add that, once the directives are in place, we would not need to amend primary legislation to enforce seatbelt fitment in all minibuses in the UK. I hope, with that explanation and our wishes that the Commission will proceed expeditiously, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

One of the reasons why I tabled the amendment was because it might help the Commission to take account of the fact that Parliament is concerned about the issue. I hope that will help the Government in the representations that they are making which we fully support. I hope that they will use their best endeavours to ensure that the Commission adheres to the timetable that has been set. The Minister will be delighted to know that I do not propose to bring this matter back on Report, so that is one item out of the way. I thank him for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Power to prohibit driving of unfit vehicles]:

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 18: Page 8, line 33, after ("authorised") insert ("and qualified").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 19 to 22.

Clause 12 states that police constables should be authorised to prohibit the driving of vehicles deemed to be unfit. My amendment seeks to ensure that the constable is qualified. I must be careful. I am terrified about what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said about the last amendment, so I shall be careful how I couch my words.

It is felt, at least by the bus industry, that constables should have special training. I discussed that subject with the VIFA which provides courses for its own staff. I understand that it is ready to provide the same for policemen in the appropriate authorities. That authorisation for constables to prohibit is new. The Committee will be aware that the total job of police officers is not that of vehicle inspection. There is no reason why they should not do it but they should be trained to do so. I gather that there are consultations taking place with the VIFA and the police authorities.

I would very much like to listen to the comments of my noble friend the Minister on the subject of the inter-relationship between the VIFA and the police. I hope he will take my point in all seriousness. Traffic policemen are very well trained to deal with motor vehicles, but in the case of a PSV (I will not stipulate the type lest I should get a rocket) inspection requires special training. I am sure that there are ways of doing it. It would be very nice to see written into the Bill a provision that policemen should be qualified rather than simply authorised. I beg to move.

Lord Underhill

I echo the view of the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. By this amendment he seeks to ascertain from the Government precisely what provision they would make to ensure that constables engaged in this work are properly qualified and the training to be given to them. The noble Lord the Minister is always very good at sending correspondence. I am sure he will not mind my referring to a letter dated 27th March which he sent to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, in which he said the following: The police have their vehicle examiners and can call on the Department of Transport Vehicle Inspectorate where necessary". Therefore the police already have trained examiners of their own. There will be no difficulty about those examiners being used where necessary, or appropriate training being given to constables. As the amendment says, it is important not only that constables are authorised but that they should be properly qualified.I hope that the Minister can give some information on the Government's attitude.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

As regards the qualifications of authorised constables, I agree with my noble friend that constables who are given powers to issue prohibition notices should be properly trained and qualified for the task. That is a matter being discussed between the Department of Transport and representatives of the police service. I am confident that suitable arrangements will be agreed to ensure that only constables with relevant knowledge and experience will be authorised for this purpose. I believe this is a matter which should be left to the chief officers to determine, and that in the light of their discussions with the department it will not be a matter where a specific reference in legislation is necessary. I hope that with those assurances my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Teviot

I will do exactly what my noble friend says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I am very grateful for what he said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 19 to 22 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clauses 13 to 15 agreed to.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 23: After Clause 15, insert the following new clause:

Testing condition of used vehicles at sale rooms etc

(1) Section 77 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (testing condition of used vehicles at sale rooms etc.) shall be amended as follows.

(2) In subsections (1), (3) and (4) after the words ("authorised examiner") there shall be inserted ("or authorised officer").

(3) After subsection (6) there shall be inserted— (6A) In this section "authorised" officer means an officer of a local weights and measures authority who is duly authorised by the authority to enforce in their area the provisions of this section. (4) The following section shall be inserted after section 77—

"Functions of local weights and measures authority.

77A.—(1) The functions of a local weights and measures authority include the enforcement in their area of sections 75 and 77 of this Act.

(2) The following provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 apply in relation to the enforcement of sections 75 and 77 above as in relation to the enforcement of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, that is to say— section 27 (power to make test purchases); section 28 (power to enter premises and inspect and seize documents); section 29 (obstruction of authorised officers); section 30 (notice of test and intended prosecution); section 33 (compensation for loss, etc. of goods seized under section 28).

(3) Nothing in this section shall be taken as authorising a local weights and measures authority in Scotland to initiate proceedings for an offence.".").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 23 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 24 and 51. These amendments stand in the name of my noble friend Lord Ezra, who would certainly have moved them much better and more comprehensively had he not been called away and the date of this debate had not been moved from the earlier date agreed upon. In fact the amendments relate to the provisions of the Bill that the noble Lord put through this Chamber last year entitled the Motor Trade (Consumer Protection) Bill. The difference with these amendments is that they do not include clocking; that is to say, turning back odometers which, noble Lords will remember, is a matter on which we spent some time last year. That is not included because they are not directly related to safety, although I believe that there are safety aspects involved and the problem has not gone away.

However, the amendments before the Committee deal with unroadworthy vehicles. They do not seek to introduce any new offences. They help to provide for the enforcement of the adequate offence which exists in Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. That section is used by trading standards officers to prosecute traders who have sold unroadworthy vehicles.

There are two difficulties which militate against effective enforcement and the first and second amendments seek to deal with those problems. The first difficulty relates to lack of effective enforcement. At present specially trained police officers and Department of Transport inspectors are authorised to examine vehicles on garage forecourts but trading standards officers are not so authorised. I understand that the Department of Transport can show no instance of any prosecution for an offence and it is clear that the only occasions on which vehicles have been examined have been at the behest of trading standards officers.

The anomaly is that as soon as a vehicle has been sold and defects are brought to light, the trading standards officers can start to act, but they are not allowed to act before then. That seems to me to be a curious anomaly. Surely it would be in the interests of safety for such checks to be made before the vehicle becomes a danger to the new owner.

