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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: When introducing the previous amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, gave an example of a tragic case when a person died as a result of someone driving without their glasses or lenses. I do not know. I shall be interested if the noble Earl knows of any statistical evidence in relation to the number of accidents that have occurred.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis that last year, there were 123 prosecutions for driving with uncorrected defective eyesight. In 2001, a total of 228 driving incidents in which eyesight may have been a factor were reported by the police to the DVLA. That is another important protection. Cases of that kind are reported to the DVLA, which will no doubt require the kind of protection the noble Earl seeks.

All drivers, irrespective of their age, must be able to satisfy the visual acuity standards for driving—that is, the ability to read a car number plate from a distance of 20.5 metres or, when I took the driving test in 1950, 25 yards. A driver who drives when he is unable to meet that standard commits an offence.

It is not a terrible test—it is simple—but it has served its purpose well. It is equivalent to the standard laid down in the EC second directive on driving licences 91/439/EEC. The test has the advantage that drivers can use it at any time to check that their eyesight continues to meet the standard. It can also be used by police to test drivers at the roadside when they stop a vehicle or at the scene of an accident.

In light of the fact that we are talking about only 228 incidents a year—I should like to know how many involved injury; I suspect it is a small proportion—the requirements suggested in the amendments would be excessive.

The Earl of Caithness: The Minister relies quite heavily on the figure of 228 incidents, but the police very rarely use the powers that they have at their disposal. It is a matter that is normally taken into account. I can give the Minister some very disparate statistics. I had hoped that he would provide information to bring us up to date with what is happening.

At the International Motor Show last year, a firm called Specsavers tested the eyes of 3,000 people. Nearly a quarter of them—738—failed a basic vision-screening test. They could well have been driving illegally. That is a substantially different ratio from the 228 incidents which took place in this country.

Specsavers tested people's eyesight at road shows elsewhere around the country. In other places, out of 546 drivers who agreed to participate in a voluntary sight check, 25 were unable to read a number plate at a minimum distance; one person had to be taken to within two metres of the number plate before he was able to read it; 53 drivers were borderline; and 51 drivers admitted that they had never taken an eye examination.

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The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, says, "Well, we are all very good. We are all very sensible. We have our eyes tested at regular intervals". He and I might be doing that, but a great many people out there are not. The statistics show the kind of problem with which we are dealing.

The Government have carried out no research in this area. It is a lacuna in the Government's policy.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That is not the case. We have undertaken a programme of research into aspects of drivers' vision. We are supporting European Commission plans to review medical standards, including those relating to vision, and we will be represented on a number of working groups of medical experts from EU member states who will take the issue forward.

The Earl of Caithness: I received that answer to one of my written Questions. The wording is identical. But in reply to my written Questions, I did not receive any statistics from the Government of how many people had their eyesight checked by the police at the scenes of accidents to ascertain whether it was defective. In the 228 cases to which the Minister referred, eyesight must clearly have been a problem. The figures that I have given, which show that nearly a quarter of the people tested at the International Motor Show were not up to the required standard, means that there is a latent problem in this area that the Government are refusing to consider and take seriously.

I hope that between now and another stage the Minister and I can sit down and consider the matter. We need to find the basis of the problem. We need to know the extent of the problem and to act on it. These small amendments would go a long way towards improving road safety in this country.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Before the noble Earl withdraws his amendment, I should say that I will of course talk to him between now and Report. However, in terms of cost and intrusion, these are not small amendments. That does not mean that they are necessarily wrong, but they are certainly not small.

The Earl of Caithness: I am grateful for the Minister's offer to meet me between now and Report. I do not believe the amendments would be terribly costly to implement properly. There is a requirement in Amendment No. 60F that one should have one's eyesight tested every five years. If we altered that requirement to apply to people over 50, there would be no extra expense, because at 50 people should have their eyesight tested on a regular basis anyway. Bringing that requirement into law would not cost a great deal of money.

I shall clearly not get much more out of the Minister at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 60C not moved.]

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The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 60D:

    After Clause 106, insert the following new clause—

After section 96(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (driving with uncorrected defective eyesight) insert—
"(7) Drivers' eyesight should be tested at the scene of an accident where possible.""

The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 60E and 60G. During the debate on the previous amendment, we touched on the issue of police powers and the number of times they carried out eyesight tests at the scenes of accidents.

