New Clause 15

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Passenger side mirrors

‘All HGV vehicles, operating in the UK, must have a mirror positioned on the exterior of the vehicle on the passenger side, which enables the driver to have a full view of vehicles and other road users in the neighbouring lanes, when driving on all roads in the United Kingdom.'. —[Mr. Paterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion and clause moved[this day], That the clause be read a Second time.—[Mr. Paterson.]

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:00, 20 Ebrill 2006

It is a great pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Sir Nicholas. I hope that whatever was coursing through your veins on Tuesday will galvanise you again today. I will be brief.

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

On a point of order, Sir Nicholas. I should point out that the hon. Gentleman described you as “pumped full of testosterone” this morning.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I am most grateful for that observation. I can only tell the Committee that I wish it were true.

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

I am glad to see that you are still on good form, Sir Nicholas.

New clause 15 requires all vehicles, whether left or right-hand drive, to have a mirror covering the passenger side. The provision has been applied in Holland and Belgium, and there is a European directive that will bring it in and make it mandatory on all new vehicles. The new clause is a sensible measure that will be welcome. In the case I cited, the Hungarian driver was appalled by what happened. It would be a help to all drivers of heavy goods vehicles in this country, whether British or foreign.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

When I got home just before Easter there was a message on my answerphone from a constituent. He is a man whom I know very well and like very much. He told me that he was lucky to be alive that day because when driving home on the motorway he had been overtaking a lorry from Turkey which pulled out and struck his car, turning it round completely. He found himself driving at 70 mph in the wrong direction down the middle lane of a three-lane motorway. As he said, it was a frightening experience.

Once my constituent had stopped and recovered—fortunately he was not injured—he had various conversations. The first with someone who was on the spot straightaway, a traffic officer. This cadre of people patrolling our motorways to deal with just this kind of situation was one of the brilliant decisions of the Department for Transport. He also spoke to a member of the control staff at the control office for the motorways and to his insurance company. They all told him that in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of those incidents, some with fatal consequences. His response was that surely it was the responsibility of politicians to ensure that lorry drivers using can see other road users or they should not be on our roads. That is a salutary description of a recent incident which the Minister should take seriously when considering the new clause.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I call Dr. Ladyman. I am not sure whether he is pumped full of testosterone.

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

Ministers are always pumped full of testosterone.

Welcome back to the Chair, Sir Nicholas, for our last sitting. This is a very important subject. I will not advise the Committee to accept the new clause, but that is not because I do not believe that the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) is right in identifying this as a very real issue. He talked about anecdotal evidence. We now have far more than anecdotal evidence that the problem he outlines is serious. He mentioned that it had been brought to his attention by my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier).

All Kent MPs are aware of the problem. Because of the number of foreign lorries coming in at Dover or Ramsgate and driving along our motorways, we all have constituents who have had that experience. Experienced motorists in Kent are aware of it. We hang back from lorries with foreign plates until we are absolutely sure that the road is clear, and when we accelerate past a lorry we minimise the opportunity for it to start pulling out. Clearly that is unsatisfactory, but it is more complex than the hon. Member for North Shropshire realises.

Drivers of left-hand drive lorries do not have difficulties only with visibility on their right-hand side and at the rear of the lorry. Very large lorries also have visibility problems on the left-hand side and that causes difficulties when people approach on slip roads, as well as proximity problems just in front and down to the right of the cab. A car coming past may briefly appear in a mirror but may disappear when it is slightly ahead of the lorry. If the driver pulls out, he can hit the back of the car and spin it round.

Fortunately, the evidence is that such accidents are hugely frightening but not often fatal, because usually the collision forces the car to the right, and unless it hits something or is turned round, and something behind then hits it, serious injury or fatality does not necessarily result, although injuries and fatalities happen occasionally and we are starting to gather evidence to that effect. As well as our experience in Kent, The Daily Telegraph has organised a significant campaign, which it has presented to me.

How are we going to deal with the problem? As the hon. Gentleman says, a directive will require the fitting of further mirrors on new vehicles. That will come into force shortly, but it does not require retro-fitting. The difficulty with the proposal to require the UK to enforce retro-fitting is that it could not be enforced in relation to foreign lorries. We could require it for our own lorries, and when they go abroad and have the same problem on the other side of the cab it would be useful, but it would not help with foreign lorries coming into the UK.

I am pleased to say that the Commission has identified that there is a problem and has started a consultation on how to insist on retro-fitting, with comments required by 19 May. That is positive news, and I shall take up the matter both with the Commission and with my Transport ministerial colleagues in Europe, to stress to them the importance of early action.

