Road Safety Bill [Lords]


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Stephen Hammond: Like many colleagues on this side of the Chamber, we have a deep mistrust of secondary legislation by statutory instrument. However, I welcome the Minister’s commendable honesty and am grateful for his comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 35

Reduced qualification period for attendance on course

Mr. Knight: On a point of order, Sir Nicholas.

The Chairman: I shall take it and listen with great interest.

Mr. Knight: Thank you, Sir Nicholas. Clause 35 deals with disqualification. My point of order relates to it and to clause 36, which relates to driving tests, to clause 38 on the granting of licences and to any other parts of the Bill or its provisions that may be affected.

Yesterday, the European Union made a decision to apply new rules to driving licences. The testing of motorists applying for driving licences would be co-ordinated. Motorists who are banned from driving in
 
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the UK will apparently no longer be able to apply for a licence anywhere else in Europe. The change co-ordinates, for the first time, the testing and licensing requirements for all drivers—of anything from mopeds to lorries—across all 25 member states. There is a full report on that decision in The Times for today, on page 8. It quotes the Minister as saying:

    “It’s negative, but we have no choice but to make the best of it”.

The report goes on to say that under the rules, which must be introduced within six years, bus and lorry drivers under the age of 45 must renew their licences and declare that their health is good every five years rather than every 10.

Earlier in proceedings, the Minister said that he had no intention of making any change to the UK’s provision of driving licences. Yet today we read in The Times that the Minister has apparently thrown in the towel and accepted that EU decision.

My point of order is that, surely, the Minister should provide for every member of the Committee a statement about what effect the decision in the European Union will have on our further consideration of those clauses to which I referred and any other parts or provisions that might be relevant. Would not it be appropriate if our proceedings were suspended until he issues the statement to us all?

6.15 pm

The Chairman: The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. I can say only that I believe that the Minister has heard what has been said.

Dr. Ladyman: Further to that point of order, Sir Nicholas. I am not aware of saying anything that conflicts with what is in the third driving licence directive. Although the directive was agreed yesterday at the European Transport Council, with mine being the only dissenting voice in the entire European Union, it still has to go through Parliament before it can be enacted, and even then, we will have six years in which to so.

The comments in the newspaper to which the right hon. Gentleman referred were taken slightly out of context. I was discussing the motorcycle parts of the directive. I freely admit that I believe that they are rigid and unnecessary. They add nothing to motorcycling safety while possibly damaging the motorcycling industry. That part was the reason why I did not support the directive yesterday.

We broadly support the rest of the directive. Our legislation and arrangements are in line with it, but I am happy to undertake to review it, since we shall have to prepare an impact assessment for the European Scrutiny Committee. If there are any differences between what I have said in Committee so far and what we will have to do in the future, I shall write to the Committee to let Members know.

Mr. Knight: I am most grateful to the Minister, as I am sure the whole Committee is, for the nature of that response. Many Opposition Members wish that he had had a veto yesterday.


 
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The Chairman: From the Chair, as it was a point of order, I consider that the Minister has been very helpful in his response. He has indicated that this may not be the last we hear of the matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman. With that statement from the Minister in reply, we can continue our debate.

Stephen Hammond: I beg to move Amendment No. 81, in page 40, line 35, leave out subsection (7).

Clause 35 extends to those people who have committed more serious offences, particularly drink driving, the principle of a rehabilitation scheme and a discount for attending a training course. It applies to those who have been disqualified for 12 months or longer, or those who are about to be disqualified. There is talk on page 63 of the explanatory notes about the success of those courses:

    “Only 35 per cent. of all offenders referred to a course actually go on to complete it. Research conducted by the TRL has indicated that the most common reason given by offenders for not attending is cost and difficulty of paying for the course.”

That may be so, but surely part of the reason is that attendance is also non-compulsory.

