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Column 1084make their intentions clear. They have already said that they understand the problems of islanders, and have promised to consult on that point. However, the Government must give specific answers. If that is not done, the situation will become impossible for many young people in rural areas, many of whom have low incomes.
A motor cycle provides the young man living in a rural area with the only reasonable method of getting around, but it could become an impracticable option--especially if the cost of the test is prohibitive. The hon. Member for Deptford was right to ask about that aspect. I heard that the cost might be nearer £25. Even so, that is a large sum of money for a young man living in a rural area who has already laid out money for his motor cycle.
I am very bothered by those aspects. I hope that the Government will grant exemptions of the kind that I have described. My hon. Friend the Minister might reflect on the fact that many young men in rural areas in particular learn to ride motor bikes at 10 or 12 years of age. My own sons could ride a motor bike around my farm like demons when they were aged about 10. Many young men in the country learn to ride off the roads and are perfectly competent. They have much greater opportunities to learn the basics of riding a motor cycle than do young people in the towns. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to respond sympathetically to the points that I have made.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : The clauses dealing with the proposed unified driver licensing system are sensible enough. However, I note that there were two substantial debates in another place on amendments relating to eye testing of drivers. Substantial arguments were made for requiring regular eye checks for older drivers and for extra resources to be made available for research into how many road accidents are attributable to bad eyesight with a view to amending driver licensing legislation the next time around.
My belief, based on personal experience and on private anecdote, is that regular eye tests are an important factor in road safety in respect of older drivers. I am sorry that the Minister in another place was not more forthcoming. I hope that, before the Bill reaches the statute book, the Department will be able to say that more resources will be made available for research. I note also that we shall have to return to this subject in the comparatively near future, because of the European harmonisation programme and the regular system of consultation with our European partners. Several member states have more stringent eye tests in the granting of driving licences than we have. We shall inevitably be compelled to return to that aspect in 1991, if not before.
I welcome those provisions of the Bill that deal with the training of motor cyclists. I recognise, as do all right hon. and hon. Members, that motor cycling can be exceedingly dangerous and that a motor cyclist is 14 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than the driver of a motor car. That was brought home to me when I was a duty Minister in Northern Ireland about nine years ago. One weekend, nine motor cyclists were killed on the roads of Northern Ireland. Had nine residents of Northern Ireland been killed in a terrorist attack, on Monday afternoon there would have been a statement in the House and everyone would have expressed concern. But because
Column 1085those killed were just motor cyclists, no one bothered about them, and those deaths were barely reported this side of the Irish sea. I welcome also the Bill's provisions for training. It is ludicrous that we have gone for so many years without making any requirement for training motor cyclists. However, I would not place too much store by this measure. About 45 years ago, in the Army, I was given excellent training by former TT riders. We learned to ride faster than otherwise we would have done, and very exhilarating it was. However, I am not sure that we became much safer riders.
The Bill's provisions will result in a cut in the number of casualties, but I attach more importance to the proposals, to which my hon. Friend the Minister has referred before, for limiting the engine size of motor cycles that young, inexperienced riders can use. My hon. Friend referred to limiting engine capacity to 400 cc for riders with only two years' experience. I hope that a measure will soon be introduced giving force to that recommendation. However, in that respect we are being held back by European consultations, because not all our EEC partners agree on that proposal, which has been around very much longer than our membership of the Community. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to confirm that action will be taken.
I welcome also the Government's proposals for autoguide, which is an exciting and important potential development. I notice that the Government say that the system will have to be linked to an urban traffic control centre and that the pilot scheme will take place in London. I hope that means that we shall soon have a proper urban traffic control centre in London, because one of the glaring deficiencies in London at the moment is the absence at the highest level of a London traffic management unit. I hope that the introduction of this autoguide pilot scheme will mean that we shall soon have a traffic management unit at a high level.
The great majority of drivers will certainly not have autoguide before the end of the century. I hope that more effort will be devoted to warning ordinary motorists about road works which may lie in their path. Earlier this afternoon, I drove up the M3 from a meeting in Southampton ; warning signs about road works ahead were admirable in size and placing, and motorists were warned well in advance of any problems that lay ahead.
In London, in the course of last week, I wasted more than an hour in traffic jams that were caused by road works, for which absolutely no warning was given in time for motorists to take evasive action. I hope that the Department of Transport will take this matter seriously, because it affects traffic flow in London.
It would be churlish not to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the fact that road traffic casualties have reached a record low for 34 years. I do not always agree with my hon. Friend on these issues, but he has done a great deal to raise the political visibility of this issue. The Bill is another small step towards improving road safety. I hope that, in the next Session, a much bigger Bill will be introduced to implement the sensible recommendations of the North report and the Government's White Paper.
