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Column 635£150,000 in accident costs in two years. That is a splendid rate of return. I wish that I could find an investment that gave me that rate of return in two years. I ask my hon. Friend to argue cogently--both to his Secretary of State and then to the Treasury--for more money to be spent on particularly effective local projects. My hon. Friend committed himself to that action in his speech. Local experience in Lancashire underlines that point.
I almost feel that my speech was written while I was stuck in the many and frustrating jams which I, and many others, had to endure on motorways this summer. I am delighted that the Government have committed themselves to a realistic increase in motorway capacity. We live in a crowded island. Many of our journeys take us to destinations that are less than 100 miles away. We have to accept the reality that roads play a vital part in the transport system. I realise that overnight there cannot be an instantaneous "fix" of new lanes on the M6 and the M1, but I am very frustrated by the lack of information that is given to motorists about delays on motorways. Where on earth have the variable information signs gone? I see them standing, like dreadnought battleships about to be scuttled, on the side of motorways, inert and inactive. No information is provided that at the next junction there is a blockage, or that there has been a serious accident and I ought to slow down. Instead of that, there are the current dot matrix signs which do not give much information, and are mostly ignored by drivers who then run into major traffic jams. I ask my hon. Friend to use the variable information signs, particularly at weekends, so that people are encouraged to use vast tracts of unused roads.
As I travel from the north, wishing to avoid the motorway I have discovered the delights of the A51 and A34. Denuded of their normal commercial traffic they speed me to the south, but if only others knew of the unused resources of our roads we would have a much better balance in the available road capacity.
In addition to variable signs, will my hon. Friend please try to have an initiative on radio information between London and Lancashire? I used to pass three signs, but one has blown away. They display information about KHz and MHz which do not mean a lot to people with normal radios. I know that the BBC is investing in the radio data system, but most people will not be able to afford the £300 or £400 for the set and will certainly not throw away their present radios. It is time that we had a much better traffic information service on the radio so that when we drive along the motorways we know which radio area we are in and where to receive the signal. Information leaflets should be available at motorway service stations telling people where to tune for that information. The quality needs uprating enormously.
Given the possibility of a broadcasting Bill in the Queen's Speech, will my hon. Friend ask the Home Office to consider introducing a radio channel dedicated to the dispensation of up-to-date traffic information to help people avoid accidents and make better use of the motorways?
Will my hon. Friend look again at the regulations that the European Community and his Department have proposed concerning spray from heavy lorries ? I am fed up with performing a wall-of-death act trying to pass a 38-tonne, 45 ft juggernaut at night. They do a vital job, but
Column 636they do not realise the risk that I and thousands of other motorists take in trying to get past them. The road research laboratory needs to look again at that.
I am glad that my hon. Friend acknowledged the benefit of anti-lock braking systems. The time is right to examine the contruction and use regulations and consider whether those items could be made a requirement for cars. If Ford can provide them for its lower-cost models for £200, so should everyone else.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. I already feel that my drive home will be more relaxed because I have got off my chest some of the frustrations that I and many thousands of other motorists experience. We are all dedicated to improved safety. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken such a comprehensive approach, and I hope that the debate has supplied him with greater and more persuasive arguments to get the resources that are needed to make those policies effective.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : We have had a rewarding and interesting debate. One of the rewards of sitting here for four hours listening to everyone else is that I can use the time available to the best possible effect, although there will not be time for me to raise more than a couple of important issues which have not been covered so far.
My constituency, like those of my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), has no motorways. However, it has two major roads, the A303 between London and the west of England, and the A36, the main trunk road between Bristol and Southampton. It also has the problem of Stonehenge on which, I am glad to say some progress has been made this week. It is a delight to see officers of the Department of Transport out there with theodolites, looking at ways past Stonehenge. I hope that the road will soon be dualled and that the villages of Winterborne Stoke and Chicklade will soon be bypassed.