Amendment No. 81 would make course attendance mandatory. It would not represent a discount for a sentence. The individual would actually have to attend. The additional mandatory attendance and completion of the course would be prerequisites for the return of a licence. The amendment would toughen up the clause significantly. The Government and the Opposition have said that we wish to be tough on serial offenders. Here is the opportunity. By accepting amendment No. 81, the Government would make course attendance additional and a prerequisite for the return of the licence.

Dr. Ladyman: I accept that disqualification from driving is one of the most potent weapons that we have against offences of bad driving, and there are serious powers in the hands of the court. In the quest for new disposals to deal with drink drivers, the review of road traffic law—the so-called North report in 1988—pointed us in the direction of rehabilitation and retraining courses, and the Conservative Government, in the early 1990s, introduced the drink drive rehabilitation scheme.

The principle behind that was that in return for a reduction in the disqualification the offender would pay for, attend and complete a course. The payment arrangement ensured that the cost of providing courses was not borne by the taxpayer. After an experimental period of seven years, research suggested that course attenders were more than two times less likely to reoffend than others who had not benefited from a course. On the strength of those findings, the current Government decided to roll out the scheme to the whole of Great Britain. It is a model that we envisage using under the Bill for other retraining schemes involving courses designed to deal with other aspects of bad driving, such as speeding and carelessness.

By removing subsection (7) from proposed new section 34A of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, amendment No. 81 would undermine the scheme completely. Without an incentive to participate in a course an offender would probably not be willing to pay for it. If we want the courts to require offenders to
 
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attend such courses, we are moving away from the type of courses for which the clause provides, towards the separate realm of probation, which, among other things, involves additional costs. It is difficult in those circumstances to support the amendment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman withdraws it.

Stephen Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. He is, of course, not necessarily completely correct on one point. There would be an incentive to attend the courses—it would be a prerequisite to regaining one’s licence. We may well want to return to the matter on Report, and having heard what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36

Driving tests

Dr. Ladyman: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in clause 36, page 44, line 26, after ‘tests”,’ insert—

      ‘(aa)   in paragraph (b), after “conducted” insert “, conditions which must be satisfied during the currency of an appointment, the charging of reasonable fees in respect of applications for appointment or appointments or in connection with any examination or assessment which may be required before appointment or during the currency of any appointment”,’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 7 and 8.

Amendment No. 103, in schedule 5, page 108, leave out lines 30 and 31.

Government amendments Nos. 9 and 10.

Dr. Ladyman: Section 89 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, “Tests of competence to drive”, enables the Secretary of State to make regulations about such tests. Section 89(3)(b) provides for those regulations to cover the qualifications, selection and appointment of persons to conduct driving tests. That provision is used to enable employees of certain organisations, such as the Ministry of Defence, the police, fire brigades and some bus companies, to conduct driving tests on behalf of the Secretary of State as delegated examiners.

In the modern environment we need flexibility as to the training that a person may need to undertake to become, and remain, approved as a delegated examiner. For example, as delegated examiners need to maintain and develop their expertise following their initial appointment, we would want to discuss with them the introduction of continuing professional development. Thus amendment No. 6 would amend section 89(3)(b) to make the scope of the regulation-making powers more explicit. It would also permit the Secretary of State to charge reasonable fees in connection with the initial, and continuing, approval of delegated examiners. That links with clause 36(5). The combined effect of the provisions is to create an environment in which we can move away from the existing arrangements for recovering the costs
 
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incurred by the Driving Standards Agency and the appointment and subsequent quality assurance of delegated examiners.

The DSA currently charges delegated examiners for the supply of the test result certificates that they issue for the driving tests they conduct. Those charges are intended to cover the costs that the DSA incurs in respect of delegated examiners. This is an unsophisticated and blunt recovery mechanism, as the agency’s costs are not directly related to the number of tests conducted by an individual examiner. It is therefore inequitable and at odds with the “user pays” principle. Amendment No. 7 is a consequential amendment, arising from amendment No. 6.

