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House of Lords

Thursday, 16th October 1997.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Norwich): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Lord Sandberg

Sir Michael Graham Ruddock Sandberg, Knight, CBE, having been created Baron Sandberg, of Passfield in the County of Hampshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Swaythling and the Lord Harris of Greenwich.

Baroness Fookes

Dame Janet Evelyn Fookes, OBE, having been created Baroness Fookes, of Plymouth in the County of Devon, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Clifford of Chudleigh and the Lord Weatherill.

Car Safety Standards: MoT Scheme

3.20 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What changes they propose should be made in the statutory system of testing motor cars after three years on the road in order to improve safety standards and to protect the interests of car owners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, we keep the MoT scheme under continuous review. We have no plans to introduce major new items into the car test or to make any changes to the arrangements for carrying out tests, although we are planning to introduce more extensive checks on seat belts as from next February. We are also planning to introduce computerisation into the scheme over the next few years to enable the department's vehicle inspectorate to monitor testing standards more closely, to help ensure a high level of compliance and to improve consumer protection.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply which shows that progress is being made. Does she agree that there are two serious weaknesses at present: first, that some garages fail to discover important defects; and, secondly, that other garages overcharge customers by prescribing work not necessary for the test? As about a quarter of all the cars in the country of three or more years of age come up for the test in July each year owing to the popularity of new registration letters issued only in August, will the

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Minister tell us when that system is to be changed to relieve the pressure on garages at one particular time of the year?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, to take the second part of the noble Lord's question first, we are looking, with the motor industry, at changing the system of the annual peak in car sales. We have reached the point where we have pretty well agreed that as soon as possible after the R registration expires we will introduce a six monthly system of change, which is what the industry was asking for, until the current alphabet expires. We shall then look at a new system for number plates which will also be on a six-monthly basis.

As regards the first point made by the noble Lord, we are looking at ways of ensuring that there are uniformly high standards among the many outlets that provide MoT tests at the moment. As well as the computerisation system, which will allow us to monitor results from individual garages, the vehicle inspectorate will shortly be introducing a new disciplinary system for dealing with bad testing.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, what plans, if any, do the Government have for testing emissions on older cars which pollute the air in London and other cities?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, emission testing is now part of the MoT test, and that is important. But, of course, the MoT test takes place only once a year. Noble Lords may be aware that we have introduced an experimental scheme of roadside emission testing that local authorities can undertake to target such cars, and the antisocial behaviour of people who are running cars with high emissions, on a fixed penalty basis. We are piloting that in six authorities.

Viscount Chelmsford: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the computerisation that she mentioned is fully picking up on a speedy basis, uninsured drivers and unlicensed cars?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Viscount that assurance at the moment because the system is not yet in place. We shall need to ensure that it interacts with the DVLA computerisation so that we have a check between the annual VED licence, the insurance status--I know that the insurance industry itself is looking at introducing a database on that--and the MoT test. When we can get those three systems talking to one another we shall have a much better enforcement system in place in this country.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister give the House the assurance that she will not depend unduly on the results that emerge from the computer? Many of us would prefer her own judgment in these matters.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, on policy matters, I can assure my noble friend that I do not intend to

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step aside for the results of a computer. In terms of the information technology and the database, I am afraid that the computer's mind is better than my own.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, will the Minister explain further about the computerisation and where exactly it is to be installed? Many of us would hope that if computerisation is introduced to the system of testing it is not done in such a way as to put an extensive burden on small but honest garages so that they are unable to undertake the testing. That would also be to the detriment of many members of the public who have older cars and who wish to keep them on the road as essentials, not luxuries. Being able to have those vehicles tested locally is important.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord. Computerisation is not intended to be a particular difficulty for the many small outlets which, as he suggested, are undertaking tests at the moment, although, as the tests become more sophisticated, for example over emissions, some of the equipment that is necessary to ensure high standards becomes more expensive to install. It is important to recognise that the present paper system of testing is unsatisfactory in many respects, not least because of the possibility for fraud and theft.

Armed Forces: Recruitment of Ethnic Minorities

3.26 p.m.

Baroness Serota asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to improve recruitment among ethnic minorities in the Armed Forces.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, it is the Government's view that the Armed Forces should better reflect the ethnic composition of the society that they seek to defend. All the services are paying particular attention to recruitment from ethnic minority groups. The Army initiated a campaign to that end on 13th October 1997. It includes a new complaints procedure, the formation of an equal opportunities inquiry team to work outside the chain of command on complaints of racism, and a specialist recruitment team made up of Army personnel from the ethnic minorities. A number of further measures are being investigated.

Baroness Serota: My Lords, perhaps I may first thank my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging reply and take the opportunity to congratulate the Army on this new initiative to grapple with racial discrimination and to promote equal opportunities for members of ethnic minorities who, until now, have formed some 1 per cent. only of our defence forces. Will my noble friend tell us what steps are taken by the other two services in that respect? Presumably it is through single-service campaigns.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the Army is taking the lead in these matters. The other services will of course be

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hoping to learn from their advantages. One of the things that we believe it necessary to do before we are successful in establishing a local recruitment campaign is to ensure that the services have a presence in the communities from which they are seeking to recruit. That will be the objective not just of the Army but of the other services.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the decision to introduce one of the two pilot schemes into Sandwell has been warmly welcomed by the local community? While I appreciate that the mills of MoD grind slowly, can he tell us anything else about what is proposed and how we can help?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend who, of course, used to be my neighbour in another place for many years. We held exploratory talks with the leader of Sandwell Council, Mr. Tarsem King, and other members of the council on 26th September to discuss the possibility of a recruitment drive in Sandwell. I am glad to say that our proposals were met with considerable enthusiasm and that the local council is supporting our initiative. We are now looking for the best possible way to take that forward, involving senior members of the ethnic community, religious leaders, the local authority and the police.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the steps which have been taken this week by the Army, but does he agree that there is a long way to go? Does he recall that he gave me a Written Answer in July telling me that there were fewer than 10 representatives of the ethnic minorities serving in the Household Division and that two regiments had no representatives from the ethnic minorities? Does he further agree that any police force that had such a record would be subject to severe criticism? I therefore hope that the steps he has taken today will lead to a radical improvement in the situation.

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