Noble Lords will perhaps have heard on the radio this morning the results of a survey that was recently completed. Trading standards officers and vehicle examiners visited 108 garage forecourts and tested 267 vehicles. The results were quite appalling. Sixty-five per cent. of vehicles of what might be described as MOT age on garage forecourts were described as unroadworthy and 79 per cent. of those were a danger to drivers and other road users.

To deal briefly with some of the figures that came out of the survey: in Lothian region 92 vehicles were examined and 89 per cent. of them were unroadworthy; in mid-Glamorgan 87 per cent. of the vehicles were unroadworthy; and in Humberside 64 per cent were unroadworthy. As an average for the whole area covered, which involved 108 premises and 267 vehicles, 65 per cent. were unroadworthy. The survey broke down the term "unroadworthy" into three separate categories: extremely dangerous, very dangerous and potentially dangerous. Extremely dangerous—defined as, "Do not drive your car in this condition. You will be breaking the law and risking your life and the lives of others"—accounted for 52 per cent. Within the category very dangerous—"May be illegal. Put right immediately"—there were 11 per cent. The other 2 per cent. might be illegal.

The vice-chairman of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration's Quality Standards Committee is quoted as saying: We have been raising our concerns about these issues for many years and now is the time for action to improve the protection for car buyers and road users".

I am sure that the Committee agrees with that.

As I suggested, it cannot be right that trading standards officers should have to wait until those dangerous vehicles are on the road before they can take action. The first amendment which stands in the name of my noble friend would extend their powers to allow them to carry out such inspections. In case anybody is worried about trading standards officers without due competence carrying out those inspections, it should be said immediately that they themselves would not examine the vehicles but would employ consultants who are competent to do so.

The Department of Transport has said that its examiners are expert and that therefore the two inspectorates should co-operate. That of course happens. However, experience has shown that the vehicle inspectorate cannot always respond to requests as quickly as is necessary. Nor can it always compete in terms of price. That seems a curious situation. It might be considered slightly strange that a vehicle inspectorate, authorised to do such work, should consider charging another body to do its work; but that apparently happens.

The amendment enables comprehensive enforcement of regulations on garage forecourts to take place and thus to make better use of resources and prevent dangerous vehicles from getting on the road and jeopardising the community.

The second amendment requires those who wish to sell unroadworthy vehicles to put a notice on the vehicle to show prospective purchasers that the vehicle should not be used on the road until that vehicle is safe. I am pleased to say that since the provision was first introduced, the Government have recognised the need for that loophole in the existing law to be closed. At present, dealers who offer vehicles for sale which are unroadworthy can avoid prosecution by saying that all faults would be repaired before sale. In many cases, if you believe that you will believe anything!

There are situations when an honest dealer may wish to sell vehicles in an unroadworthy condition. I refer to sales between traders or to the public for use as spare parts. The amendment does not seek to interfere with what is a perfectly legitimate trade. It seeks to inform the potential purchaser that the vehicle he is buying is liable to be dangerous to him and to the public. The Government proposal requires that the trader shall take all reasonable steps to make the customer aware of that fact. However, that is a somewhat imprecise phrase. The amendment suggests what appears to us to be a reasonable step: to put a simple and uniform notice on the vehicle. In Committee in the other place, at col. 809 on 26th February, the Minister stated that this was one step that could be taken. It seems that the merits of the argument have been generally accepted. I hope that we can proceed with that.

Another concern with regard to new Clause 16 is that the seller of an unroadworthy vehicle is not required to have made it clear in a document of sale that the vehicle was in that condition. The amendment requires the seller also to give to the buyer a document indicating that the vehicle is unroadworthy and should not be used on the road.

The third amendment deals with those vehicles that have been written off by insurance companies. It reflects the views of assistant chief police officers. It contains three proposals. It ensures that motor vehicles which have suffered serious change pass a stringent safety check before being allowed back on the road. We are all aware that vehicles which have been very severely damaged may be cannibalised and welded together with parts of other vehicles and that that can be a very dangerous practice. The amendment also proposes that the registration document of such a vehicle should be surrendered to the DVLA and that the registration document should then be marked with the particulars of any rebuilding. The result prevents registration documents from such vehicles being used to hide the identity of a stolen vehicle. That sometimes happens and I believe that the practice is known as ringing. One learns all the time in this Chamber about matters of which we were not previously aware. As a result of a voluntary scheme involving the police and the insurance companies such vehicles are recorded at the DVLA.

However, vehicles that are insured third party, including large fleets, are not recorded and therefore the records are incomplete. The same can be said for a scheme run by a firm called Hire Purchase Information Ltd. Insurance companies provide information about such vehicles which can be checked by subscribers. However, that company has decided that vehicles can be removed from the register providing that they pass a safety check. The fact that vehicles are tested for safety is laudable but the removal of information from the register means that informed choices cannot be made by potential customers. It is argued that if a car is properly repaired its previous history is of no consequence. We suggest that that is not the case and that the new purchaser should be aware of the full history of any vehicle that he purchases.

When a severely damaged vehicle is disposed of it is usually accompanied by the registration document; that is the piece of paper that the car thief needs and can acquire when he purchases a wrecked car from a scrap yard. The provisions in the amendment would prevent that by requiring insurance companies to surrender registration documents of seriously damaged vehicles to the DVLA.

In 1985 the Automobile Association found that one in eight accident-damaged vehicles were immediately unsafe and that 50 per cent. had defects. The hire purchase information scheme, which tests vehicles prior to deregistration, although in its infancy, is also finding a high proportion of vehicles to be unsatisfactory.

The amendment does not directly change the law but it gives the Secretary of State the power to carry out all the recommendations of the Association of Chief Police Officers supported by the Office of Fair Trading working party. The regulation-making power is included because many problems of definition must be resolved, together with ownership of the salvage and the safety check.