Clause 40 and schedule 5 are on driving instruction. Paragraph 14 of schedule 5 introduces proposed new section 132 examinations. That proposed new section is to the Road Traffic Act 1988, and it permits the Secretary of State to make regulations providing more modern and flexible arrangements in respect of

    “examinations of the ability and fitness (or continued ability and fitness) to give driving instruction”,

including

    “the qualification, selection and appointment of persons”

who may conduct such tests. Proposed new section 132(1)(b) generally replicates for persons conducting driving instruction tests the provisions in section 89(3)(b) of the Act in respect of persons conducting licence-acquisition driving tests.

Amendment No. 8 makes more explicit the scope of the proposed new section 132 regulation-making powers. It also extends the provision by permitting the Secretary of State to charge reasonable fees in connection with the initial and continuing approval of persons who may conduct driving instruction examinations. The effect of amendment No. 8 is to extend to that class of examiners many of the provisions contained in amendment No. 6 that apply to persons conducting licence-acquisition driving tests.

Amendment No. 9 creates an offence where a person with intent to deceive forges a document evidencing the passing of a driving instruction examination, or part of an examination, required by regulations under proposed new section 132. Amendment No. 10 creates an offence where a person knowingly makes a false statement for the purpose of obtaining a document evidencing the passing of a driving instruction examination, or part of an examination, required by regulations under proposed new section 132. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are prudent measures to discourage those who might otherwise consider abusing the driving instructor examination arrangements.

I am sure that the Committee is now far wiser about what each of the amendments is intended to do.

Stephen Hammond: I thank the Minister for making such rapid progress. I am sure that the Committee is wiser—although it may not be so at this precise moment. It is my understanding that the Government
 
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are taking powers to ensure the continuing competence of driving examiners. On that basis, we are happy to support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 7, in clause 36, page 44, line 27, leave out “paragraph (b)” and insert “that paragraph”.—[Dr. Ladyman.]

Mr. Paterson: I beg to move amendment No. 82, in clause 36, page 44, line 29, after “surrender”, insert

    ‘in the presence of a police constable,’.

This is a probing amendment that would require a police constable to be present when a driving licence is surrendered. I understand that under the current law a licence can only be surrendered directly to a constable, and I would like the Minister to explain a little more clearly the prescribed circumstances in which a licence would be surrendered. Is it appropriate that an official should be responsible for removing the licence? Even though it might be counterfeit, the person with it might become obstructive or difficult, and might even get violent.

6.30 pm

Dr. Ladyman: The reason why we need to change the law in the way that we propose is, quite simply, that the current arrangements do not work. Where a driving examiner identifies a suspect licence, they contact the police. Unfortunately, even with the best will in the world, the police cannot always respond before the individual has left the test centre. Sometimes, they do not regard it as their highest priority to attend the test centre immediately, and the individual will simply disappear with the suspect licence. We hope to help crack down on fraud by giving the examiner the power to remove the licence in such circumstances. Of course, if the licence turns out not to be suspect, the matter would be rectified. However, it is not proving practical to require a police constable to be present all the time, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Paterson: That was a helpful explanation. We actually proposed that the constable should be present when the licence was confiscated, but I understand what the Minister is getting at. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Paterson: I beg to move amendment No. 83, in clause 36, page 45, line 3, at end insert—

      ‘(e)   after paragraph (c) insert—

      “(d)   for tests of competence to drive—

      (i)   to include questions designed to ensure that a person submitting himself for a test has a sufficient level of understanding of and competence in appropriate first aid skills; and

      (ii)   to require such a person to satisfy the person conducting that test that he has a sufficient level of understanding and competence in appropriate first aid skills.”.’.


 
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On Second Reading, we discussed the role of first aid in the driving test, and the Opposition feel strongly about the issue. We support making two simple changes to the theory section of the test to increase the amount of first aid in the question and answer test and to introduce an element of first aid into the hazard perception test.

