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Column 272tabled amendments in an attempt to deal with the problem of access to such courses, but, unfortunately, those amendments were not selected for debate tonight.
Access problems may make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to attend the proposed training courses. Opposition Members supported the amendments, and I regret that the Minister has felt unable to do so. I hope that, when the Bill becomes law, the Minister will respond positively if the fears that have been articulated by industry and consumer lobbies are substantiated.
In Committee, as indeed tonight, Opposition Members reserved most criticism for part II of the Bill, which deals with parliamentary approval for autoguide. I have already explained the reasons we continue to press the Government either for statutory local authority, participation or broader terms of reference for the Secretary of State. Once again, I regret to say that the Minister has declined to listen. I regret also that he is unwilling to give local highway authorities their proper role in monitoring and controlling the use of that device. I acknowledge that, as the Minister has said, local authority associations are involved in the autoguide assessment group, and I welcome that. However, the House will recognise the difference between participation in an ad hoc advisory group and a statutory power if autoguide is detrimental to local authority areas. I have seen autoguide in operation. I am convinced that it is undoubtedly a technical advance and that it will obviously be useful to individual drivers. However, Opposition Members do not believe that it is truly going to ease traffic congestion in London. As I said on Second Reading, it can clearly be useful as a route finder, but the consequence in London is that any motorist would be more inclined to use his car than public transport. That would be its effect on me. Concern that I might not be able to reach my destination conveniently and efficiently is more likely to make me leave my car at home and use public transport in the city. As a consequence of people taking such decisions, any spare road capacity that is found by autoguide will immediately be filled by more cars. As is already clear, there will be more pressure from autoguide operators to include minor roads in the system. After all our discussions, the Minister has failed to convince us that autoguide will do one jot of good in solving congestion in London.
Since Second Reading, we have had the pleasure of reading the Government's thoughts on road policy into the next century. We have learned also that road traffic is up by 6 per cent. in the first quarter of this year and that traffic speeds in the London peak hour are now 11.8 miles an hour, down yet again on the previous survey. A picture emerges, which we all know well, of more cars on the road moving more slowly, costing industry more money and causing more pedestrian accidents. The Government's response in the White Paper is to forecast a traffic explosion of between 83 per cent. and 142 per cent. by the year 2025. Hon. Members may like to know the reality of those cold statistics. An increase of 142 per cent. would mean an extra 32.7 million vehicles in addition to the 23 million-odd already on our roads.
This legislation clearly should not have been the priority for dealing with traffic problems in Britain. The Minister will need more than autoguide and new driver licensing to help him deal with those problems if his own Department's own forecasts become a reality. Therefore, Opposition Members give the Bill a limited welcome.
Column 273Naturally, we regret that the Government have not accepted our assistance in improving it. In particular, once again, the Minister has spurned real partnership with the local authorities.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I share with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) severe reservations about the operational effectiveness of clause 6, and I am sorry that we could not debate the provision tonight.
The Motor Cycle Association of Great Britain, the Auto-cycle Union--of which I am president, and which runs motor-cycle sport in this country--and the industry are very concerned about how the clause will operate in practice. The Minister will establish and improve centres to which learner motor cyclists go to receive training. In principle, we welcome that. Much will depend on where the centres are, however. In rural areas, motor cyclists may have to travel 50 miles to a centre--in Scotland, perhaps even 100 miles. How will they get there, and, if they happen to require additional training and do not qualify for a certificate the first time, how will they get home? Will they have to leave their motor bikes at some remote aerodrome and, try to get a bus home--if there is one?
The Minister does not seem to have addressed such practical problems in clause 6, and I hope that he will announce that he proposes to draft regulations that can be efficiently and effectively adhered to by learner motor cyclists. After all, we want to encourage motor cycling ; it is a healthy sport and a healthy way of getting to work or travelling about in the normal course of one's life. We should not put difficulties in the way of people obtaining motor cycle riders' licences once they have received proper training. Yet clause 6--perhaps with the best of intentions--sets out to make matters as difficult as possible for the learner.
The industry assures me that even if we had 1,000 centres, there would be only one centre every 80 square miles. I suspect that there will be fewer centres than that and that the distances will be much greater. Some years ago, when we started to close the driver vehicle and licensing centres dotted round the country, I pointed out that there would be a great deal of difficulty if the centres became too remote. I suspect that exactly the same problem will arise with the training centres for motor cyclists.