In addition, we should look at what can be done within European rules, and I am looking at a number of options, although I have not yet made any decisions. One option that I am seriously considering—I put it no more strongly than that because there are financial considerations—is to provide a stick-on mirror. It is a flat, prismatic mirror that would stick on the inside of cab windows. We might purchase a large number of such mirrors and hand them out to all lorries entering the country at Dover and to our own British fleet leaving the country, for use on the other side of its vehicles. More work and evidence are needed to establish whether that solution would be cost-effective, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend that I am taking the matter seriously, and action will follow.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Has not the Minister understated the case in respect of UK law? If our law provides that a vehicle shall not be used on a road in the United Kingdom without a mirror positioned on the passenger side of the exterior of the vehicle, surely all vehicles must have a mirror fitted irrespective of the law in the country where the vehicle comes from. We could deal with the problem quickly and under our own legal system. Will the Minister comment on what my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said about other European Union member states having taken unilateral action in that respect?

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

The hon. Gentleman may regret it, but in this area the Commission has competence. The structural requirements for vehicles are a matter for the EC. We can require things to be done on our own vehicles, and that is probably what the Dutch have done, but we cannot require changes to made to every vehicle entering the country. However, some things can be done.

First, we can work with the Commission to identify urgently the need for retro-fitting. I give the Committee the assurance that we will do so. Secondly, we can talk to Transport Ministers in Europe to ensure that they understand the importance of doing so. Again, I assure the Committee that I shall do that. We can also consider other techniques, which includes the possibility—I put it no stronger than that—of handing  out flexi-glass stick-on mirrors at the ports, and possibly to our entire UK fleet, to deal with the problem on a shorter time scale.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Llafur, Bolton South East

Will my hon. Friend urge also on the Commission the urgent need for the retro-fitting and fitting on new vehicles of reflective tape?

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

I have to hand it to my hon. Friend for sneaking one in completely out of order. I have stated my views on the matter, and he knows them. I have no doubt that we will discuss the matter further on Report.

Given that the new clause would not be helpful, and would probably not be legal under European law, I assure the Committee, my constituents and the people of Kent that I recognise that it is a real and current concern for everyone, and we will deal with it as rapidly as we legally can. We hope to be innovative in how we tackle the problem. Before the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) asks me, I can say that when I decide how to deal with the matter, I shall ensure that a written ministerial statement is made to that effect so that everyone is aware of it. With those assurances, I hope that the hon. Member for North Shropshire will withdraw the motion.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I regret hearing that the pass has been sold to Europe. However, I welcome the tone and substance of the Minister’s remarks, as will many road users. If the Department is to give away free mirrors, my only caveat is that I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not use it as an excuse further to increase vehicle excise duty or fuel duty, claiming that it is necessary because of the extra expense involved.

When the Minister is formulating the regulations, will he consider the mirrors that one sometimes sees on new coaches? Instead of being almost level with the driver, they stick out in front of the windscreen, thereby giving the driver a view of the front of the vehicle. If such a design could be incorporated in the requirements for mirrors for lorries, it might help to solve problems with the front blind spot.

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

I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we are considering mirrors that will help lorry drivers see in front of the vehicle. It had not occurred to me that the drivers of large trucks would not be able to see in front of the vehicle, but if one can imagine sitting back from the windscreen, the angle of descent extends beyond the bonnet of the cab and there is a piece of road on which small pedestrians and children can disappear. That is a problem that we need to examine.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:15, 20 Ebrill 2006

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on catching the Minister on his blind spot and raising the matter of retro-reflective materials. It is worth reminding the Committee that the Minister said that we could not use such materials because they were contrary to European law, but the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East and I found out that the Italians have already done so.

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

The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend did indeed find out that the Italians have done that. However, they did not find out that the Commission has indicated that it requires the Italians to think again and is considering infraction proceedings against them because they should not have used those materials.

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

The fact is that there are Italian trucks driving around with retro-reflective material on them, and the Commission is moving towards that. It would be worth the Minister’s while, either alone or with the help of his officials, to find out what has happened in Holland and Belgium. I think that I have read that the domestic legislation applies to foreign hauliers operating in Holland and Belgium, but I could not find any documents that establish that point.

I was encouraged by the Minister’s comments. He has a constituency interest in the matter, which might be spurring him on more than anything else. That is good news. He is right to cite the fact that there are small mirrors that can be screwed on to the inside of a cab; I have managed to find some information on a supplier.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, I think that it is a pity that the Minister is not determined to crash on and push through domestic legislation. However, given the commitments that he has made and the fact that he is already well down the road on the matter, we will take his comments in good faith. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Before we move on, I should say that I have added up the number of new clauses that we have still to debate, and the other matters that have to be considered before we finish at 4 o’clock. If every new clause takes as long as the previous one, we will be up against some very sharp wire. I merely advise the Committee of that.