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Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill, which contains some extremely valuable proposals. With regard to part I, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that the road freight industry is entirely in favour of the change to a unified system. Even if that had not been a requirement of the European Commission--a directive laid down for us to follow--we would have been wise to get rid of our present system and adopt the system proposed in the Bill. The present system is extremely confusing, and can be described as an anachronism. The new system will be an improvement for employers and drivers because it will make life simpler for them and improve their relationship.
We should consider a number of consequences which flow from the change. The licence system for heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles will be brought into line. There is nothing in the Bill about how the provision for medicals will operate. As I understand it, that will be incorporated in regulations. It would be helpful if, when winding up, my hon. Friend the Minister said a word or two about the system of medicals, which is important for drivers. The changes that implement the first European Community directive--the proposals in the Bill--can be related to the further draft directive debated in the House on Tuesday. During that debate, concern was rightly expressed about a requirement for a new threshold requiring drivers of minibuses used by voluntary groups to be tested, and for there to be a requirement to obtain a licence to drive public service vehicles.
The new draft directive also requires a change in the threshold from the present 7.5 metric tonnes to 3.5 tonnes for heavy goods vehicles. Identical concern has been expressed by those who operate smaller goods vehicles, and this is something we should consider when talking about the proposals that are incorporated in the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take as vigorous a view on that point as he has said he will on many other matters in the second draft directive. If implemented, the change would double the number of drivers needing heavy vehicle tests and put an additional strain on resources. We must ask--as with so many other issues-- whether that is justified in road safety terms. Is this merely a matter of harmonisation which in itself is good only if it achieves a valuable objective? The consequences of that change will be much more severe in Britain than in other Community member states.
All organisations--as I do--welcome the proposal for training motor cyclists. A report recently published by the Institute of Motorcycling entitled "Characteristics of Urban Motor Cycle Accidents" has just come to my notice. It draws some interesting conclusions.
My hon. Friend the Minister conceded that other road users were sometimes to blame for accidents. It is interesting to note, that on the basis of the 9,600 accidents in the Greater London area investigated by the researchers, 62 per cent. of accidents involving motor cycles, mopeds and scooters were primarily caused by other road user groups.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : That does not wash. It is about that proportion of accidents that involve another vehicle. It is incredible to believe that every one of the crashes and collisions is the fault of other vehicles. The plain truth is
Column 1087that some vehicles do turn right without their drivers making the life-saving check in the mirror to see whether a motor cyclist is overtaking. At T-junctions drivers look left and right, do not notice a motor cycle and pull out in its path. However, that is only one part of it. It is easier to find examples--especially in urban areas-- of motor cyclists taking action which does not allow other motorists a chance to escape unscathed. I think that what we need to deal with is mutual risk-taking. I hope that my hon Friend will forgive me, but he was saying something that has been said by a number of motor cyclists--a diminishing number, I hope.
Mr. Waller : My hon. Friend interrupted me before I was able to qualify what I was saying. I certainly maintain that a large proportion of accidents are caused primarily by other road users. Of course, by riding defensively motor cyclists can sometimes, perhaps often, avoid accidents that would otherwise be caused by the actions of other road users ; an experienced rider will be able to anticipate those actions and thus escape disaster.
I urge my hon. Friend to read the report. The research was carefully carried out and shows that 35 per cent. of accidents were caused by motor cyclists themselves. The findings are based on statistics from the Metropolitan police, and I do not think that we should ignore the report's conclusion that, at the very least, a substantial proportion of accidents involving motor cyclists are attributable primarily to other road users. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue his Department's efforts to make those road users more aware of motor cyclists. At one time leaflets were included with car licences--
Mr. Waller : I am glad that the practice continues. Because of the nature of their machines, motor cyclists are peculiarly vulnerable. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has listened to what motor cycle organisations have to say. That goes for the British Motorcyclists Federation and for the Motorcycle Action Group, which is not always kindly disposed to my hon. Friend : indeed, the way in which it has directed some of its diatribe at him has been very regrettable. I welcome my hon. Friend's willingness to consider again such matters as leg guards. His attitude contrasts with many motor cyclists' picture of a Department that is deaf to any representations that it may receive.
I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) about aspects of the training system. We need to be satisfied that training facilities will be adequate to meet demand, and also that arrangements will be made to ensure that training standards are high enough. All motor cyclists will of course be required to undergo and complete a training course, but I wonder what would happen if a trainee, having completed the course, nevertheless gave indications of unsuitability to ride safely on the roads. There seems to be no requirement for a test to be passed at that stage.
