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Mr. Dismore: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that invention. My hon. Friend the Minister is probably getting sick of hearing me raise the issue. I have lost count of the occasions on which I have raised it with him in questions, both written and oral. I last raised it on the Floor of the House during the debate on road casualties almost a year ago. I have since met my noble Friend Lord Whitty. I even took my mechanic to meet Lord Whitty, and I was very pleased that my noble Friend was prepared to meet the mechanic, so that he could explain the problem.
I am glad that the Government are taking some action. They discussed the matter with the motor trade liaison group. The consensus view of the meeting was that it would be impractical to include child restraints as a formal item of test, but it was agreed that MOT testers would in future give advice to vehicle presenters--that is, customers--about the fitting of child restraints, whenever they noticed an apparent problem.
I understand that the Department intended to run a major publicity campaign about child restraints towards the end of January and during February to give advice on best practice on the radio and in Mother & Baby, and that the campaign would include the distribution of reminder cards for people to keep.
When my hon. Friend replies to the debate, perhaps he could let us know how the campaign is going. I am afraid that I have not yet seen anything about it, but then I am not a regular reader of Mother & Baby. If the campaign does not achieve the objective of making parents more aware and encouraging them to ensure that their children's seat belts are properly fitted, we may need to return to the issue.
Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am prepared to overlook his suggestion that I am on-message--in no way could I possibly be considered to be on-message--I am interested in the important point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I look forward to seeing the amendment to my Bill which he will doubtless wish to propose, if he is prepared to serve on the Committee, as I very much hope that he will be. We will give it due consideration then.
Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, he was not in the Chamber earlier when I dealt with that point. Much as I would like to serve on his Committee, I am afraid that private Members' Bills Committees sit on Wednesday mornings, at the same time as the Select Committee on Social Security of which I am a member, and I cannot be in two places at once.
To finish the point on child seat belts, a further problem has recently emerged which was drawn to my attention by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. It concerns parents who buy second-hand car seats for their children, who could be buying potential death traps. APIL is concerned about structural defects in second-hand seats. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will look into the matter.
The final issue is travel concessions. I put the point to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire in an intervention. The Bill as drafted excludes London, and I am concerned about the effect of that on London. We have mutual arrangements through all the London boroughs, and that works well. It must work, because London is a large, vibrant city and people who live in my constituency, Hendon, want to get to the west end for a show, or may even want to come and watch what I am doing in Parliament, from time to time. Unfortunately, not many have done so this afternoon.
I am concerned about the impact on the neighbouring counties and people who live there. I asked the hon. Gentleman what would happen, for example, if someone who lived in Watford, which is in Hertfordshire, wanted to travel into central London. The hon. Gentleman thought that the answer might be some sort of mutual arrangement between my London borough and Hertfordshire. That will not work.
Some people from Hertfordshire will come into Hendon to go to our big stores, which are excellent, if I may plug Brent Cross as one of the major shopping centres in London. However, they may also want to come to see their Member of Parliament make a speech. To travel from Hertfordshire, they would have to cross the London boroughs of Barnet, Brent and Camden to get to the City of Westminster. A mutual arrangement between London boroughs on that basis is not a practical proposition. It cannot work because several million people live in London--I do not know how many of them have bus passes, but there are probably about a million pensioners--but I doubt that all of them will want to visit Watford.
Watford is a very nice town. Some people travel there from my constituency to do their shopping, but there is no question of mutuality. The idea of implementing such a system countrywide, as the hon. Gentleman wants, falls down when we consider the rural or suburban areas around major conurbations. Probably, the same problem exists in Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and other big cities.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Age Concern supports the introduction of bus passes that could be used throughout the nation--as do I, but that is not within the realms of a private Member's Bill. Did the hon. Gentleman make that point when his Government introduced a provision that specifically prevented disabled people and pensioners from using bus passes elsewhere?
Furthermore, the fact that the hon. Gentleman sits on the Social Security Committee on Wednesday mornings is a weak excuse for not serving on the Bill's Standing Committee. He makes powerful points on matters of extreme importance to his constituents; we have listened with great interest to his detailed knowledge. I hope that he may be prepared to seek leave from the Social Security Committee on some occasions--perhaps he could come
Mr. Dismore: I have to decline the hon. Gentleman's offer. The Social Security Committee is engaged in an extremely important inquiry into the social fund, which also affects many of my constituents. I shall not get a second bite of the cherry in the Select Committee, but I shall get a second bite at the Bill on Report. The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when I assured the House that I am not part of any blocking strategy on his Bill. The measure is important. Hon. Members may think that I hold robust views on private Members' Bills--although not quite on a par with those of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)--but I do pick and choose; this is a worthy Bill.
