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Lord Graham of Edmonton: He was stirring it!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord must not accuse the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, of stirring. I would never accuse him of that. But I know that in addition to an illustrious career in both the public and private forestry sectors, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, had his roots in the co-operative movement. I listened with great interest to what he had to say.

I intended to resist the temptation to join in some of the slightly more controversial points put by noble Lords opposite. However, those noble Lords who have had occasion to hear me perhaps will know that I am not very good at resisting those temptations. Your Lordships will be familiar with the game in which one sits down and writes down those words that come into one's mind when a word is heard. I played that game with the interesting word "stakeholders". The first word I thought of was "vampires". I wrote down "dinner", because my spellcheck was not on. I then wrote down "betting", "horses" and "lottery". I also wrote down "fencing". We do quite a lot of that both in this House and in the other place. I believe that in today's papers Mr. John Monks let the cat out of the bag when he said that one of the major stakeholders would be the TUC. That took me back--as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, had already taken me back--to 1978 and 1979 when we saw that particular stakeholder co-operate so successfully with the last Labour Government.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I also heard that interview. My recollection is that the General Secretary did not claim that the TUC was a stakeholder but that individual employees of companies, who might also be trade union members, were stakeholders.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I did not hear the interview. I believe that I read a press report of it. The noble Baroness makes a fine distinction. I suspect that the TUC jolly well do believe that they are stakeholders. Of course, the real stakeholders are the people of this country. When I look back to the 1978 Parliament and the huge opposition of the party opposite to giving the people of this country the right to buy their own homes, and therefore to be stakeholders in a property-owning democracy, I wonder whether we do not have a Johnny-come-lately in this matter. I also have in mind the privatisations that the party opposite have opposed in every case. They always said at the time that they would be reversed, but now they will not reverse any of them, as I understand it. That extended shareholding to vast numbers of people, both directly and indirectly, through the major stakes which many people had in shares.

17 Jan 1996 : Column 680

Baroness Seear: My Lords, would not "Tony come tardily" be better?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness has intervened to help me. The expression "Tony come tardily" will do very well indeed. If the noble Baroness had heard her noble friend Lord Rochester, he claimed that the whole idea was a Liberal idea which went back to the 1920s. I suspect that the parentage of this idea will be claimed by almost everybody by the time we are finished. Essentially, I believe it to be a neat buzz word.

Having not resisted the temptation to have a little knock about, I should like to conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and other noble Lords for their interesting and valuable contributions to the debate. The co-operative sector in the United Kingdom is varied and thriving. Co-operative arrangements continue to appeal to all kinds of people with many different objectives. They provide a way of organising business for mutual benefit. The Government are committed to preserving and promoting an environment in which co-operatives can flourish and prosper. Through deregulation and all our other work, informed by the contributions of the UKCC and debates such as this, we aim to ensure that this friendly environment remains one that is fully alive to changing trends in our society and economy in which co-operatives and all United Kingdom businesses have to operate.

8.24 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everybody who has spoken in the debate. We have had some excellent speeches, but none better than the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Sewel. We all look forward to hearing from him on many occasions in the future.

I will not attempt to summarise the many strands of thought that have characterised a very good debate. I am a little disappointed that the Benches opposite have not provided a single speaker for the debate, other than the Minister, which is perhaps indicative of a failure to understand the importance of the co-operative movement. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to the debate and his kind reference to my birthday, although I have reached the age where repeated references to the event are unnecessary. He had to have a go on stakeholders. I am delighted that the Tory Party is now debating our agenda. I believe that the matter can be summarised in a few words. The party opposite see it only in terms of the ownership of property, whereas we see it in terms of the community.

This is not the place to deal in detail with the Government's response to proposals for a co-operatives Act, but the Minister is correct that discussions are planned with the Registry of Friendly Societies, who have been extremely helpful in the matter. I repeat my thanks to all who have spoken in the debate, and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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Traffic (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

8.26 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

In introducing this Bill to ban bull bars from our roads, I think it is worth briefly recalling their origin. They originated in Australia in the form of 'roo bars to protect vehicles against kangaroos, which were a genuine hazard, just as cow-catchers were fitted to trains in mid-America 100 years ago. The same genuine reason cannot be ascribed to bull bars in Britain. We have no need to brush mad bulls or cows from our motorways; nor are they seen in leafy Fulham. Their occasional use in some distant farm or forest was never the purpose in the minds of the manufacturers. They were seen as a clever fashion accessory--perhaps as a form of body language or to give vehicles a macho image. In the early 1990s they proved to have enormous appeal, coupled with four-wheel drive vehicles. By last year the number of such private licensed vehicles was over 500,000. That figure did not include many transit vans.