There is also the practical difficulty, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, of the motor cyclist who needs to get to the training centre. Often suppliers of new machines will arrange for the machines to be delivered to the centre,
Column 1088which is a responsible approach, but many motor cycles are bought second hand and dealers may not be able to deliver them, especially if long distances are involved.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the MOT test exemption. If the keeper of a vehicle needs to get it to the testing centre, because in such circumstances he may not possess a tax disc, special provision is made. That demonstrates that a certain amount of flexibility has been used in the past to deal with practical difficulties. To deal with another such difficulty, it could perhaps be arranged for the trainer to meet the new possessor of a motor cycle somewhere other than the training centre and to accompany him to it. In any event, I hope that further thought will be given to the problem, which will no doubt apply to many new motor cyclists. Like my right hon. Friend, I do not wish to put any obstacle in the way of those who are keen to embark on motor cycling, as I share his enthusiasm.
Mr. Jopling : I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, but I do not think that that last suggestion would work. If two young men wished to attend a training centre and each was more than 20 miles from it, for someone to collect them individually would involve a round trip of 40 miles. That really is not a runner, particularly late at night.
Mr. Waller : My right hon. Friend has a point, although I do not imagine that such a problem will arise in the case of all participants. A certain amount of flexibility would help the minority who may have a problem.
Autoguide is a welcome development. I think that it will be particularly helpful to motorists who are unfamiliar with an area, especially in overseas countries. I hope that it will be possible to obtain a measure of co-operation from other countries--perhaps through the European Community-- to ensure compatibility and interchangeability of roadside and car equipment.
There is no doubt that autoguide is not a solution to the problems of congestion. Like many others, I believe that an expansion and acceleration of the road programme must be an important facet of our approach to the problem--which, as we know, costs the country many billions of pounds a year through the companies that operate within it. Nevertheless, autoguide can play its part. It is, of course, only one of many current developments ; another is the digital radio system, which I am sure will be used in the next few years by many more drivers than have access to autoguide.
Autoguide, however, has the great benefit of being an automatic and interactive system. It does not necessarily require information to be fed into it, involving the intervention of individuals, as is required for announcements to be given out to motorists through the digital radio system. It is one way in which we can approach the solution of many problems which cost this country dear each year and it should, therefore, be pursued.
I regret the rather negative approach of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) to autoguide. She is, of course, right to say that we have to pursue other solutions as well and I agree that autoguide is not the only answer. But that should not preclude us from seeking a system which has a great deal of novelty and value. The hon. Lady was concerned about rat runs. I understand that the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the two consortia involved are very
Column 1089much aware of that concern and are determined that they will not go in for rat runs as a way of enabling motorists to avoid congested areas. We should turn our faces against the idea that one should introduce rat runs through residential areas.
Ms. Ruddock : Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House how it is possible to avoid creating rat runs in residential areas, as most people in London live in areas where there is a great deal of overcrowding already and autoguide will transfer many people from one road to another? In theory, at least, it is difficult to see how one would not create new rat runs by that procedure.
Mr. Waller : To the best of my knowledge, the consortia are determined that they will not adopt that approach. It is important that we should not allow the scheme to be strangled by red tape. Although we should be aware of the problems and difficulties, we should not allow a preoccupation with bureaucracy to prevent it from taking its place within a reasonable time scale.
The hon. Lady said that she regretted that we were not adopting an integrated transport system at this stage. To me, such a system involves direction rather than choice and that is the difference between the approaches of our two parties to transport. It is interesting to note that, although the Labour Government gave themselves powers to direct freight transport operators, they did not use those powers. Powers of direction are often quite impracticable, however much one may like to theorise about them. The Government are in favour of giving choice to the consumer of transport services. Nevertheless, it is the task of Government to provide the framework in which road transport is safer and more convenient, so that individuals can exercise their choice in a way that is more satisfactory to themselves. The Bill meets those criteria and I welcome it warmly.
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : I was intrigued to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say that 1989 would be the year of the sign. He should be aware that motorists, especially angry motorists, are capable of more than one kind of sign and, in his experience and mine, many of them have been directed at the Minister for Roads and Traffic. It would be interesting to know just what the year of the sign will entail. If we are talking about driver information services, a great deal of anger is caused when the road- signing system appears to break down. It would be helpful to know about the programme that will be of benefit to motorists during the year of the sign. I very much welcome the Bill and the constructive approach from the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) and the Opposition. Despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) found the hon. Lady's approach rather negative, I thought that it was fairly positive. She brought to the Dispatch Box an element of charm, a weapon not often deployed by the principal Opposition spokesman on transport, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I expect that she will be more successful than he is at persuading the House of the merits of the case. However, when she talked about the autoguide system, she was on somewhat dubious ground, first weeping
Column 1090crocodile tears for the poor motorists caught in traffic jams every day. She then said that she hoped that autoguide would not be a means of attracting more motorists into the capital or other cities. But presumably the object of autoguide is to avoid congestion and to make life easier for motorists, in that they will not be so frustrated. The hon. Lady is trying to have it both ways. If autoguide works--and we hope it will--it will undoubtedly make life better for motorists and perhaps will attract more of them into cities. The hon. Lady must make up her mind whether she espouses the policy of discouraging motorists through congestion or the policy of helping them by making their lives easier.