It has been an interesting debate because there has been no lobbying. Perhaps it is because I do not often speak on transport issues, but I have not received a single piece of paper telling me what to say or do, so my speech is all my own work. I wish that we were allowed to make judgments more often from the Back Benches. I thought that I might not be able to be here today because yesterday a story about my constituency broke in the national press. It appears that not only do we have problems caused by congestion and speeding vehicles but that we also have problems from aeroplanes. A number of my constituents have had their cars spoiled by anti -freeze leaking from low-flying jets flying from Boscombe Down in my constituency. That has taken a little while to sort out. I hope that they will get due compensation from the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that no one wanted to spray anti-freeze on my constituents' cars, but, unfortunately, that is what appears to have happened. I have been interested in road safety for many years--since the day I did a deal with my mum when I wanted to borrow the family car, shortly after passing my driving test. She wisely said that I could borrow it when I had passed my advanced driving test. That was wise advice. I have passed it on to many people, and I have warned my children that I shall say the same to them when they have passed their driving test.
Column 637I have the honour to be the president of the Salisbury Plain branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I commend it and the other branches for the important work that they do to take motorists beyond the basic driving test, which I regard as a test of competence to control a vehicle mechanically, and which is a far cry from safe, responsible driving. "Skill with responsibility" is the motto of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
We should be grateful for the superb engineering standards of the Department of Transport and of the people to whom it sub-contracts work-- often the county councils. When one drives abroad, one notices how tatty their best roads are. They are unfinished, they do not have proper culverts at the sides, the surface is poor and there are large joins between blocks of concrete.
The Department of Transport deserves praise for the good work it does. All the officials in the Department of Transport, from the Private Office which receives most of the fury of hon. Members, down to the regional offices--in my case at Bristol--deserve thanks for their unfailing courtesy to hon. Members who are often under great pressure from irate constituents.
The road building programme should be welcomed. It is not concerned solely with motorways. The Government deserve thanks for their bypass programme, which during the past 10 years has added tremendously to the quality of life in rural areas. One example is the village of Steeple Langford where the bypass was finished six months ahead of schedule because of the Department of Transport's new business sense. It induces contractors to finish ahead of time and penalises them if they are late. The bypass has made a tremendous difference to that village, and I trust that many other villages will benefit. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will shortly be able to announce the proposed preferred route for the Salisbury bypass. It will be of enormous benefit to one of the most ancient and historic cities in Britain.
We cannot continue to pour more cars and commercial traffic on to congested roads. It is not just a matter of spending more money on public transport. I wish it were that simple, but it is not. We have to consider road pricing carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) made a compelling case for that policy in London. It is interesting that there appears to be agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the House on that. It is an unpopular subject, and it is difficult, but we cannot ignore it any more. I have a horrible feeling that, if the Minister does not take up road pricing, it will soon be pinched by the Opposition. I encourage him to consider it again.
We cannot ignore the environmental impact of pouring more concrete on to the countryside. We must consider alternatives. We can improve rail links. That would take some traffic, particularly commercial traffic, off the roads.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take up with British Rail and the Treasury the fact that, under Treasury rules, when British Rail considers investment appraisal it is forbidden to consider the cost-benefit analyses. Those are not available to British Rail and it is not allowed to make comparisons between the cost and benefit of an investment to British Rail and the cost to the community. That surely must change and I hope very much that it will.
Column 638After all, with the transport supplementary grant, cost-benefit analysis is old hat, so why is it not used when we are looking at the whole transport system?
Although people in south-east England complain about the increase in rail fares, as one who lives outside the south-east, may I say that it is interesting to note that subsidies to commuters in that area are still running at a level twice as high as the entire Department of Trade and Industry regional aid budget. That is unacceptable.
What is it that makes an ordinary, civilised, decent person turn into a maniac and criminal when he or she gets into a little box on wheels? Time and again during the debate we have returned to the problem of driver behaviour. There has been a remarkable success story with regard to alcohol, and I congratulate the Department of Transport on its approach. Changing public attitudes and behaviour has worked well but more has to be done.
Speed is another problem. Again it is a question of driver behaviour and we have to decide when a speed limit is not a speed limit. On motorways it is commonly accepted that one "won't be done" unless one drives at more than 80 mph. In villages with a 30 mph limit, it is also commonly accepted that drivers can get away with 40 mph. That is not sensible.