I have spoken at length because the issue is complicated. It is necessary that the Committee should address itself to the matter. The danger of unsafe vehicles has been illustrated by the survey published this morning. Many Members of the Committee and of the public will have heard about it to their considerable consternation. I hope that the amendments will go some way towards improving the situation. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Underhill

I am pleased to indicate that the Opposition will support the three amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I am pleased that he has covered the ground fully and I intend to refer to only one or two matters. I have reread the excellent speech made on 18th March at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. In reply, the Minister took the view that the Government's provisions in the Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 were sufficient. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. He considered that, despite the amendments, the proposals in the Bill require further strengthening.

The amendments were also debated in the Standing Committee of another place. Although the Minister appeared to be sympathetic to the points raised, he considered that it was unnecessary to extend the powers of trading standards officers. At col. 431 of the Standing Committee the Minister said that the Government saw no need for duplication on the matter. He added that local authority trading standards officers already had enough on their plate and were not skilled in vehicle inspection.

I am prepared to accept the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on the issue because he is extremely competent and fully informed. He stated that the Department of Transport vehicle examiners and the police are not able to devote any significant resources to inspecting cars on dealers' forecourts. He added: Trading standards officers … spend much of their time dealing with the problems of used cars". [Official Report, 18/3/91; col. 431] In drafting the Bill, I wonder how far the Institute of Trading Standards Administration has been consulted. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to today's report. There may be attempts to rubbish that report. However, information in the report is backed up by what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said on Second Reading and backed up further by the very detailed discussions which took place in Standing Committee. I believe that the Government should consider very seriously these three amendments and should be prepared to accept them.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

It will come as no surprise to Members of the Committee that I shall oppose all three amendments. Basically, that opposition stems from the discussions which we had when the Private Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was before us. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will agree that it is a pity that we reached this very important series of amendments at this late hour because I do not believe that the Committee will welcome any long discussion on them at this time.

Perhaps I may try to encapsulate my objections as shortly as I can and we shall see where we go from there. I take the same view as the Government with regard to the powers which Amendment No. 23 seeks to give to the trading standards officers. I am not prepared to accept allegations that neither the police nor the Department of Transport examiners have not the resources to undertake the work required of them. Indeed there are facilities outside those two bodies for competent examining engineers to be engaged.

Amendment No. 23 subsection (2) states: after the words ('authorised examiner') there shall be inserted ('or authorised officer')". Later in the amendment there is a description of what is an authorised officer: 'authorised' officer means an officer of a local weights and measures authority who is duly authorised by the authority to enforce in their area the provisions of this section". That seems gobbledegook to me. The examiner is either competent or an officer with competency in that area. Let us have no other nonsense about that.

Examining authorised trading standards officers have an immense volume of business. On numerous occasions we have had discussions in this Chamber on consumer affairs when the Opposition and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in his capacity as president of the association, have claimed that trading standards officers need more resources to undertake their duties in consumer protection legislation. I recall that particularly as regards safety of toys. Therefore, that argument does not wash.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the survey. I read that. I have seen hundreds of surveys over the past 20 years or so. What the noble Lord did not say—perhaps because he did not have the opportunity to do so—was exactly what constituted unroadworthiness. It is quite unreasonable to expect traders to bring to a particular standard motor vehicles which they offer for sale which may end up on the scrap heap if they are not sold after 12 weeks or so. It is an unreasonable burden to expect legitimate traders to put on new windscreen wipers, new tyres and to repair trafficators. The trader may eventually scrap the vehicle, sell it into the trade or sell it for spares. So I do not believe that the second of this series of amendments is reasonable.

Who, selling a piece of furniture claiming it to be antique, or selling a used lawn mower or a car, says: "The piece of furniture will not stand on its four legs. It will fall over. The lawn mower will not cut any grass until you do this, that or the other. The car will not drive d awn the road unless you put on a new battery, four new tyres, fit a new gear box and back axle and a new engine". It is absolutely ridiculous to expect any trader to say, "This is not any good at all and you should not buy it".

Perhaps at this late hour one might amuse oneself and the Committee a little by referring to an eminent chairman of a very large company who so described his own goods at the Institute of Directors conference. I do not think that his remarks gave much confidence to his business. I do not think the requirements of Amendment No. 24 will give much confidence to the motor industry. Even when I was engaged in that industry I always maintained that there were enough people to give advice to potential buyers. I have in mind the motoring organisations and independent engineers.

One may have a motor car on a forecourt with tyres which re not as good as one might expect. It is not unreasonable that the replacement of those tyres should be part of the negotiation over the sale and purchase of the vehicle. I see no reason to stick notices on windscreens. The practicality of doing so is impossible. One may buy 100 vehicles in an ex-fleet disposal. One can contract to have those vehicles delivered to one's premises, which almost certainly will be in the open air. The vehicles are delivered. If it is held that purely by being on the forecourt the vehicles are on offer for sale, then someone will have to go round quickly and stick 100 notices on the windscreens saying that they are not for sale but, even if they are, they are unroadworthy. That is absolute nonsense. I do not like the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has framed the amendment to deal with what he considers to be an impost.

I have some sympathy with Amendment No. 51. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, spoke about ringing. I shall speak about the practice known as the cut and shut job—the front end of one vehicle and the back end of another being joined together and never mind where the document goes in between. There are plenty of vehicles that have been in serious accidents which are most competently and properly repaired and which can represent good value. There are others that do not. That is not the responsibility of the motor industry but of the insurance company. Not four months ago I had a total loss claim. It was dealt with as a total loss because the insurance company would not agree to what I considered, as a licensed engineer, needed to be done; namely, the replacement of the steering gear. I suspect that that motor car will be repaired and go on the market without the steering gear being replaced.

That is not the motor trader's fault. The vehicle could be repaired anywhere and offered for sale. It is the responsibility of the insurance company. I suspect that the total loss claim was agreed to save hassle. As regards the document to be surrendered someone has to say, "This is a serious accident and a serious piece of damage and the repair must be certificated". Who is to do that? Who is to bear the cost of that? Ultimately, it will be the purchaser. If the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and his noble friend Lord Tordoff have grave concerns about this matter, we must find a different answer. The answer lies with the insurance company.