Ms. Ruddock : The hon. Member will know that whenever there is an easing of congestion it attracts more motorists. If motorists perceive that autoguide will give them a smoother passage, they may exercise the choice about which hon. Members have spoken and instead of making the journey by public transport, which they may perceive to be slightly difficult, they may decide to make the journey by car because of autoguide. That point must be taken on board.
Mr. Moate : The hon. Lady is simply repeating the dilemma, but she has not solved the problem. Autoguide is designed to make life easier for motorists. She is either for or against. I choose to believe that she is in favour of it, judging by her fairly constructive remarks. I went to see the autoguide experiment at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I went in a sceptic, but came out an enthusiast. I want to pay a compliment to the laboratory. It is not often that Government establishments are complimented on the work they do. The laboratory has produced a scheme that is admirable because it is technically advanced. The cost of applying autoguide even to the whole of Greater London seems to be relatively small in capital terms and the system could become available to motorists in a relatively short time scale. It is practical and economical and could contribute greatly to reducing traffic delays, journey times and costs. It is a welcome development and it is also an exportable system which will bring valuable benefits for this country. Equally, it is not a panacea and it is not meant to be. It is simply one method of easing the problems of motorists.
This country has not yet realised that congestion has nothing to do with party politics or the success or failure of past or present transport policies. This country has not taken on board the scale of congestion we shall face in years to come. If we look at the forecast growth in vehicle traffic on roads for the next few years, not just in the number of vehicles but in the extent of the usage of those vehicles, we ain't seen nothing yet. Our streets will become grossly more congested and none of us has yet come up with the method of tackling the problem, whether in London and our other cities or in our smaller towns. Some pretty painful nettles will have to be grasped in the years ahead. For the moment, we should welcome autoguide, as it will undoubtedly be of help, it will work and it could turn out to be most popular.
The next aspect of the Bill to which I shall turn is uncontentious, but of considerable importance to the motorist. This is not an insignificant or unimportant Bill. The driving licence, for example, carried in 31 million pockets, wallets and handbags, is precious to all motorists. If one tries to take it away from a motorist, one realises
Column 1091how precious it is to him. The format of that driving licence is almost as important and delicate a matter as the format of the passport, which is another contentious matter. Like many others, I deeply regret the passing of our old driving licence, that rather nice, maroon, stiff-covered document that could be tucked away and did not become too tatty. It was replaced by a rather tatty green bit of paper in an awkward plastic container. I believe that the newest licences are pink, but mine is green. They are tatty, bureaucratic pieces of paper.
I welcome in principle a unified licence and a common format for Europe and for the whole world. However, the international driving licence never caught on. A unified driving licence would have great advantages, but I plead for a return to a decent format. We should persuade Europe to adopt a driving licence that drivers would be proud to carry rather than these poor, tatty pieces of paper. Alas, if one has to produce them too often or if one has to have them endorsed too often they soon become very tatty indeed.
On the question of a common format and a unified licence, I understand that it is difficult to endorse the licence of foreign drivers. It is vital, therefore, in the interests of justice, fairness and of the irate victims of foreign drivers that there should be powers to deal promptly with foreign drivers, including the confiscation of their licence, if necessary. I hope that the Minister will say what powers the courts will have to take stringent action against foreign motorists and the drivers of heavy goods vehicles from the continent who infringe our laws and are involved in accidents. Our powers to deal with them are limited.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) referred to eye tests. The Bill provides for more stringent medical tests for the drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles. However, I am not clear about how much more stringent the tests will be. That should be spelt out, either now or in Committee. Millions of people need a driving licence for their job. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the requirement that drivers of heavy goods vehicles must have a medical test is to be extended to the drivers of smaller, lighter vehicles- -3.5 tonnes as against 7.5 tonnes. How many more people will be affected by the new requirement? If they are to be required to have regular medical checks, that is an important matter for them. We ought to be told about the scale of a change of that significance.
Mr. Waller : In case there is any doubt about the matter, I can assure my hon. Friend that the proposed change will take place only if the second draft directive of the European Commission is implemented. However, there would be a knock-on effect if it were to be implemented in that form. It would have an effect on the medical examinations that are provided for in the Bill.
Mr. Moate : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has made an important point. A number of draft directives affect our licensing procedures. We are entitled to know what chance we have of persuading the European Community to adopt our point of view about minibus and heavy goods vehicle licences and other matters. If we are not successful in persuading the Community, what powers do we have to resist the directives? If we have no power to resist, is it inevitable that these changes will be made? They
Column 1092are not necessarily bad and they are not necessarily wrong, but the implications for British drivers ought to be spelt out.
