HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc522-4

. In section 42(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, after paragraph (b), insert— (c) fails to comply with any of the provisions of an order made under section 44 of this Act,".").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 394, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 396. In speaking to this group, I must declare an interest in that I applied to the Secretary of State for a special order under Section 44 in connection with a military exercise taking place in Wales.

Section 44 allows the Secretary of State to make an order to permit the movement of abnormal loads. The orders can be specific or general using a statutory instrument. The authorisation of special types of general order has a number of conditions attached to it; some are minor and of a technical nature, but are nonetheless important. But if any condition is broken, then the protection of the special type of order is lost. The operator is then back to construction and use regulations. That could mean that the vehicle is legally, though not in terms of design, severely overloaded.

If taken to court for a minor infringement of the condition of the order, a disproportionate fine could result if the magistrate and his clerk become confused. The authorities therefore may sometimes turn a blind eye to an infringement such as not displaying exactly the right sign. Amendment No. 394 would create a new offence of failing to comply with the condition of an order made under Section 44 of the 1988 Act.

I turn now to Amendment No. 396. Noble Lords will be aware that the construction and use regulations are now fearfully detailed and that they often cross-refer to EU directives. It is necessary for the authorities, presumably the vehicle inspectorate, to ensure that a new design of vehicle complies with the construction and use regulations. This is called, "type approval". However, it may be that a manufacturer desires to test a new vehicle or a new component by putting it into revenue-earning service.

The Minister can make regulations to permit this but the regulations must be drafted, published and possibly laid before Parliament. That would not be appropriate for a specific authorisation. An order-making power would give the Minister much more flexibility. An order could be an SI or just a permit issued by the DETR on behalf of the Secretary of State. The amendment would add a new subsection to the Act and is drafted in the same way as the one allowing regulations to be made. However, this one would provide instead for orders. I hope that the Minister finds both these amendments attractive. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Both the amendments now before the Committee would affect the use of vehicles used for special purposes, such as the carrying of abnormal loads. As the noble Earl said, the second amendment would also cover vehicles used as prototype test vehicles or for testing components. Indeed, that is a possibility that had not occurred to me but I see the point.

At present, such vehicles are authorised to operate on the public highway by an order issued under the authority of the Secretary of State which exempts them from the general construction and use requirements under Section 41 of the Act. This may contain a number of provisions, frequently including one that they must meet certain regulations within the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. Other conditions may include, for example, a requirement to notify the police, the highway authority or a bridge owner; or, indeed, a limitation on the date and time that a vehicle can be used.

As the noble Earl said, there is no specific offence at the moment for not complying with a provision of the order. Therefore, if a vehicle fails to meet any one of them, it ceases to be authorised by the order and has to comply with all of the construction and use regulations, as well as any other regulations made under Section 41. Because of the special nature of these vehicles it is unlikely in many cases that they will be able to comply with all the requirements. That would leave the driver of such a vehicle open to prosecution for every requirement that the vehicle fails to meet; for example, for abnormal load vehicles this could include the vehicle weight and dimension legislation that clearly such vehicles could not meet.

If a vehicle is in breach of a provision of the order, that is not a prosecutable offence. So Amendment No. 394 seeks to ensure that a prosecution can be made on the breach of a provision of the order that the vehicle has failed to meet. However, it would not quite achieve that aim unless other amendments were made to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. Such amendments would need to be made to provide a suitable and appropriate punishment for the offence. Nevertheless, I should like to take away this issue, which clearly reflects a genuine concern, and think about it before the next stage.

Amendment No. 396 would provide for the exemption of similar vehicles from type approval regulations under Section 63 of the Road Traffic Act. At present, goods vehicles are subject to construction requirements through the Motor Vehicles (Type Approval for Goods Vehicles) (Great Britain) Regulations 1982. Similarly, passenger cars are subject to the comparable regulations of 1984. Exemptions to these requirements can only be made through changes in the regulations. As the noble Earl said, this can be cumbersome. Moreover, I am not sure as to whether it would require parliamentary approval. In any event, the process is cumbersome where it is intended to exempt a small number of vehicles such as prototypes or those built for a very specialised purpose.

Therefore, instead of having to obtain an exemption through a change in the regulations, the amendment proposes that the vehicle should be exempt through the issuing of an order under Section 63 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Again, I sympathise with this proposal. It would enable vehicle manufacturers to develop special vehicles to perform tasks safely and efficiently without the design being compromised or restricted by the requirements placed on vehicles generally. However, important safety and environmental standards can be maintained by the restrictions or controls applied through the order.

The powers would be useful, but, in terms of the drafting of the amendment, I believe that these would prove to be wider than would be necessary for the exemptions for special vehicles. Again, provision would have to be made for offences. Therefore, I cannot support this amendment. However, as I said, I should like to consider the thinking behind the other proposal. On that basis, I trust that the noble Earl will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Attlee

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that reply; indeed, I could expect no more. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 395 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 396 and 397 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 398:

After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—