I see problems with all three amendments. I can understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for which I have some small sympathy. But I do not think that these solutions are the right ones for that problem.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

Unlike my noble friend I have a good deal of sympathy with Amendment No. 51. I received a letter from the ABI which referred to four amendments. It rejected all but one; obviously, that of my noble friend on the Front Bench. My noble friend Lord Lucas knows far more than I do about cars. However, I believe it is scandalous that cars that have been almost written off should appear for sale on the street. If one gets behind such a vehicle one can see that the back wheels are out of alignment with the front ones. Although I have not consulted RoSPA on this matter I should have thought that it would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that for safety's sake it must be right that a written-off car is a written-off car.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for giving such a detailed explanation of the three amendments. I shall try to deal with them as best I can.

Section 77 of the Road Traffic Act already gives power to the police as well as to vehicle examiners to enforce the law on the sale of unroadworthy vehicles. I am not convinced that statutory powers should be given to a further group of people—a group moreover whose expertise lies in consumer protection rather than vehicle safety. The department's vehicle examiners are fully qualified to inspect vehicles, whereas many local authority trading standards officers are not—they would need to take another person along with them. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, recognised that point.

The Vehicle Inspectorate can and does already co-operate with trading standards departments in joint checks on dealers' forecourts. I do not suggest that such checks are immensely frequent. But there was a series of joint checks in March this year involving Vehicle Inspectorate examiners at Cardiff, Grimsby, Stoke-on-Trent and Edinburgh, during which 251 vehicles were inspected. There are of course resource issues here. A new nationwide power for trading standards departments would certainly have to be weighed against other competing financial priorities for local authorities.

Moreover, it is important to note that the purpose of Sections 75 and 77 of the Road Traffic Act is to ensure that vehicles in use on the road are in a roadworthy condition. The aim is road safety. It is quite proper that this responsibility should lie with the Vehicle Inspectorate, along with its responsibilities for a wide range of activities aimed at enforcing vehicle safety standards, such as routine checks on MOT garages and annual testing of commercial vehicles. But it is also right that the inspectorate should prioritise its work according to the road safety benefits. It is not clear that the abuses which trouble the noble Lord constitute a major road safety problem. It seems to me that the powers which the noble Lord is seeking for trading standards officers relate essentially to the protection of consumers. That is quite properly dealt with in separate trades descriptions legislation. I do not think it would be appropriate to introduce these provisions into road traffic law.

I turn now to Amendment No. 24. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, the Government have already brought forward an amendment to Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 dealing with the sale of unroadworthy vehicles. That was in response to the concerns expressed in another place that it is too easy to avoid conviction for these offences using the existing statutory defence.

The existing defence is that the seller has reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle would not be used on a road in Great Britain or would not be used until it had been put into a lawful condition. We have accepted that there was a problem. I am not convinced, however, that introducing specific requirements about the prominent display of notices in windscreens and prominent notes in sales documents are either necessary or desirable. I do not think that notices are the only way in which a seller can discharge his responsibility. Indeed there are some kinds of transaction where it would not be appropriate. My noble friend Lord Lucas has mentioned some. Moreover, we do not wish to encourage protracted legal arguments about the meaning of "prominent", and the size of the letters used. It is by no means clear precisely what the notices would be expected to say. I do not think that this approach would work sensibly in practice. It could provide a field day for lawyers.

I am also not convinced about the need to make special requirements where a vehicle has already been sold. The problem with the existing statutory defence is with offers for sale, where a salesman may argue that the state of the vehicle would have been made known to the purchaser before the deal was completed. There is no evidence that a salesman can, under the current law, retrospectively avoid his responsibilities where a vehicle has already been sold. It is highly unlikely that he could demonstrate reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle would not be used on the road without having made clear to the purchaser that it was unroadworthy.

We believe it is more appropriate to have a general requirement on sellers. That is why we introduced in another place what is now Clause 16 of the Bill. That puts on sellers a clear responsibility to ensure that an unroadworthy vehicle offered for sale would not be used in its present condition, by requiring them to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a prospective purchaser is aware that its use would be unlawful. I believe that the words "all reasonable steps" constitute a term which is quite frequently used and understood in legislation. I feel that that approach is the best one in the interests of road safety.

I turn now to Amendment No. 51. The proposed new clause would enable regulations to be made introducing new systems of controls over damaged vehicles where there is no evidence to show that it would make a real contribution to reducing the toll of death and injury on our roads. I appreciate that recent reports suggest that vehicles repaired after accident damage may represent a threat to road safety. But we would need to think very carefully before justifying the introduction of new burdens on the insurance industry and the extra costs for government agencies.

Similarly, the new clause would not catch—and this is the real problem—all accident damaged vehicles, especially if the damage had not been notified to the DVLA or to an insurance company. That would probably, or might, be the case with a vehicle insured only for third party risks. No doubt some unscrupulous persons would go out of their way to conceal the previous history of vehicles. The result could be a hit-and-miss statutory provision which left motorists in an uncertain position. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that this is not an area into which we should jump unthinkingly. However, we shall keep the position under review.

I know that the police have identified a particular problem where stolen vehicles are given the identity of written-off vehicles. The DVLA and the insurance companies are voluntarily co-operating in a scheme to give information to the police which will help them to target these vehicles. Insurers notify the DVLA of the identity of vehicles which are most likely, later on, to be disguises for stolen cars. The DVLA makes that information available to the police. I understand that the scheme is working well. I see no need for a new statutory requirement on that matter at this stage.

I have given a fairly lengthy reply to the amendments. I know that it is late at night and that the noble Lord will no doubt wish to read in Hansard what I have said. In my turn I shall read what he has said. In the meantime, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

Before the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, replies, I wonder whether my noble friend will look again at Amendment No. 51. The Government seem to be in close agreement with the ABI over certain other matters that I shall deal with shortly, and about which they disagree with me. Can they not come to a firmer agreement about written-off cars to ensure that they do not appear on the roads, with the log books either having been burnt or sent back to Swansea? It is a major issue and one which was discussed in the corridors of power just a few minutes ago. We must look into the matter of cars which have been in serious accidents reappearing on the road.