I do not believe that regular medical tests or eye tests are against the interests of the motorist. They are designed not to hinder but to help him. If the driver of a heavy goods vehicle has regular eye tests, the intention is not to push him off the road but to ensure that he wears glasses, if he needs to do so, or has adjustments made to his glasses. The tests are designed to help drivers to stay on the road without causing accidents.
The Minister knows that I have strongly urged the introduction of regular eye tests for motorists. I should like such a provision to be included in the Bill. However, the Minister and his Department have been somewhat sceptical about eye tests. Their case is that there is no evidence that a significant number of accidents have been caused by poor eyesight. However, one knows from experience that that is wrong. Police forces have carried out eye tests. They believe that bad eyesight causes accidents. A strong case has been made out for regular sight tests.
I am delighted that a few days ago Swinton Insurance--one of the largest motor insurance brokers in the country that arranges insurance for about 1 million motorists--announced that it had issued a notice to all its motorists saying that they ought to have regular eye tests, otherwise they would be in danger of invalidating their insurance.
Stringent Government action would not be needed and it would not involve them in any expense. All that the Government need to do is to encourage the British Insurance Brokers Association to tell all motorists that they are in danger of invalidating their insurance policies if they do not have frequent medical and eye tests. That would help the Minister in the tremendous campaign that he has waged so consistently over the years to reduce the number of accidents on the roads.
While I have been a Member of Parliament I have spoken in debates on various transport Bills. Each time we have referred to new tests for motor cyclists. However, we have not achieved the desired objective. There is to be another requirement. I hope that it will work. I have been visited by groups of motor cyclists in my constituency. We have disagreed from time to time about crash helmets and other related matters, but generally speaking they have adoped a responsible attitude and have been very responsive. I hope that if new tests are to be introduced we can give to motor cyclists the message that training facilities will be made available for them. It would be frustrating to impose restrictions that caused long delays and made it difficult for new motor cyclists to obtain a licence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) was a member of the Cabinet when these groups of people came to see me. That helped me greatly. They thought that Conservatives do not like motor cycles and never ride them, but I was able to tell them that the Minister of Agriculture rode a motor cycle. That was a very persuasive argument. Unfortunately, I do not agree with my right hon. Friend that it is an exhilarating experience. I tried it only once. I thought that I was using the brake, but it turned out to be the throttle and I ended up in a rose bush. It was all very painful. Four wheels are very much safer than two. However, I accept that many people gain much satisfaction from riding
Column 1093motor cycles. If we are to introduce regulations that affect motor cyclists, we must ensure that improved training facilities are provided for them.
My hon. Friend the Minister wandered slightly away from the provisions of the Bill. Perhaps I may do so also. He referred to his general policy for transport in London. We have talked a great deal about congestion. Much emphasis has been placed on the rail study. The Government assume that that is the last word to be said about new railway services in London. I do not believe in an integrated transport system. It never works. We shall make a serious mistake if we believe that these rail proposals are the last word.
One part of London directly affects my constituency in Kent, but there are no Underground services in south-east London. The rail study said virtually nothing about easing the congestion on the roads and on British Rail by providing new Underground services to that part of our capital city. It deliberately ignored that matter and argued that its brief and remit did not extend to trying to relieve congestion on the roads, that it was simply a matter of trying to ease the existing congestion on the central railway line. I hope that my hon. Friend will very soon tell us a little more about what studies the Government intend to launch into the question of extending the Underground rail system to other parts of London to reduce some of the congestion, which is massive at present but will increase in intensity in years to come.
With those remarks, I welcome the Bill very much. I am glad that it appears to have the support of all parts of the House.
The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) talked very effectively about the difficulties in rural areas. Like him, we are particularly concerned about the provision of training centres. It is very clear that young people in these areas need motor cycles. We all know that there is often a lack of public transport suitable for getting a younger person, for example, to a first job, so a motor bike becomes essential to that young person's future. I think the hon. Member referred only to young men. These days, many young women too want to use that cheaper form of transport to help them have a reasonable life in rural areas. I reiterate that the Minister should not begin this scheme unless he can assure us that there will be sufficient centres and that everyone, no matter where he or she lives, will have a choice as to mode of transportation, where that is not in direct conflict--as, in this case, it certainly is not--with community interests as a whole.
It is particularly important that the training proposals be supported. As I said earlier, Opposition Members are very much in favour of mandatory training for motor bike users. However, I am sympathetic to the points that were raised by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about how a young person might be enabled to take the test on his own machine. That is desirable, but
Column 1094within the provision at the moment it would seem to be very difficult. I hope the Minister will be able to help us on that point.
