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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. I should declare that two members of my family drive lorries for their living,
 
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so I know who will have to comply with it. I have also consulted my stepson and was interested to hear that he and his colleagues thought that the order would specify 100 metres. Perhaps they were involved in the consultation and are awaiting our views.

Those on these Benches have no difficulty in accepting the order as a piece of road traffic and, ultimately, criminal justice legislation—but I have a small reservation about the precise distance mentioned in the new sub-paragraph; that is, 50 metres.

The existing definition is much too imprecise and appears to condone the non-wearing of seat belts by van drivers and second men in almost any journey where deliveries are made. Just to compound the legal myth, W-registration lorries and older do not require seat belts to be fitted. So the new order will give a much better description of the type of activity which will attract the exemption for seat belt wearing. It will mean that the driver and second man will be required to wear a seat belt at all times, except when actually making deliveries to virtually adjacent properties. This regulation will be easier to keep in spirit than in the letter of the regulation, I fear.

When I was preparing for this short debate, I was also concerned that there seemed to be no definition available about the other substantive matter within the order; that is, the new definition of a "qualified driver", described in sub-paragraph (b), when instructing a learner in reversing manoeuvres. Will the Minister clarify what the new definition will be?

The order will impact on many road users, many of whom will be at work. What will be the Government's approach to informing the public about these changes, or will that just be left to firms to inform their employees? Presumably those employers will have to pay for some of the vans and lorries to be fitted with seat belts—or will they?

Finally, I also hope that the Minister will commit himself to keeping the 50 metre regulation under review. I suspect that we will be asked to amend this to 100 metres in the future. However, I am mindful that our neighbours in Norway are experimenting with the main roads, such as the E18 down to Kristiansand, having a speed limit at 70 kilometres per hour—that is 42.5 miles per hour. That experience has brought road deaths in head-on collisions down to zero.

So, in the spirit of such experimentation from the other side of the North Sea, I am content with the order and its definition of 50 metres. I hope that the Minister will enlighten me regarding people who are teaching reversing.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I am delighted that the 50-metre regulation has come into existence. I was one of the consultees who wanted a zero distance, so that people would not be exempted, purely on the basis that there could then be no misunderstanding whatever whether they were wearing seat belts or not. However, 50 metres is a good start.
 
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At the moment, Hackney carriage drivers and drivers of private hire vehicles when carrying a passenger are also exempt, but they are not exempt from being killed in a traffic accident. It is a great shame that, despite the pressure applied on that point when the issue was debated before the legislation was enacted, that issue could not be addressed. Perhaps some thought could be given to removing the exemption for such drivers, so that every driver has to wear a seat belt at all times except for those who are medically exempted. But these regulations represent a good start.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in the debate and gave broad support to the changes. I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said about the fact that we should keep our minds open on whether we have got the figure right. The figure of 100 metres was, of course, the subject of a representation as part of the consultation—it may have surfaced there. As we said, we were going for a much lower figure in our original proposal. We settled on 50 metres as an effective compromise, which we believe will meet the necessary requirements to improve accident records, while giving some recognition that points were made during consultation.

To the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, let me say that, apparently, the department spends £14 million on road safety publicity a year. I am mindful of the fact that, given television rates of advertising, that probably means that those adverts must be restricted to rather less popular slots than some adverts are. Some £1.5 million of that sum is spent on seat belt advertising but, of course, we could always spend a lot more. There is always the question of how one gets publicity across, and from time to time there are significant publicity campaigns on specific issues of road safety. Those are the figures, however, which show that the Government are in earnest and take the question of wearing seat belts seriously.

I understand the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. None of us should be satisfied if there is less than 100 per cent compliance. Nevertheless, 93 per cent compliance with regard to car drivers and their passengers is probably a figure in which we would all have delighted when seat belts were first introduced, when our ambition was fixed a little lower than that, given the inevitable resistance to changing habits.