I should like my noble friend to reconsider the matter and consult the ABI. The association is scratching the Government's back as regards drinking and driving, so perhaps both parties can now scratch each other's backs for a change.

Lord Tordoff

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I do not propose to respond in great detail, even if I were capable of doing so. I am here very much as a surrogate mover of these amendments. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that there is much to be commended in the amendments or, at least, in what lies behind them.

I am slightly worried by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, totally rubbishing the survey that was published this morning. Clearly, there are serious problems which the amendments are designed to address. However, to compare a broken down motor vehicle with an antique with a leg missing or a lawn mower.hat does not cut the grass to an adequate level is bizarre. We are talking about putting on the road vehicles that can kill and maim.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

If the noble Lord will forgive me, will he say how many fatal and serious injury accidents have occurred in the past, whatever period he cares to choose, as a result of mechanical failure?

Lord Tordoff

The noble Lord is well aware that I cannot give him the figure just like that. I dare say that the Department of Transport could not give him a figure. We all know that it is dangerous to put cars on the road which are in an unfit condition. Otherwise we should have no legislation on these matters; we should allow people to drive all over the place with bald tyres and bits hanging off vehicles. We would not bother with any construction and use regulations. I cannot follow the noble Lord down that line of argument.

At bast the noble Lord agrees with me on Amendment No. 51, which will be some comfort to my noble friend Lord Ezra when he reads the debate tomorrow. I listened to what the Minister had to say. There was a great deal of it, for which I am most grateful. His suggestion that trading standards officers are concerned with consumer protection and not road safety may be slightly unfair. If we can use that additional agency to improve road safety, we should do so. It is clear from the figures in the survey produced this morning that the existing agencies cannot deal with the problem in the way that it should be dealt with.

It was suggested that the trading standards officers are not competent to do those jobs as the Minister acknowledged I dealt with that point to some extent —but they are accustomed to using other agencies. For instance, they check on the prices at the petrol pumps in garages. They do not do those jobs themselves; they employ other agents to do them for them. They are capable of doing that.

We are dealing with serious matters. I do not propose to go any further on this point tonight. My noble friend Lord Ezra and his advisers are much more competent to deal with the subject than I am. I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Clauses 16 and 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Physical fitness]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 25: Page 13, line 37, at end insert: ("() In subsection (2) of section 96 of that Act (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) after the word "above" there shall be inserted the words "or that he has committed a traffic offence whilst the vehicle was in motion, or that he was involved in an accident owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road,").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is designed essentially to support police powers contained in Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The Committee will recall that the Act provides that drivers should be able to read a number plate with figures and letters 31/2 inches high from a distance of 67 feet. That obtained in the 1987 regulations. Before that drivers were required to be able to read a number plate with letters and numbers 31/2 inches high at a distance of 75 feet. That requirement was set down in 1935. No one is clear why that configuration was arrived at in 1935, and, with the one change that I mentioned, it has remained unaltered ever since.

However, there is evidence to suggest that even with that minimal test of the acuity of drivers, about 4 per cent. (1 million drivers) fail the test. The ophthalmic institutions, with the co-operation of some police forces, have undertaken surveys, and the police have indicated that there are grounds for concern. When pressed to ensure that such a test is carried out at the scene of an accident or perhaps at another place rather more convenient, some police authorities have suggested that the powers in the 1988 Act are not adequate.

This small and simple amendment seeks to underline that the police have the authority and powers to have a test conducted at the scene of an accident or some other place that may be more convenient, at another time. Then we shall be able to establish whether the non-scientific, but nevertheless fairly responsible surveys are accurate. It is hoped that they will lead to an international research programme which will establish the scientific basis for eyesight in relation to drivers' ability. I do not believe that this is a controversial issue. I trust that the Government and your Lordships' Committee will see fit to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

On the face of it, this seems to be a reasonable proposition, but having regard to some arguments adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, this evening, I begin to doubt whether I should accept it at first sight. I am only teasing the noble Lord. He said that there seems to be a problem, but is there any evidence that a substantial or significant number of accidents have resulted from drivers suffering from defective eyesight? I should like to ask both the Minister and the noble Lord that question. Is it felt that a provision of this kind would act as an incentive to people to persuade them that their eyes should be tested regularly?

I shall not embark upon the controversial issues that were raised in Question Time earlier today about the costs and the Government's policies; it is much too late. Those are reasonable questions. Incidentally, following an accident in Hampstead the other day, of which I happened to see the afterߞeffects, the alleged offender told the police officer that he ought to have an eyesight test. However, that is another matter.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I put my name down to my noble friend's amendment with which I have even more sympathy. Although there is little evidence available in the UK linking poor or defective vision with accidents, there is information from the USA which indicates that about 15 per cent. of all drivers who have been involved in a road traffic accident have defective vision. The vast majority of road safety practitioners agree that there would be an advantage in tightening the regulations which govern the level of required vision prior to issuing a driving licence.

A prime example of this is the issuing of authorisation to drive an invalid carriage. I am told by RoSPA that all that a disabled person requires in order to be permitted to drive such a vehicle is a letter from the GP. RoSPA told me of a case where a stroke victim who had lost 25 per cent. of the vision of her right eye and 50 per cent. of the left eye had been permitted to drive such a vehicle on the road. RoSPA has said that it would favour a further amendment; namely, the testing of the usable vision of all drivers who have been involved in a road traffic accident or, at second best, the testing of all drivers who have been involved in an accident where injury has been caused. Thus we would begin to build up a really useful data base to prove the efficacy of a better required usable vision standard. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's reply.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I appreciate my noble friend's concern about the potential risks taken by drivers with defective eyesight. The amendment seeks to widen the circumstances in which the police may require a driver to submit to an eyesight test so as to include those who have committed a moving traffic offence or been involved in an accident, whether or not the police suspect them of having defective eyesight.