The question of eye tests and the possibility that they will become more stringent was raised. By introducing charges for eyesight tests, the Government have created a particular disincentive to people doing the best for their own eyesight, and we are very fearful that more stringent, difficult and lengthy tests would attract even higher fees.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) expressed regret about the lack of an urban traffic control centre. I reiterate that what this capital city needs is a strategic planning authoritiy. Nothing will deal with the present chaos unless we can plan strategically and take account of all possible modes of transportation and all possible solutions to the problems that we encounter.
The question of roadworks and the difficulties that people have in circumventing them was raised. That is bound to bring to the Minister's attention just what will be the nature of the roadworks involved in the provision of the autoguide scheme itself. They might be considerable, but we ought to know. Let me reiterate what we are in favour of. We are very much in favour of the harmonisation of the licensing scheme ; we are very much in favour of better training for motor bike users ; and, of course, we support the Minister in everything he does to bring forward measures to improve road safety. Equally, we reserve our right to be critical of measures which come in isolation--autoguide is an example--when other methods and other measures might produce even better results.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) appeared to support our case that, because of the potential immense growth in car ownership and usage, we can solve these problems only by greater and better provision of public transport.
As I said at the outset, we believe that, while autoguide may be very useful in other parts of Britain, there is no justification for piloting it in London as though it might provide a real solution to London's transportation chaos. I suspect that the results will be marginal. I have yet to encounter in London a road that does not have a lot of traffic, and I believe that the possible problems and risks are very considerable. I know that my consituents in south London will be extremely concerned at the possible creation of rat runs--a question which I believe has not been dealt with adequately in this debate, though I have great hopes for the Minister's response, which is about to come. Perhaps he will tell us specifically whether autoguide routes can be restricted to A and B roads. If so, he will put a somewhat different complexion on these proposals and on the information that I gave him, which I believe came from a meeting involving GEC--a member of one of the consortia--which stated categorically that it would not be profitable if only A and B routes in London could be used.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : By leave of the House, I thank all Members who have taken part in this debate. Their contributions may make matters easier. It may make it easier to prepare for the Committee stage to have some of the detailed points available and ready. I shall do what I can now to answer many of them.
I am rather surprised that there are no Liberal or SDP Members here. We seem to be missing some of the
Column 1095nationalists also. I am grateful that we are back to two-party politics. It has always struck me that liberals like myself ought to be dominating each of the major parties
Mr. Greg Knight : On that point, is it not a fact that there is a good case for making the pilot autoscheme available, free of charge, to Liberals and Democrats so that they might on occasions find their way to this Chamber?
Mr. Bottomley : It is true, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, probably recall, that on Tuesday we were talking about how they could all fit into a minibus. It looks as though they did not have the autoguide system to bring them into the Chamber at the right time.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) did well to ignore totally the beguiling talk of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). It is not a lack of charm but intemperance that we have noticed in her hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). His storming into the Chamber just after 11 o'clock last night to tell the House what it should or should not be doing, based on a badly sub-edited report from the Press Association, destroyed much of what had been a fairly important debate. The more often that the hon. Lady is allowed to take these debates for the Opposition, the better we will move forward. It may be that her hon. Friend will be promoted back to the Department of Energy fairly shortly.
I want to turn to some points that have been made in the debate. An important point concerned other Bills that could come before this House in the future. The Horne report will be moving towards legislation and we fully accept the case. Obviously it is not possible to give a commitment to a date of introduction, but the time has not been wasted. The utilities, the statutory undertakers, the highway authorities and the Department of Transport have been doing essential development work on fleshing out the Horne report, and agreement has been reached on contentious issues. That means that when the legislation comes before the House it should be possible to consider it in detail without too much dissension. It is important to recognise that the Horne report and the replacement of the public utilities and streets works legislation should lead to cost reductions both for the statutory undertakers and utilities and for the highway authorities, and should lead to a better deal for those who pay the charges of the utilities, those who fund the local highway authorities, and should provide better movement through the streets for bus passengers, car drivers and, for that matter, pedestrians on the pavement.
There has been a reference to the North committee. The response to the North committee report was published recently. It shows the Government's commitment to improving the contribution that the law can make to road casualty reduction. Legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time can be found for the major package of reforms. There are some details outside the North committee report on which the Home Office is still expecting responses to its consultations about some police powers.
Column 1096We need to recognise that it is not legislation that has brought about the dramatic reduction in road casualties in this country. Legislation can contribute but the major change has been a new culture on the roads in which people expect co-operation, care and courtesy and in which people recognise that we all make mistakes and that room must be made for the mistakes of others.