Amendment No. 60D requires that a driver's eyesight should be tested at the scene of an accident. That happens very rarely. On an unfortunate occasion when I was involved in an accident, the police did not carry out an eyesight test on either the person who ran into me, or on me. It would have been helpful if they had done so.

A person should have to produce a prescription and satisfactory proof of appropriate eyesight corrective measures after an accident or at a routine roadside check. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not wish to curtail the debate, but I have already offered to meet the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, between now and Report. The matters that he has raised in these amendments should be on the agenda.

The Earl of Caithness: I am grateful, but I had hoped for some reply to the points I have made. Of course they should be on the agenda, but it would be helpful to know the Government's thinking.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: By all means. I repeat: it is an offence for a person to drive with uncorrected defective eyesight. If that cannot be achieved, the driving licence will be revoked. The police already have the power to conduct checks of a motorist's eyesight at the roadside where appropriate, and I have given the statistics of when that has happened.

The police notify DVLA of drivers who do not meet the required standard—that is, the 228 cases to which I referred earlier—and a system is in place for dealing with drivers with defective vision. All reports are investigated by the DVLA. Where a driver's eyesight is found to be so poor that he cannot meet the required standards even with corrective lenses, the driving licence is revoked.

As regards police powers to require a driver to submit to a test, that is a very difficult area at present. The testing of eyesight at the roadside is not a simple task. It might divert police officers from their other responsibilities—for example, after an accident involving injury. The likelihood of proving an offence of driving with uncorrected defective eyesight will be greater where the constable has already had reason to suspect it. A more extensive application of testing could be an unreasonable imposition on the driver and a burden on police time.

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I am not convinced that the delivery of a current eyesight prescription would serve a useful purpose. I could not do it. I do not have a current eyesight prescription. I go to my optician; he has my prescription and he makes up my glasses. I do not take it away with me. I do not believe that the amendment would work.

The Earl of Caithness: It was helpful of the Minister to read that part of his briefing. It gives a better basis for our negotiations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60E to 60G not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 107 shall stand part of the Bill?

6.30 p.m.

Viscount Astor: This is a very strange clause. There was not a lot of debate on it at Report stage in another place or in Standing Committee. I am not quite sure where it came from. It could be described as the "white van" clause. I have a number of questions about it, some relating to principle and some to detail.

What evidence led the Government to come to the decision to allow drivers not to wear seatbelts while they are delivering? Had there been a flood of letters from freight companies, delivery companies, milkmen and so forth stating, "We have to spend so much time putting on and taking off our seat belts when we are delivering. That is hugely time consuming. We would save an enormous amount of petrol"—or diesel or whatever they use—"if we did not have to bother about putting on our seat belts"?

Where has the pressure come from? I have seen no evidence; I have read no evidence. I am sure other noble Lords are more up-to-date and more in tune with the freight industry than I am and may be able to help the Committee, but I can find no evidence of why this is necessary.

It is a strange clause because it refers to the driver or a passenger. Does that mean that they both have to be delivering? What happens if the driver sits still and the passenger gets out and pops an item through a door? Does he have to wear his seat belt? It makes no sense to refer to the driver or a passenger. If it refers to one passenger, why does it not refer to two passengers or three?

The clause refers to the driver of or passenger in a motor vehicle which is,

    "constructed or adapted for carrying goods".

How does one adapt a vehicle? Does it mean that you turn it into an official goods vehicle or does it mean simply painting a sign on the side of it? What is the definition of "adapted"? After all, goods vehicles are goods vehicles. They suffer a different tax regime; you pay a different disc rate.

It is a very bizarrely drafted clause. It is the kind of clause that might have been drafted late one night when the Minister responsible could not drive home because he had exceeded the limit. But, of course,

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Ministers have official cars and so that could not possibly have happened. Indeed, as we know, Ministers are very sober people.

The clause goes on to state,

    "while on a journey which does not exceed the prescribed distance".

We do not know what is the prescribed distance. I am interested to know what that means. Does it apply to someone delivering down a street, who goes from No. 1 to No. 2 and moves the van five feet? Will that be the prescribed distance, or will it be to the end of the street? What will it be?

Most bizarrely, the clause refers to a motor vehicle constructed or adapted for carrying goods which is on a journey,

    "undertaken for the purpose of delivering or collecting any thing".

What does that mean? Presumably, if it is a goods vehicle and it is licensed for delivering or collecting goods, it will deliver goods. Why does the clause state "any thing"? What is meant by that? The drafting is bizarre. I do not understand what it means. It is either goods or it is not goods. What is it?

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