HL Deb 29 June 1993 vol 547 cc786-93

8.11 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In introducing the Bill perhaps I may first congratulate its sponsor, my honourable friend Sir John Hannam, and its supporters in another place on its successful passage there. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, was to have presented the Bill but unfortunately he has been prevented from doing so by illness. We wish him a speedy recovery.

The purpose of the Bill is simply stated. It is to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 in such a way as to enable physically disabled people to qualify as approved driving instructors so that they may give paid instruction in the driving of cars. I am glad to say that the Bill has the Government's support and also cross party support. It is welcomed by many disabled people and organisations which represent the interests of disabled people.

Disabled people face many obstacles—in education, housing, transport, employment and several other areas. While there has been a great deal of progress in recent years towards removing those obstacles, there is still a long way to go. The Bill represents a small but important and constructive step forward. By making provision to enable physically disabled people to become driving instructors, approved by the Department of Transport, the Bill removes an obstacle to employment which currently faces disabled people. The removal of the barrier on disabled people becoming driving instructors will offer the opportunity of a greater degree of financial independence for those able to take advantage of its provisions. For years there has been a demand for a change in the law. For years the Department of Transport and disability organisations have received many representations from would-be driving instructors who are currently excluded from that source of employment.

It may help your Lordships if I briefly discuss the existing legislation which governs approved driving instructors in order to illustrate exactly why a change in the law is needed. At the moment the law requires someone who wants to become an approved driving instructor to hold a current unrestricted driving licence. That is a licence which enables him or her to drive cars fitted with manual or automatic gear boxes. Any approved driving instructor must therefore be able to offer instruction in cars fitted with either automatic or manual transmission. Those driving Licence requirements and the expectation that approved driving instructors should be able to give tuition in all kinds of cars act as a barrier to would-be disabled driving instructors.

Under the existing legislation most physically disabled people who are restricted by their driving licence to cars with automatic transmission can never hope to obtain an unrestricted driving licence and therefore can never aspire to become an approved driving instructor. That discrimination against disabled people is an area of employment the Bill seeks to remedy.

Your Lordships will have an opportunity to study the Bill in much more detail at Committee stage. I shall restrict my remarks now to the Bill's key features. It will enable physically disabled people who hold current restricted driving licences to become approved driving instructors and to give paid tuition in vehicles of a class covered by their restricted driving licences. In practice that will mean the giving of instruction in cars with automatic transmission only.

A great part of the Bill's text merely repeats what is said in existing legislation, with suitable amendment to reflect the nature of disabled persons' driving licences and restrictions which need apply as to the kind of cars with automatic transmission in which they could give paid instruction. That is the gist of Clauses 1 and 2, which insert "mirror" sections, specific to physically disabled people, immediately after the corresponding sections in the Road Traffic Act which apply to non-disabled people who hold unrestricted driving licences.

However, in Clause 3 the Bill introduces a new and very important concept—the emergency control assessment and emergency control certificate. With your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to say a few words about that. No noble Lord would disagree that physically disabled people can, and do, drive safely. But we cannot assume that every disabled person who might wish to become an approved driving instructor could safely take control of the vehicle in an emergency while in the act of giving instruction. For instance, a disabled person who is more than capable of exercising emergency control of a vehicle while driving it may not have the same dexterity to take emergency control from the front passenger seat while giving instruction. He or she may not be able to lean over and quickly take control of the steering wheel. There is a key road safety issue here. It will be a condition that any physically disabled person who wishes to be registered as an approved driving instructor must possess a current emergency control certificate and the registrar will not register a disabled person who does not possess a current emergency control certificate.

Clause 3 provides the framework for the assessment of emergency control ability and the issue of the emergency control certificate. The Bill makes it a requirement for a would-be disabled driving instructor to satisfy an assessor, appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport, that he or she could exercise control in an emergency while giving instruction. A successful demonstration of that emergency control ability will lead to the issue of the necessary emergency control certificate.

The Bill recognises that, for the purpose of exercising the necessary emergency control while giving instruction, the vehicle may need to be modified for that purpose. For instance, it may be necessary for the vehicle to be fitted with a hand operated throttle and hand operated brakes. The emergency control certificate will specify any required modifications. It will be an offence for a disabled person to give paid driving instruction in a vehicle not equipped with the modifications specified in the certificate.

The Bill also recognises that not every disabled person's physical condition will be stable. In some cases the condition may be one which deteriorates over a period of time. So the Bill provides for the assessor to include in the emergency control certificate recommendations that the person should undergo further emergency control assessment at the end of such period as may be specified.

As an added road safety safeguard, Clause 3 contains powers for an emergency control certificate to be revoked in the event that the disabled person is no longer able to meet the necessary emergency control requirements. Revocation would be effective almost immediately and it would be an offence to continue to give paid instruction without a current emergency control certificate, even if the person's name had yet to be removed from the register of approved driving instructors. Revocation is most likely to occur in cases where the person had notified the registrar of a worsening of his or her physical condition, as the Bill requires, and the registrar had ordered a reassessment, as the Bill permits.