Before we give the Bill its Third Reading, we want assurances from the Minister that he will be supportive and sympathetic to the training of motor cyclists. Under clause 6 as drafted, that will be impossible. I want to hear that there will be regulations to allow motorcyclists to ride to and from centres before they have received their proper licences. If that does not happen, the training exercise will fall flat on its face and we shall fail in our objective. 11.33 pm
Column 274These provisions will remain in force until further legislation is produced for our approval, and it would have been useful to allow the local authorities to be involved from the start. That could perhaps have been done by regulation at the discretion of the Minister ; at least that would have been a good basis on which to build for the future.
The Minister said that he wanted to make traffic better for local residents, and that he thought that autoguide would help to achieve that aim. Local authorities are involved in making traffic better for local residents. Traffic is one of the cornerstones of local councillors' involvement and the representations that are made to them, and local councillors of any political party ignore representations about traffic hazards at their peril. I have made representations about Manchester road in my constituency, because old people cannot cross that busy trunk road. Even that local authority--a Tory-controlled local authority--says that it simply does not have the money at the moment for a scheme that it wants to institute because it has a high priority as a traffic improvement measure. That local authority is of roughtly the same political complexion as the Minister. Bradford council is, of course, rather Right-wing, whereas the Minister considers himself to be a softy in the centre--
Mr. Cryer : The Minister corrects me. He is Right-wing under the so- called "liberal" image. However, although the council and the Minister are Right-wing extremists, even Bradford council is complaining that it is not getting money from a Right-wing extremist Minister to carry out road improvements. If the Minister's aim is to make traffic better for local residents, surely his priority should be not to spend Civil Service time in producing a scheme which inevitably, although private money is involved in financing it, will cost the taxpayer money in its drawing up and administration, in conjunction with the private consortia. His job should have been to get more money out of the Treasury to give to local authorities. The Minister obviously holds local authorities in some disregard. If he held them in proper regard, he would obtain money for them for improving traffic schemes, such as the scheme I have mentioned, which would enable local people living near the road to cross in greater safety. Many of them are elderly people who are hesitant to use an underpass about half a mile away, particularly at night. They are apprehensive about using poorly lit corridors at night because of the threats they seem to hold.
The Minister's first priority should be to get money from the Treasury for local authrities. His second should be to give local authorities some means of being involved in the application of these schemes. Failure to do so will lead to a build-up of resentment not only among ordinary citizens who are concerned about the encroachment of traffic, but among Conservative councillors, who feel that they should be better consulted and better involved, rather than having simply a nominal involvement in a supervisory committee which has no statutory basis.
As the Minister knows, Ministers come and go. With a reshuffle in the offing, it is conceivable that some Ministers at the Department of Transport will go. A Minister who gives an assurance here that he understands the position of local authorities and will ensure that their non-statutory involvement is retained does not guarantee the position for
Column 275other Ministers. The position can be eroded overnight "at a stroke, " to use a phrase from the past of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who used to wield such influence in the Tory party. Whatever platitude one wants to use, there is nothing to beat putting provisions in a Bill so that they become law. Local authorities know where they stand, citizens can have recourse and Ministers cannot renege on a previous Minister's commitment. That is the important point, so I am sorry that the Minister was not prepared to be more accommodating to the sensible propositions put forward tonight.
Mr. Cohen : The Bill is called the Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Bill. It is no coincidence that as well as including provisions for driver information systems in the Bill, the Government also brought out "Primary Route Signing in
London--Proposals for Change", a nice, glossy leaflet which talked about the £35 million lost because signs are not provided properly for motorists around London. Yet when I raised with the Minister whether the signing would take into account being able to enforce a heavy lorry ban, which the Metropolitan police say that they cannot enforce because of inadequate signs in London, he said that that was not the purpose of the glossy leaflet. He said that although taxpayers' cash would be used to improve signposting, there would be no heavy lorry ban in London. That idea should have been incorporated not only in the proposal to improve road signs, but in the road traffic driver information system because heavy lorries should not go down residential streets at unsociable hours. I hope that the Minister will return to that point at some stage.
The Bill is also supposed to be about road safety and the Minister has referred to it as a Bill to help avoid accidents. Getting rid of accidents is a key part of the Minister's case for the Bill. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has said, the Minister has refused to include in the Bill provisions on eyesight and medical fitness tests for drivers. The House will have to return to that point at some stage. We must have eyesight testing. It should be free and should certainly not discriminate on the basis of the wealth or income of the motorist.
