Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Lyell: My Lords, will my noble friend give me just a little guidance? In relation to Article 22 on page 22, can she confirm a point regarding what I believe are classified as authorised motoring events? Am I right in thinking that these are two events involving motor cars, the Ulster Rally and the Circuit of Ireland; and that there used to be 10 other events, presumably authorised motoring events, in relation to which the roads were closed, namely, motor cycle races? If there have been any major alterations, perhaps my noble friend will let me know. If it is too complicated a matter for her to respond today, I should be delighted to receive a written communication.

I am also curious in relation to Articles 39 to 41, on page 36, dealing with horses. I seem to remember that in County Fermanagh, and above all in the Impartial Reporter that seems to come out each week from Enniskillen, there was always a great deal of mention, not necessarily of equestrianism, but of the quite frequent use of horses in that part of Northern Ireland. Am I right in thinking that there is no similar legislation this side of the water? Certainly it would appear to be very relevant in certain parts of Northern Ireland. Perhaps my noble friend can confirm that.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I should like to raise two points. I gave notice to the noble Baroness, Lady Denton,

3 Nov 1995 : Column 1529

on the more important of the two. First, on the less important one, turning to page 10 of the order, about two-thirds of the way down, "motor cycle" is defined as,


    "a mechanically propelled vehicle, not being an invalid carriage, with less than 4 wheels and the weight of which...does not exceed 410 kilograms".

Leaving aside the curious grammar, that is odd in itself. Most of us think of a three-wheeled car as a car. Such vehicles normally have 90 per cent. of the attributes of a car and only 10 per cent. of the attributes of a motor cycle. But so be it.

I shall revert to the grammar. The noble Baroness may remember that irate customers of Marks & Spencer forced that company to alter the signs above its express check-out tills from "Less than five items" to "Fewer than five items". As a would-be guardian of the English language I should like Her Majesty's Government to set a good example. It is obviously too late to do so on this occasion, but perhaps it might be borne in mind for the future. People say "less than 5 per cent." or "less than 4 per cent.", as indeed one must, or "less than four pence an ounce". But one should not say "less than four wheels".

I turn to the more important of the two matters. In Article 94 on page 84 and in Schedule 2 on page 104, dealing respectively with the minimum disqualification period and the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving or death by careless driving under the influence of drink and drugs, one notices that these rightly severe penalties apply not only to instances where death is caused, as in England, Scotland and Wales, but also when the bad driving causes "grievous bodily injury" not physically resulting in death. This may or may not be a good thing, but it is undeniably different from the law in England, Scotland and Wales. Can the noble Baroness say whether this measure was only recently introduced into Northern Ireland law or whether it has been the case for some time; and whether there is a particular reason why the law in Northern Ireland should differ from the law on the mainland in this respect?

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I also thank the Minister for the clarity with which she explained the order. I wonder whether she can explain what action is being taken to prevent the horrendous toll of accidents and injury in Northern Ireland as opposed to punishing those who effectively commit the offences.

I refer to two particular elements which will probably be very useful. One is a public information and education campaign about road safety, not only in schools but for the general public. In addition, there are measures to prevent speeding on suburban roads. I refer to what are generally termed "traffic calming measures"; for example, chicanes and humps, or "sleeping policemen", being built into suburban roads. There are other mechanisms that can be used to exert a calming influence on traffic.

3 Nov 1995 : Column 1530

My reason for asking this question is that such modifications of the roads require capital expenditure. Is any money being made available to the authorities in Northern Ireland to enable them to implement such traffic calming measures?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, first it is a delight to see so many people here this morning who are interested in Northern Ireland business. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will share my delight in taking this order at this time of day and not in the afternoon.

There is common agreement that this matter is important. We have to take steps to remedy figures that are clearly not very good news. I was interested to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, compare drivers in Northern Ireland to those in Italy. It seems that a love of motor cars is co-related to a love of speed. That is a message that we must get through. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, also raised the point. The main influence on speed is the driver's decision. Therefore, an education job, as well as a policing job, is necessary. The figures show that very little difference is made to arrival times by an excess of speed. I hope that that point will come through.

Noble Lords asked many interesting questions. I hope that I can answer most of them. The effect of the police being visible and involved in maintaining road traffic law is important. There are many changes in Northern Ireland now. If fighting terrorism comes off the top of the agenda, one can concentrate on many other areas. I understand that simply the sight of police cars on certain roads, where in the past it would not have been safe for police cars to park, has made a difference to road traffic.

I share with the House one story that came out of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin. Apparently, fairly early on in the life of that forum, Sinn Fein members stood up and complained about being harassed about their road tax licence discs—at which point, other people were able to say, "Welcome to the real world". So we are making progress.

