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Column 249Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
That, at this day's sitting, the Ways and Means Motion and the Road Traffic (Drivers Licensing and Information Systems) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Queen's Recommendation having been signified--
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Antarctic Minerals Bill [Lords] , ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of--
(a) any sums which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are obliged to pay to any person under or by virtue of the Convention of the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities ; (
(b) any administrative expenses of the Secretary of State in consequence of the provisions of the Act ; and
(c) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other Act.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Antarctic Minerals Bill [Lords] , it is expedient to authorise
(a) the inclusion in licences granted under the Act of conditions requiring the rendering of payments to the Secretary of State ; and (
(b) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [26 June] , That the clause (Sight testing), proposed on consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee) , be read a Second time.
Which clause was :
It shall be a condition of the validity of any driving licence that the eyesight of the holder has been tested within a period and to a standard which shall be prescribed by a statutory instrument subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.'.
Question again proposed.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) asked whether there should be a free test. There is a free test, which is given not just once every so often--every driver has the duty to make sure that he can read a number plate at about 70 ft. For certain characters, the distance is 75 ft and for others 67ft. If the hon. Gentleman can read, from one end of the Chamber to the other, the pseudo number plate which I am holding up, his eyesight is good enough to pass the test. The medical profession say that that is correct.
The hon. Gentleman thought that, for some reason, I was trying to stay in the Prime Minister's favour. If he thinks that, he must be the only person to do so on this issue. What matters is cutting casualties. His speech did nothing to do that, but would mislead people. I ask the House to reject the new clause.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I must respond to the Minister's point. He said that it is a free test, but it is free only at the beginning of one's driving experience. People may drive for 40 or 50 years without having to take another test. Their eyesight can seriously deteriorate in that time.
Mr. Bottomley : It might help the House if I repeat what I said earlier. Drivers should be able at all times to read a number plate at the distance that I quoted. It is not once in a lifetime : it is every time that someone is driving. It might help the House if the hon. Gentleman either reads the report in Hansard , which will make matters clear to him, or takes this pseudo number plate outside the Chamber and keeps walking, as the House has already heard him.
Mr. Cohen : I heard the Minister very clearly indeed. However, some people who passed their test a while ago will not be able to read that number plate, and there is no requirement for them to take another test. As the Government have imposed charges, those people are likely to be discouraged from taking another test, and that is likely to lead to more accidents.
I will not repeat what I said in the debate last week. The points are clear. The Government are well behind the rest of Europe in respect of driving standards. The Minister is right. This matter is not about his status ; it is about accidents. The Government are taking a reckless attitude.
Column 251They will realise that they must introduce a higher standard of medical fitness for drivers, including eyesight tests.
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : Before the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) withdraws his proposal, I, too, endorse what he has said. There will come a time when the country will require more stringent eyesight tests for motorists. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's proposition that compulsory testing should be introduced. I hope that my hon. Friend, in his influential and powerful position as Minister for Roads and Traffic, will encourage voluntary and more stringent eyesight testing, particularly by insurance companies. I do not agree with imposing great bureaucratic controls. Through insurance contracts and the driver licensing regulations, we have enough sanctions to bring to bear on individual motorists to ensure that they have regular eyesight tests. It is not the hon. Gentleman but the Department of Transport which has a blind spot on eyesight testing. There seems to be ample evidence--
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) for clarifying the position. I will do all that I can to make sure that the medical contribution to road casualties is continually monitored and that we re-emphasise to all drivers the need to make sure that they meet the correct medical test. We will do all that we can to make the roads safer in that way.
Mr. Speaker : Of course it is in order. I was slightly confused because the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said, "Before the hon. Gentleman sits down." I thought that he was making an intervention.
