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Earl Attlee: The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned one in three lorries being either defective or overloaded and suggested that that does not really

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matter; it is a sorry tale. However, we need to remember that the vehicle inspectorate has that eagle eye for any vehicle that is defective. It is not surprising that it has a fairly high hit rate.

Viscount Simon: I should point out that it is the police officers who pull over the vehicles in the first place.

Lord Whitty: I am afraid that I shall have to disappoint noble Lords in this respect. We recognise that overloading can be a problem, but the solution suggested in this amendment seems disproportionate. The number of permanent sites in the country that would be covered by the proposed definition is estimated at 100,000, not including temporary sites such as building sites. Although the cost involved may come down a little if the machine mentioned by my noble friend Lord Berkeley were used, the estimated cost for having fixed-point weighing machines would be about £2 billion. I believe that to be somewhat excessive.

We believe that the problem would be better tackled by enforcement improving its sophistication and by ensuring that defects such as overloading, as well as other vehicle defects and drivers' hours defects, are better dealt with by the targeting of the vehicle inspectorate's operations. Indeed, there have been substantial improvements over recent years both in terms of resources and the way in which lorries are pulled over.

As far as concerns overloading, this is becoming less of a problem. The proportion of overloading offences has fallen by about 30 per cent since we introduced the regulations in line with EU limits on 1st January 1999. We are faced primarily with a damage to the road problem. Indeed, although there are safety implications, they are statistically not large in number. Nevertheless, overloading is a problem that would be best addressed by improving the enforcement by the vehicle inspectorate, and so on, and not by providing weighing gear at 100,000 sites and at that cost.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley indicated that he did not expect a detailed reply to his amendment. I appreciate what he said about the 10-year plan, which certainly addresses the need to support the rail freight industry.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Before my noble friend decides what to do with the amendment, perhaps the noble Lord can tell us whether he is satisfied that police forces and others involved in this kind of enforcement are as keen as they should be to pull heavy lorries off the roads on to sites where they can be inspected. It is an unsafe occupation.

In my local authority, which has some of the most crowded roads in England, the police are reluctant to endanger themselves trying to persuade drivers to move to the side of the road. I do not know whether the Minister has encountered that difficulty.

Lord Whitty: I have not encountered police reluctance on this matter. There needs to be close co-operation between the Vehicle Inspectorate--or, in

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some instances, the local authority--and the police in terms of checking vehicles. In general that relationship is satisfactory. But, there are other major pressures on police time which occasionally cut across the arrangements which the Vehicle Inspectorate has agreed with the police. That can constitute a problem. However, that is not a lack of willingness or an objection to the task itself on the part of the police.

Lord Berkeley: Before my noble friend sits down, will he discuss further the 100,000 permanent sites that he mentioned? When the amendment was being drawn up, there was discussion about whether the relevant figure should be 10,000 lorries a year, 100,000 or a million. If the figure were much higher, that would reduce the number of sites where the measure would apply. Mobile facilities could also be provided. Would that make the principle any more acceptable to my noble friend?

Lord Whitty: There comes a point where the cost and the benefit may cross over. However, in terms of comprehensive coverage, it is likely that any resources which were ploughed into better enforcement on the part of the Vehicle Inspectorate, for example, would yield a greater return than if they were ploughed into providing permanent weighing facilities at a large number of sites. Nevertheless there needs to be a greater number of weighing facilities and therefore there needs to be some increased expenditure in that area. However, we do not accept the prescriptive nature of the amendment.

Earl Attlee: Officials must have enjoyed advising the Minister on his response to the amendment.

Lord Whitty: The figures were calculated on the basis of discussions with the Freight Transport Association.

Earl Attlee: I am well aware that the Freight Transport Association does not much like the amendment. It does not like the idea of consignable liability either.

As I said, I anticipated that the amendment would be defective but not in what way it would be defective. We thought of beginning the amendment with the words,

    "No person may operate a container port without the weighing facilities".

However, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, explained the difficulty with that. I was interested in the Minister's reply. We may return with a similar measure. I await to hear what the noble Lord intends to do with the amendment.

Lord Bradshaw: I am disappointed with the nature of the Minister's response. I fully understand that the figures may be wrong. Perhaps we should have set the weight level per lorry and the number of lorries much higher. However, in the discussions on the 44-tonne lorries where officials were present, it was stated that something would be done. The Minister has

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mentioned better targeting on the part of the Vehicle Inspectorate. However, it is a question of better targeting using the existing resources. There is little in the way of extra resources being allocated to the Vehicle Inspectorate.

Further, the state would benefit from the measure in that road maintenance costs would reduce if overweight lorries were taken off the roads. Officials have an obligation to suggest some proposals for weighing schemes. I thought that was part of the bargain to which I was a party. Officials should not take part in discussions, talk about a package and then almost make fun of the proposals put forward rather than coming forward with their own proposals.

The Freight Transport Association is parti pris--but it was represented at the same discussions and it agreed that there should be better enforcement. Having got the 44-tonne lorries, it is of course now very willing to walk away from its side of the bargain. I believe that we are owed something here. While I accept that the amendment may be defective and withdraw it, this is a matter to which we shall return. I hope that in the meantime we shall have discussions with officials in an attempt to frame an amendment which is fit for purpose.