This has become fashion design with a vengeance. Not only are bull bars without doubt a dangerous menace to pedestrians and cyclists on our roads, but in a perverse way the Government Research Establishment (TRL) has concluded that they are a hazard to the occupants of vehicles. Often, the very fitment of bull bars markedly reduces the safety design of the vehicle; that is, the crumple zone.

The Bill has not come out of the blue. There has been an active campaign to rid bull bars from our roads for over three years. They have caused many fatalities and serious injuries. One accident that I believe caught the public conscience occurred six months ago. It involved the tragic death of a 10 year-old girl. Both the surgeon who tried desperately to save her and the coroner came to the same view and publicly called for a legal ban. Perhaps when the law changes and bull bars become illegal her family will have some comfort that her innocent death has led to a change that may save others.

I believe that public awareness of the dangers of bull bars over the past three years has been immeasurably helped by both the honourable Member for Newport West, Mr. Paul Flynn, and the RAC. The skilful stream of debates and Questions put down by that honourable Member and his commitment is a demonstration of parliamentary skill at its best. I salute him. Equally, the RAC has fired up all kinds of responsible organisations and carried with them their 6 million members. Their efforts were particularly valuable in lobbying the European Parliament, which formally backed a motion in support of a ban.

One motor insurance company has bravely decided not to insure any vehicle with bull bars. I wish that others would follow suit because then there would be no need for legislation. That company has conducted a survey which was published today. Ninety-six per cent. of the motorists to whom they wrote supported a ban. There is a long list of influential bodies which support the ban, including of course the police forces and

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ambulance services which are at the sharp end. In fact, it is difficult to find who is against the ban, except, naturally, the manufacturers of the accessories. I hope that they realise by now that the product has no future.

If one looks beyond Britain, it is interesting to note that, in Australia, bull bars are in the process of being banned from urban areas. In future, if the owners of such vehicles wish to visit a town, they must first remove their bars before entering the area. These demountable bars are a new design. Perhaps one should follow suit as regards that excellent example.

One might ask: what have the Government been doing over the past three years? Without wishing to trespass on my noble friend's reply, I believe that a fair summary would be that they have been researching the facts with the help of the TRL and the police forces which were asked to monitor the accidents. The TRL has publicly stated that its best estimate is that something like 35 deaths per year and 350 serious injuries are caused directly by bull bars. I am sure that my noble friend agrees that no further dry statistics are necessary. Common sense tells us what to do. The Government have also been examining ways of imposing a legal ban with the Commission to amend Directive 74/483 by a shortened procedure known, as I understand it, as the "technical adaption". That would effectively meet the objective.

There is another point which is most important to me. My honourable friend the Minister has publicly committed his determination to see that bull bars are banned. That is a most encouraging advance, because I have a high regard for his political skill and, indeed, his sincerity on the issue. But I am unhappy and disturbed that the advice he is receiving is, "Leave it to the Commission".

The Commission, with all its wisdom, cannot commit other member states. Who knows, in 12 months' time, we may find that the issue is still in the slow lane and unresolved with more promises and more deaths and injuries. To give the Commission its due, it has recommended three courses of action that Britain could take unilaterally. First, there is the temporary ban for six months, although whether it can be renewed after that period if the Commission has not brought in its amendment, I know not. Secondly, one could ban the bull bars that are not type approved, but, of course, that applies to only a small percentage of the market. Thirdly, one could play the safeguard card. Where there is determination, I have no doubt that lawyers will find a way. Of course, there is no room for timidity. Safeguard cards look to be the most promising option.

I turn now to the Bill. It is very simple in concept. It simply adds bull bars to a long list of permissive powers under Section 41(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is an illustrative list, not exclusive. It spells out specifically without peradventure the power to ban bull bars. Although there may be a general power under that section of the Act, I commend the Bill as a piece of vital and overdue legislation which, perhaps, has as an added benefit its simplicity and clarity.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(The Earl of Kinnoull.)

