Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: It can be anything you like.

Viscount Astor: The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said "anything you like", but presumably, if it has a goods licence, it should be delivering goods. If it has not, it should not be delivering goods.

This is a bizarre clause. I do not understand where it came from or who promoted it. It could have been promoted from any side of another place. I have failed to discover where it has come from. I do not understand what the clause means. It is incredibly badly drafted. I do not know where the pressure has come from.

It does not seem to me that delivery drivers and freight firms are suffering because they have to put on a seat belt. There are equally as many accidents during short journeys as there are during long journeys. I shall be interested to hear the views of the Committee. I oppose the Question that Clause 107 stand part of the Bill and I await with interest the Minister's reply.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Is the noble Viscount going to refer to the other amendments in the group?

Viscount Astor: I am speaking to clause stand part.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I know, but we have grouped together other amendments with the proposition that the clause should not stand part. There is opposition to the clause standing part and therefore it will be helpful to debate the other amendments in this group.

Viscount Astor: I apologise for interrupting the Minister but I do not see where they are joined on the Marshalled List.

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC292

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: They are not on mine.

Viscount Astor: Certainly clause stand part has not been grouped with any amendments as far as I am concerned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There is an error in the proposed groupings. We have been given notice. It states in the Marshalled List that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Luke, have given notice of their intention to oppose the Question that Clause 107 stand part of the Bill. If it is more convenient I shall speak to that now and get it out of the way.

Viscount Astor: Thank you.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It will teach the Government to be kind to Liberal Democrat amendments in Standing Committee in another place. It is all their fault.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: It usually is.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: But that does not mean that it is badly drafted or wrong. It clarifies the position concerning the existing exemption from the requirement to wear seat belts that applies to people undertaking deliveries over a short distance. The current exemption in Section 14 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is intended for those making frequent stops. It would be unreasonable to require seat belts to be used every time such a vehicle moved a few yards to its next stop.

The reason why it is a worthwhile provision is that the existing legislation is not well understood. Van and goods vehicle drivers are not clear about the limitation of the exemption. They frequently do not use the seat belts provided in their vehicles at any time—not only when making deliveries—and so the clause proposes a suitable change in the wording of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The phrase to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, takes such enjoyable exception comes from the Road Traffic Act 1988—that is, the motor vehicle constructed or adapted for carrying goods. As to the question of the distance, that is reflected in the clause stating the prescribed distance undertaken for the purpose of delivering or collecting any thing. The "prescribed distance" will be prescribed in legislation with the aim that the distance will be clearly understood. It will set a maximum distance that may be travelled in goods vehicles before users are required to use their seat belts. That distance will be established following consultation with interested parties. We envisage that it will be quite short. A new regulation will provide clarity for vehicle users and make it easier for the police to enforce the exemption.

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC293

If seat belt wearing rates in vans and goods vehicles can be lifted to something approaching the levels used in cars, we estimate that up to 20 fatalities and 240 serious injuries might be prevented annually. I defend Clause 107.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful for that explanation. The Minister said that a short distance will be prescribed in regulations. The Minister can write to me if he does not know the answer, but will the regulations come under the Road Traffic Act to which he referred or will they come under this Bill? Will they be produced under the affirmative or negative procedure?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: They will come under the Road Traffic Act and follow the negative procedure.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful. It will help if we can be told during the passage of the Bill the results of the consultation to which the Minister referred.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Before the Bill leaves the House I shall write to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and anyone else who requires it, with such information as I have. There may not be much, if any.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful for that helpful reply. I am delighted that it is all the fault of the Liberal Democrats. For an awful moment I thought it might be our fault. Luckily it is not.

Clause 107 agreed to.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 61:

    After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—

(1) There shall be a new classification of speed limits for rural roads to be known as a rural road hierarchy.
(2) The hierarchy will set maximum speed limits for different road types, and include speed limits no higher than—
(a) 20 mph for rural roads in the vicinity of schools and roads designated as quiet lanes under the Transport Act 2000 (c. 38);
(b) 30 mph for rural roads passing through villages;
(c) 40 mph for rural roads which have been classified as country lanes;
(d) 50 mph for poor quality single carriageways;
(e) 60 mph for high quality single carriageways; and
(f) 70 mph for duel carriageway roads.
(3) For the purposes of this section, a "country lane" is any road which is primarily used for local access, where there is no white centre line and which has been designated as such by the local transport authority.
(4) Local transport authorities shall have the power under this section to review any restricted and unrestricted non-urban road or roads for which they are the traffic authority, and reclassify them as part of the rural road hierarchy according to the existing or desired function of the road.
(5) Local transport authorities may amend the existing speed limit for a road or roads within that classification, taking into account guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
(6) As soon as is practicable and no later than six months after the coming into force of this Act the Secretary of State shall issue guidance as to the way in which a transport authority shall exercise its powers in developing a rural road hierarchy.

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC294

(7) Guidance under this section shall include guidance on—
(a) the function of the rural road hierarchy;
(b) definitions of different road types and areas, including country lanes, quiet lanes and villages (subject to the requirements in subsection (4) above and the Transport Act 2000) and how the assessment of road quality is to be made;
(c) the procedures for reviewing the classification of roads and reclassifying them, including the use of appraisal;
(d) requirements for public consultation;
(e) appropriate speed limits for different road types within the hierarchy, subject to the requirements in subsection (2);
(f) the procedures for applying speed limits on an area basis;
(g) how the rural road hierarchy will link to requirements under the Transport Act 2000 for the production of local transport plans; and
(h) the relationship between the rural road hierarchy and urban roads."

