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John Healey: We are engaged in discussions with companies and their representatives on that very point. HMRC is prepared to give clearances of that nature and is prepared to be bound by them as I have explained.
The hon. Members for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) and for Wimbledon voiced concern about clause 11, which relates to gift aid. The provision is designed to deal with the situation whereby free admission is given by a so-
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called donation equivalent to the admission price. The clause therefore upholds the core principles of gift aid in generating new and additional giving and, at the same time, broadens the type of charity to which the gift aid can apply. My officials and I have worked with the sector on the measure and the director of the Museums Association has said:
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) asked whether clause 11 would apply to old books. It will apply if the public are paying to view the books and if it is the charity's objective to look after and/or preserve those books.
The Finance Bill has been introduced with a foundation of fiscal strength and economic stability. Before 1997, Britain simply had not been accustomed to sound public finances or to a strong and stable economy. The challenge now is to lock in our economic success and stability for the future. That means securing the high levels of capital investment, innovation and science, technology, business support and skills that our economy needs for the long term. It means maintaining Britain's position as one of the most open, flexible and competitive countries for business, while still upholding high standards for consumers and employees. That will mean further reform to ensure that the British tax system is competitive, flexible and fair, which is exactly what the measures in the Bill are designed to achieve. I commend the Bill to the House.
(3) when the provisions of the Bill considered, respectively, by the Committee of the whole House and by the Standing Committee have been reported to the House, the Bill shall be proceeded with as if the Bill had been reported as a whole to the House from the Standing Committee.
Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I should like to begin by welcoming the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) to his new position, by congratulating him on his promotion and by welcoming him to his first Adjournment debate in his new capacity. I am delighted to have secured this debate on road traffic accidents and tiredness. I intend to cover three points on signage and its ability to prevent, lessen or cause accidents.
Anyone who has driven on a motorway in recent years will be aware of the presence of the blue signs that warn that "Tiredness Kills". The location of those and their potential effectiveness in enhancing road safety is the first of the issues that I want to raise. The signs seek to tackle the issue of falling asleep at the wheel. Research carried out by Loughborough university has found that 17 per cent. of road crashes that involve road death or injury were sleep-related. That was, in the researchers' opinion, a conservative estimate. That compares with a figure for alcohol-related crashes, for example, of just 3 per cent. The disparity is startling. It might be a measure of the extent of public awareness about drink-driving that, thankfully, now exists.
On the issue of tiredness and driving at the wheel, the Department for Transport has not been idle. According to its website, roughly £1 million a year is spent on publicity warning the public of the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel. There have been press advertisements, one of which I have brought with me. It carries the message:
I welcome that stark and effective message, but I have not come across those advertisements nearly as often as I would have liked to have done. There is also a dedicated road safety website, among whose pages a substantial section is devoted to "Tiredness Kills", but much more is necessary.
Driving while under the influence is, in 2005, considered by the vast majority of people to be socially unacceptable, but it has taken many years of public information campaigns from the 1960s to the present day to achieve that. Just this week a new campaign is to be launched that will target the summer months. The budget for it is around £2 million a year. Just half of that sum is to be spent on publicity warning the public of the dangers of driving while tired, although doing so causes many more accidents.
In some ways, of course, one cannot compare the two causes; it is by no means an exact science. One needs to look at the matter carefully to work out the real causes. There is evidence, for example, that undiagnosed medical conditions have their part to play, as do prescription drugs. We cannot suggest that in all cases a driver acted grossly irresponsibly in causing an accident through tiredness as we can for those driving under the influence, but we can credibly claim that there are many cases in which precisely the same culpability is attached. The level of public awareness has not yet caught up with the reality of the situation, and I press the Minister to commit more resources to a campaign in that regard.