I live close to the village of South Newton on the A36 where there was a crash only last night. There is a crash almost weekly because thundering great lorries and silly motorists pass through a narrow twisty village high street that happens to block the way between Southampton and Bristol. As a result of those accidents and a petition given to me by the villagers, I spent a morning in an unmarked police car as a guest of the local constabulary to see the problem from their point of view. It was an eye- opener. The private motorists who were driving through the village at 45 mph were deeply offended when they were stopped by the police and warned. One driver who was doing 47 mph is to be prosecuted.
There is no doubt that most lorry drivers are responsible professional drivers. The country's economy would grind to a halt if we did not have lorry drivers. However, the speed at which some large lorries travel is unacceptable. It is unreasonable that the lives of people in the villages should be made a misery. The professional lorry drivers have got the police sewn up. They have CB radios all the way from Southampton to Bristol and that means the police do not have a chance. It illustrates the importance of driver behaviour that when a lorry driver sees a police car he radios up and down the road so that everyone obeys the speed limit. That is wonderful, but they have other tricks. The police illustrated to me that even when they can catch a heavy goods vehicle speeding, it is almost impossible to get to it unless they are on a dual carriageway because there will be four, five, six or a dozen cars in between and so enforcement is difficult. The police cannot do it all even with radar guns. I welcome the proposals for new technology and the Government's response, "The Road User and the Law." The introduction of fixed position cameras will be of great benefit in recording the date, time, speed, traffic conditions and weather conditions. I hope that the law will be changed to allow such evidence to be admissible in court.
Even that is not enough. It is clear that other sanctions are needed if we are to change driver behaviour. First there should be insurance sanctions. A section of the North report is devoted to that. Paragraph 2.8 on page 17 says :
Column 639"Fear of losing a bonus may be more influential in inducing good driving conduct than fear of penalties imposed by courts after detection and conviction of an offence ; indeed court- imposed financial penalties are often lower than those involved in loss of a no claims discount."
How true that is. Paragraph 2.17 on page 19 says that there is a perceived absence of moral principle in road law. The report says : "The conduct which gives rise to such offences may involve no more than carelessness, misjudgment, a lapse of concentration, a failure to be aware of or understand a relatively technical
requirement--failings which are not in themselves usually regarded as morally reprehensible."
I am convinced that most people would agree that it is morally reprehensible to make such misjudgments. There is clearly much concern about misbehaviour and such attitudes on the roads. Deterrence must be important, but I do not think that the law on it is right. Paragraph 2.33 of the North report says :
"Punishment will have no deterrent effect unless the offender thinks he may be caught and have to suffer the punishment." Those words must be true.
Warnings are at the nub of the argument, and clearly are essential. Paragraph 11.13 of the North report says :
"We take the view that warnings represent an effective and efficient response to a whole range of less serious road traffic offences. We recommend that warnings be used as widely as possible." Those words must also be true.
I welcome the extension of the role of Department of Transport inspectors to trained police officers, as recommended in the North report. That must help, because there are about only 200 Department of Transport inspectors throughout the country. We must allow more police officers to inspect defective vehicles. It is absurd that a police officer who discovers that the insurance or mechanics of a vehicle are defective cannot stop that vehicle in its tracks. It is allowed to proceed as long as the driver promises to have the necessary repairs carried out.
There is the further problem of signposting dangers ahead. Little notices beside the road saying "Police road check area" or "Police speed check area" are important, yet highway authorities are reluctant to erect such signs outside villages in rural areas. I have often tried for a number of villages to get such signs erected, but it is virtually impossible. I have written to the director of highways and planning of Wiltshire county council asking for signs to be erected outside certain villages. The police asked me to ask the authorities to erect such signs, yet still they will not do so. I advocate the use of flashing signs showing the speed of vehicles and the French solution of flashing gantry-mounted signs showing the speed limit, but such ideas are seemingly not allowed in this country. I recall some good experiments such at that on the edge of Windsor great park, where signs flash messages saying that one is too close to the vehicle in front. I believe that we must be more imaginative.
Mr. Jack : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about flashing signs. The most effective signposting on a motorway contraflow is on the M62. Signs flash when a motorist is travelling at more than the mandatory 50 mph limit, which has a remarkable effect on motorists.
Column 640We must not put everything on the shoulders of the police because they cannot solve the problem alone. I ask the Minister to consider whether we need a fundamental initiative. We have had the successful neighbourhood watch scheme for busting crime. Commenting on the neighbourhood watch scheme in a publication this week, the Home Office says that such schemes
"are a way for people in an area to get together to help stop crime and make their neighbourhood a safer place."
