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House of Lords

Wednesday, 14th November 2001.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

Peter Robert, Lord Bishop of Chester—Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth and the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Road Accidents

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What conclusions they have drawn from the figures for road safety published by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the large differences between the casualty rates for different modes of transport recently highlighted by PACTS confirm the relative rarity of major air and rail accidents and demonstrate the unacceptably high level of ones on our roads. The PACTS figures were averages for 1988 to 1997. The latest averages for 1991 to 2000 show an improvement for all modes except motorbikes and scooters, of which the number of deaths last year was the highest since 1990. We shall address this in delivering our road safety strategy Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. I declare an interest as both a motorist and cyclist. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that a clear conclusion from these figures is that cycling is the most dangerous form of transport and that the dangers are significantly increased by the tendency of many cyclists not to obey the law and frequently to ride at night without lights? Will the Minister ensure that the Government's publicity campaign on road safety, particularly on television, draws attention to the risks and dangers of effectively suicidal and dangerous behaviour, and will serious attempts now be made to enforce the law?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, according to the figures which give the 10-year average up until 1997, for pedal cycles there were 885 deaths or serious injuries per billion passenger kilometres. That was the second worst category. The comparable figure for two-wheeled motor vehicles, which I take to mean motorbikes and scooters, was 1,441. Those are the two worst categories. As to the second question, we published a strategy in March 2000. The key to making it as safe as possible for cyclists involves in part local transport plans but also cyclists themselves taking proper precautions, as the

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noble Lord said. They have a responsibility to other road users to observe traffic rules. The noble Lord is aware that the Highway Code contains a chapter on rules for cyclists. They are encouraged to make themselves more conspicuous by wearing fluorescent and reflective clothing. Pedal cycles in use on roads between sunset and sunrise should show a white light to the front, a red light to the rear and a red rear retro-reflector. It is an offence with a maximum fine of £2,500 not to comply with that road traffic requirement. Obviously, it is an important law, as the figures demonstrate. But we also need to make motorists much more conscious of the vulnerability of cyclists on the road and training to that effect is often available.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in view of the fact that 3,500 people were killed and another 320,000 seriously injured on our roads last year, why have the Government issued guidelines to local authorities which make it more difficult for them to install speed cameras?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we have introduced a range of measures to try to improve road safety, for example, guidance in relation to speed limits and local transport plans which make roads safer not just for cyclists but for all road users, including pedestrians and drivers. As to whether it is easier to install speed cameras, I am not sure about the guidance to which the noble Lord refers. If the noble Lord can refer me to it I shall write to him in response. Speed cameras have had a very good effect in reducing road accidents, and it is for each local authority or police authority to decide whether they are appropriate to their areas.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend that cycling should be encouraged for reasons of health and less pollution. Does he not agree that it would be made safer by providing a physical barrier or kerb between cycle tracks and traffic on the road? In that way, cyclists would not need to go on to the road to avoid cars parked on cycle tracks, and cars would not need to be on cycle tracks. Everything would be much safer.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, making it easier for people to walk or cycle if their journey is short is a key part of our integrated transport strategy. We are keen to promote cycling and walking. In some cases the proposal of my noble friend would be appropriate, but, as he will be aware, it is not remotely possible in every area. The wider range of measures that I referred to must be dealt with as well.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, how many prosecutions have taken place of cyclists who ride on the pavement to the danger of pedestrians, go up one-way streets the wrong way, jump the traffic lights and pay no attention to traffic control? Does the Minister not agree that it is high time that the police had a stringent and vigorous assault on cyclists who break the law, as they do with motorists?

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not have the figures that the noble Lord asks for. I shall try to get them. He referred to such a wide range of offences that it may not be possible to get them all. I shall do my best. It is important that cyclists obey the law and know what the law is. That is demonstrated by the appalling figures to which I referred at the outset of the Question. Local authorities need to look at their local transport plans to ensure that conditions are as safe as possible for walkers and cyclists and that drivers are conscious of the vulnerability of cyclists.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, contrary to public perception, older drivers are among the safest in this country? Yet they are the only group who automatically, at the age of 70, are required to have validation to drive. Would it not be better if drivers were assessed for competence at regular periods during their adult lives?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, again I do not know precisely what the figures are. My experience of more elderly drivers is that they are very safe indeed. It is sensible that there should be validation at the age of 70. In certain other circumstances, particularly after one has been disqualified or put off the road for an offence, it is right that there should be a further test. Beyond that, I am not sure that it is appropriate to have validation.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I declare an interest as the newly elected president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Is my noble and learned friend aware that there were 9,000 deaths and 200,000 injuries among cyclists and pedestrians throughout the European Union? It is the view of virtually every expert that if there were legislation to create safer front ends of motor vehicles, the number of casualties could be substantially alleviated.

Can my noble and learned friend comment on the report in The Times of 26th October that the Government appear to be abandoning an approach to European-wide legislation in favour of a voluntary code, which, it is felt, will not save anything like the same number of lives?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I was not aware of the statistics to which my noble friend refers. There is an advisory group on motorcycling that is examining inter alia vehicle safety and security. As to the issue of car safety, that is something that we should look into but obviously I can give no assurance that we shall take that forward.

Afghanistan: Cluster Bomb Policy

2.48 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on the use of cluster bombs in operations against Taliban terrorists.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, the cluster bombs used in Afghanistan have not been prohibited by any treaty or convention. They are employed only against legitimate terrorist and military targets where they are the most effective weapon to attack the target concerned.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. While the most effective weapon should of course be used against the Taliban, if cluster bombs are used would they contain self-destroying mechanisms to prevent them becoming landmines in the future, scattered in a way that can cause serious injury to civilians?

Lord Bach: My Lords, there are failure rates for the bomblets that are in cluster bombs. The manufacturer of the UK's cluster bomb—the RBL755—estimates the failure rate of the bomblets released from that bomb to be 5 per cent. We do not have up-to-date figures for the cluster bombs that the United States has been using in Afghanistan. The noble Lord will know that British forces have not themselves dropped any cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

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