Clause 17 - Penalty points

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 21 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:45, 21 Mawrth 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 55, in clause 17, page 21, line 25, leave out ‘“2-6’ and insert ‘“1-6’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 88, in clause 17, page 21, line 29, leave out from ‘substitute’ to end of line 30 and insert

‘3-6 or appropriate penalty points if committed in respect of a speed limit on a restricted road; 2-6 (fixed penalty) in other cases”, and

“restricted road” in paragraph () means a road defined as restricted in section 82 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27).’.

No. 56, in clause 17, page 21, line 29, leave out ‘“2-6’ and insert ‘“1-6’.

New clause 13—HGV speed limits—

‘In Schedule 6 to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (speed limits for vehicles of certain classes), in paragraph 5(2)(b)(iii) column (c) leave out “40” and insert “50”.’.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not want to delay the Committee by making the same points as were made in the previous debate, because the clause centres on flexibility and variation according to circumstances. The Government propose points of two to six, and amendment No. 55 proposes points of one to six, giving even more flexibility to allow circumstances to be taken into account.

An interesting report published last week suggested that 1 million drivers are now on six or more licence points. Perhaps the matter has been rather dramatically put, but it has been said that, as there is a chance of getting six points on any speeding offence, some people are only one flash away from losing their licence completely. I think that we would all agree that people should not be driving so fast that they get six points, but a large number of people who have been caught—I think mainly because of the big increase in speed cameras—are now reaching the point where their driving is affected: they are so paranoid about being caught by a speed camera that they are concentrating on the cameras rather than on their driving technique, although I have only anecdotal evidence of that.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

I should rise to declare the same interest that I declared on Second Reading: I am one these many millions of drivers with six points. Knowing that every mile I drive I am on the verge of losing my licence, which would happen if I were caught speeding again, I concentrate not on the location of speed cameras, but on keeping my speed below the legal limit. I am sure that that experience is common to others in my situation.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was a helpful contribution. One feels for the hon. Gentleman and we should wish him good luck with cautious driving. Perhaps he will shortly endorse our proposal about detection devices, but I will not test your patience on that, Sir Nicholas.

We are all citing our friends and family histories, as well as horrible incidents yesterday on the M6. Much of this is anecdotal, but people have been telling me that as they have reached six points, they are under pressure and are really worried about it. As the Minister said, their lives, careers and jobs may depend on having a driving licence. Our proposal is quite simple. We have done to death the idea of flexibility and attention to the conditions surrounding the circumstances of being stopped and we propose just a little more flexibility to go from one to six.

On new clause 13, there is a slight change in subject. The purpose of the new clause is simple. We have had a considerable number of representations from the commercial trucking industry saying that there would be sense in increasing the speed of heavy goods vehicles on single-lane main roads from 40 mph to 50 mph. I have completely failed to establish where the 40 mph limit originated. That is the first problem. It seems to be ancestral. I can find no evidence on why it was established, but those in the industry think that it was introduced many years ago when vehicle technology was quite different, anti-lock braking systems did not exist and suspension systems were different.

We have established that about 50 per cent. of accidents are caused on single-lane roads, and they tend to be head-on collisions. Again, the evidence is anecdotal. Many car drivers do not understand that heavy goods vehicles are limited to 40 mph. The trucking industry believes that frustrated drivers are queuing up behind trucks and then choosing inappropriate moments to try to dash past them. On roads such as the A9 in Scotland, the A5 near me and the A41 that can be quite dangerous. There is a clear case for considering increasing the speed of heavy goods vehicles.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health 5:00, 21 Mawrth 2006

I have two quick points to make. It seems a very radical measure to base on purely anecdotal evidence. Secondly—the hon. Gentleman has been given notice of this question because I asked it of his Front Bench colleagues on Second Reading—can he name a single country in the world where an increase in the speed limit has led to a consequent reduction in road fatalities?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Yes, I am talking trucks. There is evidence in the United States, from states such as Montana. When the limits imposed during the fuel crisis in the 1970s were lifted, there was an improvement in the accident rate.

Photo of Rosemary McKenna Rosemary McKenna Llafur, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot compare roads in Montana or any other American state to the roads in Orkney, or to the A9 in particular, which he mentioned.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am touched that the hon. Lady queries my reply to a straight question from her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris).   He asked whether I had evidence, I said yes and I gave it. I do not want to upset her, but I am going to give her some more evidence from America.

I considered two studies of changes in traffic; one from the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, and the other from the Wyoming legislative service office. They show that when trucking limits were devolved, certain states maintained a differential speed limit, with one speed for trucks and another for cars, and others maintained a uniform speed limit, with the same speed for cars and trucks. For example, Arkansas had a differential speed limit, keeping cars at 70 mph and trucks at 65 mph. Idaho was uniform; it went for 75 mph for all vehicles.