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8.33 p.m.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has introduced this important Bill. Some may not see it as being important, yet road vehicles affect all of us and we are all, therefore, subject to the way in which they are driven and constructed. There are a number of angles concerning bull bars which need to be looked at, but I shall confine my comments to safety. I should add that, having lived in Australia in the 1960s, I have in fact seen the result of a vehicle having been in collision with a kangaroo. It was not a good sight to see.

Bull bars have spread to vehicles which will never need them. Confining bull bars to, perhaps, farm vehicles and police riot vehicles may be acceptable. But when they are used purely for cosmetic and macho reasons on vehicles which do not need them, it is not acceptable. A few people say that they have bull bars to protect their lights, unaware, I assume, that contoured plastic covers are available. They are very good and I have used them for some years.

Bull bars are dangerous to children, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and to other vehicles to the extent that 87 per cent. of motorists, questioned in a survey by Auto Express and RoSPA, said that they should be banned. Research done in this country, in Germany, in New Zealand and in Australia concludes that bull bars turn slight injury accidents into serious ones, and serious accidents into fatalities. Not one researcher, interestingly, concluded that they add anything to safety. A TRL report states that,

    "the potential to improve energy absorbing characteristics of crash bars made from bent and welded tubes is very limited due to their high mass and inertia".

While some people are trying to design pedestrian friendly bull bars, it has already been shown that even a soft one fitted to a vehicle is more dangerous than where none is involved. Much development has taken place in recent years to ensure that the fronts of cars crumple progressively in an accident. In another place on 19th April 1995, Mr. Peter Bottomley asked:

    "Can my hon. Friend also tell us why, although cars are usually constructed so that they collapse to protect those inside, idiots put hard objects on cars that will kill those outside?".--[Official Report, Commons, 19/4/95; col.190.]

I heartily agree with him. The front of vans, off-road vehicles and people carriers are unfriendly enough without adding what I tend to think of as either a cheese or egg slicer, a potentially lethal weapon for protection.

One driver interviewed by Auto Express said:

    "In a van like this, with nothing between you and the traffic, keeping them on is a question of self-preservation".

I am sure that that attitude sums up the opinion of many drivers who have them fitted. They do not realise that the fitting of bull bars not only effectively eliminates the crumple zone but also stiffens the vehicle which means that, in an accident, there is faster deceleration, thereby causing more severe injury than in one not so equipped. Further, any other vehicle involved will have to absorb up to twice the energy that it was designed for, with the result that damage is worse. So bull bars are thoroughly dangerous on the public highway.

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I seem to recall a newspaper report saying that France and Germany will not, in all probability, be banning bull bars: I may be wrong. While the figures that I have been given by RoSPA for pedestrian deaths are very similar for each country, those for road deaths give 6.8 deaths per 100,000 population in the United Kingdom, 17 for France and 12 for Germany. This, perhaps, could indicate that we take road safety seriously and heed advice given. Perhaps France and Germany should follow us with the elimination of bull bars. It is unfortunate, though, that the figures for pedestrians do not separate bull bar fatalities: perhaps another noble Lord has managed to do so.

Bull bars should be banned and should be removed from road-going vehicles which already have them fitted--as some people, companies and police forces, have already done. I support the Bill.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I should, first, declare an interest as deputy president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The society has been leading road safety campaigns for nearly 80 years and has been at the forefront of the movement to end the fitting of metal bull bars to road-going motor vehicles. I support the Bill and commend my noble friend for introducing it.

My concern is that vehicles fitted with bull bars inflict serious injuries on the most vulnerable road users--pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motor cyclists--when they are involved in accidents. Bull bars stay rigid and do not crumple on impact like bumpers. People are being killed or badly hurt because motorists have been encouraged to drive in vehicles fitted with equipment which is totally unnecessary and inappropriate to their use.

The sad thing about this fashion--for that is what it is--is that it flies in the face of well-known good practice in the motor industry. A great deal of research, time and money have been expended to identify the aspects of design which can help to minimise injury, yet for the sake of a chance to develop a fashionable sales gimmick some within the industry appear to have been happy to close their eyes to known good practice.