One last point: very little enforcement takes place at night because, as my noble friend Lady Thomas said, it is too dangerous to go out onto the roads at night to stop lorries. The amount of overloading and other offences at night is very high indeed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 411 to 414 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 415:

    After Clause 256, insert the following new clause--


(" . After section 36 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, there is inserted--
"Endorsement of licences.
36A.--(1) Subsection (2) applies where--
(a) a person is the holder of a licence;
(b) he is convicted of a second offence under section 3 (careless driving) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 within a three year period;
(c) the penalty points to be taken into account under section 29 on the occasion of the second offence number between two and five;
(d) the court makes an order falling within section 44(1)(b) in respect of the offence.
(2) Where this subsection applies, the court must send to the Secretary of State a notice containing the particulars required to be endorsed on the counterpart of the person's licence in accordance with the order referred to in subsection (1)(d).
Mandatory retraining classes.
36B.--(1) Where the Secretary of State receives a notice sent to him under section 36A(2) of the particulars required to be endorsed on the counterpart of a person's licence, the Secretary of State must by notice served on that person require them to attend mandatory retraining classes.

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(2) A requirement under subsection (1) shall have effect from a date specified in the notice of retraining which may not be earlier than the date of service of that notice."").

The noble Earl said: I am sure that all Members of the Committee have received numerous letters imploring us to address the issue of the penalties available to the courts when there has been a loss of life attributable to careless driving. Many of these letters relate to the tragic death of a child or youngster. There is obviously a well organised campaign under way to raise the profile of this issue and I am sure that the Committee is grateful for the efforts of those responsible.

Few people in society have the opportunity to save lives, even directly. In Parliament, we can do just that, albeit indirectly. We also know that road safety is at the top of the agenda of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. His road safety strategy paper recognises the problems. I am sure that the Committee is fully aware that in the UK we have a very good and improving road safety record. There is, of course, always room for improvement, and successive governments have made their contributions.

However, we have a particular problem because we still have a disproportionate number of children killed or seriously injured. Campaigners seek to reduce casualties by increased deterrence through more severe penalties. My understanding is that there is a desire to create an offence of causing death by careless driving or something similar. This offence would attract a custodial sentence.

I have some difficulty with this approach. First, a responsible and decent motorist will have an absolute dread of the courts finding him or her responsible for death or serious injury. For most that is deterrence enough; penalties in terms of fines and penalty points are secondary considerations. Secondly, it smacks more of revenge and retribution rather than measured punishment. Finally, it can be hard enough to secure an immediate custodial sentence in a case of causing death by dangerous or reckless driving; I cannot see how it would be any easier in a case involving a moment's inattention.

That does not mean that we should do nothing--far from it. I believe that we should concentrate on the prevention of accidents rather than taking revenge afterwards. Accidents are mainly caused by a lack of skill and inappropriate attitude, but this can be corrected by training people to drive to advanced standards. The Committee may be aware that commercial driver retraining organisations expect to be able to reduce the claims experience of a fleet by 20 per cent.

It always seems peculiar to me that we religiously submit our vehicles to an annual MOT test but a car driver is tested only once, and at a very tender age. To suggest a compulsory driver retraining scheme would be prohibitively expensive and electoral suicide. On the other hand it could bring about a considerable reduction in accidents. However, we could introduce either retraining or retesting for those drivers who

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have demonstrated that their driving is not up to standard and who have been convicted of certain moving traffic offences. The prime candidates would be careless or dangerous drivers and those convicted of any offence which involved disqualification.

Retesting could involve a standard or, more likely, an extended test. Obviously, it would be necessary for a candidate to seek training in order to be able to pass. The anxiety I have to this approach is that it is relatively easy to pretend for 45 minutes that one always drives to advanced standards. Furthermore, it is a poor tool for addressing an inappropriate attitude, and this is so important as regards youngsters and lorry drivers.

The alternative is to follow the route of retraining, which, after much thought, I prefer. The aim would be to raise the standard of trainee to that of advanced driver in order to be granted the necessary certificate. My amendment has a sting in the tail for the trainer who signs the certificate. If his trainee is involved in an accident after training, the trainer can be called on to justify the grant of his certificate. He cannot just take the money and run. Clearly, the training organisations would need to be properly approved.

I do not want to weary the Committee with detailed explanations of my amendments, as they are exploratory and, I am quite sure, defective--or even unworkable. The issues that the Committee needs to consider are, first, whether retraining would be an effective tool, or do the Committee and the Government favour revenge and retribution, or indeed some other solution? Secondly, is there more scope for a retesting scheme and, if so, how should it be used? Finally, if the Committee does favour the retraining approach, when should it be made available? Perhaps the answer is after the first more serious moving traffic offence for the novice and after the second for a more experienced motorist. Should the courts have discretion over when to apply it or should it be automatic?

I shall be interested to hear the views of the Committee. I have no intention of pressing the amendment tonight. I hope therefore that the Minister will concentrate on informing the Committee of his approach to the problem, which will no doubt have the benefit of considerable research on his part. I appreciate that I may have been speaking out of turn on the groupings, and I would appreciate having a few minutes in which to gather my thoughts. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I think the noble Earl was speaking to Amendment No. 415; I did not actually hear what was called. I do not think there is anything wrong with the ideas put forward in the amendment but it is rather unfortunate that they should have been put forward with an alternative to dealing with careless and dangerous driving. These may be valuable amendments in the fight for safer

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roads but I should not like to be associated with any moving away from giving penalties to those who drive carelessly and cause death or injury thereby.

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