My hon. Friends who have spoken on behalf of motor cyclists rightly said that they are more vulnerable than others, are involved in crashes more often and that the consequences of each crash are worse for them. We should all try to remember that pedestrians and motor cyclists are human beings. Because we are in a one tonne steel vest--a motor car--whether we are commuting or using it as a sales representative or an engineer, we must not forget that we share the responsibility for those more vulnerable than ourselves.
The hon. Member for Deptford asked about the time scale for some of the other measures mentioned in the motor cycle safety package. We hope to announce decisions shortly on some of the other elements. We have done the best we can to bear in mind the views and responses we have received. The Motorcycle Action Group has done a great deal to promote defensive riding techniques and it concentrates on important issues. However, I am not sure that it is necessary for the group to advertise a
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The serious point made by Mag News on defensive riding techniques is that the road user, who is often at fault--not always--usually manages to pick on an inexperienced motor cyclist with whom to tangle. The ratio of risk for motor cyclists up to the age of 20 used to be 20 times as great as for motor cyclists aged 25-plus--that describes my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling)--and it is now a ratio of 13 : 1. Therefore, there has been an improvement in safety for the younger motor cyclist. That is important, but the risk is still too great and must be reduced. I can give an illustration of the importance of training. Research shows that three quarters of motor cyclists do not use their front brake for straight line braking. That is perhaps the biggest single mistake we are making and it shows that the training has not been adopted into the habits and practices of motor cyclists. It also demonstrates the importance of initial basic training so that we do not simply rely on someone's experience as a cyclist. We need them to understand that motorised two- wheel movement--mopeds and motor cycles--is different. It is important to keep what is good about motor cycling rather than to accept that it should be eliminated. No one wants that to happen. I would be happy to see much more motor cycling--there used to be more in the past--as long as the casualty rate keeps coming down. That is the real test for motor cycling. The hon. Member for Deptford asked about the motor cycle training course fee. It is important to realise that we are not necessarily talking about compulsory basic training as a one-day course or any other fixed format. We want to ensure that people become competent as soon as possible. Some may be able to do that in a day but others may take longer and some may want to train in a collection of hours put together. However, that is not for us to dictate
Column 1097immediately. There may be a range of provisions. We do not have a preconceived idea of what the course fee is likely to be. We hope that it will not be necessary to fix a fee. The powers given by clause 6 are to safeguard the position of trainees so that they will not be faced with exorbitant charges.
We hope that training organisations will offer full packages of training of which the basic element is only one part. It is important that people taking up motor cycling should realise that it will not be a matter of, "Come and see us for a day and then do not bother to come back until the end of the time during which you can ride on your L-plates." It is better to follow the line taken by motor cycle retailers, manufacturers, training organisations and riders groups who say, rightly, that if one is to take up motor cycling, one should have full training in order to gain experience and skill with good instructors and experienced motor cyclists. I pay tribute to many in the police, road safety organisations and other groups who give their time to provide that training for new motor cyclists.
The hon. Member for Deptford also asked whether there would be enough training sites to meet demand. That point was rightly picked up on behalf of the rural interests by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. There are now 190 different organisations authorised to provide training and the part 1 test. They operate from over 900 approved sites throughout Great Britain and employ more than 4,000 instructors. If all those training sites and instructors were to operate the new compulsory basic training, there would be enough to cope with likely demand. We are currently conducting a survey through local authority road safety officers to find out how many instructors are based at each site, whether training machines are available and to discover the current and potential throughput of trainees. The survey will identify approved sites which are not currently being used and parts of the country that are not well served by training facilities. In those areas, local motor cycle dealers may have a role to play in providing training facilities if they wish to continue to sell learner machines.
As assurance was given in the other place that the scheme will not be introduced until adequate facilities exist. I am happy to repeat that assurance now. We will take full account of the special problems of rural areas. I do not want to be led into giving too full an assurance that exemptions will be given simply on grounds of distance. We would need to find a way to overcome that problem. It is important to obtain safety for new motor cyclists whether they live in rural or built up areas. We need to recognise the widespread nature of the population and the absence of a town or city in which one could obtain a good throughput of trainees on a regular basis. I was asked about the monitoring of standards of motor cycle instruction. The Department is already responsible for the appointment of training bodies and those who sign part 1 test certificates. The Motor Cycle Association--I pay tribute to its work in discussing the proposals-- has made tentative proposals to set up a body to monitor and train the training instructors. I expect to meet the director general of the MCA on 3 May to discuss training and I hope to hear the MCA's proposition. I would not want to
Column 1098prejudge the reaction to the proposals until I hear from the experts how they think we should move forward. We want to move forward together.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) made the important point that motor cyclists could experience the course and demonstrate to the instructor, rather than the examiner--that is a better way of putting it--that he cannot ride safely. Trainees would successfully complete their basic training only if they demonstrate that they are able to ride unsupervised. I do not want people to believe that we are substituting a new test. We simply want people to demonstrate that they can ride competently. I may be splitting hairs, but that is not supposed to be seen as a test. Hopefully, trainees will accept that they should go on to further training and try to pass the proper test as soon as they reasonably can. The days are gone when people should expect to ride around on L-plates year after year without having to ride a motor cycle under an examiner's eyes for half an hour or more.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley also mentioned lorry and bus licensing and many hon. Members have made the same points. We are trying to bring lorry and bus licensing into line. The first full licence will run to the age of 45 and renewals for professional drivers will be every five years until the age of 65. Thereafter, an annual renewal will be needed. Medical reports will be required on each application. The medical profession generally agrees that the mid-forties is the time when serious medical conditions begin to appear. The incidence of medical conditions affecting drivers aged between 18 and 45 is small. That assertion is borne out by the cases coming before the medical advisers at Swansea. In reaching decisions on the fitness of applicants the Secretary of State will be guided by advice published by medical experts as well as by the honorary medical panels.
