The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government's proposals to reform road traffic law. A White Paper, called "The Road User and the Law", has been laid this afternoon. The White Paper responds to the recommendations of the North review of road traffic law, published last April. I pay tribute to the review committee for the valuable work which it did.
The Government's determination to improve road safety is clear. We are committed to cut road casualties, especially those killed or seriously injured, by one third by the end of the century. The proposals in the White Paper will play a major part in achieving that target.
This country now has the best road safety record in Europe. But there is still a long way to go. Over 5,000 people died and more than 300,000 were injured as a result of road accidents in 1987. Behind those stark figures lie appalling personal tragedies. Probably every Member of this House has known someone hurt or killed on one of Britain's roads.
The White Paper brings forward a wide range of proposals to tackle the next steps in improving safety on our roads. These proposals aim to improve the structure of road traffic law, to increase its public acceptability, and to make it operate more fairly and simply. We aim to ensure that the penalty matches the offence and that those who drive very badly are properly punished.
The present reckless driving offence does not operate satisfactorily in England and Wales, and must be changed. At the moment drivers are escaping conviction, because the law turns on the driver's state of mind rather than the state of driving. The Government therefore propose to replace the reckless driving offence with a new offence of dangerous driving based more firmly on the observable standard of driving. This offence will have two ingredients : the standard of driving must fall far below that expected of a competent and careful driver, and the driver must carry a danger of physical injury or serious damage to property. The present offence of causing death by reckless driving will be replaced by a new offence of causing death by dangerous driving. The present lower level offence of careless driving will be retained. One of the most serious threats to safety on the roads is drink driving. There is much public concern about the inadequacy of the present law for dealing with drunk drivers who kill. The Government will meet this concern.
As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department announced last week a period of public consultation on possible changes to police powers to require breath tests. In this White Paper we propose to create a new offence of causing death by careless driving while unfit through drink, drugs or certain other forms of medical incapacity. The maximum penalty will be tough for this offence : five years' imprisonment, obligatory disqualification of at least two years, and an unlimited fine. There has been mounting concern about the mindless behaviour of vandals who drop objects from motorway bridges, endangering lives. We intend to clamp down on this kind of malicious hooliganism by creating a new criminal offence. There will be a maximum penalty of
Column 802seven years for those who endanger road users by intentionally obstructing a road or interfering with traffic signs and signals where they are, or ought to be, aware that personal injury or damage to property may result.
The surest way to reduce road casualties is to improve standards of driving. We are therefore proposing that certain categories of road traffic offender must pass a new, longer and more stringent driving test before a licence is restored following a period of disqualification. We shall introduce retesting on a phased basis, starting with those convicted of the most serious bad driving offences. Ultimately, the test could be extended to all drivers disqualified as a result of careless driving and other accident offences. The private sector will be encouraged to develop suitable training courses. We shall monitor progress closely and will seek powers, for use as necessary, to require instructors intending to offer retraining to be licensed specifically for that purpose. We propose to set up an experiment to see whether we can change the attitudes of drink drivers. Powers will be sought to allow the courts in selected areas to order those convicted of drink-driving offences to attend special rehabilitation courses.
The penalty point system has proved very successful. To make it even more effective, we intend to make certain changes. These include a new range of three to six penalty points for speeding offences dealt with by court proceedings, which will enable the courts to deal more effectively with the more serious cases. The maximum penalty for the offences of failure to stop and failure to report an accident will be increased to include six months' imprisonment.
Technology has an important role to play in the detection of certain traffic offences. The Government therefore intend to amend the law so that cameras can be used as sole evidence for speeding and traffic light offences. Safeguards will be provided to ensure that the equipment used is both accurate and reliable. We shall continue to monitor the development of enforcement technology in other areas of road traffic law and will consider allowing its wider use as and when equipment of sufficient accuracy and reliability becomes available.
The White Paper contains a wide variety of proposals to make road traffic law simpler and easier to understand in a variety of ways. Most of the proposals will apply throughout Great Britain. However, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is considering whether the new dangerous driving offence should extend to Scotland, where the present reckless driving offence has not given rise to the same problems of interpretation as in England and Wales.
