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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not think that there is much between the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and myself on these two sets of regulations. However, I wish that government spokesmen would not lace every speech with the suggestion that before 1st May nothing was done on any particular subject whereas after 1st May everything has been marvellous. I do not think that that is the case. Indeed, perhaps I should point out that the Act under which the regulations are being brought forward is the 1995 Act. That suggests that the previous government had laid the foundations. Indeed, under many other parts of that Act we had already taken steps to bring the various regulations into effect. This is
I turn first to the Air Quality Regulations and the air quality areas. I was a little puzzled, but I am now fairly clear, about what the relevant period will entail and what an authority will have to do if it finds that the air quality in a designated area is way below par. It must then bring forward a scheme in order to put that right.
Sometimes local authorities seem far too quick to think that if they somehow make the traffic flow more slowly, that will help the situation. I suspect that the contrary is the case. If traffic is forced to move slowly, perhaps because a bus lane or chicanes have been installed, and traffic must slow down and change gear the position can become worse, not better. There must be some clear-sighted thinking when it comes to traffic management as against air pollution.
It is in relation to the second regulation before us that I say a few more words, perhaps in part because I notice that the City of Glasgow, where I live, is one of the seven areas where this experiment is being carried out. I make no complaint about that. Indeed, I hope that the police will look carefully at vans, which I believe to be one of the main culprits when it comes to vehicles belching out smoke. Sometimes one wonders how the vehicles pass the MOT. Perhaps they have not, and that is the point. It may be that the authorities should look at the various devices that people use to get vehicles through the MOT which would not otherwise get through it.
I have no problem about the roadside tests. Clearly, there will be a prima facie reason for the vehicle being stopped: it will be belching forth fumes. That is fairly easy to see. If the police test the vehicle and find that it contravenes the regulations, a fixed penalty will be imposed. Perhaps I missed the point, but I listened in vain to hear what happened after that. The person pays the fixed penalty. If he does not pay that penalty there are arrangements under the regulations to ensure that he does. But what does the person do when he drives off to ensure that the next time the vehicle is on the road it is roadworthy and no longer belching out offending fumes? It is one thing to say that the driver will be told that he cannot use the vehicle until he sorts out the problem. That is fine. He goes off. But how will his obedience be enforced? Perhaps in summing up the Minister can explain the follow-up that the authorities have at their disposal to ensure that a vehicle that has been stopped and failed the test, with the driver being fined, is not used again and again and again but that the problem will be resolved.
The Minister said that one of the reasons why the Government wanted to use seven local authority areas as the first tranche was to monitor how the system worked. I welcome that. One lesson we have all learned is that sometimes the best ideas do not work out well in practice. Therefore, I believe that monitoring and pilot schemes are a particularly useful way to advance any policy, whether it be in this field or in social security, where a lot of pilot schemes have been initiated.
But if pilot schemes are to provide an answer--not so much the answer that is desired but the correct answer--it is important to work out how one is to judge their success. Are the Government to earmark seven similar areas where the regulations will not come into effect and use them as a control group? I see the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on the Front Bench opposite. He very much agreed with me about the need for control groups on another issue that we discussed. Perhaps the Minister can say a few words about control groups. Are the Government to set up a parallel group of seven cities--I believe that all of them are cities--where without these regulations some kind of check can be made on vehicles emitting unnecessarily large amounts of pollutants?
I do not want it to be thought for a moment that I am grudging of these regulations, but I shall be interested to hear the answers to these questions from the Minister. With those few words, I welcome the regulations.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I too welcome these regulations. I too am old enough to remember when London was beset by killing smog. It has now achieved a much healthier position. Indeed, three nights ago on the way back from the theatre my wife remarked to me that she found the London air invigorating. That does not mean that there is no room for improvement. Nevertheless, a great deal of improvement has already been made.
I read the debate on these orders in the 8th Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation in another place, as no doubt have all of your Lordships who are interested in this matter. I do not have a great many questions. Most of my queries were answered then. However, I should like to confirm that these regulations will not put local government to any long-term expense which will not be recompensed. That is my first query.
My second query, which I am not sure was answered in another place, is that the Minister said that authorities would be obliged to observe a degree of discretion. I am not entirely certain how they can be obliged to observe a degree of discretion. How does one do it? How does one judge whether one is observing a degree of discretion in the right way? That is a question to which we should have an answer.
Apart from that, my only complaint, as was mentioned in another place, is that a good deal of the second order, particularly the schedule, is in jargon that is almost incomprehensible. One Member of the other place drew attention to the fact that paragraph 4(1) of the schedule stated:
Ordinary human beings who have to put this into practice must understand it as English words. It may be a statistical definition as well, but I do not believe that to be a serious defence. I hope that an attempt is made to put these matters into more acceptable English.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I believe that the House recognises the Automobile Association as a very responsible body. I have been asked--I believe I am not alone in this--to make certain representations in regard to the second set of regulations before the House tonight. The Minister is well aware of certain concerns that that organisation has. I believe that they have been expressed especially to the Department of the Environment over the past two years. First, it has made it abundantly clear to me that it supports any regulation that limits, if not stops completely, the pollution of our air. Where that is caused by motorists it supports any sanctions that may be imposed. But the three questions that the AA has raised with me, and which I respectfully raise with the Minister, are the following.
First, my noble friend the Minister mentioned the words "irresponsible motorist". We would all want to punish the irresponsible motorist. But what about the motorist who is stopped, having carried out, almost to the letter, all the things he is supposed to carry out? The manufacturer passes his vehicle on to the retailer, he purchases it from the retailer, and, lo and behold, through no fault of his, there is an emission which is due to be punished under these regulations. Is he to be punished in the same way, with the penalty of £60, which if he does not pay up promptly becomes £90, as the irresponsible motorist, or is that something upon which the seven local authorities which have been chosen will be lectured upon by my noble friend as to the exercise of their commonsense discretion?
The second point raised by the AA is much more weighty. It was spoken to by the representative of the Opposition--I talk happily about representation, because I realise that we are all speaking amidst a crowded House. The second point which arises is: are we here by these regulations trying to collect a great many penalties which go to the local authorities so that they may pay for enforcement, or are we trying to see that someone who is polluting the atmosphere, through these emissions from his vehicle does not do it any more or that he has it immediately corrected? Here, the regulations omit any sanction. He pays his penalty--presumably a fine. He pays his £60. He drives off and again, quoting my noble friend and his word "irresponsible", the irresponsible motorist under these regulations can go spiriting abroad to other authorities which are not subject to this test, and the regulations fall short.
Surely there should be a procedure under which the motorist who offends is handed a little notice, a notice similar to the one that one receives--I must confess that I have received one--to produce one's licence and certificate of insurance at a police station, presumably within the area of the test that we are applying within the seven local authorities. What is to stop a notice being served which says, "You must, within a reasonable period, produce to a police station a verification by someone licensed to do the test of which we are all aware, saying that the fault has been put right"? Surely there is a gap here.
The third matter upon which the AA feels strongly is that money is being collected to cover the cost of enforcement by local authorities. But what about the money which is supposed to pay for this monitoring, as my noble friend called it? Monitoring can be of use in helping Parliament to decide eventually whether this requirement should be imposed upon the whole country. Parliament will want to have facts. Will there be a thorough analysis of the seven authorities which are undertaking this test period? Are they to prepare statistics showing the reaction of motorists, what should transpire and whether pollution within those areas has been reduced as a result of the regulations? Are analysts to be called in to deal with this matter? If so, will we be left with local authorities which will say that the moneys which they have collected just about cover enforcement and that there is nothing left over to do thorough monitoring, or will the Government make good that shortfall?
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