As my noble friend said, bull bars were introduced to protect a vehicle's bodywork in off-road situations in Australia as a defence against collision damage from kangaroos which were mainly attracted by headlights. I am not aware of kangaroos roaming the roads of Britain, but this is a serious point and vehicles should not be allowed on our roads fitted with bars that can kill or maim if those bars serve no purpose. They are most commonly fitted to four-wheel drive vehicles and vans. The bars are often at the head height of a child and the vulnerable abdominal area of many adults. A child's life is a high price to pay for the sake of fashion. Research supports my arguments. As my noble friend said, the presence of bull bars is estimated by the Transport Research Laboratory to result in 35 deaths, including 15 child deaths, and 350 serious injuries to vulnerable road users each year.

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Studies in Germany indicate that whereas most children would survive an impact with a vehicle at 20 miles an hour, life threatening injuries are sustained at just 12 miles an hour when bull bars are fitted. Those are shocking figures and such bare statistics do not of course show the pain of the victims and the grief and misery of their families. That pain and misery could be ended if we could remove the threat of bull bars on our roads. I believe steps must be taken to stop manufacturers fitting metal bull bars to new road-going vehicles. In addition the public must also be prevented from buying and fitting them after manufacture. Finally, motorists with vehicles already equipped with bull bars should be required to have them removed.

The only exceptions which I believe could be justified are for vehicles used entirely off-road and which clearly need the protection of bull bars from rough terrain and animals. Manufacturers who are well aware of the risks of such designs should be looking at ways of making their vehicles more pedestrian friendly. In that way they will be helping to reduce the carnage on our roads--something with which everyone should be concerned.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said, there have been reports recently of resistance in France and Germany to moves to outlaw bull bars. I urge this House to do everything in its power to persuade such opponents to think again so that legislation banning bull bars can be introduced speedily throughout Europe. After all, ceasing to fit bull bars should not increase the cost of vehicles. In the meantime I urge motor manufacturers to make a positive move for safety by voluntarily ceasing to fit these bull bars to their vehicles. Individuals should also play their part in making our roads safer by having these potentially lethal bars removed from their vehicles now.

8.44 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for introducing this Bill. When I first saw the Bill I had a quick look at it and went straight to the Long Title to see whether it could be a good vehicle for dealing with other problems such as the impounding of goods vehicles. Unfortunately, the Long Title was so well written that the only matter the Bill could address was the problem of bull bars.

Most speakers have discussed this problem in great detail. I am convinced that there is a problem. Bull bars are not good accessories to fit to vehicles. I believe that in any legislation there will be a problem in defining what exactly is a bull bar. The noble Earl mentioned difficulties as regards loopholes. There will be a problem as regards covering the need for light guards. All speakers referred to the bad design of vehicles which results in those vehicles becoming deformed as a result of an accident. I support those sentiments.

I believe that many speakers have underestimated the necessity of avoiding damage to vehicles which genuinely have to travel cross-country and go down difficult tracks. Much damage is sustained to the lights and bodywork of those vehicles. The solution to that is a detachable bull bar or light guard, or whatever one wants to call it, that can be fitted in certain

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circumstances in the country but which cannot be used when the vehicle is in town. If we decide to adopt a construction and use regulation I fear that we may still have problems as regards vehicles that originate from and are registered in Europe. We may not be able to prevent them from entering this country.

Another problem concerns EU approval. If a bull bar is type-approved in Europe, can we prohibit their use on vehicles here? Bull bars are fitted to off-road recreational vehicles. It is worth considering what they are used for. They are used for sport vehicles. People drive down rough tracks in these vehicles and that is enjoyable. However, unfortunately, those vehicles are causing much damage to ancient tracks in the country. Perhaps at some stage we need to consider that matter too. Perhaps we need to build suitable adult playgrounds. In conclusion, I would say that the Bill addresses an important problem. I support the objectives of the Bill. However, I am not sure that the Bill will be quite the right way of addressing this matter and I look forward to hearing how the noble Viscount intends to address the problem.

