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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I emphasise that speed limiters govern only powered speeds; therefore, vehicles can sometimes travel faster. They are not governors; they are limiters. Vehicles can travel faster in favourable conditions; for example, if the engine were disengaged it would go faster downhill, and there are all sorts of dangerous ploys. That is why the noble Lord is right in saying that it is possible, even with limiters, for such vehicles to break the law. We are concerned to ensure through our inspection staff that limiters are properly fitted to all vehicles. As the noble Lord will recognise, there are increased measures to ensure that speed limits are complied with.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the practice of overtaking on the inside is far more dangerous than having to wait behind a slow vehicle? What are the Government doing to alleviate the problem?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, overtaking on the inside is against the law. Significant stretches of our motorways are under surveillance. The driver of a vehicle who deliberately comes up behind another vehicle in a middle or outside lane and then swerves inside to overtake could easily be charged with careless driving.

Lord Elton: My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly write to me—he will not have the information at his fingertips—to say when it was made illegal to overtake on the inside? Many of us have been saying that it should be made illegal but were told that it would not be done.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the actual manoeuvre of one vehicle going past another in the inside lane because there might be a slow-down in the outside lane, and the inside lane is continuing to move, is not illegal. Deliberately setting out to pass a vehicle by moving from one lane to another to go inside it and to go past leaves open the possibility that such a manoeuvre appears to be careless driving, and it could be subject to such a charge.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if vehicles travel within about 10 per cent of each other's speed, the roads are much safer? Therefore, by slowing lorries down, there are higher closing rates, which make roads less safe. It would be far safer to have lorries travelling at the same speed as the normal traffic on those roads.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, everyone in the House is aware of the crucial statistic, which is the braking distance of a lorry at a speed comparable to a car—it is many times greater. That is why heavy goods

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vehicles need restrictions. They both take much longer to brake from the same speed, and they have far more devastating effects when they collide with others.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, do the Government record centrally the number of prosecutions that take place of those lorry drivers who exceed the speed limit on motorways; and if not, why not?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the issue of breaking speed limits is coming under increasing scrutiny, but the noble Baroness will recognise that the main priority is the overall limit of speed on a motorway, which is scrutinised with great care. As I indicated in my earlier answer, limiters on vehicles are inspected, and they have the effect of ensuring that power cannot be applied beyond 56 miles per hour for heavy goods vehicles.

Sudan: Darfur Province

3.1 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking, through the United Nations Security Council, to halt the conflict in Darfur, western Sudan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the situation in Darfur has not been raised in the United Nations Security Council. However, we are working with others, including our European partners, to explore the possible ways in which we could help to end the conflict. We are in close touch with Sudanese Government Ministers, and the various Darfur movements. We are urging them to re-establish a ceasefire, preferably with international monitoring, to allow humanitarian access and to seek a solution through dialogue.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, would the Minister agree that with 650,000 people internally displaced, 115,000 refugees in Chad, and over 3,000 killed so far, this phenomenon is an overwhelming humanitarian disaster? Where is the integrated response by African states and the international community, to use the UN Secretary-General's phrase, to the machine-gunning and bombing of a civilian population?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the figures are very much as the noble Lord has given them, and we have discussed this twice in the past couple of weeks: on 15 and 28 January. It is not always easy to persuade others to see the problem as we see it. The noble Lord will recall that we were very disappointed that despite our hard work, and that of our EU partners, the EU-sponsored resolution on the Sudan in the UN Commission on Human Rights was lost on 16 April last year. We, and others, continue to work hard through the Secretary-General's special representative for humanitarian affairs in Sudan,

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Mr Tom Vraalsen, and the EU presidency, and we will continue to work hard to try to find a peaceful solution to this appalling conflict.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the relationship between the conflict in Darfur and a peace settlement between north and south Sudan?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I find it difficult to go into that detail at the moment. Clearly, we are looking for a number of different solutions. As the right reverend Prelate will know, the peace discussions on the full problem in the Sudan are due to resume on 17 February. The Darfur problem has always been a separate issue because it involves different groups who are in a state of rebellion against the Government of Sudan.

At the moment, we are concentrating on the resumption of those peace talks on 17 February. We recognise that the situation in Darfur is also very serious. That is why, in relation to the Department for International Development and Mr Alan Goulty of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, special representatives are in discussions on an almost daily basis about how to take this issue forward. I am sorry that I cannot give the right reverend Prelate a direct read-across from one set of discussions to another. I assure him that we are very heavily engaged in trying to resolve this appalling conflict.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that since December, some 48,000 refugees have fled from Darfur into Chad, adding to those who were already there; and that last year, the UNHCR asked for 10.3 million dollars for 2004 to deal with this very serious situation, and has so far received nothing? Could the Minister raise this as a matter of acute urgency? As she knows, the suffering in Chad as a result of the fighting in Darfur is severe.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware that since we discussed this on 15 January in the debate proposed by the noble Baroness, the situation in Darfur has deteriorated very badly. As she said, there are currently thought to be about 600,000 people internally displaced, with a further 100,000 having fled to Chad. The problem, as we have discussed in this House, is that of trying to get a realistic picture of what is happening on the ground. The violence in Darfur is such that it is difficult to get access to, and therefore an understanding of, the full extent of the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis.

We are trying to assess all the requirements, and civilian protection is a major concern. The DfID's humanitarian adviser for Africa, Mr Simon Mansfield, was in the region a short while ago making such an assessment, and I understand that he is visiting the Chad region today to ensure that he gets a fully rounded picture.

Lord Judd: My Lords, while recognising that the Government are working immensely hard, together

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with their European partners, in trying to find a way forward in this appalling situation, does my noble friend agree that it is terribly important to sponsor a sense of responsibility for an African issue within the African continent? Does she therefore agree that the wider forum of the United Nations has an important role to play in promoting a solution backed and supported by those nearer the crisis than we in Europe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I fully recognise that but, as I hope my answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made clear, while we have tried to pursue this issue under the auspices of the United Nations with our European partners, as we did last year, we were not successful in doing so. One can go back over these issues, and one can perhaps readdress this issue in the United Nations in due course. I do not rule that out.

However, this is an urgent situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has reminded us on a number of occasions. It simply is not good enough to say that we must rely on a mechanism that, sadly, transparently has not worked. We must look for some other solutions. We are doing that bilaterally, through what we are able to do from this country, and with our EU partners.


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