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Mr. Dover: Does the paper that my hon. Friend mentioned contain any information about the damage to the occupants of the vehicles? My hon. Friend said that she thought that there was danger to the occupants of vehicles and that those driving them were perhaps over-confident. I am not saying that she is wrong, but does that document include any evidence to that effect?

Lady Olga Maitland: It so happens that that document does not consider occupants--I came across that information from other research--but it does state:


I am sure that the laboratory has done more work on the subject, and if it has not, perhaps it could be encouraged to do so.

I have said that I am not happy about whether self-regulation is working, but I should pay tribute to the manufacturers that are taking action. It would be churlish to ignore what they are doing. For example, Nissan was the first four-wheel-drive builder to drop the steel bull bars from its vehicles, including the Terrano II, the Patrol GR and its light commercial range. But Nissan has installed instead a mock substitute made from polyurethane. Mitsubishi is doing the same for the Shogun vehicles. I am not happy about that because I do not believe that the substitutes will minimise the impact that much. Indeed, the RAC also does not regard them as especially safe. They are illusory and cosmetic. They make the driver feel good, but they will not make the pedestrian feel any happier.

Mr. Norris: I am following what my hon. Friend says with interest and I applaud the remarks that she has made so far. On the question of polyurethane accessories, there is no doubt that those accessories--whether they are of value in protecting the vehicle--overcome the reluctance of hon. Members to allow the fitment of aggressive steel bull bars. The real issue is the aggressive steel bars fitted in front of a pedestrian-friendly front. I would not want my hon. Friend to discredit the polyurethane fitments because I believe that, in road safety terms at least, they are perfectly acceptable.

Lady Olga Maitland: I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says. I usually agree with him 100 per cent., but I hope that he will not think that I am being disrespectful if I say that it might be useful to do a little more research on what happens in an accident involving a polyurethane bull bar. I personally would not like to take that statement as read.

Mr. Flynn: I am delighted by the hon. Lady's speech, but the point of putting the word "metal" into the Bill was to avoid this argument. It might well arise in Committee. The problem with the polyurethane bars is that they legitimise the metal bars, but research might show that the shape of the polyurethane bars--they are well designed in some cases--has the effect of reducing the impact.

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Lady Olga Maitland: I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. It is obviously useful to consider such factors.

Other organisations are already throwing away bull bars and we should take comfort from that. Nationwide delivery companies are throwing them out, ambulance services have removed them from their vehicles, which is interesting, and the Army probably never even considered them in the first place for its latest huge order of Land Rover Defenders. One would have thought that the Army would have been a natural customer for them.

Most four-wheel drives do not have bull bars fitted as standard equipment. They are generally an extra-cost option. Losing them will cause no problems for owners, although an exception may be made in any legislation for farmers, for whom they can be useful rather than part of an ego-boosting exercise.

It would be appropriate to remove bull bars from the manufacturers' catalogues. We should discourage their use. Indeed, we ought to encourage people who have bull bars on their vehicles to get rid of them. I understand that discarding them is not difficult; a few minutes' work with a spanner is enough. Massive though they may look, they are effectively free standing with no structural function. They will not be missed. Even I might be able to turn a spanner to taking one off, although I am not always that practical.

People in public life should take a lead. I welcome the fact that Members of Parliament are living up to their responsibilities, but that should also happen in local authorities. I accept that the council in Sutton has taken the hint as far as its vehicles are concerned--acting on the advice of motor insurers it has taken the bull bars from all its 65 Ford Transit vans. That was done on practical--financial--grounds because it was told that it would face heavier claims if a child were hit by a vehicle with bull bars.

I ask Liberal Democrat councillors in Sutton to go one stage further and to remove bull bars from their vehicles and get their colleagues to do the same. In that way, the public would begin to understand that that is a policy that should be followed and that the bars are not to be admired.

Interestingly, insurance companies are pushing people to think more clearly on the matter. I congratulate CGA Direct of Horsham in West Sussex, which became the first insurance company in Britain to refuse cover for any vehicle fitted with rigid steel bull bars. The marketing director said:


That is undoubtedly a lead and it is something that I support.

