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House of Lords

Tuesday, 23rd January 1996.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Drivers' Eyesight Tests

Lord Strathcarron asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the interests of road safety, they have plans to introduce eyesight tests for drivers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, all new drivers already have to take an eyesight test. Car drivers must take the number plate test as part of the driving test; lorry and bus drivers must, in addition, pass an eye test before obtaining or renewing their licence. We have no plans to introduce additional mandatory tests.

Lord Strathcarron: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. It was not unexpected. Is he aware that a recent survey showed that 3½ million drivers would fail the legal eyesight test and others have blinkered vision and cannot see at night? Does he agree that perhaps more people may be killed or injured on the roads by people who cannot see than by people who are over the limit? Because bad eyesight is respectable and being over the limit is not, the Government do not appear to wish to do anything about it. It is totally irrelevant so far as I am concerned whether I am run over by someone who cannot see or by someone who is over the limit.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, of course, it would be entirely relevant to the House if my noble friend were run over, particularly on the occasion of his birthday. We are aware of the recent survey. We have asked for further information so that we can conduct our own assessment of it. It goes against the results that we had from earlier research by the Transport Research Laboratory, which suggested that the problem was not so widespread as the survey suggests. It is extremely difficult to make comparisons between drink driving and possible eye disorders. Drink driving is a very serious situation indeed and we have taken many strict measures to address that problem. We simply do not have the information that my noble friend would like on the degree to which eye conditions affect accidents.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the survey to which he referred will give us any additional useful information in that direction? What is the timescale for the survey? When does the Minister expect to receive its results? Perhaps we on this side of the House may join in the felicitous birthday greetings that the Minister offered.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the survey has already been carried out. The results have already been made

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public, but we are awaiting the detailed bulk of the research so that we can make our own independent assessment of that. If that leads us to any new conclusions, we shall make them public.

Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the older one gets, the more one's eyesight is likely to fail and that those knowledgeable about eyesight say that over the age of 30 people's eyesight gets measurably worse every five years?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords, I understand that the experts say that there is a strong correlation between age and eyesight problems. That is why it is very important for all drivers who feel that they might have a problem to have their eyes tested on a regular basis and to take the appropriate action.

Lord Mottistone: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some 10 years ago I had a Bill before Parliament which invited the Government and the House to agree that there should be tests every five years from the age of about 50 onwards? Is he further aware that the Transport Research Laboratory has continually resisted having a more up-to-date form of test than the 30-yard test because it says that nobody can prove that it is not good enough? Does he agree that there is a lot of evidence that we have not collected? Will my noble friend take this point very seriously and not be put off by scientists who do not have enough time to do the other things that they want to do?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we take this issue extremely seriously indeed. With some 30 million drivers, the burdens of setting and continuing regular mandatory tests and of enforcement would be very substantial indeed in the absence of firm evidence that there would be a corresponding increase in road safety. As for the test that is given to car drivers, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists considers that the test, which requires the ability to read a number plate in good daylight from 67 feet, with glasses if worn, is an appropriate measure of eyesight and gives a good indication of whether one's eyesight is sufficient for driving purposes.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, as one who is quite capable, even in advanced years, of passing the existing eyesight test, I ask the Minister whether he is aware that it would be of very great assistance to all drivers, including those who have perfect sight, if the police were to enforce the law in regard to carrying lights at night by cyclists? If they have no lights, they are very difficult to detect when one is driving, however good one's sight.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, making sure that bicycles are properly lit and that cyclists behave responsibly is an important issue. All road safety matters are taken seriously by the police. But the issue is slightly different from that of visual ability.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, did the Minister see the article by Christopher Booker one week

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ago last Sunday in which he stated that the new eye test being proposed by a European directive will put many lorry drivers off the roads and thus affect their livelihoods? Can the Minister comment on that?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is true that, with the coming of a second EC driving directive, there will be changes. But the comment in the press--I am not necessarily referring to the specific article mentioned by the noble Lord--has been extraordinary and has over-egged the situation. The main difference from the present requirement is that those drivers will have to meet a minimum standard of vision equivalent to reading the top letter on an optician's chart from three metres away without their glasses, in both eyes rather than one. That would affect very few commercial drivers in percentage terms.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Spain, where my mother used to live, people over the age of 65 not only have to have their eyes tested but also have to simulate a driving test? Do we have any plans to go down that route?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, no, we do not. Over the age of 70 a declaration is required that one's faculties are in order and are suitable for driving. However, we do not have a specific test at that age.

Prayer Book: 450th Anniversary

2.45 p.m.

Lord Sudeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the first Prayer Book in 1549 and, in particular, whether they will encourage the Post Office to issue a commemorative stamp.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, I have passed on to the Post Office my noble friend's request for a commemorative stamp. The special stamp programme is an operational matter for the Post Office and it will make the final decision. The Government have no special plans to commemorate this anniversary.

Lord Sudeley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. On the matter of the 450th anniversary of the first Prayer Book, will Her Majesty's Government encourage the naming of a railway locomotive after the Archbishop of Canterbury? What consultations will the Government initiate with the Museums & Galleries Commission? Mindful of the way in which, in times past, the Book of Common Prayer has been embraced by Anglican Churches worldwide, what are the plans of both the Department of National Heritage and the British Tourist Authority?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, in the same way as commemorative stamps are a matter for the Post Office, the naming of a locomotive is one for those engaged in the privatised railways rather than for

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government. As I indicated, we have no special plans to celebrate the anniversary. However, my noble friend may recall that as far back as April 1981 my noble friend the Leader of the House was fervent in his protection of the Book of Common Prayer and my noble friend may wish to engage in conversation with him.

Lord Kirkford: My Lords, will the Minister make a further approach to the Post Office and ask that the commemorative stamp should contain a prayer that the Post Office should not be privatised?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, as one Presbyterian Scot to another, perhaps I can say that the noble Lord will be interested to know that, if there is to be a prayer for the Post Office, the Church of England is in the process of liturgical reform and the noble Lord may wish to address his observations in that direction.

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