The most dangerous thing in villages in my area is speeding vehicles.
We have had farm watch, a successful programme of community action to prevent crime--primarily theft, but also other crime--on farms. I believe that we now need a national speed watch campaign. A number of local residents in Wilton and the parish councillors of South Newton have discussed that suggestion with me. We suggest that the details of vehicles perceived to be driving through a village
unreasonably--either unreasonably fast or dangerously fast--should be taken by volunteers and passed by the parish council to the police. They should write to the owners if they can identify them. Most lorries have names emblazoned on their sides, so they can be identified. The parish council should write to the chairmen of the companies and to the regional transport commissioners, asking them again and again to check the tachographs of the lorries. After all, those commissioners have responsibility for checking the operation of heavy goods vehicles.
Some people would say that this is telling tales, that it is grassing, that it is un-British and that we do not do that sort of sneaky thing. But we are talking about crime. We are talking about ruining the quality of life of whole communities, about death and serious injuries on the roads. We must act on driver attitudes and behaviour, and, as the North report says, fear of detection is a crucial factor. It is socially unacceptable to speed inappropriately.
Every hon. Member can recall stories of dangerous driving in his or her constituency. I am amazed that the big companies that let their vehicles thunder through our villages are apparently also very concerned about the environment. I regret to say that some of the greatest offenders are our big supermarket chains, which have wonderful distribution systems and are serving the consumer in their shops. Those companies are frightfully green in the shops--they have green products and say that they are environmentally friendly and reacting to social need and change. How do the goods get into the shops? They do so via great juggernauts, creating havoc in the villages of south Wiltshire.
I hope that I can bring representatives of the South Newton parish council to discuss this project with my hon. Friend the Minister and find out whether we can take it forward, perhaps on a national basis. Perhaps the residents can be a pilot in the behavioural research project which my hon. Friend mentioned, and we can get more community action to support the police who are helping to support all of us. There was something else missing from the North report. Although the Crown Prosecution Service submitted evidence and the Director of Public Prosecutions gave oral evidence, that evidence was not published. All the good news about which we have heard today becomes but pious hope if we do not carefully consider what happens when a prosecution is being considered in the courts.
Column 641Two cases in my constituency in the past month or so have highlighted this for me. One involved an elderly gentleman who was walking along a street in a holiday town in Cornwall with his wife and friends. The pavement was narrow and the substantial overhang at the front of a coach went over it. The coach knocked my constituent down, broke his neck and he ended up with his head under a wheel. There were witnesses but there will be no prosecution of the coach driver.
Imagine my amazement when another constituent came to see me to say that while he had been driving in Dorset a car had come round a bend on the wrong side of the double white lines and there had been a head-on smash. There were witnesses in front of and behind the accident. Police on the scene took measurements, cars were written off, but no prosecution will ensue. What on earth is going on? I tabled a parliamentary question for answer by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, which was answered yesterday. I asked whether he would
"list the criteria used by the Crown Prosecution Service in deciding whether or not to prosecute in respect of traffic offences."
My right hon. and learned Friend said :
"In deciding whether or not to prosecute of traffic offences ... the Crown Prosecution Service has to satisfy the two criteria set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors These require that there is sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction and that the public interest requires a prosecution in the circumstances."
I should have thought that both cases which I have described fitted those criteria perfectly.
I realised that that was not all. One of my constituents sent me a copy of a letter from the chief superintendent of the Devon and Cornwall constabulary, which stated :
"The Branch Crown Prosecutor indicates that the public interest does not call for a prosecution in every case where it appears that there is a realistic prospect of conviction. He goes on to say that proceedings should not be instigated or pursued unless there is reliable evidence of a substantial degree of blame-worthiness." He said that in the accident involving my constituent there was no evidence of a substantial degree of blameworthiness, but rather an honest error of judgment.
I spoke to my chief constable and asked what was meant by having to weigh up blameworthiness versus errors of judgment. It could mean that if I went out into the street and mowed down a lot of children, and if I could show that it was only an error of judgment, I should get off scot-free to do it again. Someone who makes such an error of judgment is likely to do so again. Both cases I have described involved professional drivers--one was a coach driver, the other a commercial traveller--yet neither is being prosecuted.