The Bill also allows a person to volunteer for reassessment of emergency, provided a specified period had elapsed since the previous assessment. That provision is most likely to benefit those who had failed to obtain a certificate on the previous occasion. It may also assist those who hold a valid and current certificate and whose physical condition had improved since the most recent assessment. A reassessment in those circumstances may, for example, mean that some or all of the modifications to the vehicle need no longer be specified on the certificate.

So the Bill's introduction of the concept of the emergency control certificate is a key safeguard of road safety. While it is necessary for road safety purposes to place this additional requirement on disabled people, it should not act as a disincentive to those disabled people, who want to qualify as approved driving instructors. Nor is it proposed that this requirement should impose any financial penalty on disabled people. I am assured that the Government do not propose to charge applicants for the emergency control assessment and certificate, and I welcome that.

I mentioned earlier that Clauses 1 and 2 do little more than mirror existing legislation in this area governing non-disabled people with suitable adjustment. I have just described the emergency control assessment and certificate provided for in Clause 3. That is the key clause in the Bill.

Clause 4 deals with the obligations placed on a disabled person who is an approved driving instructor to disclose to the registrar any previously undisclosed physical disability or worsening of a disclosed disability. The obligations are no different to those placed on able-bodied instructors under existing legislation.

Clause 5 deals with offences. The Bill makes it an offence to give paid instruction in a vehicle of a class not covered by an emergency control certificate and/or to give paid instruction without a valid emergency control certificate.

Clause 6 introduces the schedule of related and consequential amendments to existing legislation and Clause 7 provides the "Short title, commencement and extent". Commencement would be by order of the Secretary of State for Transport. The Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland although elsewhere in the Bill there is provision to recognise a similar Northern Ireland scheme should one be introduced there.

Finally, I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is a useful Bill which removes an area of discrimination in the giving of paid driving instruction and which, in doing so, also ensures that road safety interests are not threatened. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.

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

8.24 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, has given a very full and enlightening description of the Bill. All that remains for me to say is that I wholeheartedly welcome this measure, which I believe is very sensible. It is removing an area of restriction on the lives of disabled people where they are, with the aid of technology and a little understanding, capable of doing the job correctly. Surely that is something that should be done at every available opportunity. With those few words I hope that this Bill receives a very swift passage through this House.

8.25 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, for his very lucid introduction of this Bill on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. I speak as a qualified Army driving instructor with approximately 14 years experience training TA soldiers to drive heavy goods vehicles and also some experience in civvy street teaching people to drive heavy goods vehicles.

I welcome the Bill. It has limited application. There will not be that many people who will wish to take advantage of it. I am sure that those who do will be very grateful for it. I can assure the House that there are no physical problems with disabled persons giving instruction. My own personal view is that it would be technically possible for them to give instruction on manually-controlled vehicles, but I understand the reasons for restricting the provision to automatic vehicles.

The reason for that view is that when one is teaching someone to drive a vehicle it is mainly a process of communication. In the main, word of mouth is used and diagrams are drawn. There is very little actual taking over of the vehicle. Provided that one can stop the vehicle and possibly steer it, that is quite sufficient. The emergency control certificate will be the safety guarantee in this Bill.

I note that disabled instructors need to be able to control cars in an emergency. That is fair enough. However, it is interesting to note that a father, say, may teach his son in an ordinary private car which has a handbrake lever on the son's right hand side. In an emergency it is very unlikely that the father would be able to stop the vehicle. Perhaps we ought to think about the future and whether we should continue to allow unqualified people to give driving lessons.

I understand that there is no right of appeal as regards the granting of an emergency control certificate. It seems to be one bite of the cherry, but I accept that that is fair enough. I hope that the assessors are fair and sympathetic.

I have a few questions. Do we know how many assessors will be authorised to conduct emergency control certificate tests? Where will they be located? Will they be able to travel to far-flung parts of the country or will the DoT authorise a fair number of assessors so if one is in Aberdeen, for example, one will not have to travel to MAVIS to get an assessment?

I look forward to the speedy passage of this Bill through its remaining stages. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred to the Committee stage. I hope that there will be not too much detail at that stage.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord McColl for his very clear explanation of the purposes of the Bill, which I support. In each case it is clear that the individual conditions will be separately considered in the light of the kind of disability, or combination of disabilities, the personal and other factors. I suggest that foremost the safety of the public must be considered.

That agreed, there is no reason why a disabled person, with suitable attributes and unquestioned ability to control a car when a learner is in the driving seat. should not become a qualified instructor. Indeed, such an instructor in due course could be especially successful with learner drivers who themselves are suffering from a minor disability of some kind. I also believe that once they become qualified to drive disabled persons are often less likely to take risks and to have accidents than the general public.