The background to the issue is simple. On average, as we noted on Second Reading, nine people are killed on the roads each day, and many thousands are injured each year. The vital point, however, is that half of all deaths in road traffic accidents occur before the emergency services arrive. That emphasises the potential for those at the scene to make a real difference. In all cases involving life-threatening conditions, the first 10 minutes are the most crucial if a life is to be saved. Ordinary members of the public who are at the scene might be able to do a few simple things to save a life and they should know what those are so that they can make that intervention.

On Second Reading, I referred to research carried out by Hussain and Redmond in 1994 on whether pre-hospital deaths from accidents were preventable. Their findings, which were published in the British Medical Journal, were astonishing. Some of the injuries in a road traffic are so horrific that the likelihood of survival is very slight. However, the research found that of the significant proportion of cases in which accident victims could have survived, up to 85 per cent. involved simple factors, such as a blocked airway—the lives of those involved could have been saved had the people present at the scene known how to unblock an airway.

That is a key point. A driver who has been involved in an accident might be unconscious and slumped over the steering wheel. They might have no serious injuries, but their head might be bent forward and their airway might be blocked. If it is lucky, the ambulance might arrive in eight minutes, although, as we discussed on other amendments this morning, it could be up to 20 minutes in the country. However, the driver’s luck might have run out, because it takes less than four minutes for a blocked airway to kill. If a bystander or someone involved in the incident could step forward, however, and do something as simple as tilting the driver’s head backwards, that would unblock the driver’s airway and allow them to stay alive until an ambulance arrived.

The Hussain and Redmond research concluded:

    “Training in first aid should be available more widely, and particularly to motorists as many prehospital deaths that could be prevented are due to road accidents”.

Other common problems following road traffic accidents might include severe bleeding and unconsciousness. In both cases, the remedies can be extremely simple: with bleeding, the remedy is applying pressure to a wound and elevating it; and with an unconscious person who is breathing, the remedy is turning them on their side to ensure that they do not choke on their tongue or vomit.

The amendment does not expect new drivers to become paramedics overnight. We are talking about rudimentary first aid skills, which are easy to learn and easy to recall and which would simply give the
 
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motorist the power to recognise what the problem might be. The amendment is focused on new drivers for a very good reason: drivers under the age of 29 make up more than a third of those involved in accidents; and drivers between 17 and 20 are six times more likely to be involved in a collision that causes injury than a driver aged 40. The driving test is an ideal time to learn the basic skill of first aid.

The issue of liability may be raised by the Minister. That was discussed in another place. The amendment does not place any obligation on drivers to perform first aid. If there is an accident and a driver does not feel comfortable intervening, there is no requirement to do so. However, it is highly unlikely that a successful claim could be made against a member of the public for trying to help an injured person. By giving first aid to a person, one owes a duty of care to carry out that first aid in accordance with one’s knowledge, training and experience. It is worth reflecting on the fact that there is no case law to support the notion that lay people can be sued for trying to be a good samaritan and trying to save someone’s life.

There are increasing calls from organisations such as the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance for bystanders to do something rather than nothing. That has been given added impetus by the latest scientific findings on the value of bystanders taking prompt action, rather than dithering, trying to remember details about precise technique or doing nothing. For example, the latest guidelines from the European Resuscitation Council in 2005 state:

    “It follows that outcomes could be improved if bystanders who would otherwise do nothing, were encouraged to begin resuscitation”.

The case for increasing the level of rudimentary first aid knowledge among new drivers is overwhelming. That happens in other countries. Let us take Slovenia, where a first aid course has to be taken and a certificate produced in order to gain a licence. In Slovakia, one is required to attend lectures from a doctor on first aid issues and to have both theory and practical tests.