The hon. Member for Deptford raised the issue of compensation for time lost at work because of more frequent medical checks. I want to take this opportunity of reminding every licence holder that it states on every licence, whether it is a green or a pink licence : "You are required to tell the Drivers Medical Branch, DVLC, Swansea, SA1 1TU at once if you have any disability (includes any physical or medical condition) which affects (or may in the future affect) your fitness as a driver if you expect it to last more than 3 months." That is an obligation on each of us.
I welcome the fact that many drivers notify Swansea. They are not always disqualified if they raise a question. In fact, it provides an assurance for the driver just as much as for anybody else. I suspect that many elderly people who notify Swansea of an eyesight or other medical condition are pleasantly surprised when they discover that they can continue driving. They may be subject to continued regular medical checks, but this is an assurance for the driver as well as for the rest of us. So people should not be worried about notifying conditions to Swansea. They certainly will be committing an offence if they hide a condition that should be notified.
We realise that some people in professional driving are worried about the possibility that they may have to give up driving midway in their career. The medical standards are applied to protect other road users from the consequences of collapse at the wheel of bus, lorry or other large-vehicle drivers. It is important that drivers who are not able to meet the standards do not drive such vehicles.
Column 1099The provision of compensation is not a matter for Government ; it has to be worked out through normal employer- employee relationships. Drivers whose work depends on meeting certain strict health standards may also insure against unexpected deterioration in their health. It is important to recognise that this applies equally to someone who may be a service engineer or a sales person in that their job may depend upon having a driving licence. People should have the opportunity of anticipating whether their health will determine their work, and it is well worth considering insurance and, in organised groups, seeing if that can be part of negotiated contracts of employment. Otherwise individuals can do it.
The hon. Member for Deptford asked about appeals. The vast majority of reconsidered decisions are decisions taken on medical grounds and the medical adviser is the best person to apply the standards in individual cases. The courts are the most appropriate appeal forum in general. They are in the best position to give the necessary weight to additional factors that may be introduced. The ordinary licence holder has no reconsideration procedure. There is no indication that this has resulted in any unfairness, although, as I have said, the loss of an ordinary licence can be just as severe for those who depend on cars for their livelihood as the loss of a vocational licence can be to a lorry or bus driver.
The driver licensing systems and judicial processes in other European Community member states are quite different. We shall be looking closely at their arrangements.
The hon. Member for Deptford asked again, as she did on Tuesday, about the staff implications of the transfer to the DVLC in Swansea and the effect on the speed of service. Vocational licences are currently issued manually by staff in traffic area offices. When these licences are issued in Swansea it will be through the fully computerised facilities there. By replacing a manual licensing system by a computerised system and unifying vocational and ordinary driver licensing within a single system, with the economies of scale at Swansea, we shall both save staff and improve the quality of service. There may well be some increase of staff at Swansea.
The staff and administrative savings have been estimated at about £1 million a year. The turn-round times for dealing with lorry and bus driving licence transactions will be speeded up by about 40 per cent. or more. So we ought to get both a more efficient system and one that provides more advantages to the person applying for a licence or a variation of one.
I turn now to the autoguide system. The hon. Member for Deptford asked whether this would lead to rat-running. I believe that it will lead to a reduction in rat-running because often many of the rats are continuing to move but are taking longer to get to their destination. It is important that the designated roads, the main roads, are the ones that carry the through traffic. I have given strong support over the years to traffic management arrangements, whether they involve physical restraints or efforts to ease the junctions which at present encourage rat-running. That is why we have in London designated roads and some trunk roads. We want to make sure that there are not changes which lead to greater chances of rat- running.
There is no reason to think that autoguide will increase the overall volume of traffic. The main roads generally