The evidence from the federal report is, bluntly, that the changes did not make much difference. It is not absolutely clear from the study whether they made any difference. The problem with that study and the Wyoming study is that we are talking about interstates, which are the same as our motorways, with traffic flowing in the same direction; interestingly, there has been no dramatic change either way under either regime.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

Is not the hon. Gentleman’s point that accident rates are not entirely dependent on speed limits? We know that in this country, because some of the roads that he mentioned, which in Northamptonshire, too, have high accident rates, do not have good lighting. They are rural roads. Many other factors must be taken into account, and he is not making an argument against the speeding issue at all.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am touched that the hon. Lady was listening so carefully to our debate this morning. That is exactly what we were saying: circumstances and conditions decide accidents; it is not pure speed. All I am saying is that I could find no real evidence of any research in this country, and all I could dig out was some stuff from the United States. Her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South queried whether I had any evidence, and I am giving the evidence that uniform and differential speed limits have made no huge difference either way. That was the lesson from the Wyoming legislative service office study.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman’s flow, because I am enjoying it. However, if the surveys and international comparisons from which he quotes conclude that there is no real difference one way or the other, and they suggest that a change will not improve road safety records, why does he argue for change—albeit accepting that it would not make them any worse?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is exactly my point. I expected people from his point of view to be popping up, saying, “It is a scandalum magnatum to be talking about increasing any speeds at all.” My point is that from the international studies I am citing, change did not make any great difference either way. The studies are inconclusive, and that is an important point.

It is worth listening to the industry professionals. It is perfectly fair to listen to them, because they have to live with the situation every day and hear from their drivers. Again, we run into our dear old friends, the speed cameras. I suspect that for years, as motors have got more powerful and drivers have developed more confidence in their braking systems, drivers have been going over 40 mph. Now they are being clocked more frequently by speed cameras, which make no distinction in relation to the conditions we rattled through this morning. That is becoming a real problem for the industry.

The industry is convinced that drivers, whose jobs depend on this, are now being really careful; I cannot think of anyone who is more dependent on a clean licence than a commercial truck driver. They are now being ultra-prudent, which is frustrating car drivers who then overtake on single-lane roads at inappropriate moments. I received a letter from Roger King, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, which says:

HGVs are limited by law to a maximum of 40 mph on such roads. In fact custom and practice usually meant 50 mph as trucks sought to go with the flow of prevailing traffic. With the advent of speed cameras close observance of the limit is required, although with a theoretical grace of 10 per cent. plus 2 mph added on, enforcement is carried out at speeds over 46 mph. While such generosity is appreciated any slight excess of 46 mph, and we are talking about something like 46.3 mph here, will end in a fine and endorsement.

No one can condone lawbreaking. However, 40 mph on a well engineered A road sets the truck up as a mobile obstacle followed by other motorists frustrated at the slow progress being made. This often ends in dangerous overtaking manoeuvres.

Today’s HGV with up to 16 forward speeds, or highly sensitive automatic gearboxes do not operate efficiently at such low speeds, moving at a lower gear speed and thus less fuel efficient. 50 mph is an optimum speed conducive to efficiency. With modern disc brake systems and air suspension the stopping ability is more than adequate.”

That point is endorsed by the Freight Transport Association, which also picked up on the point about pollution. Chris Welsh of the FTA sent me a note and, on the question of pollution, said:

“This is a complex and somewhat imprecise issue but our vehicle engineers and scientists estimate that where an operator can use the higher speed limits on down hill sections of the road to conserve energy on the uphill sections that by keeping the speed within green band of the rev counter there is a potential fuel saving of approximately 3.7 per cent. If the rev counter goes into the red zone fuel consumption increases dramatically.”

He continues:

A 3.7 per cent. fuel saving on a 500 litre tank of diesel represents an 18.5 per cent. fuel saving with the corresponding savings in emissions of PM10 ... and NOX.”

Our contention is that the limit was set in the mists of time and truck technology has moved on. The advent of speed cameras has meant that truck drivers are now being extra cautious and are adhering very strictly to the 40 mph limit. That is leading to car drivers getting frustrated and an increase in head-on collisions when car drivers overtake at inappropriate moments on single-lane roads. There would be an efficiency gain and a safety gain if the speed limit for HGVs were increased from 40 to 50 mph.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

I want to make a few brief comments in response to the thoughtful and interesting comments made by the hon. Member for North Shropshire. I declare another interest: my father was an HGV driver for most of his working life. Fortunately, he was never involved in a serious accident despite the fact that he drove for his whole life with a very severe handicap because he had only one eye. Now is perhaps not the time to go into detail about the hours of fun my brothers and I used to have with the spare glass eyes in the sideboard when he was away driving long distance. He obviously took his job as an HGV driver extremely seriously and was an extremely careful driver, but I have to take issue with what the hon. Gentleman said about HGV drivers being extra cautious these days.

At the start of the debate we heard from the Minister about his near-death experience on the M6 yesterday, when the vehicle he mentioned as having caused the accident was, unsurprisingly, an HGV. I would be interested at some point during these proceedings if we could have a figure from the Minister about the number of motorway accidents in particular that have been caused by HGVs rather than cars. That would possibly illuminate the discussion about exactly the kind of damage and deaths caused by trucks on the road rather than private cars.