The powers of the police to require a driver to submit to an eyesight test are already very wide. It is a criminal offence to drive with uncorrected defective vision. Under Section 96(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 they may test whenever they suspect a driver of being unable to meet the statutory eyesight standard —that is, the ability to read a number plate at 20.5 metres. In practice, committing a moving traffic offence or being involved in an accident may well give a police officer cause to suspect the driver involved of having defective eyesight, in which case the power to test the driver's eyesight applies.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, there is no evidence that defective vision is a significant factor in road accidents. Indeed young drivers, who might be expected to have the best eyesight, have the worst accident record. I do not believe, therefore, that any extension of existing police powers to test the eyesight of drivers is necessary. I would not wish to place an additional burden on the police by giving wider powers which would raise expectations of a higher level of testing. With that explanation I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response. I confirm what he has just said in reply to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I have no evidence that bad eyesight is a significant contributory factor to accidents. However, the point is that one is trying to establish whether there is such evidence. I had not envisaged that my amendment would widen police powers and I have no great wish to place any greater burdens on the police than they already have. I should like to give further consideration to what the Minister said in regard to an effect that I had not intended. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Lord Cavendish of Furness moved Amendment No. 26: After Clause 19, insert the following new clause:

("Exception from requirement of third party insurance

. —(1) Section 144 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 shall be amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) (which removes the requirement for third party insurance or security where £15,000 is kept deposited with the Accountant General of the Supreme Court) for "£15,000" there shall be substituted "£500,000".

(3) After subsection (1) there shall be inserted — (1A) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument substitute a greater sum for the sum for the time being specified in subsection (1) above. (1B) No order shall be made under subsection (1A) above unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament."").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord 13rabazon of Tara I wish to move Amendment No. 26 and at the same time speak to Amendment No. 27 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Teviot. This new clause responds to concerns expressed in another place about the provision of the Road Traffic Act which permits sums to he deposited with the Accountant-General of the Supreme Court as an alternative to taking out motor insurance or a security in respect of third party risks. Under this scheme depositors are required to meet third party claims from their own resources. The provision and the deposit of £15,000 have remained unchanged since the scheme was introduced in 1930. At the time £15,001) was sufficient evidence of the depositor's ability to meet third party claims and bore some relation to the highest level of claim resulting from a road accident.

The replacement figure of £500,000 seeks to reflect the intention of the scheme in today's terms. The proposed sum of £250,000 does not adequately reflect the original intention of the deposit. The figure of £250,000, despite being a major increase on the current figure of £15,000, also fails properly to reflect the high levels of compensation now awarded by the courts in some cases. The new clause also permits further increases in the deposit by order subject to affirmative resolution.

The new clause is needed for the protection of road accident victims. I hope that the Committee will accept the government amendment as tabled and reject the amendment to it. I beg to move.

Lord Teviot moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 26, Amendment No. 27: Line 7, leave out ("£500,000") and insert ("£250,000").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 27 I take note of every word that my noble friend said. I agree that the figure of £15,000 was very much out of date. However, it is the strong view of the Bus and Coach Council and the Freight Transport Association that £500,000 is rather a bitter pill and is too great a sum to be locked into. They feel that £250,000 is a more realistic figure.

I cannot speak for the Freight Transport Association, but the bus industry considers that it would he more practical, and cheaper, to make its own arrangements for insurance. It would also take out other insurance cover for calamities.

I shall listen to what my noble friend has to say. One does not want inflation. Inflation may go up, and that is a situation that neither the Government nor any one else wants. However, I am sure that the Committee will agree that a 33-times increase is too great. I hope that my noble friend will listen to what I have to say. I am sure that he will not agree with it, but I do not believe that there will be any takers —or very few takers —for the new arrangement. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I listened carefully to what the Minister said. I am astonished. If he were able to justify the increase I should certainly go along with it, but an increase since the 1988 Act from £15,000 to £500,000 cannot reflect the change in economic circumstances.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

It is an increase since 1930.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am sorry. However, the sum included in the 1988 Act was £15,000. The amendment reads: Section 144 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 shall be amended as follows". The figure was satisfactory to the Government in 1988. The thought that must go through everybody's mind is, why has there been such a change to £500,000? It appears that the Government had not thought of making the change until Report stage in the other place, when an amendment was put down by two Conservative Back-Bench Members of Parliament. The amendments were not called for debate and the Government thought again about the matter. It is a surprising omission that they did not deal with the matter in the Bill without prompting from their Back-Benchers, and then the figure jumped to £500,000.

I do not propose to oppose the amendment, but I should like to hear a closer explanation of the position.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I understand full well the difference. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked why the matter was not considered in the 1988 Act. The answer is that the 1988 Act was a consolidation Act.

Lord Teviot

I am very glad of the support of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I have listened to what my noble friend had to say, but it is too late to do anything about the matter this evening or to take it further. Therefore, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 26 agreed to.

Lord Brougham and Vaux moved Amendment No. 28:

After Clause 19, insert the following new clause:

("Prohibition on insurance against certain offences

. —(1) Any clause in a contract of insurance purporting to accept liability for loss sustained by the insured as a result of disqualification under section 34 or 35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 shall be null and void.

(2) No person shall provide, or offer to provide, a contract of insurance purporting to accept liability for loss sustained by the insured as a result of disqualification following the commission of an offence against the provisions of section 34 or 35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

(3) If any person contravenes this section he shall be guilty of an offence.

(4) Any person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.").

The noble Lord said: I have no intention of pressing the amendment tonight. It prohibits the provision of insurance policies offering protection against the consequences of disqualification for serious traffic offences under Sections 34 and 35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

I and others believe that this availability diminishes the impact of the penalty and respect for the law. The Road Traffic Law Review saw disqualification as the major tool for dealing with serious road traffic offences, as I know to my cost when, many years ago, I was banned for a year. Not only is it very inconvenient, but it also makes you realise what a fool you were. It makes you very conscious not to do it again because the second time hurts more than the first. So compensating the offender by that means would do much to lessen the impact of the penalty. A driver's advance knowledge that a serious offence could be committed without adverse consequences removes any deterrent which the law may have.