When I was a member of the Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Bill--the Committee stage lasted for a considerable time--we tried to ensure that there were mutual arrangements within London between the boroughs, and that the existing voluntary scheme was continued. To the extent that the matter affects my constituents, I was concerned to ensure that there were mutual arrangements in London. With the assistance of the Association of London Government, I am pleased that we were able to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman's object is laudable, but these provisions will not achieve equality throughout the country. Perhaps, through discussion with my hon. Friend the Minister and in Committee, we can explore ways to achieve a mutuality that includes the big cities, but does not cost them as a result. That will be difficult to achieve, and it needs further explanation.
The hon. Gentleman has done the country a service in introducing the measure. It contains many useful provisions, although it needs a few more--including those proposed by myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and other hon. Members who have spoken today. One or two provisions need to be removed and the measure needs some tidying up, but I wish it a fair wind.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). Despite all the odds, there is always the possibility that his Bill will become law. I know that because I am the successful individual who was drawn 20th in the ballot for private Members' Bills last year, so I was delighted that my Bill became law.
I should also like to mention the excellent, well-balanced and interesting speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). I do not intend to duplicate their remarks because time is pressing and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) wishes to speak.
Given the views on regulation of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, I was rather surprised that he was so keen to introduce so much of it himself. Before I comment on the Bill's general remit, I should like to refresh his memory. In the past, he said:
We can all change position, and therein lies the secret. Being drawn second in the private Members' ballot is such an exciting prospect that none of us can resist the temptation of throwing down our gauntlet and entrusting our hand to new regulation, but we should not be surprised if others do not feel so fulsome in their praise and do not wish to welcome such regulation with so much zeal.
I want to make some constructive points and to concentrate on what the Government have already done to address the serious issues raised by the Bill. I believe that we should stay away from regulations wherever possible, and all that the Government have done to enforce better road safety supports that view. Education and encouragement are sometimes far better than regulation.
I should like to touch on the safer speeds provisions. As has been said, too many people take a cavalier attitude to speed. Speed is a major contributory factor in about a third of all road accidents and leads to far too many deaths. It is the greatest single contributor to casualties on our roads. I am pleased that the Government are doing something about that, but the collation of road accident statistics is so far proving to be extremely difficult because of the number of different authorities that record them.
I hope that the Government might be able to replace that very complex bureaucracy with a much simpler system for the collation of accident statistics. That might take us a step closer to knowing how many accidents are primarily caused by the use of mobile phones, or by any other activity. As someone who is not in favour of smacking, I suggest that a category that includes smacking as a source of accidents would also be very revealing, but perhaps a mite too bureaucratic for most local authorities to consider.
The Government have carried out a complete review of speed management policy to establish where the problems lie, which measures work and which do not and what additional information is needed to develop policy more fully. It is acknowledged that further study is necessary in a number of areas. I know that, because hon. Members will be aware that I am a member of the engineering profession. Many of my colleagues have been called in to give advice to various departments on the range of difficult issues surrounding speed restrictions. That includes advice on speeding cars, unsafe cars, unsafe roads, road surfaces and psychological tests.
The speed review has confirmed a strong link between vehicle speeds and the severity of collisions. There is world agreement on that. I am keen on objective research and, as I shall point out when I briefly discuss mobile phones shortly, one of my primary concerns about clause 4 is that there is insufficient research to support the introduction of legislation. We cannot impose requirements on people unless we can fully and objectively support them.
When a car hits a pedestrian, the degree of injury increases exponentially if it was exceeding 30 mph. In rural areas, however, the damage to car drivers and other people on the roads is much greater than it is on main trunk roads and in urban areas.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire said that he is a horse rider. I hope that he has read the proposals of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on ensuring the safety of horse riders. They call on local authorities to consider horse riders in the development of local transport plans and to consult them directly on appropriate measures for their safe passage. Given his comments about bureaucracy and his unwillingness to consult his constituents, he will have no say in that discussion unless his local councillors are also horse riders. However, he could come to my constituency, where he would be assured of having his say.
Appropriate vehicle speed is an important matter. We know only too well in my constituency, which has roads on which it is possible to drive fast, that speed limits are intended to let drivers know the maximum safe speed in good conditions. Sensible limits should be appropriate to the location and the function of the road, and thus to the safety of all the people who use it. Badly set or inappropriate limits are often ignored and make drivers less willing to comply with the system generally.