We can also encourage public support in different ways. During a survey by Auto Express and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 87 per cent. of motorists questioned said that bull bars should be banned. The Automobile Association is also very supportive of that case.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Earl of Kinnoull for introducing the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill in the other place a few weeks ago, in January. Sadly, I fear that lack of parliamentary time might prevent it from progressing.

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This is no new campaign, as the hon. Member for Newport, West is aware. It began about three years ago and we have to ask ourselves why on earth we have not taken action? What possible reason can there be for delay? I have become lost in the fudge and confusion, and the intricacies and bureaucracy, both at home and abroad.I do not want to throw too many sticks and stones, but it seems to have been a bit of a dance of the hokey cokey. Everyone agrees and says that the ban is obvious--we say it here in London and so do the Department of Transport, the European Union, and Commissioner Kinnock. What is the problem? Why are we so dilatory?

I have read the correspondence that has been passing between Commissioner Kinnock and the Minister. It does not make the issue any clearer. Each party seems to be saying that the other could do more. In the end, my hon. Friend will probably act on his own instincts, in which I have total confidence. I believe that he will say, if the Bill does not go through as planned, "Enough is enough. I am now going for it." I think that he will do that, and he should. He could quite easily justify that approach on the basis of subsidiarity. There are certain matters that should be dealt with at national level. In those instances, it is no one else's business what is going on. We should be allowed to get on with bull bars ourselves.

Let us make a plea for sanity. Drivers have the first responsibility. Let us say to drivers, "Take off your bull bars. You do not need them. You will cause a fatal injury, which will be on your conscience for ever." Let us say to manufacturers, "Don't push or encourage people to have bull bars." I say to the Government and to those in Europe, "Don't delay. Don't drag on. Don't fudge."

We have an important task to undertake. I have every confidence that in the end the Government will introduce effective legislation. In so doing, lives will be saved and we shall be eternally grateful.

1.56 pm

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): First,I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on mounting a one-person campaign to persuade the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the police force, the royal parks and even some insurance companies to have bull bars removed. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend has saved lives already by the action that he has taken. He is now giving the Government the chance to save even more lives.

I am grateful for support from my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane).I welcome the thoughtful comments by the hon. Members for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). The remarks of the hon. Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) have produced a debate and allowed arguments to be aired.

It appears that there are three key objections. The first is that research is not valid and statistics do not count. The second is that the Commission is endorsing the Minister's view that he cannot do anything for the moment. The third is that bull bar owners are entitled to protect their vehicles.

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It is clear that the research funded by the Department of Transport, which was published in its news bulletin in 1994, showed that an estimated 35 lives a year were being saved by action taken on bull bars. I recognise that there has been a growth in the use of bull bars since then.

The Minister cited his letter from the Commission in February. I received a letter on Wednesday from officials of the RAC, who met members of both Mr. Kinnock's and Mr. Bangemann's cabinet. The meeting took place on 25 March. They conclude in their letter:


That is clear and we look forward to the Minister taking action.

The hon. Member for Chorley advanced the defence that car owners have the right to protect their vehicles.He told us that his car had lost its lights. Apparently that cost him £100. Helen Baggs lost her life, and that is what the debate is about.

The hon. Member for Hexham dismissed statistics. Previous predictions of fewer deaths were based on statistical information on seat belts, for example. The introduction of seat belt legislation has saved 1,000 lives and 5,000 serious injuries a year. Legislation was introduced on crash helmets. I am well aware of the excellent work that is done by the Astley Ainslie hospital in my constituency, which rehabilitates those with head injuries, and aware also of the beneficial effects of legislation bearing on crash helmets.

As regards the statistics on bull bars, I believe, as I am sure, does the whole House, that Helen Baggs was a person, not a statistic. People's lives have been destroyed. Ian Farnworth, 17, Nigel Sutcliffe and Susan Gardiner--all killed by vehicles that were armed, and I use that word advisedly, with these quite unnecessary bull bars.

One of the privileges of being a Member of Parliament is that we meet some remarkable people, people like Vicky Moule. I greatly admire her fighting spirit and her courage. She is a survivor. She has a great future. She had a lucky escape. Today, the House has an opportunity to replace luck with positive action for safety. There must be no delay. The Minister has 30 minutes to secure the passage of the Bill. Every week of delay could cost a child's life.


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