The hon. Gentleman talked about his main thrust being to increase the speed limit that HGVs have to adhere to, particularly on single-track roads. We have had the arguments before: because trucks have better braking systems, are more fuel efficient and are safer vehicles, they should be allowed to travel at a higher speed. Yet, presumably, any new regulation would apply to all vehicles, regardless of their age. Of course, they would all have to meet an MOT and the standards imposed by the Government, but to say that because the newest trucks are admittedly safer than older vehicles and therefore all vehicles should be allowed to drive at the higher rate is a dangerous argument.

The hon. Gentleman talked of drivers losing patience, being stuck behind HGVs on a single-track road. I agree that a there is curious cultural phenomenon in this country; even when I am not in a particular hurry to go anywhere and have all the time in the world to get from A to B, as soon as I sit behind a wheel and get held up at a traffic light, I suddenly start to feel impatient. I wonder if, instead of pandering to that irrational instinct, we should be encouraging drivers, particularly new drivers, to learn patience and to understand that it is not all about how quickly one gets from A to B, but how safely.

The hon. Gentleman talked about dangerous overtaking manoeuvres. That is something we should do everything we can to avoid, but we should not legislate to allow people to travel more quickly in order to alleviate their impatience. Surely the danger is that allowing such trucks to travel at 10 mph higher than they are currently travelling at is not going to make people less impatient? People will be more impatient to overtake, because 50 mph or 60 mph are never going to be enough for those drivers who see getting from A to B in the quickest possible time as the most important thing in their lives.

The idea that British motorists throughout the country are suddenly going to feel relaxed about following a truck travelling at 50 mph instead of 40 mph is bogus. That will never happen until we change the culture of driving in this country to emphasise how important it is simply to have patience and to understand that the most important thing is not how quickly one goes from A to B, but how safely.

At a later point perhaps we might discuss exactly how we can inculcate that new culture as part of the driving test. I will leave those comments for the time being.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

That was a most insightful contribution from the hon. Member for Glasgow, South, offering us a rare glimpse into the upbringing that has made him the man he is today. A childhood spent playing with glass eyes explains so much all of a sudden.

I will deal first with amendments Nos. 55 and 56 in the name of the Conservative Front Bench and then speak to amendment No. 88 in my name.

I would be reluctant to support amendments Nos. 55 and 56, the effect of which is to lower the floor for penalty points from two to one, unless a more comprehensive case were made. The construction of penalty points and the way in which that system operates, from a minimum and with 12 totting up to a period of disqualification, make me reluctant to accept any radical tinkering. I have some reservations about the reduction from three to two, and a reduction from three to one would be a step more than I would be prepared to countenance.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 5:15, 21 Mawrth 2006

Is not what the hon. Gentleman just said a contradiction in terms? He referred to radical tinkering. Surely it is either radical or tinkering. It cannot be both.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

The right hon. Gentleman may well be correct. For the record, I should say that it is a more radical change than I would be prepared to countenance.

Amendment No. 88 would retain the minimum of three points for restricted roads, which are, in effect, those with a 30 mph limit. I hope that the amendment will find some sympathy with the Minister. He spoke this morning about educating the motoring public and changing attitudes. He said that we must start thinking of speeding as unacceptable in the way that drink-driving is unacceptable.

We tabled the amendment because there is an attitude that just a bit over is somehow acceptable. We would say, and the Minister has already said, that in fact that is not acceptable. Roads that are designated as restricted tend to be in what are loosely called built-up areas. They are areas with housing, shops and schools, and many pedestrians and other non-motorised road users. In such circumstances, a reduction from three points to two does not send the correct signal. It would be preferable to retain a penalty point minimum of three for restricted roads—those with a 30 mph limit.

I wish to say a few words about new clause 13. From all that the hon. Member for North Shropshire said, I presume that it is a probing amendment. It is one that I was inclined initially to dismiss out of hand, but the hon. Gentleman made some good points about the nature of the vehicles that are on the road now and the way in which technology has advanced. Of course, that change is not restricted to heavy goods vehicles; it also applies to private cars.

However, before we took such a route, we would want more extensive and objective evidence than that which the hon. Gentleman supplied. The views of the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association—I believe that those were the two organisations that he mentioned—are interesting and instructive, but nobody would claim that they are disinterested bodies. There would be other reasons why they might welcome an increase of the sort that the hon. Gentleman proposes.

I also take issue with the hon. Gentleman on the question of impatient motorists being forced to pull out and overtake. His argument can play on both sides—in favour or against. He seems to be suggesting that the impatience of other road users would end because heavy goods vehicles would be allowed to go from 40 mph to 50 mph. That view displays the sort of optimism that I would normally associate with a Liberal Democrat. I do not really see any justification for it at all. I think that motorists will remain as impatient if they are stuck behind a heavy goods vehicle at 50 mph as they are at 40 mph. However, if they are going to overtake a vehicle travelling at 50 mph instead of 40 mph, that is a more difficult manoeuvre and the likelihood of a head-on collision to which the hon. Gentleman referred is that much greater.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

The Minister said earlier that he believed that speed limits should be appropriate if they are to command respect. One could extend that argument to cover all aspects of road traffic law, because in order that motorists respect it and, hopefully, adhere to it the law needs to be seen to have a cause. That theme should remain with us while we consider the rest of the Bill.

