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Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I support the amendment. As the noble Baroness and the noble Earl have both said, there must come a time when it is safe to use a phone. With the engine switched off you cannot move, and whether you are in a lay-by or stuck
 
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in traffic, it does not make that much difference. If you get out of the car—which you are not allowed to do on a motorway, but people probably do occasionally if the traffic is not moving—that is illegal in one sense and legal in another. There has to be a solution.

What worries me is that if it remains illegal to use a mobile phone when you are sitting in a car under any circumstances, the police will probably turn a blind eye most of the time, but there will be occasions when they do not turn a blind eye, which they have a habit of doing these days. They arrested a lady walking along a cycle track in Dundee under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. She was not doing anything, just walking down a cycle track. The police do funny things. There needs to be a way out of this, and the amendment looks to be a good start.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I strongly support this extremely sensible amendment. Where a vehicle is stationary and the engine is switched off, that vehicle is clearly not being driven, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, pointed out. As was said by a number of noble Lords in Committee, an individual who has been able to let his family or his firm know that he is stuck in a 10-mile traffic jam is going to be a much safer driver when he finally emerges from it than a driver who has not been able to let anybody know and who drives fast to make up time in case his family believes that something untoward has happened to him. A cynic might point out that the police are in practice extremely unlikely to be able to identify and charge anybody who is stuck in a 10-mile traffic jam, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said. They would not be able to get through for a start. But that is not the point. We must look at the principle of the matter. The principle of the amendment is absolutely right.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, there are electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles on the road. The amendment should therefore state "motor" rather than "engine".

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I too support the amendment. I do not know whether the words are right, but I accept that if the amendment is not passed, it will encourage people to use hands-free phones, which are quite dangerous. It is much more dangerous than somebody stopping his car, switching the engine off—or the motor, as my noble friend says—and making the telephone call. I know that we have heard a lot about traffic jams, but many people are called urgently and might want to respond. It is better that they do so by stopping and making the call rather than converting to hands-free phones. I hope that the Minister may have some good news for us.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, this amendment makes so much sense. For the amusement or fear of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham—I am not sure which—I relate to the House that we were overtaken by a lady in an unmarked car who had a hand-held mobile phone in one hand and a piece of paper on the steering
 
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wheel on which she was writing. She was stopped for driving at more than 100 miles an hour and was disqualified from driving.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I support this common-sense amendment. Would one be penalised for reporting an accident on a mobile phone, as I have done?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have been assailed on all sides. But I suppose that one could ask, whoever thought that the arrival of the mobile phone in a car would be an aid to road safety? Everything that I have heard about mobile phones has been about how they distract from driving, and yet today we have heard the mobile phone defended on all sides as almost an essential aid to keeping the roads safe—as if the roads were a good deal less safe before people could report what was happening on the road and say that they would be home late for tea.

I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said about reporting an accident ahead. However, if a phone was demonstrably used because of an emergency on the road, I think that there would be full understanding by the police and—if it ever went beyond the police—the court of the purpose of the call. I cannot imagine that a prosecution would be sustained.

However, all the other representations from noble Lords have been about personal convenience. Now this is to suppose that drivers know that there is a 10-mile jam in front of them and know that they are going to be safely ensconced there for 45 minutes, and that is why they use their phone. What about the person who is in a jam and is just over the top of a bridge that unsights the traffic behind but is busy on the telephone and does not get away as quickly as he should and then is hit by a vehicle from behind, being stationary when he should not be? In such circumstances, do you think the driver could erect a defence and say, "Well of course I was stationary. I was concentrating on my mobile phone"? Would that be a perfectly reasonable defence? No, it would not.

We must recognise that if we are focusing on driver alertness and attention, the issue of the mobile phone must be a distraction. I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said—that I will drive everyone from using the handheld mobile phone to using the hands-free mobile phone. I shall not be doing that. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, well knows, as does every other driver in the country, we do not believe that attention to hands-free phones while driving is a good idea either. Although there may be a common assumption that they are wonderfully safe because both hands are on the steering wheel, the trouble is that the hands are engaged but the mind is not. That is why we have reservations about the hands-free telephone. I am not involved in a contradiction when I suggest that because we have enormous reservations about using handheld phones that we are somehow driving people to using hands-free phones. We made it clear in our guidance that we do not believe that hands-free phones should be used either.
 
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That is not to say that we did not have a very interesting debate, although the terms of the debate have changed a little, with an amendment that is even better drafted than the amendment we debated previously. We had an interesting debate last time as well, and I have thought about the issues, because I recognise that noble Lords would not have contributed to the debate if there were not a point here—namely, that people can see circumstances in which a phone might be of assistance.

Let me mention the obvious point: we do not have a definition of "driving" in our road traffic law, as I explained in Committee. We have never had one, and the law has worked—largely because it is difficult to know how one establishes a definition of driving a car. However, we know that there are technical points, such as the ones identified by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie—namely, "Am I free to use a mobile phone, because my engine automatically switches off because I am driving a certain kind of vehicle?". To allow that would be to drive a coach and horses through these concepts.

I have sympathy with noble Lords' arguments. I do not like standing here and looking as if I am somehow a technological throwback because I do not enjoy the use of mobile phones. We all use mobile phones, and to good effect. Some of us use them to bad effect as well, when they ring in places they ought not to ring; my visit to the theatre the other evening was disturbed by a mobile phone. I must say that puts one against them for a little while. We all benefit from mobile phones, but mobile phones and driving do not mix. Despite all the representations made in Committee, we did not believe that a case had been made out for a change with regard to mobile phones and driving. The fact that a car is stationary need not mean that full attention does not have to be paid.

Of course, there was an allusion to another kind of instance—to people getting out of cars in 10-mile jams on motorways. Where on earth would the law be if we had an exception that said that if, in the driver's judgment, he was going to be there for a period of time, he could take a stroll on the motorway because it is obviously perfectly safe if he is in a jam? Of course he is perfectly safe—except that some of our fellow citizens have a very odd definition of a 10-mile jam or wandering around the motorway. The same thing applies to the issue of mobile phones.

We have heard a very well articulated argument on an amendment that I am afraid I cannot accept.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am almost tempted to say that the Minister has, with his comments about hands-free phones, led us to a situation in which no one will be able to be accompanied in a car at all. I cannot see that there is anything much more diverting about talking to a hands-free mobile than there is in talking to someone who is sitting next to the driver, or to passengers or children sitting behind him. Should they be dumped—do they need to come as well? So we are all going to be travelling up and down the
 
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motorway on our own, with a mobile phone. In that case, since we will all be on our own with our mobile phone, there will be no one to alert anyone else to the difficulty of a driver who has a problem, such as a child needing to be collected from school while you are stuck, or something that may look like an emergency to the person driving, but not to everyone else.

There is a need for an escape clause here, although I know the Minister does not think so. We will probably try again, but for today's purposes I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 pm


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