8.48 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for allowing me to speak before him, and also to everyone else who has enabled me to do so. I shall speak briefly. We all now know--if we did not before--of the problems of bull bars. The three tragic cases of the 10 year-old Helen Baggs, of the pensioner Ivy Hamnett and of the 17 year-old Victoria Moull, who received severe injuries, indicate exactly how bull bars function. If the straight part of a bull bar hits one, it inflicts appalling damages, wherever it hits one. If one is six years old, bull bars hit one's head, and if one is 10 years old--as in the case of Helen Baggs--they hit one in the chest. As people grow taller they are hit in the pelvic area and on the legs. However, wherever bull bars make contact, they cause horrendous damage. When I was researching this matter someone told me that if a bull bar was thrown at me it would break my legs. It is the rigidity of the bar itself that does the damage.

I support absolutely the extremely good work which is being done by RoSPA and many other organisations to bring this matter to the attention of the public. I believe, as do others, that bull bars have been treated in a rather lighthearted fashion as amusing accessories. Because statistics are not kept on the number of accidents caused by bull bars, it has been difficult to bring the matter into the public eye. Therefore this debate and the work of RoSPA and of motoring and other organisations is extremely useful in that respect.

The TRL has been involved in the creation of tests and test tools required to implement a new directive to improve the safety of cars which may come in contact with pedestrians, particularly when that involves frontal contact. The results of its work support the findings that these bull bars are extremely dangerous, even when vehicles are driven at low speed. I support the objective of the noble Earl. However, I am worried as to how he thinks that the Bill will fit into the European context.

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We have already had reference to vehicle type approval, and so on. I have my doubts as to whether he can achieve what he seeks.

Meanwhile there are some actions that people can take. Local authorities, for example Kent, Hampshire and Surrey, have already reduced or forbidden the use of the bull bars except where vehicles go across country. I believe that RoSPA and motoring organisations are doing an excellent job in seeking to persuade motorists to remove the bull bars already on their vehicles, and not to fit bull bars or to buy new vehicles with them. However, the noble Earl must explain how he sees the Bill fitting in with European matters.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, perhaps I may say that in winding up from this side, I do so in a personal capacity. I do not speak for the Labour Party. However, speaking for myself, I congratulate the noble Earl on introducing the Bill, and pursuing a campaign. I thank him for offering the generous tribute to my honourable friend Mr. Paul Flynn in another place. Certainly the two of them have worked in a helpful combination, and hopefully their endeavours will elicit a positive response tonight from the Minister.

I thought that the valuable intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, was characteristically useful. I would underline the fact that she now "owes me one". In what capacity she will honour the obligation I do not know.

I believe that an overwhelming case has been made for action on the part of the Government, independently of action that might be taken at European Union level. I concede that that would be the best solution but I fear that it will take rather a long time. I shall come to that in a moment.

In articulating his case, the noble Earl brought in aid, quite rightly, the work of the RAC. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, referred to the support which RoSPA gives to the proposals. In all fairness, it is right also to pay tribute to another authoritative organisation, the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety (better known as PACTS), and the Automobile Association and the Transport Research Laboratory--about which, I gather, we may be hearing something positive tomorrow. All have expressed real concern about vehicles equipped with bull bars essentially, I think, to provide a rather cosmetic, perhaps macho, form of self indulgence, but which also constitute a real danger to other road users, as has been explained in the debate.

I do not know what useful purpose bull bars serve in our towns and cities. Not too many kangaroos are observed, as the noble Lord said. There are not a lot of cattle in Hackney, so far as I see. When I was a boy, cows were used by a dairy at Clapton Common. However, I did not see any bull bars in operation at that stage! Whether or not they apply to cows is a moot point.

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Very little has been said about the background in terms of the European Union's legislation. A Framework Directive (74/4/483 EEC) sets out the requirements for external projections of motor vehicles; and there are a number of European Union directives based on the Framework Directive dealing with the type approval of motor vehicles.

A relevant directive bans sharp edges on the exterior of vehicles and "ornaments". It requires,

    "the external surface of vehicles not to exhibit or direct outwards any pointed or sharp edges or any projections of such shape, dimensions, directions or hardness as to be likely to increase the risk of seriousness of bodily injury to a person hit by the external surface or brushing against it in the event of a collision".

This question arises. If there is compelling evidence that the application of bull bars to vehicles constitutes a hazard to pedestrians or other road users, are the Government entitled to take unilateral legislative action to deal with the situation? It does not matter whether it is in the form of this Bill or the construction and use regulations. It is legislation. Alternatively, should the Government leave the issue to the development of legislation within the European Union?