It is interesting that everyone who has referred to the new penalty points scheme has referred to it as a flexible points system, but the Government’s proposal is not a flexible points system at all; it is a movement from a single prescriptive system to a range of prescriptive alternatives for such offences. The courts will not have the opportunity to say that because of special circumstances they will not award penalty points. Parliament is saying that penalty points must be imposed, and that they shall be this or that depending on certain circumstances—whatever other circumstances there may be. I would have preferred the introduction of a genuinely flexible points system so that the courts could themselves determine whether, in a particular case, they should award penalty points or not.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The right hon. Gentleman might be mixing up the fixed penalty notices—for which the circumstances and the points will be prescribed—with the situation in which someone wishes to take their chances and go to court, either because they think that there are mitigating circumstances, or because they think that they are not guilty. If the court finds that person guilty, it has flexibility in how it punishes that person.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I invite the Minister to come back further, because, under the proposals, if a motorist has exceeded the speed limit by a certain percentage, the courts will be told—I believe—how many points to impose.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

There is an obvious caveat to what I am about to say, in that it is now quite some years since I dealt in practice with this area. My recollection, however, is that there is provision under either the Road Traffic Offenders Act or the Road Traffic Act for a proof to be held on special reasons, which would relate to the circumstances of the offence. That would allow the court to reduce the number of penalty points or indeed impose none at all. It was very rarely successful, because according to case law it is a fairly difficult standard of proof to meet. That discretion does remain available in exceptional circumstances, however.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I am not sure whether that is an example of the Lib-Lab pact, but I thought that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire was seeking a response from the Minister.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

My understanding is that the court has flexibility, but I shall check with my lawyers and provide elucidation later.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am grateful to the Minister. My answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is that there are different types of flexibility. If the threshold of special reasons is set as high as I understand it to be, it is not really flexibility in the sense I argued. I think that there is a case for the courts to judge each circumstance on its merits, and I understand that they have to impose a certain number of penalty points unless there are exceptional circumstances that are very difficult to prove. I am not talking about the totting-up provisions but the awarding of points in relation to an offence.

I start from the position that I should like the whole system to be far more flexible, and therefore I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire. In fact, I wish he had tabled amendments to say, “Zero upwards”, because that would be true flexibility.

I support what my hon. Friend said about heavy goods vehicles. Before the second world war, they were required by law to have on their mud flaps the maximum speed that they were permitted to travel, which at the time was 20 mph. Some of those early   HGVs are on show in heritage museums and one can see the notice on the back saying that the vehicle is limited to 20 mph.

At some point in our history, the speed limit must have increased from 20 mph to 40 mph. The comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South would have applied against moving from 20 mph to 40 mph. We are seeking a modest increase from 40 mph to 50 mph. Why should there be such an increase? My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire said that the reason for the 40 mph limit is lost in the mists of time, but I think that it was introduced about the time when diesel engines were starting to be used in heavy goods vehicles. The Government of the day wanted to rid our roads of steam-driven lorries, which were dirty, noisy, heavy and damaged road surfaces. Yet the steam vehicles were capable of doing more than 40 mph and the diesel vehicles were not. In addition to the speed limit, the Government introduced an axle weight which penalised the owners of heavier vehicles.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Opposition Members are usually so thoroughly well informed that I am surprised that they are not aware that the restriction was first raised to 40 mph in 1963 and applied to all roads by the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limit) Regulations 1962 made under powers set out in the Road Traffic Act 1960. I thought everybody knew that.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Can the Minister tell us what the speed limit was raised from? Did it increase from 20 mph, as I said, or 30 mph?

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

Following the right hon. Gentleman’s logical argument that speed limits should be increased with technology, does he envisage any eventual upper limit to the legal limit at which trucks should be allowed to travel? In 100 years’ time, when we have rocket-powered trucks, will there be an upper speed limit of 500 mph?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I would rather deal with the present and the immediate future, not the fantasy of a time when no one in this Committee will be alive to bother about it. [Interruption.] I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s point. I certainly think that a speed limit that relates to a specific class of vehicle should be kept under regular review. There are many reasons for saying that heavy goods vehicles should have lower speed limits than normal motor cars, not least because of their weight and their capacity to cause damage in an accident.

When the hon. Gentleman next finds himself stuck behind a heavy goods vehicle, I ask him to read what is printed on the back of it. Most of them now carry a sign saying “Warning. This vehicle has air brakes.” What does the hon. Gentleman think that means? Why does he think there is a warning to other motorists that an HGV has air brakes? It is because air brakes are more efficient than the standard type of brake. In 1963 when the 40 mph limit came in, all vehicles had the drum braking system, which has since been supplanted in motor cars by disc brakes, which are more efficient. Now, heavy goods vehicles have gone a stage further   and have air brakes, which are more efficient but far more expensive than disc brakes, which is why motor cars do not have them.