This order came forward rather later than the noble Lord, Lord Williams, would have liked. In looking at the 1991 GB Act, it was decided that we should go for a full-scale movement in the legal system rather than seek to amend the law again. Today's order is the first of a series of orders which will rewrite the law in this area in Northern Ireland.

Coming forward is the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order, which will include penalty point provisions as noble Lords have indicated that they are an important deterrent. When introducing a system of penalty points, there is a need to set up an administrative system and there is a cost involved. I am delighted to say that that is now in order and the measure will be brought forward very shortly. I hope that everything will be in place by mid-1997. Noble Lords will probably wish that it were earlier; but we have to make sure that there is consultation, that we have the money to do it and that the system will operate correctly. I am often criticised from the Benches opposite about bringing forward legislation too fast and

3 Nov 1995 : Column 1531

without due care and consideration (I believe that that is the appropriate phrase today). We are taking that very seriously.

The noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Williams, raised the question of causing grievous bodily injury. That is an existing and long-standing offence under Northern Ireland road traffic legislation. The background to the offence is that when a person who has been grievously injured in a road accident dies some days later, in some cases it can be difficult to prove in court that death arose from the accident. The offence also takes account of the victim who is severely disabled as the consequence of another person's dangerous driving. We therefore consider it important to retain the alternative of bringing charges on the grounds of causing grievous bodily injury.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referred to the problem of someone going about his job of delivering coal or fertiliser, for example, and he asked why people were being prosecuted so quickly. The evidence that I have been given shows that, particularly in coal delivery type work, often small vehicles are used and overloads on such vehicles are usually dealt with by the DoE transport enforcement officers by way of advice rather than prosecution. There is an attempt to be constructive. With larger vehicles, the load distribution problem could be overcome by the fitment of a support board placed longitudinally or across the vehicle, thus allowing selective removal of the load and enabling the vehicle to keep within the legal requirements.

The question was asked why we could not use this legislation to lead on the issue of seat belts in coaches and minibuses used to transport children. We are very conscious of this issue. I can assure noble Lords that the intention is to maintain parity with GB on this matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, referred to the fact that the figures were horrendous. It was interesting that yesterday I stood up in the House and celebrated the fact that deaths from terrorism had been reduced. But the figures for road deaths in Northern Ireland this year show that 115 people died through road accidents. This is a very serious matter. I am delighted to say that, compared with the same period for the previous two years, there is movement in the right direction. However, it is not enough. That is why we plan to continue to bring forward a full legislative programme that will help in this area. There is a target of one third reduction of road deaths and serious injuries in Northern Ireland by the year 2000. We hope that we can achieve that. The 1994 figure represented a 24 per cent. reduction compared with the base period of 1981-85. So we are moving in the right direction.

My noble friend Lord Lyell showed his love both of fast motor cars and of Fermanagh. Let me reassure him on both counts that the Road Races (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 continues to make provision relating to road races, and under that order certain road traffic enactments are suspended in so far as they would otherwise apply to those engaged in motor racing on the roads. It will not surprise your Lordships to know that I share my noble friend's love in that area. Both motor

3 Nov 1995 : Column 1532

vehicle and motor cycle racing are big contributors to the tourism figures in Northern Ireland, which offers a great attraction in that respect. They are loved by the people of Northern Ireland.

I can reassure my noble friend that the Fermanagh scene with regard to horse traffic as opposed to the scene in Great Britain continues to be different. We do not feel it appropriate to withdraw the legislation affecting horse led or horse driven vehicles. I hope that it will not be needed but it still stays in place. My noble friend is right to recognise that the situation there is still different from the norm.

I hope to reassure your Lordships when I say that there is research coming forward from the Transport Research Laboratory with an analysis of why the figures of Northern Ireland are so different from the figures here. That will allow us to go forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, very rightly said that prevention is infinitely better than enforcement subsequent to an accident or death. We published our first road safety plan in July 1995. It sets out how everybody involved in this area will work together to achieve that one third reduction. There is a heavy publicity campaign, and money is being spent not only on safety education in schools, which is important, but also on the education of those people involved in accidents. The funding allocated for the current year 1995-96 for road safety education and publicity is £1.5 million; and for engineering accident remedial and safety schemes it is £1.5 million, too. The calming measures in the past have been security measures to slow down the traffic. It is nice to feel that we can now do that for a more peaceful purpose.

I shall take away this morning the requirement of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that officials should look at their respect for the English language, which I must confess is usually rather better than mine. I take the message, too. I hope that I have covered most of the points raised. I shall read Hansard carefully, and if I have missed any points, I shall reply in writing. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page