My chief constable tells me that the Crown Prosecution Service has said that to all chief constables and that careless driving prosecutions have diminished dramatically as a result. One is not allowed to consider the consequences, only the initiator and his state of mind at the time of the accident. People have been killed in Wiltshire, yet no action is taken against those who kill others when they are in a car.
I welcome the new offence of dangerous driving which is proposed in the North report. I hope that the state of the driver's mind will not be relevant in such cases, but that the
Column 642consequences of the driver's actions will be. I accept that prosecution in the criminal courts is not concerned with revenge. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that a lawyer would confirm that the civil courts are there to wreak revenge in financial terms through suing.
Deterrence is so important in road traffic offences that we should consider carefully the action of the Crown Prosecution Service in pursuing complaints by the police. Yet again, the police feel that it is not worthwhile to go to all the trouble of measuring up road accidents and carrying out their other tasks at the scene of accidents if the Crown Prosecution Service is going to say that the police should not proceed with the prosecution. This is a question of public confidence, and if we intend seriously to improve road safety there must be public confidence as well as public involvement. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that point urgently. 2.6 pm
Ms. Ruddock : By leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker I shall speak briefly. I concur very much with what the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has just said. The mother of one of my constituents was mown down in the street. She has suffered the same problems with the Crown Prosecution Service and feels deeply aggrieved.
This interesting debate has produced many ideas and suggestions and I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope especially that he will have time to respond on the issue of drink-driving offences and on what action should be taken. There are strong feelings in the House on the matter and, of course, on the other matters that the North report has drawn to our attention.
I was delighted to find that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) joined us in our outright opposition to new road building in London. I cannot stress too much how strongly London Members feel about the proposals in the London assessment studies for new road building. We are joined, regardless of party, in seeking to persuade Ministers at the Department of Transport that those plans should not go ahead.
I was interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) on speed limits. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) is not still with us. He was wrong when he said that speed was not a factor. There is substantial evidence to show that when speed limits are reduced, there is a corresponding decrease in accidents. Although much of that evidence comes from other countries, it is notable that when we reduced our motorway speed limits from 70 mph to 50 mph because of the oil crisis in 1973, there was a 33 per cent. decrease in the number of accidents. For those reasons, we very much agree with the sentiments of the hon. Member for Hornchurch and that is why we have said in our transport policy that we shall be prepared to consider reducing speed limits on major roads in certain cases. We should remember that someone who crashes at 50 mph is twice as likely to die as someone who crashes at 40 mph. The House cannot ignore the hard statistical facts.
Of other Tory Members' speeches, I commend in particular that of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) who made some interesting comments. He gave us much food for thought about the condition and safety of vehicles. His view accords with the Labour party's policy on the need to tackle the market in second-hand
Column 643vehicles and the danger that they can present to the travelling and driving public. I hope that the Minister will respond to those remarks.
It will come as no surprise that there is unanimity on the Opposition Benches. We believe that there is a conflict between the general direction of Government transport policy and the Government's aim of reducing road casualties.
Mr. Atkins indicated dissent.
Ms. Ruddock : The Minister may shake his head, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that profit comes first in the Government's policy, and the profit-first principle is in direct conflict with the safety-first principle. The Government will have to reorientate many of their transport priorities and accept the ideas advanced by the Opposition. They cannot escape the fact that most people would be much safer travelling by public transport than they could ever be travelling in their private cars. We need better finance and support for public transport. We need to make a comparable cost-benefit analysis between decisions on railways and roads rather than adhering to the simple judgment that has already affected so many decisions about building new railways--the judgment that there must be an 8 per cent. return on investment.
We wish the Minister well in his endeavours to achieve the road safety targets that he has set before us. It is four years since the House last had the opportunity of a full debate on road safety. I hope that the Minister will get back to us on these matters before another four years have elapsed. If he leaves it that long, he may not have the opportunity. We look forward to finding out what effects his announcement will have in practice and we want to test his sincerity on the transport supplementary grant and on other measures that local authorities have been canvassing. The Minister has acknowledged that much more needs to be done. We join him in seeking improvements and ask for more support to be given to local authorities and to public transport where we believe the solution to road safety problems lies.
