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Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is possible that the noble Earl has not read the Home Office consultation paper as carefully as he normally reads such documents. It deals largely with penalties, but included in the latter are options for requiring retraining or the retaking of the driving licence for substantial offences. I agree with the thinking behind the noble Earl's question that, clearly, the whole point of deterrents as regards road traffic management and road safety issues is to ensure that we have better drivers on the road. Therefore, those options are included in the Home Office paper to that end.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the Minister mentioned inspection in the package outlined in his Answer. We have recently seen what astonishing damage can be done by a Land-Rover and trailer getting on to a railway track through a crash barrier. Can the noble Lord say whether there is any programme for inspection of crash barriers to ascertain whether they are up to the standard required as regards the 44-tonne weight to which this Question refers?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I should, first, stress that anything that I, or anyone else, may say in this respect has no bearing on the tragic accident that took place yesterday. As my noble friend Lord Macdonald made clear last night, the facts of that accident will be subject to some very detailed inquiries. Until we receive the results of those inquiries, any conclusions on that particular incident are matters only of speculation.

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In relation to crash barriers, I can tell the House that there are standards relating to barriers over railways, as applies to bridges in other areas. The Highways Agency and the local highway authorities meet those standards. Clearly there is a continuous upgrading of those standards. Continuous assessments are also made to ascertain whether or not those standards are adequate in relation not only to normal traffic but also to larger lorries. The possibility of a major incident involving a 44-tonne lorry must be taken into account in terms of all road safety measures, including barriers and others.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in terms of vehicle miles travelled, does the Minister agree that, in general, heavy goods vehicles are probably less likely to be involved in accidents but more likely to be involved in serious accidents? Further, can the noble Lord say whether anything is being done by way of this new supervisory package about driver practices such as, for example, tailgating on motorways, and so on?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct to suggest that driving of HGVs is relatively safe. Nevertheless, because of the nature of the vehicle, when there is an accident it can have very serious consequences. The question of professional drivers was addressed in the road safety strategy that we produced last year. A working party investigating that issue has just produced an interim report relating to the management of professional drivers, including HGV drivers, van drivers and those who drive company cars. It recommended that those concerned should take more responsibility for the way in which their drivers operate on the road, and that, in effect, the kind of requirements on health and safety that are evident in factories and offices should also apply to the management and the practices of employed drivers who are using the road. The statistics for company car drivers are the opposite of that which applies to lorries. Therefore, those findings make the report very important.

Factortame Litigation

3.15 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that their continuing failure to publish the documents disclosed for the purpose of the Factortame litigation and referred to in the English courts' decisions to be compatible with the principles contained in the Government's Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and in the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Government are firmly committed to the principles contained in the code of practice and in the Act to which the noble Lord refers. This particular request

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has raised several complex issues, which have taken longer than anticipated to resolve. However, we expect to be in a position to release the documents referred to in the Question before the end of next week.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister, not only for her reply but also for being here today to deliver it in view of the other matters of pressing concern to both her and her department. Can the Minister confirm the dismal background to this matter? Is not the position as follows: that the documents in question cover the period 1973-91 and are of historic interest; that they relate to the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988; that the Government waived legal, professional privilege in respect of them in 1997 in the English proceedings; that all of the documents were before the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords in the Factortame litigation and were, in some cases, read out; and that most of them are government documents and not EC Commission documents? Can the Minister explain why the government documents have not been released since I first asked for them in 1999, and why the EU documents were not requested from the Commission many months ago?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, when I looked at the chronology of this particular case, I undoubtedly had some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, because it has taken a long time to resolve. I have to point out to the noble Lord that there were a number of unusual and complex issues that had to be resolved. They include whether, aside from the code, the disclosures that had taken place in the Factortame litigation had placed the Government under a legal duty of disclosure; how the policy and the code should be applied in the case of requests for publication of those documents, given that the code expressly excludes a commitment to provide documents; how the code should be applied in the case of documents recording the deliberations of a previous administration; which documents were covered by legal, professional privilege and whether that privilege still existed after so much detail, as the noble Lord suggests, had been given out in the hearings and in the judgments; what were the key principles for deciding where the balance of public interest lay for the elements of the documents; and which documents required the agreement of other parties as regards disclosure. All that has taken time, but it is all now virtually resolved. I hope that all the documents will be disclosed within the next week.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, it is possible that I am the only person who does not understand what this Question is all about. However, bearing in mind that there may be more than a handful of us who do not understand it, could the Minister in future liaise beforehand with the questioner, like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, so that we can appreciate the "dismal background" to such matters, and, therefore, take more part in the proceedings?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, to put it in simple language: the noble Lord, Lord Lester, asked for these

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documents a long time ago, and it has taken an awful long time to get them released to him. Perhaps that explains the situation to my noble friend. I was trying to explain that the issues were not quite as clear-cut as being a case of anyone trying to be obstructive or deliberately dilatory. It was necessary to resolve a number of issues, some of which were novel. Having resolved the process issues in this case, I hope that the resolution of any future issues will not prove to be such a long, drawn-out process.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the Minister did not mention the EC Commission. Can I take it that the problem did not involve the secretiveness of the Commission as regards its documents?

Baroness Hayman: Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord may take it that way. In the case of at least one of the documents, the EC Commission has been one of the bodies with which we have had to consult. However, there is no way in which it has been obstructive in this respect.

Student Loans Repayment for Teachers

3.20 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    From which date the recently announced repayment of student loans by the Government on behalf of teachers of shortage subjects will come into operation.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, we said in the Green Paper, Schools: Building on Success, that we would explore a scheme to pay off the student loans of new teachers who begin teaching shortage subjects in the state education sector. We are still considering details but we currently plan that a scheme should be in place for those who enter teaching in September 2002. This is one of a package of measures which we believe will significantly enhance schools' ability to recruit and retain teachers.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the scheme does nothing to solve the immediate crisis which we thought was the aim of its introduction? Would the scheme require legislation? Is it right that a teacher of one of the listed subjects for the scheme would have a student loan repaid but a student teacher of a subject for which there is an equal shortage, for example, religious education and/or music, would not? Is that position consistent with the Human Rights Act?

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