I understand that, in 1988, the ABI and the DTI announced that insurance policies which protected the driver from the consequences of disqualification for drink or drug offences were undesirable and should be ended. However, I am told that that voluntary agreement did not extend to all serious driving offences and even the new offences replacing reckless driving in the Bill would not be covered by that agreement. I beg to move.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I share the noble Lord's concerns about the availability, even on a limited scale, of insurance against the consequences of disqualification. However, I am not convinced that the new clause would solve the problem. In considering the North Report's recommendation, we considered the possibility of legislation to deal with this, but we were not convinced that the legislation could be rigorously enforced. That is why we accepted the industry's offer of voluntary agreement, on behalf of all the insurance companies operating in this field, to bring an end to the worst aspects of these policies; namely, the cover they provide against drink and drug-related driving offences. I believe that the voluntary agreement, under which no new policies were offered after 31st December 1988 and all existing policies were phased out after 31st December last year, offers the most effective way of tackling the problem.

I do not believe that simply declaring such policies null and void would have any significant effect in practice. Enforcement would rarely be an issue and it would usually anyway be in the interests of both parties to abide by the agreement. I am not convinced that it would prevent such policies being offered and it would not be practical to create a further offence of entering into such a contract.

For those reasons we think it better to continue to rely on the agreement with the industry. I am grateful to my noble friend for saying that he does not intend to press the amendment.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

I am grateful for my noble friend's reply and I shall study his comments with interest. As I said with regard to Amendment No. 51, I hope that the Government and the industry come to a serious agreement about the effect of cars. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 [Information as to identity of driver etc.]:

[Amendments Nos. 29 to 32 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Speeding Offences etc: admissibility of certain evidence]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 17, line 39, after ("device") insert: ("including a tachograph which shall be sequentially numbered").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 35. I am sorry to have to go into detail on this amendment, but it is an important amendment. I must confess that I feel like going back to Amendment No. I dealing with driving when fatigued. That may be the state after the House rises. Clause 22 deals with the admissibility of certain evidence of measurement of speed by radar. Subsection (4) reads as follows: A record produced or measurement made by a prescribed device shall not be admissible as evidence … unless … the device is of a type approved by the Secretary of State, and … any conditions subject to which the approval was given are satisfied". The amendment proposes that the possible device shall include: a tachograph which shall be sequentially numbered". A similar amendment went before the Commons Standing Committee. Attention was drawn in that Committee to a previous Commons debate on the matter on 9th November 1990 in a Committee on Statutory Instruments. Mrs Ruddock quoted a speech by the then Minister, Mr Robert Atkins. I quote from col. 4 of the report: The idea of putting serial numbers on cards is a good one. I have not heard of it before and I confess that I had assumed that such a practice was already automatic. My officials advise me that we can consider the matter again, and we shall certainly do so. I shall take a personal interest, because serialisation on the cards seems only logical". Mr. Atkins left the department. Mrs. Ruddock said that in December last (a year after that Committee debate) she received a letter from the current Minister, Mr. Christopher Chope. That turned down any move towards serialisation. The new Minister explained that the matter had been further considered by the department and for a number of reasons the serialisation of tachographs was considered not worthwhile. Those reasons are set out in col. 99 of the Committee report. It was pointed out that sequential numbering of tachographs was a practice in various European countries.

The Transport and General Workers Union is strongly in support of the proposal. It may be recalled that at Second Reading I referred to the importance of enforcing the law on tachographs. The union was concerned with the question of drivers' working hours and rest periods. This is of vital importance not only in the interests of drivers but from the point of view of road safety. The Minister agreed that there were some businesses in Britain which had adopted this practice, and he confirmed that serialisation was followed by the National Freight Corporation. It would be very interesting to learn from the Minister the department's current thinking and whether or not there is any possibility of the European Commission adopting a directive on the issue.

Amendment No. 35 is a simple but important amendment which seeks to make a further condition as set out in paragraph (c). Once again, a similar amendment was considered by the Commons Committee, along with the amendment on tachograph serialisation. Whether or not serialisation is adopted, the issue in this further amendment is very important and should be a desirable procedure. Unfortunately, on reading the Standing Committee's report, I cannot see the second amendment being referred to specifically by the Minister. Therefore, in addition to comments on Amendment No. 33, I seek particular observations from the Minister with regard to Amendment No. 35. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Evidence from tachograph records or work records can in the normal way already be submitted in road traffic cases where it is relevant. That is the position at present and there is nothing in Clause 22 which would alter that position. However, I cannot see how the special provisions in Clause 22 are expected to work in relation to such evidence. First it would not be appropriate for the police to submit such evidence on the basis of a signed certificate because, unlike evidence from approved devices, it would not speak for itself. On the contrary, it would be not speak for a person to speak to the record and explain to the court the significance of the information it contained. Another point made in the other place when the EC tachograph regulation was implemented was that the information from tachographs could not be used to calculate precisely where a vehicle was at a particular time.

On the question of serialisation of tachograph charts, the Government recently announced its decision that on balance it would not be worthwhile. It would cause extra costs both to the industry and the department's enforcement staffs for virtually no gain, since enforcement officers can already detect the ploys which are used to circumvent drivers' hours requirements. It would put an extra unnecessary burden on operators to have to introduce new procedures for issuing and checking charts. Manufacturers' costs would be increased because sequentially numbered packs of charts could be guaranteed only by checking and making corrections at the time of issue. That would also delay the issuing process.

So far as concerns the employers' liability, it is already possible to lay charges of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a speeding offence. There would of course have to be substantial evidence linking the employer to a specific act of the employee. I am sure that is right. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will agree that simple assertions that the?Fender was speeding because his employer expected him to do so should not be sufficient to secure a conviction.

With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendments.