The Government's proposals will bring about significant changes in statute and in the operation of road traffic law. Further work to implement the proposals will start as soon as possible. Specific recommendations in the North report have been drawn to the attention of the courts and the police, and consultations are being initiated with representative bodies of these organisations. Consultation will be undertaken with the local authority associations, motoring and other organisations on the detailed implementation of the proposals. Legislation will then be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time can be found.
Column 803This White Paper strengthens, modernises and clarifies road traffic law. I commend it to hon. Members on both sides of the House as a major contribution to the Government's drive to make Britain's roads safer still.
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : I welcome the White Paper and its proposals to improve our traffic law and road behaviour. I believe that it will reduce deaths from accidents, and the House and the country will welcome that.
May I offer our grateful thanks to Dr. North and his committee for their most thorough report. Whilst one would like to consider the full implications of the White Paper proposals, I am happy to endorse the broad thrust of them. Indeed, it will make the law more definitive and more uniform. The tougher penalties, with retraining and rehabilitation for drink drivers, are to be welcomed. The Secretary of State spoke about testing, retesting and retraining. I hope that he is prepared to increase the number of staff available to deal with training and testing because major difficulties are experienced at present. Like the Government, I reject some of Dr. North's recommendations, most notably that the penalty fine for an offence should cover administrative and court costs--in a sense, privatising the costs. I accept the Government's view that the fine should represent a punishment and a deterrent and should reflect the seriousness of the offence.
Will the Secretary comment on the proposals so obviously missing from the terms of reference and which make a major contribution to reducing drink- driving accidents--random breath tests which are carried out openly by some police authorities without the express agreement of Parliament, or the necessary protection that would be imposed? Does his statement and that of the Home Secretary last week mean that their proposals will be included in a new traffic Bill? Will random breath tests be included in that Bill, and when is such a Bill likely to come forward?
In substituting the offence of reckless driving for the two offences of dangerous driving and careless driving, will the advice given by police officers in exercising that judgment be publicly available and discussed by the House and by other interested parties?
The Secretary of State mentioned the use of technology such as videos and cameras as the sole evidence for prosecution. Is he quite convinced that technically they can be relied upon to be absolutely sound? I am sure that that problem will exercise many minds. Is the Secretary of State aware that, in extending the penalty points for speeding offences from three to six in the case of those who choose to go to court, he appears to be loading the case against citizens who exercise their right to have their cases heard in court instead of being dealt with by policemen on the spot? Is that not a penalty against one's right to pursue one's case through the courts? The Secretary of State accepted Dr. North's rejection of the suggestion that the courts should not be burdened with compensation issues related to traffic offences. Is he considering any other ways of dealing with that distressing and vexed question that is involved when one pursues a civil action?
Finally, will the conclusions of the experiment to be carried out in Scotland in relating fines to one's ability to
Column 804pay them--that is clearly against the Government's taxation policy whereby the rich do not pay--be included in the next traffic Bill to come before the House?
Mr. Channon : I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for his generous welcome to the thrust of the proposals. I shall try to deal with all the points that he raised, but if I omit any issues I shall be in touch with him. In regard to random breath testing, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced only a few days ago that there would be consultation. He has asked for the consultations to be completed by 30 April. Were it to be decided that changes in the law should take place, there is no reason to assume that they could not be fitted into a new traffic Bill. As to when such a Bill will be brought forward, the hallowed answer to such requests is "As soon as parliamentary time allows." [Interruption.] I note that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is pressing for the Government to be speedy, and I shall convey that to my ministerial colleagues.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East referred to technology. It is absolutely essential that the technology should be reliable and accurate. Equipment will be subject to rigorous testing. I shall have to approve devices and the equipment will be regularly maintained to prescribed standards. Of course I shall not approve a device unless I am satisfied that it is accurate and reliable. Obviously the House will wish to pay very close attention to that. Provided that standards can be met, it is clear that it is no longer a game on Britain's roads and we must have the most efficient way of catching offenders in order to reduce road accidents.
I note the hon. Gentleman's views on the question of the courts and speeding and I shall consider them. He will know that the position will not be changed enormously. At present, speeding incurs a level 3 fine of £400 and a discretionary disqualification of three penalty points. All that is suggested is that the three penalty points fixed penalty should remain, but that there will be a right to go up to six in court proceedings. We shall consider the hon. Gentleman's comments in the period before there is any suggestion of legislation. I shall also consider the other points he has made and be in touch with him.
Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his White Paper will gain general acceptance and a good welcome, but that the further extension, through the use of cameras, of the principle that a motorist or a keeper of a motor vehicle can be found guilty of an offence without the same burden of proof that would be required to find him guilty of any other form of offence is becoming a little worrying and that some of us may find it difficult to agree with him on that point?
Mr. Channon : I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's initial remarks. I know of the views expressed in the latter part of his remarks and that has, of course, given me some concern about whether to press ahead with the proposals. However, with 5,100 people still being killed on our roads--although our road safety figures are now the best for deaths since 1954--and 300,000 being injured, my view is that, provided we can have reliable equipment which is subject to rigorous testing and that it is used where improved enforcement can have the maximum effect on
Column 805accident reduction, it is in the public interest. There is bound to be controversy, and the House will wish to debate the matter at length.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : I too welcome the terms of the White Paper in principle, especially the attempt to fill the unhappy and sometimes distressing lacuna in our law which has meant that deaths in circumstances in which drink was taken were not always possible to deal with in a way that was satisfactory not only to the relations of those killed, but to the views of the public. That provision will be warmly welcomed.
I should like the Secretary of State to deal with one point that is perhaps more directly relevant to Scotland than elsewhere. He says that the Secretary of State for Scotland must consider whether the change in legislation for England and Wales is to apply in Scotland. The substantive road traffic law has always been the same throughout the United Kingdom, and if the Secretary of State were to take the view that that should not be the case, for the first time the law in Scotland on a matter of that nature would be different from the law in England and Wales. That would be a substantial departure in principle and one to which I hope the Secretary of State will give serious consideration.
Mr. Channon : I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his preliminary remarks and for what he has said about the new offence of causing death by drunken driving. The law in England and Wales is the same as the law in Scotland, but in Scotland the courts have interpreted the law in a wholly different way and there has not been the same difficulty of interpretation or the same rigorous suggestion that it depends on the state of the driver's mind. As I am advised by my Scottish colleagues, the law is working satisfactorily in Scotland. In those circumstances, they must decide whether they want to change it or to continue with the present satisfactory state of the law in Scotland. I shall convey what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said to my right hon. and learned Friend, but it is difficult to weigh up the two conflicting points.
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the further evidence of the Government's determination to cut down the appalling slaughter and injuries on our roads. I assure him that the White Paper will receive widespread support in the House. Does he agree that it will depend largely on driver co-operation and that that could be jeopardised if there is widespread suspicion about the use of photographic devices for speeding offences, especially if, at the same time, drivers are discouraged from challenging the offence in court because of the deterrent effect of extra penalty points? Would my right hon. Friend look at that matter carefully? Does the White Paper include any encouragement for regular eye testing, and if not will my right hon. Friend consider that?
Mr. Channon : Driver co-operation is extremely important. It is because there has been massive co-operation between the driving public and the authorities that in the past few years the driving accident rate has been coming down significantly, which is a different position from that in many other parts of the world. At one point in the past 10 years, deaths peaked at
Column 806about 6,800 per year ; they are now down to 5,100. The trend for the first three quarters of 1988 shows a further decline. There is no doubt that a combination of things, including driver co-operation, has led to that effect.
Of course, I shall consider my hon. Friend's point, but the thrust of the White Paper is that we should not penalise motorists who commit trivial offences from time to time--as I suspect many hon. Members do--but should punish those who seriously offend. I hope that the driving public does not think that this measure is designed to penalise those who make a trivial mistake from time to time.
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston : The review was set up following the report on road safety by the Select Committee on Transport in 1984-85. I welcome the report and am grateful to the Secretary of State for his letter today offering to meet the Select Committee to discuss it. On behalf of the Committee, may I say that we are all looking forward to that meeting.
As hon. Member after hon. Member has emphasised, the major factor in road safety is drinking and driving. As the introduction of random breath testing would do more than anything else to combat that problem, if the Secretary of State wants to save Government time, will he give Government support to the Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson)?
Mr. Channon : That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is consulting on it. I shall put the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to him but it would be odd to accept it when one is out for consultation on that subject. I am much looking forward to meeting the Select Committee--any place, any time.
Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough) : I join in the general congratulations given to my right hon. Friend for seeing that those who commit serious motoring offences have a corresponding penalty. When he is considering the range of penalty points, will he ensure that a degree of flexibility is allowed to magistrates so that those who are technically guilty of an offence do not suffer the heavy penalties of those who are guilty of dangerous or reckless driving?
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : I join the general welcome for the Secretary of State's proposals, especially those relating to retesting as a standard penalty for many traffic offences. Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibilty of retesting people solely on the theory of road practice, given that most drivers do not commit offences because they are not in control of the car, but because they ignore "The Highway Code"? Retesting on the theory of "The Highway Code" as opposed to a full driving test could be introduced quickly over a whole range of driving offences, and for all but the least serious.
Mr. Channon : The hon. Gentleman has reminded me--the House may already know--that we are going to produce a new highway code in the not- too-distant future. The present one has been in operation for about seven years, so it is about time that we had a new one. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the retesting proposals. We shall introduce a new extensive driving test for certain categories of offender. Although we
Column 807shall start with those convicted of the most serious offences, we have not ruled out the idea of extending the testing later to include other categories, if that becomes justified. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the severe problems caused by bus doors that catch limbs and clothing, dragging people along and causing nasty accidents? Is there anything in the White Paper on that, or has my right hon. Friend anything further to add? I remind him that it is now more than eight months since my constituent, Mrs. Ethel Dunne, met with precisely that type of accident which severely disabled her. Can my right hon. Friend offer any hope to my constituent and others like her?
Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be making an announcement about this in the not-too-distant future. He is having discussions with the Bus and Coach Council on that point. I believe I am right in saying that that matter is more relevant to the debate that follows, but, generally, the number of accidents involving buses is going down rather than up. My hon. Friend has raised an important constituency case and my hon. Friend will contact her about it. Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. I have on obligation to take account of the motions on the Order Paper. There is to be a debate on transport in which these matters could be raised. I shall allow questions to continue for a further 15 minues, but then we must move on.
Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy) : I wholeheartedly welcome the proposals in the White Paper and , therefore, I am sorry to have to introduce a slightly discordant note. I am surprised that there is not recognition in the Minister's statement of the European Commission's suggestion that blood alcohol levels should be reduced from a maximum of 80 to 50. Would the Minister give that serious consideration when he brings forward legislation?
Mr. Channon : Of course, if the Commission proposes such a limit-- which I believe it is considering--we shall have to give it serious consideration. However, I would very much like this House to express a view about that suggestion rather than accept blindly what the Commission wants. I am not necessarily opposed to it,but--
Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point. Lane discipline in this country is not nearly satisfactory enough, especially when compared with that in many other countries. It is largely a problem of the education and the training of drivers, and I fear that it will take years to change that position. We are, of course,
Column 808examining what can be done about it, but it is by no means easy to give a direct answer. I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : The Secretary of State has referred to the retraining of offenders after the event, which is most commendable. However, does he agree that perhaps it is just as advisable to improve the standards of motoring before the event? Does he not commend the work of such organisations as the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents? Could he not further encourage their work by encouraging more insurance companies to offer motorists reduced premiums for the acquisition of an advanced motoring award?
Mr. Channon : The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. I certainly commend the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents for their excellent work not only in this but in other areas. The hon. Gentleman's point about insurance companies and their premiums is correct. We are in contact with insurance companies about a range of road safety matters. They are doing their best to help in this area, especially General Accident, to give but one example.
I believe that retraining will be welcomed by the House, but it is important to cut down road casualties generally. As I have said, the number of road casualties is on a downward trend--the situation is better here than anywhere else in the Community--but it is still far too high. I do not wish to sound complacent, because I am not. I am determined to reduce the number further. We must, however, set the results in their context. Quite a lot has been done about improving driving standards already.
Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden) : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on this major step forward in road safety? The introduction of a new dangerous driving offence, the penalties that he is proposing for drink driving and especially--this has not been mentioned so far--the penalties for failure to stop will be excellent in creating a better road safety environment. However, will he accept my strong recommendation that he should reconsider--I say this after 20 years in the tyre industry--more sensible and sane tyre tread depth legislation which would save lives by giving cars a better grip of the roads?
Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his initial remarks. Driving with illegal tyres is already an offence. We are always happy to consider research evidence on what the legal tyre tread depth should be. I know that my hon. Friend has strong views about the matter. We shall continue examining tyre tread depth in the light of the evidence produced to us.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on the proposal that he has brought forward today and welcome the Government's commitment to reducing the number of accidents, injuries and deaths on our roads and their determination to tackle drunken driving. Northern Ireland has had breath testing for a long time. It is accepted and it is proving effective in dissuading people from drinking and driving. However, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to discuss with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how at the same time we in Northern Ireland can benefit from the new proposals?
Mr. Channon : I shall do as the hon. Gentleman suggests. It is not a matter for me, but I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman's wish to have many of the provisions incorporated in Northern Ireland legislation.
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the public have long felt that we have not been nearly harsh enough with serious offenders, such as the drunken drivers who kill and those who drive without insurance or after disqualification, and that far less serious offenders are often penalised unreasonably? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the proposals are not too draconian for the average driver, the person who is human who commits an offence occasionally but who by and large is a good citizen on the roads?
Mr. Channon : Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The general thrust of the White Paper and Dr. North's proposals is that the bad driver should be punished more severely while the driver who makes the odd mistake should, if anything, receive more warnings than he does at present. We are talking about a comparatively small number of offences caused by bad drivers. From memory, there were about 8.9 million motoring offences in 1987, the latest year for which we have figures, and of those only 30,000 were tried on indictment, which must have been the most serious cases. That is a small proportion of the generality of motoring offences, but my hon. Friend is right.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : Is the Secretary of State aware that there are varying views on the advisability of introducing random breath testing, thus extending the powers of the police? Would it not be far better to reduce the blood alcohol level and to introduce a system of disqualification for five years for the first offence, with no chance of having one's licence returned early, and disqualification for life for the second offence, with no chance of one's licence being returned? Will the right hon. Gentleman give further consideration to his decision to introduce three new offences for which a term of imprisonment is to be considered? It does not make sense to have a term of imprisonment of five years for an offence for which the term of disqualification is only two years. Those two do not go together and the Secretary of State has not thought that out properly.
Mr. Channon : With respect, I have thought the matter out, and, more importantly, so has Dr. North. The White Paper gives the maximum term of imprisonment, not the length that the courts will usually impose. This applies only to the worst cases. The obligatory disqualification for causing death by dangerous driving will be a minimum of two years and could be more. That is merely expressed in a different way. The hon. Gentleman need not be worried that there is any inconsistency. I am only too well aware that there are differing views on random testing, and it will be interesting to see the result of the consultations. The House and the Government will soon have to take a view on the blood alcohol level.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : My right hon. Friend's proposals are welcome, but will he re-emphasise the importance of not allowing the law to become too bureaucratic, thus alienating the citizen? Will he, alongside
Column 810the proposals, further encourage the motor manufacturers to produce vehicles that are not only crime proof but have safety features to prevent road accidents?
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Does the Secretary of State accept that the use of good quality, accurate cameras to catch those who cause carnage on the road is as justifiable as their use in catching people who rob banks? What is the estimated cost to the economy of the 100 deaths a week on the road? It must run to millions of pounds. Could the money that is saved be used for a large scale programme of small engineering works at road junctions?
Mr. Channon : That is the estimated cost, but in fact the costs are far higher than that. The estimated cost is £500,000 per death. If the hon. Gentleman cares to multiply that by 5,125 he will quickly get the answer. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support on the question of cameras. He shares my view, and I hope that that will be accepted by the House.
Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham) : Would my right hon. Friend comment on the growing menace of so-called couriers, particularly in London, who weave in and out of the traffic, appearing to consider themselves above the law? How effective will my right hon. Friend's proposals be in dealing with them?
Mr. Channon : Couriers are subject to the law just as much as anybody else, and if they are caught by the police breaking the law they can be prosecuted in the same way as any other driver. I am not sure whether there are any additional proposals, but if my hon. Friend has any ideas, we shall certainly consider them.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : I support the broad thrust of the proposals, but may I enter a caveat? If cameras are placed on motorways while we have a 70 mph limit there will be severe bunching of vehicles. If cameras are to go on motorways, that limit should be increased to 80 mph because of the danger of many additional accidents.