When the issue was first promoted, it seemed that the Government were sheltering entirely behind the assertion that they were impotent to do anything about the problem: that they had to leave it to the European Union to deal with the situation. With respect, I do not believe that that view is entirely accurate by any manner of means. First, where bull bars are not fitted when the vehicle was originally type-approved, as an after-market extra, or where the bull bars in question are different from those fitted at type approval, then an individual member state can undoubtedly ban them. That is what the Commission stated. Commissioner Kinnock made that clear; and it is obviously the view of Commissioner Bangemann. I submit that bull bars can also be prohibited, albeit for only six months--that is, on a temporary basis--pursuant to the "safeguard" clause in the framework directive which allows member states to refuse registration or sale of vehicles type-approved with bull bars where there is a legitimate concern over safety.

In many respects the most important provision is under Article 36 of the treaty. I shall not go through it now. It is clear that the application of Article 36 is available. The member state could outlaw the fitting of bull bars on vehicles with national type approval where, and only where, the bull bars comply with national requirements rather than the European Union directive on external projections. Of course, the provision must not be used as a form of arbitrary discrimination. It must not be used as an artificial barrier to trade. That is set out in Article 36.

One must ask the Government--I hope that the Minister will reply--about the possibility of further European Union legislation on the issue. It is right and fair to say that the Commission has paid tribute to the Government. It supports the Government in their commitment to make vehicles "pedestrian friendly", to use a term utilised by the Minister at Question time last

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June, if I recall aright. It is a term which he did not regard as particularly happy. Nevertheless, let us assume that we all understand what it means.

The Commission has drafted a directive to amend the provisions relating to sharp edges to include hard surfaces. I believe that that would include bull bars. I do not agree altogether with the criticism made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I believe that bull bars, as we understand them, would be caught by the new proposals. Unhappily, there appears not to be a qualified majority for the proposal to be written into international law, although the Commission has said that it is convinced, like all the other non-governmental organisations, that it is essential for the safety of vehicles and for pedestrians. So the Commission requires no further commitment in that regard and it proposes to pursue the issue vigorously. I am delighted to know that.

Like all the other organisations the Commission clearly understands and is convinced that it is a safety problem which needs to be tackled. It does not seem to me to require the reassurance, therefore, of the further investigation that we know the Government have undertaken. I said that last June and I was rebuked by the Minister in, as always, the friendliest possible way. But I do not understand why we need all the extra research into a problem which is self-evidently serious. It may not be on the scale of all the problems of road accidents, but it only needs a few children, as in the cases cited by the noble Baroness and the noble Earl in introducing the Bill, to convince me that the tragedy that befalls not only the victim but also the relatives is such that the issue ought to be met urgently. I hope that the Minister will accept that there is a strong, convincing case for adopting the legislation.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister this. If he says that he would still rather see it applied on a European Union scale, what prospect does he have that the Commission's proposal will be adopted within a reasonable time? I fear that it will not, but the Minister may give evidence to the contrary to the House. I believe that the case for the Bill is substantial but the Minister ought also to make plain whether he accepts the case factually and statistically. Alternatively, do we have to wait for the end of the period of research? When will the research come to an end?

In answer to a Question posed last June by the noble Earl, the Minister said that the report would be published at the end of last year. We have reached that time and I wish the Minister a very happy new year. However, when shall we have a happy report? This month, next month, the month after? Will he explain to the House when it will happen? We ought not to wait so long. I believe that the case for unilateral action of one kind or another is made out. I do not propose to go over the evidence adduced by the Transport Research Laboratory, which, in my view, is utterly compelling.

The Government place their faith in other matters as well. They say that voluntary action would render a mandatory approach unnecessary. I believe that there is something in that. For example, some effective response has been elicited from manufacturers to the anxieties about safety with the introduction of softer metals as

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a substitute for aggressive metal bull bars. That is an encouraging response. I am also pleased that the insurance company, CGA Direct Line Insurance, has responded in an effective way, as the noble Earl pointed out at the beginning of his speech. It did not need any additional evidence to convince that company that that was an appropriate line to take. The problem is that, if it turns down an insurance, it is possible that the person involved will move to another insurer, albeit paying an additional premium for the privilege, and that will not solve the problem.

