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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, we all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on the importance of road safety in Northern Ireland. He gave us some figures to reinforce that view. Therefore, we support the idea that lies behind this order. I have only one or two relatively small points to make in connection with it.
It refers in part to the restricted period of one year which new drivers who have just passed their test for the first time in Northern Ireland must observe. It restricts their speed and so on. I have always thought that that was a rather good scheme and I am slightly sorry to see that the possibility of the extension of restriction when there is an offence is being removed by this order.
However, as the Minister explained, the order institutes a probationary period of two years in addition to the restricted period of one year. It would be cleaner and neater if the same period had been taken for both restriction and probation. However, I shall not argue too much about that. But it is rather difficult to understand
Article 9 suggests that if someone is required to take a new test in those circumstances and duly passes it, then his probationary period ends at once even though he may still be within the two years following the passing of his driving test. That means that somebody who has committed those offences will have a shorter probationary period than someone who has an unblemished record throughout the two years of the probationary period. That seems an odd provision. I feel sure that there is an explanation behind it which no doubt the noble Lord will give to us.
The other point which confused me slightly concerns Articles 4 and 5. Article 4 is headed "Surrender of licences" although it seems to be concerned with confiscation of licences. But it is not the surrender which matters and which makes driving, except on a provisional licence, invalid. It is the revocation of that licence which is what Article 5 provides. The revocation applies from the time that the notice of revocation is served on the offender. Presumably it is legal for him to continue driving until whoever serves the notice catches up with him in order to serve the necessary order.
However, I was rather surprised that the court does not seem to have the power actually to prevent the individual from driving there and then, but only to set in train a bureaucratic process of the clerk reporting the matter to the department and the department then sending someone out to serve a notice of revocation on the individual concerned. Indeed, I would have expected the court to be able to say, "That's it; you can't drive from now on", and for the bureaucracy then, as it were, to follow that up in dealing with the licence. Perhaps there is a good reason for that, but I am not clear what it could be. Subject to those relatively minor points, I believe that the order should be passed by the House.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I, too, am broadly in agreement with the order as it stands. It is possible that some other road traffic legislation for the Province, which I understand is in the pipeline, is a little more controversial. However, we will deal with that on another occasion.
I noticed that the Minister referred to the wording of Article 3(2) and included the words "Great Britain" in his remarks. However, that term does not appear in the list contained in that article. This is not nit-picking; it may be that the omission of "Great Britain" is due to the wording contained in paragraph (2) on the previous page of the order. Nevertheless, the wording of the list at the top of page 4 of the order looks a little odd.
The Minister quite rightly drew our attention to the horrifying percentage of young people who kill themselves and other people through irresponsible and reckless behaviour on the roads. Perhaps I may make a point about the responsibility of parents who, unfortunately, encourage newly qualified young drivers to drive high-performance cars before they have
I am not suggesting that there should be new or even amending legislation in that respect. However, I believe that we should alert all those who place high-performance cars in the hands of young, excitable drivers to the risks involved, not only to those drivers and their passengers but also to the general public.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, before making one brief comment on this order, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that new drivers in Northern Ireland drive under much more stringent limits than new drivers on the mainland and that these limits are most sensible. As my noble friend mentioned, drivers in Northern Ireland are restricted for one year to a maximum speed of 45 mph and, during that time, they have to show "R" plates. Not only does that show other drivers that they are novices but, being restricted to a certain maximum speed, they are able to assimilate the reaction and inter-reaction of traffic without too many problems. That is to be applauded.
As some of your Lordships know, from time to time I go on traffic patrol with the police. Last summer, one month after the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 came into force, I was a passenger in a vehicle whose crew stopped a 19 year-old driver who was not only doing 93 mph six weeks after passing his driving test but was also accompanied by his father. Both were unaware of the contents and implications of the Act. So, should not consideration be given to including relevant information concerning this order in the Highway Code--a document which, unfortunately, is mainly purchased by learner drivers?
I return now to the order before the House tonight. The only query that I should like to raise is why "R" plates have to be displayed only on the first occasion that a driver passes a driving competence test. If, as a result of this order, a driver has to go back to learner status and then passes the appropriate test, then, having passed the test, the driver is, to all intents, a new driver. Would it not be sensible for this driver to be restricted in exactly the same way as other new drivers and be limited to maximum permitted speed and to having to display "R" plates for a year? Perhaps my noble friend would give this consideration.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for the interest shown, the comments made and the questions that have been asked. I welcome the general support for the order and its aim of reducing the rather high level of road accidents in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked a couple of questions concerning the probationary period. These matters are quite technical in terms of the way they work but I shall do my best to give him the answer. The draft
Secondly, the order requires for early termination of probation where a court makes an order requiring a person to be qualified until he passes an appropriate driving test. This is necessary to avoid double jeopardy of two tests: one under this order, and the second one ordered by the court. It also takes account of the fact that the test ordered by the court could be an extended one which is twice the length of the standard test. An extended test would be ordered in the case of an offence involving dangerous driving.
I further answer the point about the two year probationary period. In relation to the new drivers' order, as the main purpose of a probationary period is to establish experience, a lesser period--for example, one year--is considered too short. A period longer than two years, while it may have a practical effect in that it would further constrain drivers of limited experience, would be too onerous and would undermine the meaning of the term "probationary".
In relation to restricted drivers, the R period was set at 12 months because this was considered an appropriate period of time during which to limit the speed of drivers to 45 miles an hour. After 12 months it is appropriate that such drivers be given the opportunity to drive in excess of 45 miles an hour. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made what I believe is an important point regarding the responsibility of parents in that they should not encourage young, inexperienced drivers to drive high performance cars, and they should seek to discourage such driving. In so far as parents are able to exercise that influence on what are often their adult offspring, I think that is a desirable aim.
A number of other points were made. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked other questions about the restriction provisions. Given the new penalties of revocation and retesting introduced by this order and, additionally, the recently introduced penalty points scheme which will render such drivers liable to disqualification if they continue to commit endorsable road traffic offences, the R provisions in their present form are no longer considered appropriate. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 therefore amends Article 19(a) of the order of 1981 accordingly.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, also asked whether the reference to the new drivers' order could be included in the Northern Ireland Highway Code. We aim to consult on a new Northern Ireland Highway Code during the summer months, and consideration will be given to the noble Viscount's suggestions before publication.
I hope I have done justice to all the questions that have been asked. I appreciate that some of these points are quite technical. I believe that the order will be very helpful in reducing the number of accidents in Northern Ireland.
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