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Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, the Question suggests that the special dividend device will cost British taxpayers a great deal of money. However, does my noble and learned friend agree that income tax is paid on special dividends by the recipients?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, there are some quite difficult considerations affecting those shareholders who are exempt. However, I am advised that the Inland Revenue's present assessment is that the result for the Exchequer by way of special dividend payments will be similar whenever those profits are distributed.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, does the Minister agree that to use shareholders' funds to achieve the removal of a few directors from the board of the target company is also inefficient?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the noble Lord is tempting me to offer a judgment on the present takeover bid which is at the centre of financial consideration at the present time. Whether or not the method is inefficient is for those involved in the takeover to determine.

Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the Question on the Order Paper highlights two separate but not necessarily unrelated problems? The first is the concentration of the ownership of ordinary shares in the hands of tax-free institutions; the second is the taxation of corporate profits which encourages distribution at the expense of retention.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I indicated that my advice is that the results for the Exchequer will be similar whenever the profits are distributed. I understood the Question to consist of two parts and indicated that we will be reviewing the law on financial assistance by a company for the acquisition of its own
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shares. If any views are expressed, I undertake to consider them, but it would be inappropriate for me to say anything further.

New Drivers: Accident Risk

2.55 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 provides for a probationary period of two years from the date of first passing a driving test. During that period drivers who accumulate six or more penalty points will have their driving licence revoked and return to learner status until passing a re-test.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply, so far as it goes. Can he confirm that a disproportionate number of accidents involve drivers under the age of 20? As newly qualified drivers in Northern Ireland have to display a plate bearing the letter "R" for one year, why cannot something similar be adopted in other parts of the United Kingdom? Is there not more danger to other road users from a newly qualified driver on his own, with no cautionary plate, than from a learner with L-plates who must be accompanied by a qualified passenger?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is correct that there is a disproportionate rate of accidents among young and inexperienced drivers. It is a serious problem. However, there is a lack of clear evidence that the use of probationary plates significantly reduces the number of accidents. In addition, where such schemes exist it is difficult to separate the actual effect of the plate itself from other restrictions that may be associated with it.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is it my noble friend's intention to recommend to the authorities in Northern Ireland that they should do away with the probationary plates?

Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords. The system in Northern Ireland has the acceptance of the public and people are used to it. However, there is no clear evidence—it is difficult to compare like with like— that the probationary plate system has a significant effect and that we should adopt it.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can the Minister inform the House as to when the provisions of the Act, which we fully supported—I am not sure that "we" is strictly correct as it was a Private Member's Bill which I supported in a personal capacity—will come into operation? Will there need to be consultation with the courts concerning the application of the Act? If so, in the interim period, will the Minister agree to look
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further at the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, as to the efficacy of the probationary driver's plate, which may have some relevance to the requirements in this country?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, those are two slightly different issues. We hope to bring in the provisions of the new drivers Act by commencement order later this year. That will be the machinery that brings it into play. We maintain an open mind on the issue of probationary plates. We looked at schemes used elsewhere, including the scheme in Northern Ireland. At the moment there is a lack of clear evidence that it has a significant effect. If more evidence comes forward, we may reconsider the matter.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is there any evidence that newly qualified and perhaps rather timorous drivers cause more accidents than more experienced ones?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, yes. There is a considerable body of evidence on that point. Inexperienced drivers of any age are more likely to have accidents than experienced drivers of the same age. I understand that, taking all age groups together, accident risk reduces by some 30 per cent. once the first year of driving after passing the test has elapsed. That analysis was done by the Transport Research Laboratory.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, do not overall statistics show that British drivers are relatively good? To target novice drivers as a group is probably not right. We should be targeting the loutish and inconsiderate across the whole age range who may not be novice drivers.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we must address those people as well. The courts have shown that where people drive badly they receive heavy penalties. It is right that we should concentrate on that aspect. But there is a problem with young and inexperienced drivers. We feel that the provisions of the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act, coupled with better road safety information and schemes designed, for instance, to address the problem of speeding, are the right approach.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the department has been studying these statistics for at least 25 years and has resisted almost every effective argument? Is he further aware that the parents of many new drivers have reached the point of impatience and now require those drivers to display green L-plates? I do not know whether those have any official standing but they are an indication to other drivers that someone has recently passed his driving test and therefore needs to be given extra consideration.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, they are available if people want to use them, but it is purely voluntary. We have to look at what has been the real effect of such schemes. In Northern Ireland, for instance, the scheme has been operating for 26 years and it has been well
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accepted. But in Northern Ireland slightly more drivers in their first year have accidents than is the case in Great Britain. The evidence is not there that major road safety gains would be achieved by bringing the scheme into Great Britain.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in considering the evidence, will the noble Viscount give an assurance that he will consider the statistics by gender and look at the record of young women drivers as opposed to that of men? Can he confirm—here I must declare an interest as a mother of sons, although none of my sons is now in the appropriate age group— that women drivers of all ages have a better safety record?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I declare an interest as a man, so perhaps we might not necessarily have exactly the same perspective. If any scheme were introduced it would be equitable to introduce it for both genders.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it not a fact that the green voluntary L-plates are used only by the timorous or careful driver and certainly not by the real tearaways who are the very ones we would want to identify as probationary drivers within their first two years of driving?

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