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Lord Berkeley: I will give my noble friend an opportunity to consider his reply before he decides to write. Would he agree that the recruitment of some 500 police in London who patrol on pedal cycles is a better way of enforcing some of these regulations? The police are on mountain bikes so they can pedal up steps such as at St Paul's Cathedral and also go quite fast. They are much more capable or apprehending those cyclists who do not obey the regulationsand, sadly, there are quite a few. There are a lot more cyclists anyway after the sad events in July, which is good for cycling and it is very important that they obey the regulations. I would be interested to hear whether anyone on a bicycle has been stopped and convicted of some of the offences that we have been talking about.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to my noble friend for assisting in drafting the department's reply to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. Of course we will discuss the issue further and all factors will be taken into account, including the ones that he identified. My noble friend is right about policemen on bicycles. As ever, police act as a deterrent and it is an advantage if they are well equipped to deal with particular offenders on the mode of travel that they are using.
We are all concerned not only about the number of prosecutions that we can effect but the degree of improved road behaviour we can have through deterrence. My noble friend alluded to that factor. I am sorry that I am not able to satisfy either my noble friend or the rest of the House with statistics relating to the prosecution of cyclists. I will do my best to find out the information, but my best might not be very good.
Lord Davies of Oldham: One can always look to help from one's own Back Benches even in the direst extremes. I can now assert that I have moved from nought to one thanks to that kindly, genuine contribution from my noble friend. I thank him.
Lord Hanningfield: I am also pleased to hear that someone has actually been arrested on a cycle because it helps the Minister's arguments. We have to accept
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what he says. The problem is enforcement. One recognises that. On the other hand, there is a real problem. If this behaviour is not covered in legislation people, will think that they can get away with it. I am rather disappointed with the lack of guts of the Government in trying to put the proposals into legislation, even if there is a problem with enforcing them. However, I hear what everyone has said. I will think about the matter for the future but for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This is a common-sense amendment that I hope will appeal to all Members of the Committee. It makes clear that someone using a mobile phone in a stationary vehicle, with the engine switched off, would not be guilty of an offence. I am concerned that the present law, because of the wide definition of the expression "driving" in road traffic legislation, could mean that people who get stuck in long traffic jams, switch off their engines and communicate with others to inform them about a delay will, strictly speaking, be committing an offence. There was an important example recently when a senior social worker needed to get to a child support case. She was stuck in an accident for nearly an hour on the A12 and did not feel that she could use a mobile phone. That was a real problem for her because she was trying to support a child.
The law is brought into disrepute if we allow offences to go on the statute bookwhich this one could have been if she had used a mobile phonethat everyone realises are absolute nonsense. The injustice is even greater when there is no power to mitigate the fixed penalties, as there is not for the proposed offence in question, which will result in a mandatory minimum three-point endorsement on a licence. I am sure that the Government did not intend to penalise motorists who are stuck in traffic jams or people who want to get somewhere to support other people. The way to ensure that they are not penalised is to amend the law and ensure that that is apparent in the statute. It is a simple point and I hope that the Government will accept my reasonable amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I strongly support this amendment. It makes complete sense. People often need to call someone urgently and they can pull in and parkthe cars will be stationary. The instance quoteda traffic jam where an accident has held up the trafficis a perfectly legitimate example and I support the amendment.
Earl Attlee: I support my noble friend, but the amendment does not go far enough. He describes the problem of being stuck in a traffic jam. If it is possible to warn the person you are meeting that you are going to be late, all the stress disappears. Even after you get
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out of the traffic jam, there is no need to race because the person knows that you will be late. Some flexibility is desirable hereperhaps CPS guidelines might be able to address this point.
Lord Berkeley: I would never expect anyone to be given a fixed penalty for using any type of mobile phone if the car is stationary with the engine switched off. I would find it extraordinary that anyone would disagree. However, in several recent cases legislation has been interpreted by the police in a way one might not have expected when debating it, so there is a lot to be said for the clarification that would come with this amendment. If the engine is switched off and you are therefore stationaryunless you are running awaythat should not be an offence.
Lord Bradshaw: In answering the points that have been raised both by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and other noble Lords, will the Minister turn his mind to this question? When a driver is in charge of a car, does it mean that he is in the car with the keys in his pocket or that the car is stationary and the engine is switched off? In the case of drink-driving, he may well be considered in charge of the car and guilty if he is in the car with the keys. On the other hand, if he stops by the roadside or is in a traffic jam and turns off the engine, which he should do, it seems that some discretion should be exercisable on the part of the prosecuting authorities.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for clearing up that matter. He is absolutely right. The keys do not have to be in one's pocket so far as drink driving offences are concerned. It is a question of proximity to the car and intent to use it. Therefore, in that area we have a very clear illustration of someone who may not even be immediately behind the wheel of a car but is responsible for it and can be charged with a serious breach of the law. That is why this debate is not really about driving. We do not have in law a definition of driving. The question when a driver is in charge of a vehicle has to be established as a fact before a court of law according to the evidence that is put before it at that time. We therefore cannot pretend that we have in law a concept of driving that enables us to introduce amendments of this kind. That is the difficulty.
Let me point to the other obvious problem that impacts on thisthe development of new technology. I would be sustaining the argument even without this new technology. Some cars are now designed so that their engines stop when the accelerator is not pressed and they are no longer going forward. Whereas some careful, economical drivers switch off their engines at level crossings because they know that two trains are expected, which will take several minutes to pass, and
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think that they are contributing to reducing global warning as a result, the fact is that you can be driving a car that will take that decision for you; it switches off the engine.
Is it contended that because an engine is switched off, the driver is no longer in charge of the vehicle as far as the law is concerned? That would be the burden of these amendments. It would mean that it would not impact on the driver if the engine of his vehicle was not running. All the assertions by Members of the Committee who have stated how important it is to look at the question of mobile phones and their use while driving would have a coach and horses run through any part of our legislation in these terms, to say nothing of other aspects of potential bad driving, by the simple fact that if the driver could establish that the vehicle was stationary and the engine not actually running, he could not be caught by the law that would be in place if these amendments were accepted. We cannot go down that track, can we? We all recognise the virtues that some of the new technology may bring, both in the economical use of cars and the reduction in pollution emitted from them. We know that in the United States there is a very considerable drive towards increasing the development of such cars, and in this country we are seeing an increasing, although rather slower, use of them at the moment. I am happy to give way to the noble Lord.
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