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31 Mar 2003 : Column 717—continued

Miss McIntosh: The Minister has not lost face or favour with me by accepting that new clause 9 is necessary: despite his comments in Committee, it was a clear omission. I am grateful for his graciousness in accepting that Committee proceedings do matter and that the Opposition have contributed to the Bill.

The Minister described Government amendment No. 28 as similar to amendment No. 49, which was discussed in Committee on 27 February in a debate starting at column 370. I assure the House that the Government amendment is not merely similar, but exactly the same as our amendment—word for word, punctuation marks and all. We are deeply grateful to the Minister for recognising the Opposition's drafting skills, despite the fact that we do not have a large body of men and women on whom to draw. He made one or two churlish remarks in Committee, but having invited me to his constituency, he has now thought better of them.

On a serious note, we appreciate that the Government have seen fit to add the medical defence, although we still do not understand why it applies only to mariners on fishing vessels and is not deemed worthy of being applied to all mariners. Misunderstandings in that respect could have been avoided had the Government seen fit to introduce a proper definition of what constitutes standby. We were minded to table a modest amendment—I thought that we had and I am not sure what happened to it, but perhaps there is an equivalent Government amendment—to define a non-professional mariner.

May I take this opportunity to press the Minister to confirm and assure us that it will be the driver of a boat who is open to prosecution if he is found to have exceeded the alcohol limit or to be in breach of any drugs provisions, not others aboard the vessel? The industry, especially the boating industry, feels that that issue was not cleared up during the Committee debate on amendment No. 74. Our aim is to define a non-professional mariner as an individual driving a vessel used for sport or leisure purposes and to confirm that it would be that individual who was prosecuted, not someone who happened to be having a good time on the board, was not performing any safety-critical function, was not qualified and would not be expected to drive the board at any stage.

To test the Minister's patience a jot, he will recall our interesting discussion about the taking of an oral swab. Now that some time has elapsed since Committee stage, I wonder whether the Department has considered

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providing that evidence taken by oral swab may be taken alongside evidence provided by breathalyser, blood and urine tests.

I end with a message of optimism for other right hon. and hon. Members. Never let it be said that Committee proceedings are unimportant. Even in our humble capacity, we have managed to write a part of the Bill.

Mr. Jamieson: I am delighted that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends have been able to participate in writing a piece of legislation. It may well be the last time that they do so, but in a genuine spirit of conciliation, we, as a listening Government, accepted that it was right to insert the provision.

The hon. Lady said that our amendment was similar to the Opposition's, but it is clearly not the same. Above our amendment is the name of the Secretary of State for Transport, not the names of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends. I hope that she noticed that.

Miss McIntosh: As they are not great, perhaps the Minister can explain to the House what the precise differences are?

Mr. Jamieson: As I just said, there is a different name above our amendment. The hon. Lady's arguments in Committee were deeply persuasive and, on careful reflection, we decided to table the Government amendment. We are delighted to have been able to do so.

The hon. Lady made a serious point about the driver of the boat. Probably one person would be in charge of a recreational vessel, and we want this part of the Bill to catch that person. I do not think that we would want others on board the vessel—people having a good time and playing no part in the navigation or steerage of the boat—to be similarly included. However, there may be occasions when more than one person is responsible for the safe passage of the vessel. Those other people would be held responsible.

I have not as yet had the opportunity to consider in more detail the issue of oral swabs. However, I am sure that it is a matter that will detain some of the officials in my Department as they give it further consideration. With that, and on a note of cross-party accord, I commend the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Snow and ice

'After section 41(1) of the Highways Act 1980 (c. 66) (duty of highway authority to maintain highway) insert—
"(1A) In particular, a highway authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice."'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Jamieson: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

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New clause 3—Clearance of snow and ice—

'Highways authorities shall take such steps as they consider reasonable to prevent snow and ice endangering the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles over public roads.'.

New clause 11—Annual report on road safety statistics—

'.—(1) The Secretary of State shall prepare and lay before Parliament an annual report on the incidence and causes of major road traffic accidents that have occurred in the preceding 12 months.
(2) For the purposes of this section "major road traffic accident" shall mean any road traffic accident involving a fatality or a serious injury likely to lead to permanent disability.
(3) A report under subsection (1) shall include—
(a) a summary and analysis of the statistics collected by the relevant bodies responsible for road safety or for investigating road traffic accidents, and
(b) an assessment of those statistics for improving the safety of road design.'.

Mr. Jamieson: This is a small but important amendment. The Government have made it clear for some time that we are minded to introduce a duty for highways authorities to remove snow and ice so as to ensure safe passage on our highways. We welcome the principle behind the Opposition new clause. However, on this occasion we think that our clause is better than theirs, and I urge the House to support it.

The Opposition's new clause mirrors the current duty in Scotland that is contained in section 34 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984. It would not properly fit the legislative framework in England and Wales. I hope that the Opposition will agree that the Government new clause deals satisfactorily with the matter and will see fit to withdraw new clause 3.

6.45 pm

Miss McIntosh: I was bowled over by our success with new clause 9 and now we move on to snow and grit. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for raising the issue by means of a parliamentary question some time ago. She asked the Secretary of State whether he would list the authorities in England that have direct responsibility for gritting trunk roads and set out the new responsibilities of the authorities for gritting. The Under-Secretary assured the hon. Lady that such gritting is the responsibility of the Highways Agency. In England, there is no statutory duty on a highway authority to remove ice, but he added that such a duty would be introduced at a "suitable legislative opportunity." Here we have it. Indeed, we had the first legislative opportunity in Committee.

At first, the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State were loth to consider any aspect of road transport despite the temptations put before them by us and the Liberal Democrats—not in alliance, but acting independently. I pay tribute to the sterling work of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who introduced the same provision in clause 1 of the Road Transport Bill of 2001, which was defeated at the hands of the Government. That was extremely disappointing. About 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured on icy or snow-covered roads, and it is clear that snow and ice clearance is essential to prevent that toll. As recently as July 2000, the House of Lords ruled in the case of Goodes v. East Sussex county council

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that there is no duty on highway authorities to pre-salt any roads. However, it is worthy of note—I am sure that the House would expect me to note it—that, based on Scots law, new clause 3 would invite highway authorities to take such steps as they consider reasonable.

As I have said, we have modest resources at our disposal. Only four of us were involved in these matters. I am delighted to see my hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who gave me sterling support throughout our proceedings in Committee. We were hugely dedicated to the task of amending the Bill. The Department can draw on much greater resources—we pay our respectful compliments to it—and it is proper that we withdraw new clause 3 in favour of the Government's new clause.

Clearly, many county councils take their responsibilities extremely seriously. North Yorkshire county council, for example, is particularly mindful that there are a number of highways in its area on which more snow and ice is to be found than elsewhere. That approach can be contrasted with that of the Highways Agency. I think that the excuse was used that its equipment was defective. Perhaps it did not give sufficient notice to enable those responsible to get out their ploughs. Early this year, in January or February, we saw dreadful events on the M11 and on most roads leaving London one Thursday evening. That re-emphasises the need for responsibility to be enshrined in law.

I hope that the Minister will be mindful that on both sides of the Pennines we have high ground and inclement weather. I believe that the de-trunking of roads has been postponed for a year, but I hope also that sufficient provision will be made for highways authorities—those that are county councils—to ensure that they will have the means at their disposal to fulfil their responsibility.

I am sure that the Minister will share my concern that liability will be strictly interpreted and that there will not be a flood of cases where highway authorities were seen to have fulfilled their obligations but accidents occurred. I hope that he will join me in ensuring that the proposed provisions are interpreted strictly.

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