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House of Lords

Tuesday, 4th April 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Drivers: Sleep-prevention Devices

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that sleep-prevention devices should be installed in motor vehicles.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, we are researching the extent to which driver fatigue and sleepiness may contribute to accidents. The possible benefits of sleep-prevention devices are not yet clear. In any case, at present we know of no such devices which could be regarded as effective, reliable and safe.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interesting Answer. Is she aware that the results of independent surveys seem to indicate that more accidents are caused by fatigue and sleep than by drink? If that is so, does she agree that further research is worth while? Funding might then be considered by the Department of Transport for that purpose.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the department is researching that important question. I should tell noble Lords that drink-driving is a factor in 14 per cent. of all fatal accidents. The report to which my learned friend refers—I beg his pardon, I am sure he is learned in other ways—the report to which my noble friend refers compares drink-driving accidents with accidents caused as a result of being tired. The figures quoted for sleep-related accidents are much less easy to define because they rely on subjective views of possible causes of accidents. Professor Horne's survey examined motorways and examples of roads restricted to Devon and Cornwall. The number of all accidents on such roads is much less than on built-up roads nationally. Thus we believe that the total number of sleep-related accidents is unlikely to rival the figure for drink-drive accidents. However, the department has commissioned a survey and is continuing to examine the research being done.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, first I apologise for rising before the noble Viscount had asked his supplementary question. It must have been the coffee I had after lunch to stop me falling asleep in your Lordships' House. Is it not the case that most of us who drive a lot feel drowsy from time to time? We then seek to stop for 20 minutes for a rest. Is it not more difficult in Britain than in some other countries to have a rest because there are not the

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places available to do so? Is that something which should be borne in mind when constructing new motorways and roads?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the noble Viscount's question is interesting. We agree that it is far better to have a short rest and a cup of coffee or, better still, ensure that one is in a fit state to start the journey. On motorways one can call into a service station, but there are other options. For example, the Highway Code suggests that one can open a window a little or have two cups of non-decaffeinated black coffee—good strong stuff. They keep one going and are probably the best way to ensure that one is a good safe driver.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble friend familiar with the theory that a most effective preventer of sleep is a continuously chattering passenger? That assistance is often provided gratuitously by a spouse! Might not a simple and inexpensive recording of that chatter be used when the driver is alone?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I do not know where my noble friend has been if he believes that spouses are an inexpensive anti-sleep device. I had intended answering the Question by suggesting that perhaps one needed one's mother-in-law in the car. However, it is a serious matter which needs a serious answer. As regards spouses, the noble Lord must speak for himself. My husband would not agree with him.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that research shows that three major causes of accidents are drivers using their telephones, drivers trying to insert cassettes into the player, and drivers eating, all while the vehicle is in motion? If that is so, will the noble Baroness do something about those matters rather than applying a new regulation to provide for hooters or whistles in our cars to wake us up if we drop off?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, if the activities to which the noble Lord refers lead to a criminal offence there are already ways of dealing with them, as the noble Lord knows. Recently, a Question was asked in this House about car phones. What the noble Lord suggests is correct. As regards anti-sleep devices, we are a long way from finding any safe, effective and reliable method. It may well be that the noble Lord is right. There will be ways of dealing with the problem other than through regulations.

As I am on my feet, perhaps it is useful to say that the department is concerned to point out that before drivers set off on long journeys, they should make sure that they are fit to undertake such journeys. It is certainly true that if one is starting out early in the morning one should have had a good night's sleep, and vice versa. One should not undertake a long journey at night if one has been at work all day. To follow that advice might be much more effective than an anti-sleep device.

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Isle of Wight: Council Elections

2.43 p.m.

Lord Mottistone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to introduce legislation to ensure that the elections for the parish and town councils in the Isle of Wight remain in step with the elections for the island's new unitary council as specified in paragraph 5(6) of the order introducing the new council and as recommended by the Local Government Commission.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, the Government have accepted the Local Government Commission's recommendation that parish elections on the Isle of Wight should be held at the same time as the elections to the unitary authority. We are actively considering when and how to bring that about.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Perhaps I may remind him that, although three years may seem a long time in some ways, quite often measures miss out because the necessary legislation does not come up at the right time. Does he agree that it would be a good plan to get on with this matter sooner rather than later?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, as I indicated to the House, we are conscious of that situation. The Local Government Act 1992 laid down quite tightly the amendments that the Secretary of State may make to local government electoral cycles. He has the power to make only incidental consequential and transitional changes. He cannot make the permanent changes that are required in this instance by using that power. That is why we have to consider how and when the situation that my noble friend indicated to the House should be brought about.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I am not very clear about the current electoral arrangements for the Isle of Wight. Can the Minister advise the House on whether the Council is elected on an all-out basis once every four years or whether there is a rolling programme of elections every year? If the council is elected on an all-out basis every four years, would he consider it useful for the parish councils to be elected in a year when there are no county council elections, and for the town councils to be elected in another year so, effectively, constituents in the Isle of Wight have the opportunity of electing at least one tier virtually every year?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, in the case of the Isle of Wight, the parish elections, which are due in 1995, will coincide with elections for the unitary authority. But for later years, including those transitional elections scheduled for 1998, the parish council elections will not take place because they are on a four-year cycle. Primary legislation will be needed to bring the electoral cycles into line. Because the Isle of Wight council is a continuing authority of a county council, it will be elected every four years, except for this transitional period, with a further election in 1998, until it falls into the county cycle in the year 2001. In the case of parish councils and town councils, as my noble friend

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suggested, it has been thought wise to have them at the same time as the elections of other authorities. It improves the turnout and reduces the cost.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, when the dates of those elections are decided, will they advise the BBC?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I failed to hear the last part of the noble Lord's question.

Defence Medical Services

2.48 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that there will be sufficient uniformed consultants in the defence medical services to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces for secondary medical care in peace or emergencies short of a full-scale war.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that there will be sufficient uniformed consultants in the defence medical services to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces in such circumstances.

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