We all have anecdotal experiences of speed limits that are ignored because they do not seem to be sensible. Great Crosby is a marvellous small village in my community and a marvellous road goes through that rural area. Local residents do not want lights and they do not have lights. They have a super stretch of road--it could be blessed with potholes, but it is not--with a smooth surface that positively invites people to travel along it at 60 mph.
The signs that houses are close to the road have not led drivers to slow down, so the local authority has been forced to introduce pillows. They are not, to use that politically incorrect phrase, "sleeping policeman"--they have gone. We have pillows in Sefton, with either short bolsters or long bolsters. The road to Little Crosby has little bolsters, which allow the safe, effective passage of emergency vehicles but do not allow the quick passage of normal cars. Normal cars interfere with the pillows, and their speed is slowed. Even in a rural environment where signposting is quite profuse, its impact is limited and physical changes to the road have been imperative. I am afraid that signposting does not offer a long-term solution.
I have referred to the Government's guidance to local authorities, which has been informed by the activities of a variety of institutions and by agencies that support the DETR and its work. I know from my local authority that the guidance notes are particularly welcome.
Technology is marvellous and presents us with many opportunities that are quite expensive. Coupled with the development of technology, however, is the Government's relaxation of practices for changing local
My constituency now has roads with a 20 mph limit. We could not have conceived of that just over two years ago, but we now have those limits and the physical restrictions to impose them. That may not suit some people, and in fact those who are most inconvenienced by speed bumps and chicanes are the very people who live in the area where the restrictions are imposed. I know because I drive along such streets every day. Despite the fact that those measures may impede my progress, however, I am greatly relieved because our children are safer. As we get older and have children, as most hon. Members here do, we naturally become better drivers because we know that the child who runs into the road may be our own.
There is genuine concern, however, about appropriate driving behaviour for younger and older people. I welcome the Government's intention to introduce a range of schemes to improve driver performance. I am sure that that will include our performance. How many hon. Members here today have subjected themselves to a test other than the one that they sat many years ago? How many of us know how many regulations we are infringing? My husband constantly tells me that I infringe a great many and that travelling with me is a scary experience. I should therefore subject myself to another test, and I have no problem with that. Now that I have said it, I suppose that I should go ahead and do it just to prove the point. The campaign to raise people's awareness is a process of education rather than regulation. It is a slower process, but in the end it will be more effective.
I think that clause 4, which deals with mobile phones, is absolutely magnificent, but redundant. I refer the hon. Member for North Wiltshire to the Lords Hansard of 9 July 1999, when the Road Traffic (Use of Mobile Telephones) Bill was considered. I presume that the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to read this excellent debate in which proposals similar to those in this Bill were advanced. Excellent contributions were made, particularly by Lord Carter, who responded for the Government and whose views are the same as mine.
As an engineer, I object to mobile phones and pagers for the same reasons as the noble Lords: they interfere with normal life and can cause people to be rudely awakened. I do not know whether there is mobile phone rage, but I have seen something close to it in railway carriages. I welcome the introduction by Virgin of quiet coaches, much to the relief of all concerned.
Mobile phones have made an enormous difference to all our lives, either because we have been forced to buy them for our children or because they have become a vital necessity to a loved one. I have lost count of the number of older people who now carry them. My staff tell me
The Lords debate concentrated a great deal on sandwiches. I am sorry that we have not been able to dwell on that issue today. Their Lordships had a lot of fun with it, although they made no reference to different varieties of sandwich. They established that eating a sandwich presented much the same problems as using a mobile phone.
The police believe that there is enough legislation for them to deal with mobile phone users who flagrantly disobey the law. Many prosecutions have been taken, and there is no suggestion that that will stop.
If it is true that half the population now carry mobile phones, that equates to approximately 20,000 people in North Wiltshire. If they all use the phone in their cars illegally, that means a potential 20,000 prosecutions, which would be more than for any other offence. I would not support that, because the police have better things to do than to pull up people who are on the phone but driving perfectly safely, as many people do.
The highway code, however, states emphatically that one must not do that. Short of regulation, how do we ensure that people do not? It will probably be a long-term campaign, like the one against drink-driving, which took many years to work but has now proved effective. I suspect that it will be quite a few more years before people will want to put their phones down because they know that using them is not safe, but I cannot support legislation that will make them criminals.
I endorse the Government's action in encouraging mobile phone companies to inform users of their duty to themselves and to the public to use the phone safely. I also congratulate them on their action in informing us directly of our responsibilities and encouraging local authorities to be more proactive on speed restrictions. It is wholly appropriate that roads should be designated according to use, and not necessarily speed, and that we should adopt local solutions for what are essentially local problems, while having a view to the national implications of duplicating various initiatives throughout the country. Such duplication would be to the detriment of road safety.