When considering a speed limit, we need to ask what progress has been made in enabling a heavy goods vehicle, which is a dangerous weapon if it is heading in one’s direction in certain circumstances, to be brought to rest within so many feet. Given the advent of disc brakes, it would not be unreasonable to increase the limit to 50 mph. In many cases, it could be argued that it would be unsafe to drive at 50 mph in a heavy goods vehicle or indeed a motor car, but that is a different point. We are considering whether it is appropriate to maintain a speed limit that was introduced in 1963, given that we have moved from drum brakes to disc brakes to air brakes. We could accept this modest uplift in the speed limit; many accidents are caused not solely by a vehicle’s speed, but by speed that is inappropriate given the road conditions.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire also referred to matters that are not as important as the safety of a vehicle and its ability to stop, but are nevertheless not without force. Heavy goods vehicles have moved from having three-speed standard gearboxes to four-speed and five-speed ones, and now their gearboxes can have eight or even 10 speeds. Such vehicles do not therefore travel in top gear; they use more fuel and are not as environmentally friendly as they might be.

In my constituency, dual carriageways are few and far between and in many circumstances on a fine day when the road is relatively clear, heavy goods vehicles could safely travel at 50 mph. At the moment, queues of holidaymakers travel at 40 mph because they cannot overtake the heavy goods vehicle ahead, which is travelling slower than it safely could because of the speed limit. That limit ought to go, and we ought to embrace the new clause.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Llafur, Bolton South East 5:30, 21 Mawrth 2006

Interestingly, I do not get many complaints about speeding offences. However, at my last surgery, one of my constituents came to see me to complain about the inconsistency of the penalty system. This guy had decided to pass his driving test and get a job. He became a self-employed landscape gardener. One day he was travelling into Blackpool, coming out of a 70 mph area to a 30 mph area, and, like many drivers, just took his foot off the accelerator to allow the car to slow down. He was caught by a speed camera at 36 mph, not far from the 30 mph sign, which he had seen, and he collected three points. Regrettably, the same thing happened as he went into Liverpool, and he collected a second three-point penalty for driving at 38 mph. His licence was revoked under the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995.

I ask the Minister for clarification on whether the variable points proposed by the Bill would apply also to probationary drivers, who under the 1995 Act remain probationary for two years. Would the same flexible penalty system exist for them? If this guy had gone to court and pleaded that he needed his vehicle   for his job, he might, given the speed he was doing on both occasions, have collected fewer than six points. That would have allowed him to have kept his vehicle and carried on with his landscape gardening job.

My constituent brought in a cutting from a local newspaper, which reported that a driver had collected points on his licence and was in danger of losing it because he had been doing 62 mph in a 30 mph zone. That was, of course, very excessive. The gentleman went to the magistrates court and pleaded with the bench that he could not afford to lose his licence because of his job. The magistrates did not ban him from driving and revoke his licence. When those two drivers are compared, it seems very unfair. There is no excuse for doing 62 mph in a 30 mph area, yet the driver who did that preserved his licence, while my constituent lost his. Does the flexible points system also apply to probationary drivers under the 1995 Act?

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Let me begin with the notion of changing the power in the Bill to allow flexibility between one and six points. This might surprise the hon. Member for North Shropshire, but I agree that the idea is not without some merit. When I first became the Minister and realised that I had to take responsibility for this Bill, and started talking it through with my officials, I challenged them on whether we had got the range right at two to six points. I said to them, “This is only a power. We would have to come back to Parliament for an order, so why not give ourselves a power of between one point and 11?” One point would be for very minor offences and 11 for something so serious that the courts would want to say, “That’s it for you; you can’t commit any more offences, otherwise you’ll have a ban. We want to make the penalty points so serious that you can’t commit any more offences.”

We talked about that suggestion for a long time, and we went round the houses. The first problem with that was that Parliament would feel that we were giving ourselves too much flexibility; it would argue that we should pull back on that. Secondly, we felt that if the court had given somebody 10 points because of a very serious offence, and a one-point penalty was allowed, they could still commit another offence before they got a ban. Yes, if someone got 11 points, then even a one-point penalty would be appropriate, but then we asked ourselves: “Under what circumstances would an 11-point penalty be given? How would we justify that to Parliament?” We found it very difficult to come up with answers to that. Likewise, we found it difficult to suggest a situation in which one point—which the hon. Member for North Shropshire proposes—would be appropriate.