I certainly do not wish to detain the House, but I wish to record a matter of great importance. Although the hon. Gentleman speaks at enormous length, he speaks persuasively. [Interruption.] He always persuades me that a 10-minute limit for speeches is a good idea. On this occasion, his point is valid. There is a strong case for regular eyesight testing for motorists. It would be helpful for motorists, and it need not be any imposition on them. It would help to reduce the number of casualties and accidents on the road. I should like my hon. Friend to bring pressure to bear on insurance companies to remind motorists of their obligation under their contracts of insurance to seek eyesight tests at every renewal. That would be to the benefit of the community and would ultimately help to reduce casualties on the road. To that extent, the hon. Member for Leyton has assisted the House by introducing the new clause and I am grateful to him for speaking so briefly on this occasion.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I was delayed in getting two computer disks from my office, so unfortunately I missed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who seems to be running
Column 252from the Chamber. I do not know what has come over my hon. Friend, but he seems to be running around the building at the moment. Last time we debated this matter, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) made some strange manoeuvres to prevent further discussion. At that time, the Minister had failed to explain why he was not prepared to require eyesight tests. To anyone remotely concerned about road safety--the Minister claims to be very concerned about it--it is patently obvious that compulsory eyesight testing is the answer. I hope that now that the Minister has had a little time to think matters over as a result of the intervention of his hon. Friend the Member for Watford, who gave him an early night, he will tell us that he is prepared to introduce regular eyesight testing for motorists.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : For the benefit of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), I repeat what I said earlier. There is a continual requirement that all motorists should be able to meet the eyesight test. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see the specification.
Question put and negatived.
Amendments made : No. 7, in line 22 after drive', insert or a goods vehicle of any class or, as the case may be, a passenger-carrying vehicle of any class prescribed for the purposes of this subsection'.
No. 8, in line 35, at end insert
and the reference to prescribed classes of goods vehicles or passenger- carrying vehicles is a reference to classes of goods vehicles or passenger- carrying vehicles (within the meaning of the 1988 Act) prescribed under that paragraph.'.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 14, line 9 after danger', insert or nuisance'. The Bill as drafted enables the Secretary of State to amend an operator's licence without the consent of the licence holder if a change is needed to prevent a danger to the public. The amendment would extend the power of the Secretary of State to amend the licence to cover circumstances in which the operation of a driver information system is causing a nuisance.
Throughout our proceedings on the Bill, the Opposition have voiced the concerns of local highway authorities that the introduction of Autoguide could generate two types of problem as a result of traffic being directed along unsuitable roads.--first, road safety problems and, secondly, amenity and traffic management problems, including noise and congestion. Ministers have consistently argued that it is unlikely that such problems will arise and that the pilot scheme planned for London will provide an opportunity to iron out any problems. That approach ignores the fact that, should the pilot show that Autoguide results in nuisance problems for certain communities, the Bill--which will then be an Act--will
Column 253contain no provision under which action can be taken by the Secretary of State, except on road safety grounds alone.
The amendment would give no extra powers to highway authorities. It does not impose any burdens on Autoguide operators. It would simply empower the Secretary of State to act if amenity or traffic problems arose as a result of the introduction of Autoguide, as we suspect they may.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The House is grateful to the hon. Lady for the way in which she introduced the amendment. For those in a legal frame of mind who read the amendment, she has made it clear that we are talking about loss of amenity, rather than nuisance, which has a particular legal meaning. As the House knows, the Government's view is that driver information systems, such as Autoguide, should be operated and financed by the private sector. Development will require heavy capital investment. Operators will be prepared to go ahead with such schemes only if they can be confident that, once awarded, a licence cannot be amended by the Secretary of State without the operator's consent. That approach is reflected generally in part II. Clause 10(6) breaches that principle in one respect. It enables the Secretary of State, without the consent of the licence holder, to attach new conditions if they are designed to prevent danger to the public. The House will take the view that in such circumstances there should be a clear and overriding need to amend a licence. However, the amendment would go further. It would provide that the Secretary of State could unilaterally alter a licence to prevent a nuisance, in the common sense view, which would leave the operator in uncertainty about the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might use that power. The effect would probably be to deter operators from seeking licences and consequently to the loss of the benefit of driver information systems such as Autoguide. In asking the House not to accept the amendment, I must make it plain that I cannot envisage circumstances in which there would be a serious loss of amenity, or other unbearable or undesirable conditions, where there was not also a diminution of safety. For all practical purposes, the power in clause 10(6) will probably meet the hon. Lady's aim.
