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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I listened with great interest to the Ministers reply. It is interesting how many different things can be said about, for example, the Loughborough report. The Department for Transports 2005 road casualty statistics, published on 28 September, show that despite a 1 per cent drop in fatalities from road accidents, deaths from accidents involving heavy goods vehicles increased by 8 per cent to 485 in 2005, even though there are proportionally fewer goods vehicles on the roads.
These figures represent 15 per cent of all road deaths and clearly demonstrate that new measures are required as soon as possible to reduce this disproportionate number. Research by the Darmstadt University of Technologythe Minister did not produce that reporthas found that adding retro-reflective contour markings reduced accidents involving trucks and passenger cars under poor visibility conditions by 95 per cent. The Loughborough University report, published in May 2005, to which the Minister referred, also concluded that,
A subsequent consultation by the Department for Transport also indicated that there was overwhelming public support for introducing this measure. However, the Department for Transports own research shows that this would be an effective means of saving lives and would prevent 385 collisions involving heavy goods vehicles each year. As we have heard from the Minister tonight, the Government continue to oppose its immediate introduction.
The Minister has cited the European position, but I direct him to an earlier discussion in the House of Commons when the Transport Minister was Stephen Ladyman. He stated that if the Government were to introduce this measure it would certainly be breaking EU law and action would be taken against us, which I think is what the Minister was referring to as infraction proceedings.
The European Commission disputes this and has now confirmed that this measure is likely, as the Minister said, to become mandatory across the European Union from 2010. But it has stated that member states are free,
During the same debate, Dr Ladyman claimed that the European Commission had started the preliminary stages of infraction proceedings against Italy as a result of its decision to introduce this measure in 2003. The Minister even stated that there were objections to Italys decision,
The Government also stated that the UN Economic Commission for Europe regulations do not allow contracting parties to make the ECE104 mandatory before 2010. However, Italy, like the UK, is a contracting party to the regulations but has suffered no action as a consequence of introducing the measure. Indeed, the United Nations ECE secretariat has also confirmed that it,
The final argument that the Government raised against introducing this measure is that it would damage the competitiveness of the UK haulage industry. Not only would this amendment reduce the number of accidents involving heavy goods vehicles, enabling more heavy goods vehicles to remain on the road and reducing the cost of repairs, it would require only newly registered HGVs to fit retro-reflective markings at present. The Loughborough report again estimated this would cost about £100 or 0.001 per cent of the total cost of a new vehicle. Surely that is a very small price to pay for saving lives.
The amendment has received cross-party support in both Houses. It is now clear that there is nothing to stop the Government taking action. In the light of this, I hope that the Government will support the immediate introduction of this life-saving measure and allow this amendment to stand.
There is some disagreement about the interpretation of what the EU said and what it believes would happen, but it seems to us that there is nothing, except the Governments intransigence, to stop the fitting of these reflectors on new vehicles as from today or as quickly as the regulations can be produced. We all know that some regulations can arrive quicker than others. The time for action is now. If the Government wait until this measure is introduced across the EU, more than 1,100 collisions involving heavy goods vehicles could occur, and they could involve serious injuries and fatalities which this amendment would prevent.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 5, leave out from House to end and insert do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 5, but do propose Amendments Nos. 5B and 5C in lieu.(Baroness Hanham.)
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I believe what the Minister has said is a misinterpretation of European law and that we could introduce these provisions. If the noble Baroness presses the amendment to a Division, I shall support it.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that I fully support the fitting of retro-reflective tape. I am not certain whether he made a conscious
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Lord Monson: My Lords, the Minister pointed out that the amendment was defective in that it did not include a provision for any penalty in Clause 16. However, if this House were to pass the amendment of the noble Baroness and send the amended clause back to the other place, could it not rectify that before sending it back again to this House?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, again I am grateful to noble Lords and in particular for how the noble Baroness presented her case. Italy did not get off scot-free. A letter was sent to Italy indicating that its law was outwith the EU requirements. It might be thought that, if all that will happen is a rap across the knuckles, the British Government should be prepared to take the same action.
However, should a second infraction of that kind occurparticularly if we were the nation that did it, with our reputation for scrupulous commitment to European regulationsit is less likely that it would be regarded as acceptable. After all, the European Union would otherwise be faced with a growing accretion of each country tackling this bit by bit and not producing the European-wide perspective which it seeks to achieve. If we carried out what is required by this amendment, we do not think that we would be able to complete this process much before the European position became rationalised.
In passing, let me reassure my noble friend that of course when I said all vehicles, I meant it in the sense of all vehicles in every part of Europe. I was not indicating every size of vehicle. We are clearly talking about trucks.