Ultimately, an argument persuaded me not to table an amendment of my own to the Bill allowing a penalty of one point. That argument has already been highlighted several times today in Committee. We talked about the ACPO guidance, and at times we slipped into the error that some motorists slip into of thinking that the guidance means that the speed limit in a 30 mph zone is 34 mph, because if someone goes   at 34 mph they cannot be prosecuted or fined. The speed limit in a 30 mph zone is 30 mph. The reason why ACPO suggests that there ought to be some flexibility is that someone’s speedometer might be wrong. Well, it can be wrong upwards and it can be wrong downwards. If someone is doing 34 mph according to the speedometer, they might actually be doing 36 mph, in which case they will be fined for it and will have been driving very dangerously. Indeed, in a 30 mph zone, one might be driving dangerously at 34 mph.

If we introduced the notion of one penalty point, the only circumstance in which it would be likely to have any merit would be where one was at the limit of the ACPO guidance, or perhaps just 1 mph over it. The consequence of saying that the driver would then get only one point might be to encourage people to think that the ACPO enforcement level was actually the speed limit. In other words, someone could drive at 34 mph in a 30 mph area knowing that if they got caught it would be only one point—and what are the chances of getting caught, anyway? That was my concern. That would be the only circumstance in which we could try to justify providing for one point, and it would have the perverse consequence of encouraging people to go over the speed limit.

That is why ultimately I became convinced that the original Bill, offering a power of between two and six points, had got it right. That is the argument I put to Conservative Members in asking them to withdraw their amendments. They should ask themselves under what circumstances would they make one point available and what the perverse consequences would be. If they are honest with themselves and objective, they will probably come to the same conclusion that I did with my officials: that we should stick to two points as the minimum available.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am listening to the Minister’s argument with some interest. Can he explain why that exact same argument does not apply to two points? Logically, it could do so. I fail to see, therefore, why the courts cannot be given the greater flexibility.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

We are talking not necessarily about courts but about the penalties that would be incurred through a standard penalty notice. The hon. Gentleman is right: a person has six strikes before he loses his licence, but at least two points are a significant dent on the licence and would make people realise that they can tot up eventually to 12 points. One point is too far from losing one’s licence. That is what this is all about.

The points on a licence mean two things to the average man or woman behind the wheel. First, they feel closer to losing their licence, which is a dramatic and harmful event, and, secondly, if they are being honest with their insurance company, believe me, the points hit the pocket far harder than the rather puny fines that we offer, even with the increased amounts in the Bill. Two points at a time are a sufficient reprimand to make it clear to people that they cannot go on for ever: they will ultimately lose their licence. One point   is just too far away from that. However, these are judgment calls, and two to six points is where my judgment rests.

I began by saying openly that the alternative argument has some merit. Having pondered it and reflected on the circumstances in which one would use it, I came to the conclusion that two to six points was the correct range to offer and that anything wider would either have perverse consequences or would not be acceptable to Parliament.

Amendment No. 88 again relates to restricted roads. I understand what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is getting at. The bottom line is that he thinks that in a 30 mph zone the minimum should be three points. When we carry out our consultation and then debate the matter when we seek our order, that may be exactly the conclusion that we will reach—that it should be three points in a 30 mph zone. We went out to consultation on the notion that in certain circumstances it could be two points in a 30 mph zone. As we are taking a power rather than enacting the power, it is reasonable to give ourselves the flexibility of two to six points, which is why I have encouraged the hon. Gentleman to seek to withdraw his amendment. Equally, I will understand if, when we come to drafting the order we decide to offer two points in a 30 mph zone, the hon. Gentleman will argue for three, and I look forward to debating with him.

The HGV issue is more complex. The day after I saw what can happen when an HGV travelling at speed hits something is probably not the best day to ask me to increase their speed limit. Opposition Members may have forgotten the dangers caused by HGVs, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South referred. I can tell the Committee that 25 per cent. of accidents in which people are killed or seriously injured on motorways are caused by or involve HGVs, although we are discussing single-carriageway roads rather than motorways.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said how much brakes had improved. Yes, brakes have improved, but HGVs have got a heck of a lot bigger. It has been some time since my early scientific days when I had to do Newtonian calculations, but I have just done a quick, back-of-an-envelope calculation on the difference in energy between a 40-tonne vehicle travelling at 40 mph and a one-tonne vehicle doing 60 mph, which are the speed limits on our single-carriageway roads. The kinetic energy, which needs to be transferred into potential energy—in other words, the crash damage—if someone is hit by a 40-tonne truck doing 40 mph is 16 times greater than that if they are hit by a car doing 60 mph. That is why we must be very strict about speed limits for HGVs. They are enormous vehicles nowadays. A 40-tonne truck doing 40 mph has a heck of a lot of kinetic energy and will do an awful lot of damage if it hits someone. That is why 40 mph is probably still the right speed limit.

Will 40 mph always be the right speed limit on single carriageway roads? Hon. Gentlemen make a reasonable point when they say that that has been the speed limit for many decades and surely things have   changed. Things may change in future. At the moment, however, we believe that 40 mph is right, and other countries agree. In Germany, all rigid vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes and vehicles drawing trailers that exceed 3.5 tonnes are restricted to 37 mph on single carriageway inter-urban roads. In France, the speed limit for articulated vehicles of between 3.5 tonnes and 12 tonnes and for articulated vehicles of more than 12 tonnes is also 37 mph on single carriageway roads. The potential of these huge vehicles to cause damage is massive. It is right that we restrict them to 40 mph.