I ask the House not to accept the amendment. The hon. Lady has made a serious point, but her proposal can be encompassed within the provisions on safety. I doubt whether noise would ever be a problem on its own. Noise would be produced by a lot of traffic using an unsuitable road and that would have an effect on safety, too. If there were no pedestrians at all, the road would probably be a motorway, in which case it would probably be outside a city or town.
Ms. Ruddock : I thank the Minister for his comments. I know that highway authorities will take note of them and I hope that they will accept that he is, in a sense, making the offer that if there is a nuisance of the sort that we have described, they will be able to take the matter up on the road safety grounds specified in the Bill. That is extremely important and goes a small way to meeting my points. In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Column 254Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
may be required to be furnished to the Secretary of State under subsection (8)(f) above'
shall be disclosed by the operator to any person'.
(c) driver information has been used, collected, obtained or disclosed in a way that is unrelated to the operation of the system.'.
Mr. Cohen : I will take a little longer on these amendments. The implication of amendment No. 2 is that the abuse of driver information can be punished by loss of licence and the acquisition of a criminal record by the company, such as Autoguide. It will place a limitation on cavalier operators who could be tempted to make a fast buck by using driver information for other purposes. Amendment No. 2 will force operators to be careful about how they use driver information and any misuse of it could be a breach of the conditions for obtaining an operator's licence. Amendment No. 2 will allow the licence to be revoked if there is misuse.
Amendment No. 2 will also place an onus on the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister to specify how information is to be used, collected, obtained or disclosed in relation to the driver information system, probably in the licence granted under clause 10. The Secretary of State should give guidance to operators in that respect. Unlike the amendment that I proposed to clause 8 in Committee, which the Minister did not like because it forbade absolutely the use of driver information for any other purpose, amendment No. 2 is a halfway house to those objections.
Clause 10(6), for example, gives the Secretary of State flexibility to amend the terms and conditions associated with the granting of the licence and so provides guidance regarding the acceptable use, disclosure, collection and obtaining of information, so that they are related to the operaton of the driver information system in the licence. Amendment No. 2 would constrain such uses, disclosures, collection and obtaining so that they would be related to the operation of the system, rather than directly "relevant", which was the key word of my previous amendment. As such, it is a happy compromise and one which any reasonable Minister should be more than happy to accept.
I remind the Minister of the significance of the written answer that he gave me on 21 April in column 305 of volume 151 of Hansard, when he stated that the disclosure of personal data from Autoguide will be subject to a non-disclosure exemption under the Data Protection Act 1984. In my assessment, the legal aspect of that is positively dangerous, especially as we are dealing with a computer system that could be developed to trace the movements of individuals by tracing from and to where they drive.
"Non-disclosure" is an awful piece of jargon but it means, first, that there is no restriction on the disclosure of information held in manual files. Non-automated
Column 255information associated with autoguide is, by definition, not covered by the Data Protection Act and can therefore be used and disclosed freely.
Secondly, it means that the disclosure of personal information from Autoguide is not subject to the requirements of the third data protection principle--that it should not be used or disclosed in any manner that is incompatible with its purpose.
Thirdly, disclosures of personal information from Autoguide need not be registered with the data protection registrar. Fourthly, Autoguide information is not subject to the enforcement powers of the registrar in relation to all eight of the data protection principles.
In Committee, the Minister placed great store by the Data Protection Act. However, its provisions are insufficient in respect of information from Autoguide which could be used for a purpose other than for road safety and good traffic management, which the Minister assured us on Second Reading was its sole purpose. It can be used for all sorts of other purposes. Amendment No. 2 goes some way to ensuring that information held in a driver information system cannot be abused quite so easily.
Amendment No. 1 states that Autoguide information should not be disclosed
"by the operator to any person".
The amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State, and no other person, can require information from a driver information system, such as Autoguide, in a form that can identify drivers and owners. At the moment, the Secretary of State for Transport has accepted that he would stop himself infringing privacy, but he has left it open to all other Ministers and organisations outside his control, such as the police and the security services, to be able to require the information and thus infringe privacy.
To make absolute the details of individuals whose details are recorded on driver information systems, my amendment extends the protections that the Secretary of State has given to himself to all other Secretaries of State and all governmental and other organisations. The arguments that the Secretary of State has applied to himself should surely apply to those other individuals and bodies.
I remind the Minister of his exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) in Committee when she asked how an individual would know that the information had been passed on. The Minister replied :
"It will not be passed on to the Secretary of State. That is what the Bill says."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee E, 16 May 1989 ; c. 51.]
From that exchange, it appears that it is possible for other Secretaries of State or Government bodies to obtain information from Autoguide in a form that identifies individuals. The powers granted under clause 10(8)(g) expressly authorise the Secretary of State to allow other persons to inspect records and make copies. Those records could include the owners or drivers of vehicles who pass an Autoguide detector at the start of a political demonstration. Such information might be passed on.
Such authoritarian behaviour was referred to in Committee by both my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who said that he was held on the stolen and suspect vehicle index of the police national computer during the miners' strike, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, who said that she
Column 256was followed by Security Service agents because of her effective work with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That will be encouraged by unrestricted access to Autoguide information.
Mr. Corbyn : In Committee there was substantial discussion about the use of such information. It was revealed that, during the miners' strike, the stolen vehicles index was used to trace cars owned by members of the National Union of Mineworkers and those who supported them on picket line duties. There is no guarantee that the Autoguide system will not be used merely to update such records and extend that information. Does my hon. Friend not think it an outrage that, rather than trying to protect civil liberties, the Minister is giving power to the Big Brother state to examine the activities of people on legitimate and legal protest?
Mr. Cohen : That is exactly my point, and that is the reason for the amendment. We must protect civil liberties and learn the lessons of the Big Brother state during the miners' strike. We are seeing increasing encroachments on civil liberties. We must stop new technology, such as the Autoguide system, enabling that to be carried a stage further by an authoritarian Government, which this Government have shown all the hallmarks of being.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I do not know how much longer the hon. Gentleman is going to take us down this line, but I had the impression that when he went on demonstrations he wanted it to be known that he was there rather than be anonymous. If he went on a demonstration, I did not know that he went by car. If he was going to a demonstration by car, I do not know that he would want to sign up with the commercial Autoguide system to tell him which way to go. It seems that he is taking us into the realms of fantasy. If he brought us back to his amendments, we could try to answer his points and the House could decide whether he is right or wrong.
Mr. Cohen : The Minister treats these matters flippantly, but they are encroachments on civil liberties in a very big way. I shall show the House how such encroachments are occurring. There is the Autoguide system, whereby people's number plates can be checked and it can be discovered where they have travelled to and from ; the ticket barriers on the Underground have facilities to read the season ticket strips to record people's movements ; and the Home Office is developing a system called "Wizard", which is a facial recognition system that will photograph drivers and people on the move.
In a recent answer to me, the Minister said that travel agents and airlines will have to hand over information on people who book with them, if matters of public order or national security are involved. Those are creeping infringements of our vital civil liberty--the freedom of movement.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will my hon. Friend tell us whether there is any truth in the rumour that the Autoguide or the new Wizard system will be used when the judges go out on strike again? If the judges decide that they want to spread their strike from the Royal Courts of
Column 257Justice to the circuit, and the police decide to put up a road block with the help of the Autoguide or the Wizard system, some miners might say that justice was being done.
Of course, other miners and myself would say that we do not believe in infringements of civil liberties, whoever they might affect. Is there anything in the rumour that, as an experiment, that equipment will be used outside the Royal Courts of Justice?
Mr. Cohen : There could be, if the judges upset the Government enough. However, all the signs are that the Government will cave in to that vested interest very quickly. It is more likely that that equipment will be used against the miners, railwaymen and other workers than against the judges. The Government have to keep the judges sweet so that they can punish the railwaymen and the miners in the courts.
