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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I, too, support these amendments and speak also to my Amendment No. 65B. I shall not add to what the noble Baroness and my noble friend said about the rural roads hierarchy and speed limits, except to say that I agree with every word. The need for a new and rational approach to speed in the countryside is important. The manner in which it is proposed in the amendments is commendable.
Amendment No. 65B is very much in the spirit of Clause 107, to which the noble Viscount referred. If it is sensible for the exemption for van drivers to wear seat belts to be removed from the Bill, I should be interested to know why it is not sensible for the exemption that applies to taxi drivers and private hire vehicles to be removed as well. Indeed, I would argue that there is a stronger case for taxi drivers no longer to be exempt from seat belt legislation for two reasons. First, their passengers are obliged to follow signs in the back of cabs to belt up, even if the driver is not wearing one. Secondly, if all taxi drivers were obliged to wear seat belts, it would set a good example to everyone else. I suspect that that was included in legislation when the seat belt law was passed simply because the taxi driver
In November 2001, we published a report on the possible future development of a rural road hierarchy. We are working on a framework to assess what speeds are appropriate and what speeds are actually being driven on rural roads. We expect the first results in mid-2003. We plan to publish advice on village entry signing to assist local authorities introduce 30 mile per hour speed limits in villages.
We have also finished trials on vehicle-activated signs which curb inappropriate speed by warning drivers of hazards ahead or reminding them of the speed limit in force. The revised Traffic Signs Regulations General Directions 2002 allow more flexibility in their use. I anticipate the criticism that we are being slow on some of these issues. I shall certainly have to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about home zones and quiet lanes. The important point is that those speed limits are already available to local authorities if they wish to introduce them.
Viscount Astor: The noble Lord just mentioned Traffic Signs Regulations General Directions 2002. While the Bill was passing through another place, the Minister said that the department was currently preparing guidance in the form of a traffic advisory leaflet, which he hoped would be available within a month. That was on 11th March. Does the Minister know whether it has actually been published? If he does not know now, I should be grateful if he would write to me.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It clearly has not. I shall have to write to the noble Viscount and other noble Lords who are interested in the subject. My point is more fundamental. Speed limit definitions are available to local authorities now if they want to use them. Rural communities differ enormously from one county to another. Those which have narrow, high-hedge lanes are very different from those in which roads run between open fields. What may be suitable in one area is not necessarily suitable in another. The amendment would prescribe inappropriate limits. I trust local authorities to use their powers effectively. That is why, despite any delays that there have been in specific regulations or guidance, I oppose the amendment.
Amendment No. 63 concerns heavy goods vehicles being operated without the necessary operator's licence. We introduced powers to permit the impounding of illegally operated goods vehicles in the Transport Act 2000. A scheme was introduced in 2002. The Vehicle Inspectorate can detain and dispose of vehicles used by operators without the necessary operator licence. The owner of the vehicle can apply for the return of the vehicle on the grounds that he did
Turning to Amendment No. 65, traffic commissioners have wide powers to decide whether an operating centre is suitable and of sufficient capacity for use by the goods vehicles that an operator plans to use from the site. It is not within the traffic commissioner's area of expertise to assess the effect of operating centres in introducing additional vehicles onto the local road network. I accept the point that some of those operating centres may be too small to require planning permission, although I should like to knowI shall endeavour to find outwhether that is a widespread problem. But local authorities have other powers than planning powers. They can impose traffic regulation measures around operating centres under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit, restrict or otherwise regulate the use of goods vehicles. We believe that those powers are the appropriate powers and are available.
Amendment No. 65B concerns taxis. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, might care to be in my position when chairman of the central area board of the Greater London Council. When I offended the taxi drivers they just drove around County Hall until I gave in. If I did not give in, they drove around Parliament Square until I gave in. One offends them at one's peril. However, taxi drivers put it to us that they face a risk of violence or theft from their passengers and they would not wish to be restricted by seat belts. We agreed this exemption in 1983 when seatbelts became compulsory. If anything, it seems that the justification for the exemption is greater now than it was 20 years ago.
Lord Bradshaw: Before my noble friend Lady Scott speaks, I should like to say that we received the same answer when we raised the issue of operating centres when the Transport Act 2000 was under consideration. Since then, owing to the policies which have been pursued to make farm buildings more versatile in their use, local authorities have been inundated with applications for the use of centres which, of course, already have access. They find themselves unable to intervene in such cases. In addition, local authorities do not employ officers who know anything about road transport operations generally. Traffic commissioners know about vehicles, turning circles and the width and height of vehicles.
The answer we were given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in debates on the Transport Act 2000 has palpably failed. It is essential that something is done to stop huge juggernauts trundling through rural villages, making people's lives an absolute misery. The failure of the Government to act in that regard is causing huge resentment and much damage to rural roads. I would press that point very hard.
My second point is that the lessors of vehicles, who are usually the big companies, have an absolute duty, because they are concerned with their vehicles and getting them back again afterwards, to ensure that the people to whom they lease them hold operator licences. Those records are available on computers to anyone who wants them. I warn the Minister we shall press the matter later.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I allowed the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, tacitly to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, by failing to respond myself. Local authorities have a statutory right to object to operator licence applications and they can appeal to a transport tribunal against a traffic commissioner's decision.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this brief debate. This is not the time to engage in a discussion with the Minister about whether one should have 50 or 60 mile per hour limits on rural roads. The point is that a debate should be had about appropriate and default limits. The Minister is right to say that local authorities have a significant amount of choice at the moment. But part of the problem is that any kind of changessuch as, 30 mile per hour speed limits in villages, to which the Minister referredrequire vast amounts of signing. A huge number of regulations state that there must be 30 mile per hour signs at particular intervals and that there must be street lighting. A lot of paraphernalia has developed alongside any proposals to change the current default position.
One reason for this amendment is to obtain an understanding that if the default position were changed, all of that would be unnecessary. I agree that villages should have a 30 mile per hour speed limitmy authority in Suffolk was the first authority in the country to introduce a blanket policy of 30 mile per hour speed limits in villages. But it was difficult to do, because it is not the default position. It was expensive and involved vast amounts of what has become known as "signage". The amendments are therefore partly aimed at dealing with that issue. I hope that the current discussions, which I am heartened to hear are still ongoing, will include some of that.
My noble friend Lord Bradshaw made the point well that although clearly no lessor can be expected to deal with someone who leases a vehicle who deliberately misleads them about whether he has a licence, there should nevertheless be a basic duty of care on the part of companies which are making a profit from leasing out vehicles. There should be a duty of care on them to ensure that the people to whom they are leasing have
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