The noble Baroness said: I apologise for the confusion. Clause stand part does not appear on the Marshalled List that I am using. I was not sure whether it was due to a lack of visual acuity on my part.

In moving Amendment No. 61, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 63 and 65, which are grouped with it.

Amendment No. 61 seeks the creation of a rural road hierarchy. It is estimated that approximately a half of all deaths on our roads occur in rural areas—that is in the region of 1,800 deaths each year. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in another place has written in a recent letter to Mr Begg, the chair of the Commission for Integrated Transport, that in his view—and the view of the Government, presumably—there is a direct relationship between speed and accidents. However, during the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, when discussing speed limits he said that the issue is not reducing speed in itself, but reducing casualties. I would appreciate the Minister clarifying the Government's thinking on this matter.

There is widespread agreement that there are a number of problems with the current rural road speed limit policy. First, the default limit of 60 miles per hour was set at a time when there was much less traffic on the road and when vehicles tended to travel much more slowly. There was also a more well developed sense of civic duty and adherence to the law.

Secondly, the current system tends to lend itself to a rather piecemeal approach to a traffic management policy on rural roads. Local authorities are encouraged under the current system to deal with accident blackspots—although they are not allowed to call them that—in a rather piecemeal way when a more strategic look at the road as a whole is needed.

Thirdly, we tend to look at speed limit policy almost exclusively from the point of view of the motorist and forget the people who live in rural communities who want to use the roads for cycling, for horse-riding and for walking alongside, although there are not always footways.

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC295

It is of great concern to a number of people that the regulations concerning home zones and quiet lanes still have not emerged from the department some two and a half years after they were agreed as a part of the Transport Act 2000. A number of organisations, including the Council for the Protection of Rural England, have formed a coalition to promote changes to the rural road hierarchy. Indeed, the Government have their own road safety strategy, which was launched in March. I had the pleasure of speaking at that event. Clearly I was a considerable draw. However, the Prime Minister was speaking after me and perhaps people had stayed on to hear him quote from the road safety strategy that:

    "We are therefore proposing to develop a new hierarchy of roads defined by their function and quality".

Two years later we still do not have it.

The proposal was moved forward in the Transport Act 2000; a working group has been formed to look at the issue; and in June 2001 the Transport Select Committee in another place suggested that the Government should get a move on. We are still waiting.

Amendment No. 63 concerns the licensing of heavy goods operating centres, particularly in rural areas. There is currently a gap in the system. Noble Lords are looking slightly puzzled.

I am sorry. Amendment No. 63 concerns the duty to hold a licence. It was previously our understanding that the Government intended that all vehicles stopped by the vehicle inspectorate or by the police should have a valid operator's licence. If they did not have one the vehicles would subsequently be impounded. However, a recent decision of the transport tribunal has led to a query to the effect that it might be possible for a leasing company which owns a vehicle simply to say that it had no idea that the operator did not have a licence.

Can the Minister clear up the point? If that is the case, in the interests of safety we have brought forward an amendment which will place a duty on leasing companies to ensure that the operators of their vehicles have valid operators' licences.

Amendment No. 65 also concerns heavy goods vehicles. Currently when someone chooses to use a piece of land as a heavy goods operating centre, unless the proposals are very large they do not require planning permission. That is not a problem in itself except that the remit of the traffic commissioner to grant the licence deals only with the site; he cannot comment on the suitability or safety of the local road network. The local authority cannot comment on it either because no planning permission is required. Planning permission is not of itself an important issue, but the lack of a requirement for it denies the local authority an opportunity to comment on a site.

It means that there are cases when permission is given for an operating centre to exist despite the fact that the local road network is clearly unsuitable. Also, sometimes, although one site on its own might not cause a problem, the cumulative effect of a number of sites along a particular route can cause difficulty to the

5 Jun 2003 : Column GC296

local area. At the moment, that is outside the power of the traffic commissioners and the local authority to deal with. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: I support all these amendments, but I shall speak to them briefly. I will raise Amendment No. 61 when I speak to further amendments. It is disappointing that we have not made further progress on the matter. It is clear that the effect of fast traffic on unsuitable roads represents a threat. There may be the threat of accident, but there is also the threat of fear which sometimes makes people almost prisoners in their own homes or village. We have all had experience of walking along country roads—on the correct side of the road, as advised—when a vehicle comes round a bend and one wonders whether one will end up sandwiched between the vehicle and a high bank. That matter should be taken seriously.

I was particularly impressed by the CPRE's view and the quotation it produced from Wales. Unlike provision here, the road safety strategy of the Welsh Assembly states that the problem with road safety is not simply a question of the number of collisions and the number of resulting casualties. Pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders often perceive Welsh roads as dangerous to travel on. I think that says it all. But it is not just a Welsh problem, it is a United Kingdom problem and it needs tackling. There are some very good points in this amendment which, it is to be hoped, can be developed during the next few weeks.

Briefly turning to the other two amendments, I fail to understand why whether a lorry is hired or not makes the slightest difference as to whether it can be impounded or other action taken against it. The traffic commissioners exist and, in my view, they should be used much more. As most lorries are hired these days, that exemption has the effect of completely negating this clause.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page