Mr. Corbyn : Does my hon. Friend agree that Autoguide could be used to peel off the ringleaders among the judges from those who might be latent supporters of the Government? Is my hon. Friend also aware that the traffic monitoring scheme in London operates automatic video cameras, some of which are not pointed at the traffic? Some are pointed at Speaker's corner, some at the assembly area in Hyde park and others at the centre of Trafalgar square, where no traffic is allowed. There are many points in London where the so-called traffic information systems, designed by the Metropolitan police to monitor traffic movement, are used to monitor pedestrian, civilian movements. Those systems are part of a data-collecting agency. Does my hon. Friend agree that Autoguide could be used for the same purpose?
Mr. Cohen : Yes. The collection of a vast amount of data on individuals is a serious infringement of privacy. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred to the Wizard system, and for all I know it could have been used during the recent visit of the Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, in which case the system should have been called "The Wizard of Oz". But enough of such frivolity ; this is a serious matter.
Mr. Moate : Given his remarkable command of such modern technology, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain something to me. Those who join the Autoguide system voluntarily install in their car a piece of equipment to link them to that system. How will such people be victims of a system whereby they are unknowingly scrutinised?
Mr. Cohen : The hon. Gentleman is correct that, initially, the system will apply to those who subscribe to it. The Government, however, want to extend the system to all motorists ; for it to work properly, that must happen. In that way, the Government could cut the number of signs on roads and so on. The system, however, has the facility to read all number plates whether one is a member of it or not. That system could be linked up with Wizard for the facial recognition of drivers.
Mr. Cohen : The system began in West Germany and in Committee the Minister told us that he had a ride around West Berlin in a car using the Autoguide system. He did not say whether the Germans use the Wizard system.
Column 258The ability to trace a person's movements is a serious infringement of civil liberties and it is part of the Big Brother state. The Minister accepted that he did not want such private information to himself, but that undertaking should also apply to other Ministers and to other Government services.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I understand that the Home Office trials were conducted exclusively with equipment made in West Germany. Even if the equipment has any merit, which I doubt, it does not have the merit of adding jobs to our manufacturing industry, which, since the Tories came to power in 1979, has lost about 2 million jobs.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) will remember that the amendment is concerned with disclosing names. It would not be in order for him to follow up the point that has just been made.
Mr. Cohen : I merely remind the House that the Minister said on Second Reading that the purpose of the system was to improve road safety and good traffic management. Unfortunately, it will let in many other purposes. If the Minister were to uphold his own words on Second Reading and in Committee, he would accept the amendment and ensure that the Bill relates only to road safety and traffic management and does not infringe privacy and civil liberties. 10.45 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and I may be paranoid, but that does not mean that they are not out to get us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said, it is not compulsory to join Autoguide. Even if one does join it, the system does not record the driver. If it is a matter of recording number plates, it is possible for someone to stand by the side of the road recording car number plates as though he is standing on a railway platform recording the numbers of engines or carriages. When the hon. Member for Leyton spends all his time referring to spy ideas, I recall the nightmare which I shared with the members of the Committee which involves being the person who is allocated to digest the hon. Gentleman's speeches to see whether there is anything new or interesting in them. The hon. Gentleman talks as though he is the third man or, if I might say so after the European elections, "The Green Man". He uses a roundabout way to try to tell the House that he is worried that new information may be provided by the system.
The system is designed to give the driver information on which way to go to reach his destination, and that is all. There is provision for a second tier of information, which, with the consent of Autoguide, would tell the subscriber where his vehicle is. That would be explicit information and there would be powers to ensure that that information is not shared. The system can work well without even the operator knowing the identity of individual vehicles that are receiving route guidance.
Amendment No. 2 is unnecessary. It would give the Secretary of State no more power than that provided under the Bill as drafted. It is technically defective in that it seeks to control the use of information derived from
Column 259vehicles when "driver information", which is the term used in the amendment, is defined in the Bill as giving route guidance to vehicles.
The amendments should be resisted. The hon. Gentleman, on reflection, may not wish to press them to a Division.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.