Lord Underhill

I shall study very carefully what the Minister said about the legal aspect, on which, not being qualified in the law, I shall need to have advice. The Minister has not explained why the National Freight Corporation sees no problem at all in handling the matter of serialisation on the tachographs that it uses and why certain Continental countries find that this is necessary. This is a matter to which we shall have to come back on Report. On that occasion we may have further useful advice from my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, who is well aware of the history of this matter in the European Commission. It was not always helped by British transport Ministers trying to get an undertaking.

I notice that the Minister nods his head. Therefore I say to my noble friend that we shall be on very sound ground when we come back at Report stage.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I can say only that the Commission was not always helpful in getting what the British Government wanted in some of these matters either.

Lord Underhill

That is sometimes because the British Government ask for the wrong thing or oppose the right thing. Naturally I shall not go further with this matter tonight. I give notice that this is undoubtedly a matter to which we shall return on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 34: Page 17, line 42, after ("approved") insert ("in regulations made").

The noble Lord said: My comments about fatigue earlier seem more true than ever. In moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 36.

The Committee may recall what I said in the Second Reading debate. I shall not quote it. I referred to a situation which arose a few years ago when, discussing a transport Bill, we considered the use of radar speed equipment. I said that I hoped that we would not find ourselves in the same position as we had done on that occasion. We endeavoured to move an amendment at Committee stage but the Government would not listen. At Report stage the Government would not listen. But eventually at Third Reading the Government brought forward a somewhat watered down amendment which we were very happy to see.

In his reply during the Second Reading debate to which I referred, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, mentioned the quotation that I had used and said that he could assure me: that the Bill already provides that the equipment used to detect speeding and red light offences will have to be type approved". —[Official Report, 18/3/91; col. 480.] But one must look at the wording in the Bill. Subsection (4) says that: evidence shall not be admissible … unless … the device is of a type approved by the Secretary of State".

Then in subsection (9): In this section 'prescribed device' means device of a description specified in an order made by the Secretary of State".

Surely there must be general agreement in the Committee that this provision is woefully inadequate. The terms of the amendment which I ask the Committee to approve are much more explicit. On this matter the Royal Automobile Club has stated that it is in agreement with the use of the new technology — I quote from a statement which it issued — provided the equipment is regularly tested and approved to establish that it meets standards of accuracy and reliability". That would be greatly assisted if the Committee were to accept my amendment. Frankly, I can see no reason whatever why the Government should not do so. They obviously agree that there should be a specified device —the one approved —but the provisions in the Bill are weak and those in the amendment are far more definite and explicit. I beg to move.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for raising the important question of the setting of standards for type approval and operation of these devices. It provides me with a useful opportunity to explain the proposed type approval process.

The proposed type approval process is a necessarily protracted one to ensure that the device is properly tested. It is based on the process already in operation for radar speed detection devices. We expect that it will involve the individual manufacturer demonstrating the device to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), and if they are potentially interested practical assessments will be carried out by one or more police forces. Those results would then be assessed by ACPO and if satisfactory, the manufacturers referred to the Home Office who will arrange technical testing for the device by an independent laboratory. The testing would be against the standard laid down in the relevant Home Office specification handbook drawn up by the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB). The speedmeter handbook uses British Standards in various of its requirements; it also follows international standards set by OIML (the international organisation of legal metrology). The specification will be subject also to approval by the EC. The results of the independent testing of the device are assessed by PSDB and a report will then be submitted to the Secretary of State for consideration of type approval. If type approval is agreed to, it is envisaged that the manufacturer will be required to sign a formal agreement which among other matters requires him to ensure the specification is not changed. Type approval will be finally given by the Secretary of State signing an order specifying the particular device. Once type approval has been given, evidence from the device is admissible in proceedings.

Noble Lords will appreciate from what I have said that we already envisage a rigorous testing process against high standards. The processes and standards involved are to be set out in handbooks relating to the specific types of device concerned and where British Standard specifications exist for elements of those requirements they are expected to apply. Moreover the handbooks will follow the international OIML standard and be approved by the EC. I do not therefore think there can be any doubt about the standards required for the type approval process. And these will be openly available. The first handbook on speedmeters is expected to be available in draft to interested manufacturers shortly. It is subject to EC approval.

In putting down his amendment the noble Lord has also suggested that conditions should be prescribed about the operation and maintenance of approved devices. I can assure him and the Committee that we wish to ensure that the devices are used within their technical and operational capabilities. That is one of the reasons why we have introduced this type approval process into the Bill. However, we do not consider that reliance on manufacturers' instructions alone is sufficient. Operational standards are matters to be set by the police in consultation with the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB) and these will be drawn up within the limits of manufacturers' instructions. The Bill already provides for the Secretary of State to give his approval subject to the conditions as to the purpose for which and the manner and any other circumstances in which the device is to be used. This provision ensures that the Secretary of State has the specific authority to tailor his requirements to the particular device concerned. I can assure the Committee that the Secretary of State will be looking most carefully at applications for type approval in the light of that power. I do not therefore think that this amendment is necessary as we shall be setting high standards in an open way which can be applied to particular devices and take account of the latest developments.

I hope that with that rather detailed explanation of how we have set about this matter, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Underhill

I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply, which was very encouraging. However, when one compares it with the provisions in the Bill, one can understand the anxiety underlying the amendment. Nothing in the Bill gives the encouragement that I have received from the Minister's reply. If the amendment achieved nothing more, the Government's intentions will now be down in black and white.

We shall read carefully what the Minister said. At this time of night one's brain is not entirely clear. I still cannot understand why the Government are shy about dealing with a British Standard specification. It appears in Amendment No. 36 but the Minister made no reference to it —

Lord Brabazon of Tara

When the noble Lord reads my reply he will see that the words British Standard are used frequently. Where there is a standard we shall adopt it.

Lord Underhill

That proves that my mind is becoming blank. I have listened carefully to the Minister's reply and shall read it in Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 not moved.]

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past eleven o'clock.