An organisation concerned with disability suggested that I should speak in this debate in support of the Bill, presumably because I have been a disabled driver for 46 years. I have been greatly dependent on wheels during that period and have had cars specially adapted. As I am expected, therefore, to say something about driving with a physical handicap, I shall contribute a few words on the subject.

When I was able-bodied before World War Two, I had a full driving licence. I emerged from hospital more than a year after the war still not able to walk. My parents then produced a car with a hand clutch —this was before the days of automatic gears—and in 1947 I started to drive it. Of course, I had to have a provisional licence again, and then to pass another test in order to acquire a full licence to drive a motor car only. During the war, I had been driving a wide variety of vehicles from tanks and heavy lorries to motor bicycles.

The unlikely consequence was that within three years I was successfully teaching my wife to drive. I mention that only because it is notoriously difficult for husbands and wives to teach each other to drive except, of course, for backseat driving, which is often unstoppable. And this was happening in New York —not an easy place in which to learn to drive —as that was where my work required me to live at the time, making it a doubly improbable event.

I am not myself severely disabled, but I speak with some personal experience over many years. The Bill is to be welcomed in general because it prevents automatic discrimination against disabled people. An application will be dealt with on its particular merits. The Bill does not open the door to every disabled person, however enthusiastic. To give an extreme example, I very much hope that someone whose disability is very defective eyesight will be kept off the roads altogether.

I support the Bill. I hope that the Government and others will find similar ways of dispensing with automatic, blanket discrimination against disabled people in other activities and occupations.

8.32 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for whom I have a great deal of affection and with whom I share many common interests, particularly relating to the environment. The noble Lord spoke with a great deal of personal authority and I thought his short speech most interesting.

Like other noble Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for the way in which he introduced the Bill and for his careful explanation of it. Perhaps I may say at the outset of what will be a very short speech that I wish to say on my own behalf —I think that we can speak only on our own behalf on Private Member's Bills—that I am delighted that my old friend Sir John Hannam (I think that we entered the House of Commons on the same day in 1970) has been successful in piloting the Bill through another place. I do not think that there will be much difficulty about its progress through this House in the capable hands of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. Even if the noble Lord were incapable, I think that he would be able to get the Bill through the House—even more so because we are quite unused in this place these days to receiving any sensible transport legislation. So he can be doubly reassured on that count.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Ashley is not here. He would have wished to introduce the Bill. We all admire him so much and, on behalf of this side of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for what he said about him. We wish my noble friend well. He has recently had a bout of difficulties with his health but, with his usual fortitude, I am sure that he will weather it and be back here by the autumn.

This is an extremely important Bill. I t is not world shattering; it is nonetheless extremely important and takes the cause of disabled people that little bit further. It is right that time should have been found for it. It is helpful that certain anxieties expressed about the Bill have been allayed. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, dwelt on that in his introductory speech. It is extremely important that those anxieties have been satisfied. I wish the Bill every possible success. It will bring relief and opportunity perhaps to only a small number of people, but however small the number, that is important. On behalf of my noble friends as well as myself, I am delighted to welcome the Bill.

8.35 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to lend the Government's support to the Bill, especially as it commands such widespread approval. The Bill's sponsor and its supporters in another place are to be congratulated on their handling of it. I hope that it will obtain a similar smooth passage through your Lordships' House as it deserves to reach the statute book, and I have every reason to believe that it will.

I should like to take the opportunity to echo the regrets which have been voiced around the House that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is not able to be here this evening to move the Second Reading. I add best wishes from these Benches for his speedy recovery. He must, however, be greatly reassured that the Bill is in the safe hands of my noble friend Lord McColl.

The Bill is a limited measure, but it is no less important for that. As the noble Earl. Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, it is unlikely to benefit a great many people. But those who want and are able to take advantage of its provisions should have the opportunity to lead a more financially independent and satisfying life as a result. The Bill removes an area of discrimination in the area of the employment of disabled people, and on those grounds alone it is to be commended and deserves your Lordships' support.

The concept of the emergency control assessment and certificate in Clause 3 of the Bill is a good one. It ensures that road safety interests are preserved. I am sure that this House would agree that the Bill should do nothing which in any way threatens road safety, which is a major concern of us all.

We are confident that disabled people appreciate the need for an assessment of emergency control in the way that the Bill prescribes. We are pleased that it was agreed in another place that no charge will be made for the assessment. Apart from the need to obtain, and keep current, the emergency control certificate, disabled people who wish to become registered as approved driving instructors will be treated no differently from their non-disabled counterparts. I commend this Bill to your Lordships, and trust that it will be given its Second Reading.

8.37 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It only remains for me to hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

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

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 9.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.38 to 9.10 p.m.]