Therefore, we might draw some solace from the fact that each generation of new drivers cannot be trained by driving instructors unless they are wearing seat belts, and diehard resistance may reduce in time. Certainly, I agree with the noble Earl that there are enough risks involved in driving a motor car without adding to them, as he instanced in his description of one particular tragic accident, by which he showed how much more danger occurs if one is not suitably secured.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked me about the definition of a qualified driver. The 1999 regulations define qualified driver; these regulations
 
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do not change the definition in any way but ensure that the current definition of qualified driver applies—namely, that he is over the age of 21 and has been driving for at least three years.

I hear what my noble friend Lord Simon says. He is always articulate and forceful on road safety issues, and his views need to be treated with the greatest care. Of course, I sympathise entirely with what he says, but he will recognise that there is a degree of recalcitrance. It is making the obvious point to say that compliance by van drivers would be at the same level as that of car
 
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drivers and their passengers if the will was there. However, the fact that it is significantly low and gives rise to the additional casualty figures is a measure of the difficulties and problems that we have to overcome.

We are making some progress. I recognise that it is very unlikely that any Minister standing at this Box will ever satisfy the House that we have done everything that we can on road safety. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Written Statements

Wednesday 15 December 2004


 
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British-Irish Council

The Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister led the UK delegation to the sixth summit of the British-Irish Council and was accompanied by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office and myself.

The council noted the ongoing engagement between the British and Irish Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland and looked forward to the restoration of the devolved institutions, established under the Good Friday agreement, as soon as possible.

The main issue for discussion was tourism, and the council has agreed a programme to take forward joint working in this area. I have placed a copy of the communiqué in the House of Lords Library.

Legal Services: Clementi Report

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government warmly welcome Sir David Clementi's report on the future regulation of legal services in England and Wales. Sir David and his team deserve our thanks for all their work over the past 18 months.

I established Sir David's review to consider the regulation of legal services with the clear objective of improving the service to the consumer. The provision of legal services must include safeguarding the public's right to independent legal advice and ensuring the quality and professionalism of the legal professions. Reform will be judged by the benefits it delivers for the consumer.

People expect value for money and services that are delivered in ways which better suit their needs. They also expect proper redress if something goes wrong as a result of poor service. The legal professions are no exception. Whether we are buying a house or getting advice about our rights, the way in which lawyers, legal executives and those who advise on legal issues work, how they are regulated and what the processes are for complaining about their work potentially affects us all.

The Government broadly accept the main recommendations of Sir David's important report and the arguments for change which he sets out. We want to ensure proportionate and appropriate regulation and separate handling of consumer redress. We will want to work closely on the details of his report with all of those involved, especially those representing the legal professions and consumer interests, to take
 
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forward this report and deliver reform quickly. We will be careful to ensure as small a bureaucracy as possible.

We strongly support the objectives set out in Sir David's report: maintaining the rule of law, providing access to justice, ensuring protection for consumers, promoting competition, encouraging a strong and effective legal profession and increasing public understanding. To achieve those objectives, Sir David's principal recommendations are the creation of a new oversight regulator with significant powers, the separation of the representative and regulatory functions of the professional bodies, the creation of a single new complaints body and steps to enable the creation of legal disciplinary practices (LDPs). These changes could see non-lawyers for the first time not only as managers of legal practices, but also as owners of and investors in LDPs.

I am sure that the legal professional bodies will engage positively with us. The Government's overriding aim is to preserve the best of the current system while moving forward for the benefit of consumers. While there are challenges in the report, we have worked together successfully on a number of issues, including the establishment of a new interim system for the appointment of Queen's Counsel. I am confident that we will continue to do so on the issues arising from Sir David's report.

The Government will publish a White Paper on Sir David's proposals as soon as possible next year, to be followed by legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Today, in response to Sir David's report we can affirm our commitment to putting in place a regulatory framework that ensures a better deal for consumers through increased competition, innovation and transparency, and safeguards the independence of the legal professions—including independence from government—in providing high-quality advice. Sir David's report provides a clear basis for achieving these aims and the Government are committed to taking this forward as a matter of paramount importance.


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