I refer again to coaches in connection with this point about accidents. If coaches were on the autoguide system, there might be more accidents involving coaches in residential roads. I remind the House of the terrible accident last week in which a couple of people were killed. Hon. Members will have seen the amazing photographs of the car that was crushed down to 3 ft. The person inside it survived while people on the coach died through being flung about. I had hoped that the Minister would bring forward on Report proposals for seat belts for all passengers in all coaches. I know that the Minister cannot insert such provisions in the Bill now, but I hope that he will come back to this point because it is serious--
Column 276the part of the Autoguide company. As my hon. Friends have said, that is why it is vital that the local authorities should have been and should continue to be consulted fully before such systems are installed in their areas.
I broadly welcome the autoguide system for route guidance. We should take advantage of what new technology can provide for drivers. However, the serious snags should be sorted out at the outset. Local authorities must have a role in deciding the routes. It is all very well for the Minister to say that local authorities can still make their traffic management schemes, but Autoguide Limited might take local authorities to court if they tried to impose restrictions on it. Such companies could argue a case of restraint of trade if they could not use whatever roads they like.
We know that in privatisations Conservative Members always stress that restrictions should be removed from private companies so that they can do what they like. They say that that will be of benefit. However, such freedom from restrictions will not benefit the local residents of the areas where the rat running is taking place. Local authorities should have been involved because Autoguide Limited will be responsive to its customers, the motorists, but not to the residents, who are the key group that the local authorities are there to protect.
I shall not repeat all that has been said about civil liberties except to say that the autoguide system contains the potential for abuse in tracing motorists' movements, thus invading the privacy of innocent motorists.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said, the appalling congestion in central London--and, for example, in Islington and in Leyton High road, all around the Green Man roundabout--is an indictment of the Government's policies. That congestion has occurred without a rail dispute, so it is no use blaming it on that. It was there today and it will be there the day after the rail dispute. Autoguide will do nothing to alleviate the position ; indeed, it will encourage more car use. Although I welcome the new technology, I think that we should have been sorting out the snags at this stage. However, we will have to come back and deal with them.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : With the leave of the House I shall reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) mentioned motor cycling. Compulsory training will be introduced only when there is adequate nationwide coverage of training centres. The Bill provides for regulations giving exemptions from compulsory training to persons in prescribed circumstances and areas.
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : Does my hon. Friend accept that there could be a trade-off bringing in a system relatively early, which would be in the interests of safer motor cycling, and having sufficiently broad regulations to allow certain exemptions? Unless there are reasonable exemptions, it might not be possible to introduce a scheme as early as one would wish.
Mr. Bottomley : That is correct. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening at this stage, because I know that, if provoked, he could equal the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) in exploring the issues at great length.
Column 277I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries and for Keighley (Mr. Waller) for their motor cycling interests.
The power is already in the Bill to provide exemptions from compulsory training--for example, for those residents of some Scottish islands and of the Scilly Isles where there are no training facilities. We shall be looking for a balance between trying to get the benefits of initial training for as many people as possible as soon as possible, while trying to remember the practical disadvantages for those for whom it is difficult to have proper provision. Those are points on which the Government will wish to keep an open mind.
In Bradford, while it was under the control of both political parties, central Government have given very substantial help to improve the road network, for which I believe the people of Bradford are grateful. A through road allows traffic calming in many other areas. That in essence overrides what autoguide will be doing. I remind the House that the autoguide provisions bring in a system of licensing and do not abolish one. On those grounds, I believe that it will be greatly welcomed.
Although it is not within the Bill, I want to say a word about the terrible coach crash on the A286 just north of Midhurst. I visited the scene and I think that it would be wrong for any of us to prejudge the cause. However, I want to repeat the advice that I gave at the scene, which is that anyone sitting on the exposed seat of the coach would be well advised to use another seat or, if one is fitted, to use a seat belt. The House has made it a requirement that all new coaches should have seat belts on those front seats. It is also worth noting that, had that coach been built 15 or 20 years ago, it would have collapsed in the crash--it did not.
On general road safety points, I would say that if some hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, go on wanting things that do not work, and opposing the things that do work, we will not see the continued reduction in road casualties of which the country can be proud.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Thirdtime :-- The House divided : Ayes 145, Noes 11.
Division No. 279] [11.48 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Column 278Dunn, Bob
Fishburn, John Dudley
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hampson, Dr Keith
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Monro, Sir Hector
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Porter, David (Waveney)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Roe, Mrs Marion
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Mr. John M. Taylor.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Pike, Peter L.
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.