Mr. Channon : I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. If we were to increase the speed limit to 80 mph it would increase the number of deaths on the motorways and the bunching would just occur at the higher figure. Cameras on motorways would be particularly useful at contraflows where there is twice as much danger as where the motorway is clear and where it is important that people should obey the limits. Most cameras will be used at places such as red lights in cities where the maximum effect can be obtained.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : My right hon. Friend suggests that the introduction of the new camera speed guns can save hundreds of lives a year. Will he give us an assurance that he will try to have that new technology in widespread use in Britain within two years?
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Home Office consultation on random breath testing offers two extreme options--either the status quo, or to go the whole hog and for the police to have unfettered discretion to stop and breathalyse anyone at any time? Will he consider the provisions of the private Member's Bill that I shall be introducing on 24 February which would enable the Secretary of State for Transport to make regulations which would provide for the principle of random checks, properly regulated in a way that would deter drunken driving while protecting civil liberties?
Mr. Channon : The hon. Gentleman's Bill is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and, as I said earlier, I shall draw his attention to the remarks that have been made today. However, my right hon. Friend is seeking to carry out a genuine consultation process and that will not be over until the end of April. It is difficult to expect the Government to come to a conclusion before the consultation period is over. However, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be particularly welcome to the Guild of Experienced Motorists, of which I have the honour to be president, which has urged for some time the implementation of the North report? I welcome any attempt to crack down on the drunken motorist, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that four out of five accidents are caused not by drink but by motorists driving too fast too close behind another vehicle? Some of the worst offenders are the heavy goods vehicle drivers whose conduct on the M11 and M25 in the fog earlier this year was nothing short of scandalous. Will my right hon. Friend's proposals do something to rectify that menace?
Column 812caused by drunken driving is a high proportion and is equivalent to about 1,000 people being killed annually, and we are trying to do something about that.
I shall keep the problem of heavy goods vehicles closely under review. Their safety record has been getting better, but I shall none the less examine what my hon. Friend has said.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : What my right hon. Friend says is widely accepted, but why does he set his face against revising the basic driving test, and why is a secondary test not implemented particularly for towing caravans and horse boxes, where the number of accidents is increasing, to ensure that those who take these lethal weapons on the roads are competent to do so?
Mr. Channon : I assure my hon. Friend that we have not closed our minds to reviewing the contents of the driving test, and we shall keep the matter constantly under review. Suggestions that come, alas, once again from the European Community may insist on harmonisation requirements. We shall have to consider that. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall keep all the components of the driving test under review and change it if necessary.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : I am sure that the general reaction to my right hon. Friend's announcement about the taking of stricter measures against those who kill when drunk will be "About time too", but will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in addition to a longer period of disqualification, there will be a requirement for a test to be taken again before those people ever drive again?
Mr. Channon : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We shall have retesting of those who have committed the worst offences, and we are considering extending retesting further. Certainly the purpose will be to retest those who are convicted of very bad driving offences. I think that that will be generally welcomed. A longer and more extensive driving test will not be altogether easy to pass. Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, I asked question No. 12 during today"s Question Time, but, because of the noise from the Conservative Benches behind the Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport was unable to hear my supplementary question. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, through your good offices, to inquire of the Minister whether he would give me an answer to my supplementary question? I also wish to raise with you, knowing that you have such a difficult job, especially at Prime Minister's Question Time, the question whether Conservative Members should refrain from defending their Ministers and instead be more concerned about the defence of the nation.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Let us have a bit of balance here. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) put a question to the Secretary of State for Transport and everybody on this side of the House heard him read the question. Nobody stopped him or cared too much about it. However, in the hurly-burly of Question Time, just before the Prime Minister answered questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) was subjected to abuse. Quite frankly, the rule ought to be the same for everybody.
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is always helpful, has drawn attention to an important matter. It is not in order for hon. Members to read their questions. It is a practice that causes hon. Members on both sides of the House to challenge hon Members who do so. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman further. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) was not reading his question, but was referring to notes. Mr. Meale : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand the rules of the House, it is in order to use copious notes during the course of a debate. I was using copious notes because I wished to put a specific and technical question to the Minister.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the exchanges on the important matter of transportation you said that those who were unfortunate enough not to be called would be able to take part in the debate immediately following questions. Is that at all possible, Mr. Speaker, or was that a way of saying, "Do not keep persevering ; you may or may not be called during the later debate"?