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The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, my noble friend just said that his department might draft a proposal for the Commission. Is that in the process of being done at the moment and, if so, how soon will it be available to the Commission? It would be very helpful to the Commission.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the point that I was trying to make is that we have offered our help because of work done within the United Kingdom. I trust that if the Commission feels that in gaining our assistance the process would be speeded up, then we should be very pleased to help in so far as we can.
Returning to the issue of the pedestrian protection effected by all car fronts, a lot of work has been done in this field. The proposed European directive to improve pedestrian protection, as I mentioned, would prohibit the fitting of aggressive bull bars but is a broader issue that will take much longer to agree with our European partners.
The aggressive nature of car fronts is more of a danger than bull bars. Some 1,200 pedestrians per annum are killed in the UK. That is more than the number of car driver fatalities. A large proportion are struck by the front face of cars. We should not lose sight of the magnitude of this wider problem. Research has established that a significant reduction in such casualties could be achieved by cars having softer fronts.
Not all bull bars need be dangerous. Bars designed to use soft materials could actually make a vehicle safer while still offering some protection to its bodywork and lights from parking damage. A few manufacturers are experimenting with softer versions in order to help meet the proposals for making all car fronts pedestrian friendly. It is the hard, rigid and aggressive steel bull bars so well explained and described by the noble Baroness about which we are concerned.
We understand and sympathise with the reasons behind my noble friend's motives but, as I said, the Bill will not add to the powers that we already have. The field of vehicle legislation is occupied by European directives. The Bill will not change that fact.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. What the Minister seems to argue is, in a way, contradictory. First, he mentioned the scale of the problem in general, which is quite true, and this legislation falls into a very small sector. However, it seems to me that, although one cannot achieve everything that one wants, one nonetheless does something. There is no reason for not doing something.
This is a situation in which the Minister has the powers. Therefore, if he has the powers, why not be prepared to adopt them on the basis that there is no likelihood of early agreement within the European Union (notwithstanding the offer of help that he has given, I believe that the Commission could probably do the job itself). In fact, why not say very clearly that, if we are not satisfied that the situation will be resolved within the European Union within the course of the next 12 months, we shall have no hesitation in utilising the legislative powers that the Minister says are available.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I feel that the noble Lord has slightly though not entirely misunderstood the message that I was trying to put over. On the European front there are two strings to this bow. One is the broader approach to softer car fronts. That is very much the longer term objective. I believe that there will be considerable benefits from making good progress on that but we are some way off that. The other approach on the European basis, as agreed by Mr. Kinnock, is for the Commission to bring forward an amendment to the external projections directive. That is a separate measure from the general measure concerning softer car fronts. That could be achieved very much more quickly.
Why do we not take unilateral action? I have explained that in a field that is so heavily governed by European directives on type approval, we feel that we would be in a position where we could very well be challenged in the courts because of the considerable body of legislation on type approval. That, and for the reason that I have given of ongoing research, is why we consider that getting speedy European action is very much more satisfactory and legally defensible than taking the national action that is proposed. Also, in terms of the national action available to us, the Bill does not add anything to the powers that we already have.
In conclusion, we believe that the path forward to achieve some proper progress on this issue is through European action. As I said, we are urging the Commission to announce its proposals for amending the
The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There was unanimous support for the Bill, except, sadly, for my noble friend who, towards the end of his speech in reply, seemed to emphasise that the Government already have the power and therefore there was no purpose in the Bill going forward. I disagree for the reason that the core issue is to ban bull bars. If we have a Committee, we can again examine the issues and press for further information.
I believe that there is a will and determination not only in Parliament but outside it to ensure that bull bars are banned. My honourable friend the Minister is publicly committed to banning the bull bars. I cannot believe that he would just allow this issue to drift on. That is what may happen. He said to many Members in a recent speech that he would be prepared to examine any way in which the Government could go forward. Allowing this Bill to go through is, I suggest, a very good way forward.
It is late at night. I shall resist the temptation to answer any of the detailed points that have been made. I am extremely grateful to all those who have spoken and to the noble Baroness for her late entry. I was not quite sure whether or not the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, to "she owes me one" was part of the bull bar structure. However, I am very grateful to all noble Lords. It has been a valuable debate on a vital subject. I hope that the House will accept that the Bill should be read a second time. I commend it to the House.
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