I accept the argument that sometimes people get frustrated when travelling behind these vehicles. However, someone who gets frustrated travelling behind a lorry doing 40 mph would probably get equally frustrated travelling behind a lorry doing 50 mph. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out, at least it is easier to get past a lorry doing 40 mph than it would be to get past one doing 50 mph. In terms of reduced frustration, keeping HGVs to 40 mph is the safe thing to do.

I hope that my explanation will encourage hon. Members to withdraw or not press their amendments and that subsequently we can agree that clause 17 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:45, 21 Mawrth 2006

We have had an interesting debate. On the question of flexibility, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). The Minister’s arguments for two penalty points apply equally to one point. We can all provide anecdotes, but the anecdote from the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) about his constituent was very relevant. It was interesting to hear that the Minister and his officials had discussed a range going from one to 11 penalty points. That is attractive to me on the basis of the point that we made this morning that we do not want to alienate the vast mass of motorists. The constituent going into a 30 mph zone who had taken his foot off the accelerator and was slowing down is a classic example of someone who should be treated leniently, whereas the idiot doing 60 mph in a 30 mph zone should be dealt with much higher up the scale.

I very much favour more flexibility, and it was illuminating to hear that the Minister had had that discussion. There are real merits in our proposal to go down to one penalty point, because there are people in this country who are at risk of losing their licences and livelihoods and not because they are bad drivers. Travelling salesmen drive very long distances—I used to drive 1,000 miles a week—and, given the extra controls, are getting caught exactly as the constituent mentioned by the hon. Gentleman was.

There is a real problem in this Committee: we must address the country as it is. This is where I pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South. It would be lovely to teach the frustrated motorists to be patient on the single lane rural roads where I live, but let us live in the real world. That is simply not going to happen, and we have to be blunt about it. People are frustrated by truck drivers—

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I take issue with that. It would be a real safety gain if we were to increase truck speeds. The hon. Gentleman and I disagree fundamentally on this point, which makes for an enjoyable debate. He asked whether there are any examples of when speed increases have made a difference. I cannot resist giving him the evidence from a 1999 report by Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute. There is an enormous laboratory working on this issue—it is called the United States, which imposed the 55 mph limit. Stephen Moore said:

“In 1995 the Republican Congress repealed the 55-mile-per-hour federal speed limit law”.

At that time, there was strong lobbying that the decision would lead to an apocalypse on the roads of America and would cause 1 million additional injuries. Ralph Nader said:

“history will never forgive Congress for this assault on the sanctity of human life”.

This is absolutely relevant to the idea of increasing speed limits. It goes back to this morning’s discussion that the matter is not one of pure speed but of appropriate speed. Stephen Moore went on to say:

“Despite the fact that 33 states raised their speed limits immediately after the repeal of the mandatory federal speed limit, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported last October that ‘the traffic death rate dropped to a record low level in 1997’. Moreover, the average fatality rate even fell in the states that raised their speed limits. Higher speed limits have not caused one million more auto injuries.”

We must look at the world as it is and the roads as they are, not as we would like them to be. A report commissioned in British Columbia concluded:

“Posted limits which are set higher or lower than dictated by roadway and traffic conditions are ignored by the majority of motorists. The majority of motorists drive at a speed that they consider reasonable, and safe for road, traffic, and environmental conditions”.

On single lane, major rural roads, motorists are frustrated by trucks travelling at 40 mph. We must recognise that fact. It was very helpful of the Minister to dig around to find out why the 40 mph limit was set, but in 1963 the technology was very different. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire is absolutely right. Not only do we have disc brakes, we have ABS and different suspension systems. The Minister referred to the impact of whacking into a 40-tonne truck—that is what happens with vehicles in the oncoming lane. Thank goodness the Minister did not have an unpleasant incident yesterday. It was probably because the traffic was flowing and there were three lanes in each direction. The danger occurs on single lane roads, with traffic flowing in different directions.

The current limit is dangerous. It frustrates drivers, and no matter how much the hon. Member for Glasgow, South would like the world to be different, it is as it is. Large numbers of car drivers are trying to pass trucks, and because of speed cameras many truck drivers are being very careful. The limit is adhered to very strictly, which is dangerous. We must consider the roads as they are. We must discuss stick and carrot; both are required. I am afraid that a constant attempt at coercion will alienate more and more drivers.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I have allowed extra time because the Whip from Her Majesty’s Opposition was also a Whip on the Floor of the House for the last Division. I have therefore allowed longer than I perhaps should. However, we should recommence our debate. The hon. Member for North Shropshire was about to sit down, and I know that the Minister wants to respond to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon).

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I was just ending my comments, as I think we have had a thorough debate. We are minded, particularly given the interesting comments made by the Minister about an option of between one and 11 penalty points, to press our amendment to a Division. It is worth getting a feel from the Committee on the point of one.