Mr. Atkins : With the leave of the House, perhaps I may draw the debate to a close. This has been one of the best debates that I have attended in my 10 years in the House because of the constructive approach that all hon. Members, without exception, have adopted to a subject that concerns all of us.
There is no difference at all between us on the objective that we wish to attain, merely perhaps some discussion--and it is constructive discussion-- about the way in which we should achieve it.
We have covered a wide variety of issues. When I opened the debate I sought to set an agenda and to inform the House, and through the House the country, of the Government's thinking on this most important question of road safety. Inevitably, I shall not be able to cover all the details in my speech but I undertake to ensure that, where possible, I shall write to hon. Members to deal with specific problems when I have had a chance to examine them more closely. I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) that one of the most interesting speeches was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory), albeit in croaking form. I have enjoyed
Column 644hearing his views on transport matters on many occasions. He knows what he is talking about, as was clear for all to hear today. He raised several topics which I shall examine closely. Indeed, I am already examining some of them closely and I hope to comment on them further in due course. I was also delighted by the cameo speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson). We all enjoyed his speech. However, he made some serious points. My daughter is an asthmatic and she raises similar points with me, but in slightly less elegant terms than my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. None the less, I note his points about cycling. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will not be surprised to learn that I was especially pleased by the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). He always makes a point of trying to pinch my thunder and quite rightly so. We are parliamentary neighbours and friends and he quite reasonably referred to Lancashire.
As I represent an area close to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde, I have every reason to support him. Also, the headquarters of the Lancashire constabulary is in my constituency. I spent last Friday with the Lancashire police and we discussed a wide variety of matters affecting road safety. I had an opportunity to try the skid pan, I spoke to the driving school instructors and went on patrol on the motorways. We discussed many matters relating to road safety and I am delighted to support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde about the police, particularly in relation to my hon. Friend's message about the quality of information on our roads. I drive on motorways almost as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. Indeed, since I have assumed my new responsibilities, I have perhaps travelled more. I cannot agree more with my hon. Friend about the quality of information given to motorists. It is one of my prime objectives to try to improve the quality of that information so that people understand what is going on. I firmly believe that the British people are very patient souls. They will wait in queues almost anywhere. However, they become cross when they do not know why they are waiting. We should be able to tell them more so that they understand and appreciate the reasons for the congestion whether that be for an accident, maintenance or for road improvements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde rightly said, we have had problems on our motorways. I am aware of that because part of the junction involving the M6, M61 and M55 is in my constituency. To that extent, the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) about speed limiters on lorries are all the more pertinent to me. The accident to which he referred occurred in my constituency so I am aware of the grief and suffering which arose as a result of that accident although none of my constituents was involved. However, I am well aware of the fine work of the emergency services and the police in particular in dealing with that accident. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch about speed limiters is very important. At the moment there are speed limiters on coaches and buses because they are public service vehicles and the pressure for limiters is great because of the number of people they carry. Detailed discussions are being held within the EEC at the moment about limiters for lorries. It would be invidious of us to set our limits before they are complete, largely because there might be a difference in attitudes to
Column 645speed which might lead to confusion. However, that does not mean that we are opposed to the idea of limiters on lorries in principle. I am considering that along with a wide variety of other issues which hon. Members from both sides of the House have put to me. I am aware of the problem and hon. Members will know that one of the largest truck manufacturers--Leyland-DAF--is in my constituency. I know that it is interested in the subject of limiters and I will raise that subject with it, and also ensure that the discussions within the EEC are brought to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible.
Although congestion in London is not fundamental to our debate, it is very important. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and many of my hon. Friends including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) have referred to the London assessment studies and the available options. They will understand that, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I came to this task, it was the very first issue on our desks--in my case, it was on my desk within an hour of my walking in the door. Therefore, I was made quite certain of the concerns and problems of hon. Members across the political spectrum.