I ask the Minister what evidence there is that other insurers are prepared to fall in line with the perfectly sensible initiative taken by CGA. Is there any truth in the suggestion that, if the company takes that action, it will expose itself to litigation, as has been reported in the press?

By amending the Road Traffic Act 1988, the Bill would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations prohibiting the use on the road of vehicles fitted with bull bars. It may be, as the RAC has advised, that a better route would be to amend the Construction and Use Regulations of 1986. One needs to examine that position, and perhaps the noble Earl will do that at Committee stage when he has reflected on the matter. I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading tonight.

However, if--contrary to my expectations--the Commission's proposal makes progress in the near future, then the Secretary of State would not be required to take action under the enabling Bill. That is the essence of the matter. It would not prejudice the position of the Secretary of State in the least, indeed, it would strengthen it in negotiations in the Transport Council. I speak from experience in this regard: often a commissioner can be enormously assisted by national proposals, either in embryonic or enabling form, which are adduced within national parliaments and which have the support of the parliament. I do not believe that the Minister would be in the least prejudiced by that. No harm would be done.

Equally, if the permissive actions which the Government have encouraged with some success with manufacturers and insurers are not so successful as the Government hope, the Minister would be armed with the potential to take real and decisive action.

I welcome the Bill which has been eloquently moved by the noble Earl. I thank him for doing so, I have supported him in the campaign. I wish him well and hope that the Bill receives a fair wind.

9.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, I welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Kinnoull has raised the profile of this important road safety issue and I commend his motives in bringing the Bill forward. We have had a good discussion around road safety issues involving bull bars this evening and there seems to have been a consensus in the House on the dangers arising from the use of those devices.

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The Government are committed to improving all aspects of road and vehicle safety to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries on our roads. We have been concerned for some time that the fitment of bull bars might hinder this objective, particularly in the case mentioned by my noble friend Lord Astor of the especially vulnerable categories of road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists.

Bull bars have been an increasing trend over the past few years. It is true that some can be quite crude in nature and design. It seems to be the case that many are fitted simply as macho fashion accessories, with little worth-while benefits to the vehicles while being driven on the road. On the other hand, some are fitted by people who feel that they have a proper use for them.

Previous reports by the Transport Research Laboratory had estimated that an extra 35 deaths per annum could occur as a result of bull bars. That was not based on actual accidents but on predictions on testing. We have taken steps, in conjunction with the police, to try to quantify this by examining accident reports for vehicles fitted with bull bars. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that, despite my aspiration earlier last year that the work would be finished by this time, I am afraid we must wait a little longer for the results of the exercise. I anticipate that they will be available soon. I regret that I cannot be any more specific at the moment.

Preventing the use of bull bars on all vehicles would be difficult to achieve at the present time. Popular models with bull bars fitted as original equipment by the manufacturers are likely to have been granted European type approval in respect of external projections. The free circulation of such vehicles cannot be impeded. That point was taken up by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas.

The external projections directive was agreed in 1974, and simply calls for projections at the front of a car to be rounded to a radius of at least 2.5 millimetres. Bull bar designs meet, or could readily be modified to meet, that requirement. But they would still be unsatisfactory in safety terms.

Such European considerations, and the fact that as yet there is no specific hard evidence as to the effect of bull bars on injuries to people, are partly why we have held back from proposing national action. We hope that when we have the results of the work that has been undertaken, we shall be in a much better position to judge the issues empirically.

The important point in considering my noble friend's Bill this evening is that it will not add to the national powers that already exist in legislation. And it would not resolve the complications that we have in relation to European law. As I suggested, the Government take the view that the only effective way of dealing with the bull bar issue lies with European action. Mr. Neil Kinnock, the Transport Commissioner, recently met my honourable friend the Minister for local transport and road safety, Mr. Steven Norris. The commissioner agreed that the best way forward in the short-term is for

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the Commission to bring forward an amendment to the external projections directive to introduce specific proposals on bull bars.

The initiative now rests with the Commission, and the Government will be urging it to announce its plans as soon as possible. If necessary, we may draft an initial proposal so that the matter can be speedily discussed.

This short-term action does not affect the Government's strong support for action on a proposed European directive to improve the pedestrian protection offered by all car fronts--

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