Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bach: My Lords, it has not gone on for 12 years. On 11th May, 1997, we announced that the interactions work—that being done at Porton Down—would be carried out. In September 1998, work on guinea-pig studies began. In December 1999, other work began. By August next year, the last group of marmosets to be vaccinated will complete their 18-month monitoring period. The study will be completed in December 2003. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is frustrating that it has taken so long. But there has been no 12-year delay. It is important that we get this right.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I am tempted to follow the comments about marmosets. If the Minister is dismissing the Church of England's pensions appeal, will he comment on the fact that a Mr Rusling, at a pensions appeal tribunal in Leeds, was given a decision in his favour? The tribunal found that the injury, wound or disease on which the claim was based, namely Gulf War syndrome—that is published in the court papers—was attributable to the service. Does that ruling not have an effect on outstanding cases? How many outstanding cases remain?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord the number of outstanding cases. However, the Ministry of Defence considers that the appeal tribunal's decision in the particular case to which he referred was erroneous in law. That is why we are appealing against it.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, is the same combination of vaccines and NAPS tablets used in the Gulf War being used on present day servicemen and servicewomen?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we now ensure that all troops are immunised routinely with the standard service immunisations. One improvement since the time of the Gulf War—and there are a number in this field—is that, since 1991, much more information has been

11 Dec 2002 : Column 225

provided with anthrax immunisation to enable an informed decision on whether to have the immunisation. There have been improvements, and we have learned a lot of lessons since then.

Buses and Coaches: Passenger Safety

3 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take urgent measures to increase safety for passengers in buses and coaches.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we debated the fitting and wearing of seat belts in buses and coaches two weeks ago, when I told the House about the existing measures we have taken and those in an EU directive under discussion aiming to improve safety for those travelling on buses and coaches. While implementing a European directive on bus and coach design, we are taking the opportunity to align and simplify all our national regulations and approval schemes for buses and coaches. Of course, all vehicle safety regulations are under constant review.

Despite last week's unfortunate accidents—I convey our sympathy to the victims—buses and coaches remain a very safe form of transport, with an average of only 0.4 fatalities per billion—not million, but billion—passenger kilometres compared with a figure of 3.1 for cars and more than 100 for motorbikes.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does he recognise that many coaches on the road today should not be on the road? Is not the best advice that coaches constructed before 1993 could be dangerous, and that, even when they are fitted with seat belts, it is often safer for passengers not to wear them? Will he, please, urgently take steps to ensure that drivers of coaches constructed and registered after April 1993 do not drive off until they themselves and their passengers are belted in? Although there are not so many deaths or injuries involving coaches on our roads, many of the deaths that do occur could be avoided if those rules were followed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am very reluctant to take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, that passengers on vehicles fitted with seat belts should not use them. I do not know that there is any evidence for that, and, if I may say so, I think that it is very dangerous advice. Since 1998 rules have been in force stating that seat belts should be fitted on all coaches and minibuses which carry children. That clearly applies to a very large number of coaches and minibuses as very few of them could make a living unless they carried children for at least part of the time.

The EU directive which we discussed a couple of weeks ago and to which I referred addresses the issue of wearing seat belts. The current position is that it is the driver's liability to ensure that all seat belts are

11 Dec 2002 : Column 226

worn, but that is very difficult indeed to enforce. The EU directive will help to have alternative enforcement measures.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister, please, give careful consideration to the imposition of further regulations, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Janner? The Disability Discrimination Act, for example, requires all bus operators to have low-floor buses and access for wheelchairs. However, that is vitiated by the fact that sometimes buses cannot draw up alongside kerbs. People in wheelchairs and people with buggies cannot reach the buses because parked cars prevent the buses reaching the kerb. Will the Minister give attention to the secondary issue of clearing bus stops of parked vehicles so that the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act can be complied with?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. These are important matters, and particularly important for people with disabilities, although they are not strictly related to the Question on the Order Paper, which is about safety. However, his words are taken very seriously.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one measure that would improve safety standards on coaches and buses would be to dissuade their drivers from using mobile phones while at the wheel? Is he aware that the proposed ban, which we have read about and is coming, on the use of mobile phones by drivers cannot come too soon for road safety organisations? They believe that a ban will make a fundamental difference to road safety generally.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that the position of the Department for Transport has been made very clear. There has been a lot of debate about this in your Lordships' House, and I am sure that those who have taken part in those debates will be pleased to know that we are taking action along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that holders of a driving licence in the state of New South Wales, in Australia, automatically lose their licence if they are not wearing a seat belt, regardless of whether they were driving? Does he agree that the introduction of similar legislation in this country would not only concentrate the minds of those who do not wear seat belts but reduce deaths on the road?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, I was not aware of that; but, having driven in New South Wales myself, I shall examine my conscience very closely. It seems draconian, but if it works, then no doubt it is worth investigating, and we shall.

11 Dec 2002 : Column 227

Accidents: Bogus Claims

3.6 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to deal with bogus claimants and their lawyers who claim for damages in accidents in which they have not been involved.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the pursuit of those who make bogus claims is a matter in the first instance for the police. If an organisation feels that a bogus claim has been made, it should consider whether to report this to the police. While that applies equally to lawyers, they are additionally subject to strict rules of conduct, maintained by the self-regulating legal professional bodies, which preclude lawyers from acting dishonestly. It is for the legal professional body concerned to take action where it considers a breach of the rules has occurred.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. My question refers to a case in Manchester where an empty bus left a depot. Subsequently, 22 people claimed to have been injured although no one had been travelling on the bus. A firm of solicitors solicited the claims by telephone. Will the noble Baroness take action—and I mean strong action—both to discourage fraudulent claims and to ensure that firms of solicitors engaging in such practices are struck off? Does the case not convey a message about contingent-fee litigation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says, and I join him in condemning such terrible behaviour. When such fraudulent behaviour is discovered, all those with knowledge of it should report it to the police—who are the proper agency to prosecute all those involved in such deception. I can but say that that works very effectively when and if it is done.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that insurance companies are in the front line of the fight against bogus claims? Is she aware that many insurance companies now feel inhibited in making secret inquiries and surveillance of claimants whom they believe are making bogus claims as a result of the insurance companies' understanding of cases decided in the European Court of Human Rights and domestic cases with a human rights component? Will the Government do their best to ensure that insurance companies are not inhibited from proper investigation of what may well be bogus insurance claims?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page