I find it a little strange that the Official Opposition are so cavalier about costs. The noble Baroness seemed to indicate that the costs were marginal £100 per vehicle. She then costed that as a minute percentage of the total costs of the vehicle. Vehicles have to be off the road while the tape is being fitted. That cost must be taken into account. If it is suggested that it is just £100 for that alone, it is a somewhat extraordinary valuation.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, if it is under construction in the factory, that is the case. What is being argued here is that we should seek to get compliance across the board with vehicles, so we would expect other vehicles to come on-stream with the provision.
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I have heard what the noble Baroness said. I recognise that she thinks, first, that these costs matter very little to companies and, secondly, that her amendment would substantially improve road safety in this country in advance of European action on this. I merely contend that we are talking about very limited gains indeed.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that any limited gains that mean that people are not killed are more than a limited gainthey are a very great attribute. I do not have much more to say, except that I clearly stated that our amendment refers to new vehicles. As my noble friend Lord Attlee said, it would not cost very much to put this tape on as vehicles were constructed.
It is quite remarkable that this country, which implements EU legislation in a way well beyond that ever demanded or implemented by any other part of Europe, cannot go ahead a little on this and make a regulation that would require this road safety measure. The Minister's reply seems puny, so I beg to test the opinion of the House.
The House will recall that we discussed this issue at considerable length when we first considered the Bill. An amendment was made to Clause 20 to the effect that, where the offence was tried summarily by either a magistrates court or a sheriff court, the court could not impose a custodial sentence. The maximum penalty of five years for conviction on indictment was unaffected. That amendment was reversed in Committee in the other place.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I looked this up to see what happened. I do not know whether the Minister saw what happened, but the Chairman at the time simply asked whether Amendments Nos. 5 to 8 were not moved, and someone replied, Not moved. That was plainly not in accordance with the whole tenor of the debate, and I am very grateful to the Government for coming back on the substantive issues.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are coming back on the substantive issues, but we are where we are. I described to the House the effect of the amendment that was passed and the change to the Bill that the other place then considered. The noble and learned Lord disagreed with the Government on the issue of principle, and I am sure that he is likely to express that disagreement in some form this evening. The Government stand by the principle behind this part of the Bill. We had a manifesto commitment to,
The effect of the noble Lords amendment would be that the penalty available on summary conviction where a death has occurred would be no higher than the penalty available for simple careless driving. That is not an acceptable position, so far as the Government are concerned.
Public anxiety about careless driving that results in death is very well documented. We made it clear at the last general election that we thought that there was sufficient public disquiet for us to put to the nation our intention to toughen the penalties. The amendment would take that away. We maintain that there is great public anxiety about the amount of careless driving that results in death. Although I shall argue about certain aspects of the amendment in detail, the issue between us is one of principle, and I will not gain a great deal by articulating that principle at great length this evening. I did not achieve a great deal last time, although I spoke at great length. Nor, might I add, did all those who contributed at length last time persuade the Government to adopt a different position. What the Government are
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Certain aspects of the noble Lords amendment should cause the House disquiet. The discontinuity between the maximum sentence available summarily and on indictment could have unfortunate effects. One possible consequence of the amendment is that any case that magistrates thought might warrant a custodial sentence, however short, would be sent to the Crown Court for trial. Trying more cases in the Crown Court would add to the expense and would run contrary to views expressed during the consultation exercise, principally by the legal profession, that the magistrates courts should continue to be able to deal with most of these cases. Indeed, this is what prompted us to make this offence triable either way.
In addition, under changes made to magistrates powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which have not been implemented yet but shortly will be, if a magistrates court decided to accept jurisdiction in a contested case but found, on trying it, that a custodial sentence was justified after all, it would, under the amendment, cease to be able to commit that case to the Crown Court for sentence where it considered its sentencing powers to be insufficient. We would therefore be presented with a real and obvious difficulty. I appreciate noble Lords concernshow can I fail to after the articulate way in which those concerns were expressed when we last discussed these matters in this House?about the ability to impose a custodial penalty for this offence and the factors that would warrant such a sentence.
That is why, as a result of the very informed debate and the cogently argued case that was put, for which I pay tribute to the House, we have asked the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is charged with publishing definitive sentencing guidelines for all criminal offences in England and Wales, to consider this issue very carefully. It will also review the existing guidelines for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. This will ensure that the courts are aware of how these offences work together and what factors to consider when sentencing.
It is crucial that sufficient sentencing options are available to the courtsI emphasise that sentencing options are what are being provided. That is why I hope that the House will agree to government Amendment No. 6, which restores the drafting of Clause 20 to its previous state. It is strongly supported by the Magistrates Association, which wrote to the Home Office, following the acceptance of the noble Lords amendment, to express its view that that decision should be reversed. That, of course, is what the Government are seeking to do today. It is also supported by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.
To conclude, not only has this issue been the subject of considerable interest and debate at a general election that gave the Government a clear mandate to act in this area, but we have very substantial support from interest groups concerned with these issues. There are real attendant disadvantages to Amendment No. 6A, which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will shortly move.
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