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The quibble that I have with the "Tiredness Kills" signs lies with their siting and not their funding. According to the Minister's predecessor, there are 57 signs on motorways in England. To the best of my knowledge, they are without exception sited immediately prior to the entry slip road of motorway service areas. That is good, but of course highly convenient for the commercial operators who maintain and benefit from them. I am not sure that the signs fully optimise their remit. Indeed, as I learned from a written answer, they are sometimes erected purely at the request of operators of the service areas.
However, there are large stretches of motorway throughout the UK that are devoid of places of rest and consequently of signs reminding drivers to take a break. The Loughborough university research found that sleep-related crashes occur least on Fridays and most on Mondays. It should not be beyond the wit of man to assess the location of sleep blackspots and to site warning signs accordingly, using methodology similar to that relating to speed camera locations. In fact, the Loughborough research did precisely thatidentifying classes of crashes related to driver tiredness on the A1 in Lincolnshire and elsewhere.
What is surely needed is such a study conducted nationwide. We should not be in the business merely of reacting to the data as they are collated. Such an exercise would of necessity be lengthy, and I would argue that blackspots can be reasonably accurately predicted according to, for example, the type of driver who frequently uses a particular section of road and at what point in the majority of journeys one enters identified periods of increased vulnerability to sleep. There are surely many different criteria by which one might seek to predict the most suitable location for "Tiredness Kills" signs and which would result in their more effective siting than the current approach. Another way of tackling the issue of tiredness is to use the variable message signs that can be programmed to give notice of congestion and so forth more intelligently and extensively to alert drivers to the dangers of tiredness.
The measures contained in the Road Safety Bill recently introduced in another place may include proposals to pilot French-style picnic and rest areas. I welcome that; indeed, I urge the Minister to ensure that the programme is rolled out as quickly as is practicable and to reject the representations of service area operators lobbying against it, albeit for sound business reasons. Such areas are a welcome alternative to the catch-all services areas that currently predominate. In present circumstances, I fear that most drivers will stop only if they have cause to do so for reasons of thirst, hunger or, as it were, the call of nature. An alternative without the shops, restaurants and so forth would encourage a cultural shift in the manner in which long journeys are embarked upon.
I turn to roadside advertising, which is, in many forms, a hazard. Anyone who has recently travelled to or from the north of England using the M6 will not have failed to notice a plethora of advertisements in fields adjoining the carriageway. Some offer used cars for sale, while others might offer to help solve debt problems or to provide fitted kitchens. Some sites are used by well-
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established multinational corporations and others by what appear to be one-man or one-woman bands. I saw one of particular note between junctions 18 and 19 of the north-bound M6 which advertised escort services, although on closer examination it may have related to ancient Ford vehicles.
However, whatever the repute of the advertisements, the raison d'être of these signs is to draw attention to themselves and to the messages and details that they contain. Some are more effective than others at doing this, but the point is that if they do not distract, they do not work. If using a mobile phone while driving is now illegal, albeit much ignored, trying to get people to take down a telephone or website address by whatever means while driving at speed is no less questionable. I am not suggesting that a competent driver is unable to deal with myriad potential distractions and complex driving situations, but what concerns me, as well as several of my constituents and, I imagine, colleagues in the House and road users up and down the country is the sheer scale and apparently intractable nature of the problem. Companies have been set up specifically to cater for and nurture the demand for such advertisements, one of which boasts on its website:
"Advertising on motorways is one of the most effective ways to send your message to hundreds of thousands of potential customers . . . it grasps the attention of the bored motorway user; as a consumer he/she fully absorbs and thinks about the message your advert has just delivered."
It seems, although it is not the case, that this is an area that is free of regulation. The fact that that impression is given, however, is enough to suggest that the measures that are in place are not being used as effectively as they might be. Signs of this nature are covered by the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992. It would not be helpful or interesting for me to go on an excursion into the minutiae of planning regulations, but it is worth mentioning that two tests are specified by the regulationspublic immunity and safety. I contend that the vast majority of advertisements placed in fields adjoining motorways would fail both of them. Certainly, when due process has been followed by prospective advertisers, it seems that there are very few occasions when planning permission has been granted, and even when it has, it is by no means clear that it should have been. A circular from the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions gives the following guidance:
"Land alongside motorways is landscaped for reasons of safety and appearance . . . It is hoped that local planning authorities will take steps to ensure that on land alongside motorways but not required for them, no advertisements that could adversely affect amenity or constitute a danger to traffic are allowed."