I am intrigued by the idea that there was serious discussion in the Ministry about an option of between one and 11. That would have been a clever way of catching the hard core, as we discussed this morning, while being helpful to constituents, such as that of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East, who were caught with their foot off the accelerator, coasted past the sign a little too fast and got caught. We have made our case on the issue of variable limits, and we are pretty clear.

The Minister’s response about HGVs was also helpful. It is fascinating that in the 21st century we are still binding trucks by an ancient decree that goes back to the 1960s, when technology was very different. I think we dealt with that fairly well. I may or may not have converted the hon. Member for Glasgow, South on the issue of speed; sadly, he is shaking his head. I did not think that we would. We have had an interesting exchange. I adhere strongly to the view that pure speed does not kill, but inappropriate speed does. In this case, we are talking about inappropriate speed.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that speed limits should be decided more by the safety needs of a community than by the technical prowess or standard of a vehicle?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I think that that is a most helpful intervention. That is an incredibly important point. It is exactly what I am arguing. It is sensible to set limits—we have talked about the 85th percentile—at speeds that will be accepted by the vast majority of drivers. I cited the case this morning of Park lane, which was absolutely fascinating.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

To clarify, I meant the safety requirements of the community through which a road progresses, rather than the desires of the driving community. Surely what is important when it comes to   setting speed limits are the safety requirements of a village or town, rather than a speed limit based on how fast and how developed a lorry or car can be.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There are moments when one sees the ball come up, sees an open goal and wants to whack it in.

That is exactly what I feel coming from a rural area where 40 people have been killed on the A5, a single-lane road, in the past 13 years because the road is inappropriate and the speeds are inappropriate on that road. I feel for communities. Overtaking happens on that road because of frustrated drivers. The hon. Gentleman does not have to tell me about the impact on communities. Inappropriate speed damages communities.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Is not it fair to say that no Opposition Member has suggested that if the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles were to be increased from 40 mph to 50 mph, that should override local speed limits in villages, which might be even lower than 40 mph?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:15, 21 Mawrth 2006

My right hon. Friend is right. We went through those issues this morning in some detail. I am strongly in favour of varied limits. I cited the Canadian case in which limits outside schools are varied at different times of day. I think that major roads go through villages in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Yorkshire, so he will have relevant knowledge. The limit appropriate in some small villages will not be appropriate elsewhere. We did that to death this morning. We established clearly that limits should be set according to circumstances and that flexibility and variability are the name of the game.

In a last attempt to convert the hon. Member for Glasgow, South, I will say that setting an arbitrary limit on a big sign, in black writing with a red ring around it, does not solve the problem. There was a 30 mph limit in Park lane, and the average speed was over 40 mph. The limit was then changed to 40 mph and the average speed dropped below 40 mph.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Llafur, Northampton North

I cannot remember the exact figures, but I think that it is right to say that the average speed of travel around London has not changed since Victorian times, or something like that. It is the impact of congestion, not of the judgments that people make about how fast they can go. If Park lane were clear, people would probably drive down it at 80 mph if they could. The figures that the hon. Gentleman is talking about are to do with what happens on the road. The argument is exactly the same as saying, “A speed limit of 30 mph was set across London and, look, people are not driving any faster than when they used to when they used horses and carts.” It is nonsense.

Mr. Patersonrose—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Before the hon. Gentleman replies, it appears to me that the Committee is regurgitating a debate that it has already had, and I hope that that will not continue.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I shall not be tempted to go further down that route. We have had an interesting debate. We think that there are merits in our amendment proposing replacing the reference to “2-6” penalty points with “1-6” penalty points. I should like to press that to a vote. I am also interested in testing the mood of the Committee on the issue of raising HGV speeds from 40 mph to 50 mph.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

May I help the hon. Gentleman? He can certainly press amendment No. 55 in due course, when the Minister has replied, but if he wants a vote on new clause 13 that must be taken much later in our deliberations.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I realise that I was remiss in not responding to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East about whether the new arrangements will apply to new drivers. Yes, they will. Of course, new drivers are off the road at six points, not 12 points, so a six-point penalty for new drivers will potentially mean that they have only one hit. To be frank, I think that that is right. New drivers who are not responsible about speed, straight after passing the test, have only themselves to blame if they lose their licence and have to retake the test.

I repeat in response to the hon. Member for North Shropshire that I am not saying that there is no merit in the idea of greater flexibility. The attractiveness that I found in a wider range of penalty points turned out to be superficial. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will soon also realise that that attractiveness is only superficial.

As to HGVs I ask him to ponder a new fact between now and the time when the new clause is put to the Committee. The stopping distance in metres of a truck doing 40 mph is 39 m. The stopping distance of a typical car at 60 mph, which is the equivalent speed on a single carriageway road, is 51 m. When the speed of the truck is increased to 50 mph its stopping distance is 58 m. That is seven metres further than a car takes to stop on the same road. If the hon. Gentleman can still vote to increase the speed to 50 mph he is not the man I thought he was.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Rhif adran 2 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 17 - Penalty points

Ie: 4 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of the debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.