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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, what happens next year is not academic. It is extremely important for the British people. It is interesting that I have heard the noble Lord say three times before
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, on 10th January 1995 the House agreed to a recommendation of the Procedure Committee that no Starred Questions should be taken on Fridays. That recommendation was in line with a recommendation of the Group on Sittings of the House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is not the real reason that Ministers do not wish to be cajoled into returning here on a Friday in order to answer Questions? Will he assure the House that Ministers are willing to turn up on Friday to answer Questions put by noble Lords?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I have had occasion to say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on a previous occasion, it is not my duty to defend either Ministers or aspiring Ministers, but I have no doubt whatsoever that our present Ministers will do whatever the House requires of them as regards the proceedings of this House. To go back to the original part of the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, it is not the case that this proposal was intended to have that effect for either Ministers, aspiring Ministers or indeed Front-Benchers in any other part of the House. It was part of a package of proposals which were put forward by the Group on Sittings of the House chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, aimed at saving the time of your Lordships' House, especially late at night, so that we could rise at a more civilised hour.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, is not the real reason behind the real reason not that Ministers are unwilling to appear before the House but that their civil servants wish to send them off on visits around the country to keep them out of mischief?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, if I am not answerable for Ministers, I am even less answerable for their civil servants. As I have also had occasion to suggest to your Lordships before, I feel that not only Ministers but other Front Bench Members of your Lordships' House have other duties
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, under the present arrangements the House is able to put down some 15 or 16 Questions a week. Those Questions are usually to the point and are answered with a remarkable degree of clarity which is not always available in another place. Is it not in the interests of the House that on a sitting day Members can ask specific Questions, in particular in regard to EEC matters which occupy a large amount of reading time of all Members of your Lordships' House? On balance it might be advantageous, if only for clarity, to have Questions on Friday as well.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, on a previous occasion before an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I was rash enough to note that he had not intervened on that Question on a European matter. He has now intervened even without my provocation.
The noble Lord raises a serious point. There is great substance in what he says about the tabling and answering of Questions. However, Friday Sittings are a different matter. After a great deal of consideration by the Group on the Sittings of the House, the proposal was specifically recommended as a means of saving additional time. Coupled with that recommendation was the group's expectation that the House would not sit beyond 2.30 in the afternoon on those additional Fridays. That would leave only three and half hours. If we were to have Starred Questions on a Friday as well it would diminish by half an hour the sitting time for a normal Friday Sitting.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, tempts me. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, said on a previous occasion, I am apt to resist temptation sometimes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Commission has recently proposed an amendment to the External Projections Directive which would control the fitment of aggressive bull-bars. A working group has been set up to develop the proposals further and the department is actively involved in this work.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that there has been progress. A specific working group has been set up to discuss the issue. There is a meeting on 16th July. We hope that there will be some progress. We have commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory to inform our thinking on this matter. It is clear that there are still significant difficulties in reaching an agreement, but we are working hard towards one.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the House will have been interested in the Minister's initial reply, in particular the reference to "aggressive" bull-bars. Will he explain the difference between aggressive bull-bars and any other bull-bars?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, yes, aggressive bull-bars are those that would do the most damage to pedestrians. There are other types of bull-bars which are not necessarily thick, steel, sharp-edged bars. There are those made out of deformable plastic.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is it well known in Europe that "bull-bars" is the British term? "Roo-bars" is what the term is in the country where they originated; and they were designed to protect the driver because a vehicle radiator is rapidly smashed by a large kangaroo colliding with it, and dusk is the most dangerous time. As a member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, perhaps I may say that it is important that we do everything we can to press for the prohibition of these bars, which are not appropriate in Europe.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. We rely on her for marsupial advice on these matters. But she is right. It is an important issue, on which we are working hard to bring about a solution.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I understand that the Commission has recently proposed an amendment to the directive. We welcome the Commission's involvement. My honourable friend the Minister for Road Safety, Steven Norris, had a meeting with the European Commissioner, Mr. Kinnock, at which it was agreed that a European approach was the best way forward.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would it have been possible for the British Government to have made these bull-bars illegal without the involvement of the European Commission, if that is what we had wished to do?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, there are powers under the Road Traffic Act, but there are difficulties. A vehicle with the optional equipment of bull-bars could be type approved, in which case we would be bound to accept it. That is why we do not believe that national action is appropriate without having first overcome the European problem.
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