That, you might think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is clear enough, but an apparent loophole exists in the regulations through an exclusion applied to vehicles. Most of the offending advertisements consist of an articulated lorry trailer painted or draped with an advertisement. Those involved might be under the impression that because vehicles are exempt from the regulations they do not apply to them. If there is such an
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impression, however, it is mistaken, as it cannot be claimed reasonably that such trailers are, in the words of the conditions,
While the middlemen who act as go-betweens for the farmer and advertiser are nothing if not entrepreneurial, the practice has not altogether enjoyed the status of legitimacy. I am pleased, for example, that the Outdoor Advertising Association is at pains to condemn this, and that it is not something with which its members would associate themselves.
It is clear that existing regulations, while they might be technically sufficient to cover the problem, are simply not working effectively. That is the evidence from just a single drive up the M6, for example. Some local authorities are better at tackling the issue than othersChester city council, for example, has directed resources at and managed to get to grips with the problem. In another case, police motorway patrols have kept a record of the offending advertisements. The intention is for that record to be passed to planning officers. That serves only to underscore the ineffectiveness of the current regime. The issue might concern planners, but surely only on technical grounds. As we have seen, virtually all cases that are heard by local planning committees are turned down on grounds of road safety. The signs are there only by virtue of being next to a trunk roadlocal authorities will always struggle to police a strip of land that happens to pass through an area under its jurisdiction but is no more integral to the patch than that. I am aware that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister intends to remind local authorities of their duties in this regard later in the year, but that seems to me to be a case of flogging the wrong horse, and possibly of doing so too late.
Furthermore, the problem applies at a more localised level. Some local authorities, including mine in Wirral, have also taken to erecting potentially distractingin my viewsmall-scale advertisements with a council header on roundabouts, verges and the like as an extra source of revenue. Anything that saves my council tax I welcome, but I wonder about this. The signs are treated as de minimis, and as individual signs, so they are. Taken together, however, they are a major change to the landscape, and I doubt whether they should be regarded as de minimis. In my view, they do not have a beneficial place in the landscape. I am afraid that, sometimes, they clutter the environment, and after a certain period, they look slightly tatty. As with motorway signs, if they did not distract, advertisers would not use themthey are hard-bitten business people, and they want the bang for their buck.
As an aside, I cannot see that any council would want to take advantage of a scheme, albeit one bringing in revenue, in which the gains did not outweigh the disadvantages. In addition, the appearance of such an advertisement in a frame carrying a council logo might give a spurious impression of council endorsement.
Given that we are dealing primarily with road safety, should not roadside signs be a responsibility of the Highways Agency? Currently, it looks after and has powers to intervene in all such matters, as needed, on all land that constitutes the highway, but is powerless to act
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on land outside it. The point at which control of the planning process transfers from one local authority to another is purely arbitrary, and advertisers are attracted to motorways as a location precisely because of their arterial nature. In conjunction with the police, the Highways Agency regularly patrols sections of road as part of its everyday dutiesin contrast to local authorities, which would have to make special trips, often well away from their headquarters. A good start would be to hold advertisers responsible rather than landowners, the tracing of whom is often vastly time-consuming. While I understand that that is already possible, because this is seen as entirely a planning issue, it rarely happens. What is clear is that a change is needed, both in the extent to which regulations are enforced and in the source from which they emanate.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look at the issue again, and perhaps to consider amendments to the Road Safety Bill relating to awareness of the dangers of falling asleep and the way in which campaigns are conducted.
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