Our amendment goes nothing like as far as that; it is much more modest. As the Minister mentioned on Second Reading, the theory section of the driving test already contains an element of first aid. New drivers are likely to get one question on first aid or accident management. However, that is hardly a great motivation for learner drivers to take the issue of first aid seriously.

The Minister also mentioned that the Driving Standards Agency has been working with the British Red Cross to try to find practical solutions. In another place, Lord Davies referred to those discussions:

    “We thought that its case had been made and that we would need to extend questions in the theory part of the driving test to include more on first aid”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 November 2005; Vol. 675, c. 1609.]

We strongly support an increase in questions on first aid in the theory test. We also think that there is a strong case for introducing a first aid scenario into the hazard perception test—the interactive, computer-based part of the theory test.


 
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We heard that the Minister was in Brussels yesterday. I understand that the Government are already working on first aid education and testing for commercial drivers through EU directive 2003/59/EC. The directive, which will be implemented by 2008, requires commercial drivers to gain a certificate of professional competence, which includes a mandatory section on assessing emergency situations, assisting casualties and giving first aid. I think that the Government are considering using interactive technology to test first aid competence in that case.

If such skills are clearly acknowledged to be valuable for the drivers of buses and lorries, surely extending first aid education to all new drivers would be better and would improve safety on Britain’s roads. That sums it up. We believe that more questions on basic first aid in the theory test and a scene on first aid in the hazard perception test would encourage new drivers to learn basic life-saving skills. The amendment would strengthen those elements in the driving test.

Mr. Harris: I support the spirit of the amendment. I welcome the hon. Member for North Shropshire and his right hon. and hon. Friends to the politics of the nanny state. Is that a new departure for the new model Conservative party—supporting such Government intrusion into private lives? It should be welcomed.

Obviously, the Government must look for opportunities to encourage individuals to embark on first aid courses, and to increase their understanding of, and ability to perform, first aid. I support wholeheartedly the campaign on that by the British Red Cross and the work that it does with St. John Ambulance. I am grateful to the Red Cross for supplying information for the debate today, as I am sure is the hon. Member for North Shropshire, who clearly has the same briefing paper.

I sat and passed my test in 1982 and so I have never taken the theory test. I have limited knowledge therefore about how the theory paper works. However, it would seem to be eminently sensible to increase the likelihood that someone taking the test will have a first aid question put to them, although I am not sure how the logistics of that would work. We should be pushing at an open door. After all, this is the Road Safety Bill, and if now is not the appropriate time to talk about increasing individuals’ first aid expertise, I am not sure when would be.

On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire mentioned that because he had passed his test some time a go, it was reasonable to assume that had he been coached in and tested on first aid techniques, he would, by now, have forgotten most of them. That is a valid point, but it is also valid to expect that the vast majority of people, having learned some of the rudimentary first aid skills at an early age, would hang on to most of those throughout their lives, even if they lost some of the more detailed ones.

Of course, if we passed the amendment, only vastly younger drivers taking the test for the first time would be affected. It would be hoped that, over the years, as more and more people took the new test, the skill level and the proportion of the driving population with an understanding of such skills would increase.


 
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I understand that the Minister might resist the amendment, or ask the Committee to reject it. The wording of the amendment might be one of the reasons for that. From a legal point of view—not for the first time in Committee, I shall boast of the fact that I am not a lawyer—I am not sure that “sufficient level of understanding” has any meaning. An “appropriate level of understanding” might have been a better use of words, but it is of course up to the Minister to decide whether that is an ambiguous phrase.

The Driving Standards Agency is to review the test. Even if we do not put in the Bill the form of words suggested by the hon. Member for North Shropshire, we have an ideal opportunity to look again at the test and to highlight the importance of first aid. Occasionally, people taking the test have to answer a first aid question, but we have an opportunity to say to future candidates that there definitely will be, for example, at least four questions on first aid. That would encourage people to learn basic first aid, and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to assure us that he will at least consider making what would be a small but important change to the future driving test.

 
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