It is my intention and that of my right hon. Friend to ensure that the uncertainty that surrounds the discussion of the London assessment studies is brought to an early conclusion. I have informed my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) that my right hon. Friend intends to make an announcement in the early part of December when the reports have been received and examined in detail. I emphasise that there has never been any consideration of motorways in the accepted sense of the word. I am sure that the expression is often used entirely inaccurately. The options that are being considered are in draft form from consultants, not from the Department of Transport. We intend to make a statement in early December and relieve Londoners' uncertainty and concern. Mr. Maples Will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department will publish the consultants' report before coming to its own conclusions so that there is time for public debate and representations before the Secretary of State comes to his decision?
Mr. Cox : Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be adequate time for local communities to make their observations known? When the reports are published, will they be realistically priced so that local communities and individuals can buy them if they wish?
Mr. Atkins : I assure the House that we will do everything in our power to ensure that local authorities, local Members of Parliament and local residents have the chance to comment on the proposals. We intend to do that as quickly as we possibly can, bearing in mind the need to ensure that the information that comes to us is right. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said that I am a former London borough councillor. I am only too well aware of the difficulties involved with roads. When I joined what is now the London borough of Haringey council in 1968, the biggest problem was the Archway road. When I left in 1976, it was still the Archway road, and when I came to the Department of Transport it
Column 646was yet again the Archway road. I recognise the pressure upon hon. Members and the concern being expressed in various parts of London. As those who are expert in these matters will know, the transport supplementary grant is being examined at precisely this moment. I have already had a preliminary canter through it. We intend to invite local authorities to make submissions for road safety projects in the 1991-92 round. I hope that it will give them plenty of time to examine the possibilities.
One of the most important parts of this debate, which I emphasised in my opening remarks and which was addressed in his own distinguished way by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), is drink-driving. My right hon. Friend's views on these matters are forceful and have been held by him for many years. Obviously, there are differences of opinion between hon. Members about drink-driving. However, there is one matter on which we are all united, and that is that drink- driving is simply unacceptable. All the pressures of public opinion and the effects of the advertising through my Department under my predecessor demonstrate that the change of opinion on these matters is constantly increasing against those involved in such an unacceptable activity. As I said in my opening remarks, breath testing is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He is treating the matter with some urgency. I hope that, as it affects my Department and others, he will be able to come to a conclusion in the near future.
On a personal basis, I have considerable sympathy with my right hon. Friend's points. The idea of random breath testing, guided by a senior police officer at certain check points, seems to have great merit. I stress that that remains my personal view, but it may yet become the view of more people.
On the subject of the alcohol level, at the moment I am not yet persuaded-- I am open to giving the matter some consideration--that there is any enormous advantage in reducing the alcohol level. I say that openly for one main reason--we have spent a lot of time, with some degree of success, trying to get across to the public the level at the moment. The present level is set on a scientific basis and I confess that I do not have the time to go into that now. It was set after a considerable amount of research and was picked because it seemed to fit the requirements of safe driving. I recognise that there is some concern that it should be changed and, believing that it is worthy of consideration, I shall consider that matter. However, as it stands, the level must stay the same if only because it helps us in our continuing campaign against drink-driving. Well over half the convictions in this area involve a level well in excess of the present level. Therefore, while not completely agreeing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and colleagues, I recognise the concern and will keep the matter under constant review. I am surprised that one particular matter did not arise during the debate and, although it did not, I shall address it because I have prepared myself so to do and it is worthy of being put on the record. I am referring to the publicity that has recently surrounded drivers accompanying learner drivers. Some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will recognise the case of Mrs. Vicki Stone, whose daughter and a friend were sadly killed in a dreadful accident. There is some discussion about this matter. I recognise the concern and have made urgent arrangements
Column 647for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) to bring in his constituent, Mrs. Stone, so that we can discuss the matter at some length.
Obviously, this subject is not capable of as easy a solution as some of us would like to think. We know from experience that learners who have had the opportunity to practise their skills as well as having lessons with a professional instructor, do better when taking their driving test and are likely to be better drivers. We do not want to limit that or to take away the opportunity for learners to gain valuable experience, but we must ensure proper supervision. I have therefore already indicated my willingness to look into this to see whether there is a case for a change in the regulations on accompanying drivers. I hope that the House will recognise that the Government and my Department have reacted swiftly to this cause for national concern to which we might be able to find a solution. We have addressed a wide variety of areas in the debate. We have even discussed Liberal policy which, I suspect, will be discussed at even greater length in the days to come. It appears that the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) believes that there is no way in which we can impinge on the right of individuals to buy more cars, yet his party is not frightfully keen on building more roads to cope with them. That is a fundamental dichotomy that the Liberals will have to address because if they do not, we shall force them so to do. Nonetheless, the hon. Member for Southport made an interesting speech and I am grateful to him for being here because he, like me, represents a north-west constituency and knows of the difficulties involved in travelling back to one's constituency on a Friday afternoon.
