HL Deb 29 April 1998 vol 589 cc290-2

2.53 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is being made on the control of the use of bull bars on private and commercial vehicles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, last October we announced the launch of a consultation process on the options for national action on bull bars. That process closed at the end of last year. There were about 250 responses to the consultation document and we are currently considering the appropriate way forward.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for her reply and recognising that to achieve a 100 per cent. ban is a complex matter, does she agree that, in view of strong public opinion in favour of ridding our roads of these lethal accessories on vehicles, to start by tackling part of the problem is better than tackling none of the problem?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am very grateful for the comments of the noble Earl, who has had a long-standing interest in this area, and for his recognition that it is a complex matter. That was reflected in some of the contributions to the consultation document. But as the noble Earl pointed out, there was overwhelming support for taking all possible action. I am personally anxious to make progress in this area.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, have any of the consultation documents revealed whether any bulls have actually been fended off by these elaborate instruments?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is not here today to tell us of her Australian experience. However, she usually tells us that bull bars were originally roo bars. I can certainly say that no kangaroos have been warded off by bull bars. In the responses to the consultation a point was made about legitimate agricultural off-road use of vehicles with these accessories. That is one of the areas of complexity that we have to take into account, if we choose to do so, in drawing up regulations that will be generally accepted as reasonable.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, can the Minister say whether any progress has been made in Europe on this matter? She referred to that the last time this subject was raised, which I believe was last June, and particularly to a Dutch proposal. Can the Minister say whether this matter is going to be made a priority of the United Kingdom presidency in the transport field? Can she say, if a national solution is sought, what is there to stop anybody importing a vehicle with bull bars from a European country? Will that be covered?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the European convention is yet another of the complexities that we have to deal with. If a whole-vehicle type approval has been given to a vehicle at European level, then we shall have to recognise that approval. The issue is what we can do at a national level in terms of vehicles which are not imported. The noble Lord referred to the issue on a wider front and to the European pedestrian protection directive. That would be a much broader way of tackling the needs of vulnerable road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists. There has been some progress in that area. Through the Transport Research Laboratory, the United Kingdom is involved in refinements to the technical content of the proposal. We are very keen to assist the Commission on any aspect of that work. Discussion of that directive is continuing, but we accept that the implementation date is some way off. That is why I am anxious to make what progress we can at national level.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, if I heard the noble Baroness correctly in her initial reply, I believe that she said that 250 replies were received. If that is correct, can the Minister advise the House what that represents in percentage terms and whether the Government are happy with such a seemingly very small response?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, as regards the number of consultation documents that were sent out, the percentage of replies was about 25 per cent. The experience of other Ministers shows that that figure is not out of line with the response rate on consultations in particularly technical areas, which do not, in the main, get large numbers of responses from individuals. However, I have seen correspondence from individuals; very often they are people who have had relatives involved in these kinds of accidents. Sometimes we have had correspondence from medical staff who have had to deal with the consequences.