This has been an important debate. I take the point raised by the hon. Member for Deptford that we have not
Column 648debated this subject for some time and I hope that it will not be long before we discuss it again. Road safety is one of the most important matters facing us--Parliament and the British people. The constant number of deaths and injuries on our roads--albeit reducing year by year--is unacceptable.
I can say with some justification that Britain's record on road safety is better than many other countries in Europe, but as long as one person dies on our roads, our record is not good enough. It is my determination that we shall continue to press strongly in road safety, to improve and to reduce those dreadful statistics and to cut out the dreadful carnage on our roads. I hope that the debate has served to allow the Government to put their case and hon. Members to address the subject in their own way because, as a result, we shall gain. It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without question put.
That, at the sitting on Thursday 9th November, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Orders No. 14 (Exempted business) and No. 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)), Motions in the name of the Prime Minister relating to Shipping (Dangerous Goods) or in the name of Mr. Neil Kinnock relating to Merchant Shipping may be proceeded with, though opposed, for one and a half hours after the first of them has been entered upon ; and if proceedings thereon have not been previously disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall then put the Question already proposed from the Chair.-- [Mr. Durant.]
That Mr. Tim Boswell and Mr. David Curry be discharged from the Agriculture Committee and Mr. Alan Amos and Mr. Christopher Gill be added to the Committee.-- [Sir Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Motion made, and Question proposed That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Durant.]
Sir Marcus Fox (Shipley) : I am sorry to intrude upon the Minister's weekend activities by asking him to realise--as I am sure he will by the end of this short debate--that there is a deteriorating relationship between the Royal British Legion housing association and the Housing Corporation. It is quite unnecessary and it can be rectified virtually immediately. I hope that common sense will prevail, which is all that I ask.
I regret that the Housing Corporation has not lived up to the expectations that many of us had at its inception. There is a feeling that it has become bureaucratic and that some of its officers behave autocratically in their examination of certain housing associations, and I am not restricting that criticism to the Royal British Legion. It is a great shame, because, after all, those who serve housing associations are volunteers. They give of their time because they feel that they are fulfilling an important social need. Anything that gets in the way of the good relationship that should exist should be carefully examined.
The debate is dealing with a housing association that is attached to the Royal British Legion, hence its title. I wish to use the debate to highlight one area of concern. The management committee consists of a majority of people from the Royal British Legion, as we would expect. I must declare an interest because I am a consultant to the Royal British Legion--although, I hasten to add, unpaid--and so is the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who would have been here to support me had that been possible. The more that I know of the Royal British Legion, the more impressed I am by its wonderful work. If this House were packed, and it never is for an Adjournment debate, I should be surprised if there was any dissent from that statement. The Royal British Legion cares for those who gave so much not only in two world wars but in the other conflicts since then. I am thinking especially of the grievous problems in Northern Ireland and the suffering that has been caused. The timing of this debate could not be better because we are approaching Remembrance Day.
Some 25 years ago, in August 1964, the British Legion--as it was then-- decided to take advantage of recently introduced legislation to form a housing association. The intention was to provide well-designed and well- built housing for ex-service men and women who had reached retirement age and needed to spend their remaining days in warden-assisted sheltered housing. Only two types of property are involved--single bedroom accommodation for a couple and bedsit accommodation. In other words, the accommodation is restricted to the sort of people who would need it.
I am sure that it will be generally accepted and appreciated that those who have served their country in the armed services have a special distinction and a disciplined approach to life's complexities. I am not sure that I can speak for both my hon. Friend the Whip and my hon. Friend the Minister, but two of us have served in the armed forces. I apologise if I have wrongly left out my hon. Friend the Minister, but he looks rather young to have been in the armed services. It is quite traumatic for service people to return to everyday civilian life where they have