§ Order for Second Reading read.11.29 am
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The greatest advance in road safety in recent years is the escape from the attitude towards driving of the early part of this century, which was characterised by Toad of Toad Hall figures, who delighted in the speed and power of motor vehicles. We have changed to defensive driving and now drive our vehicles in a good-mannered way, seeking to avoid problems to other users, particularly injuries and death. I am sad to say that bull bars have reversed that trend.
The case made for bull bars started in Australia, where they were designed as `roo bars—short for kangaroo—to prevent kangaroos from being scooped up by the sloping bonnets of vehicles on impact and going into the passenger's space. They are now unpopular in Australia; they have been banned and replaced by a clever device that is based on high frequency sound, which is designed to shoo away kangaroos. A similar problem is being dealt with in a similar way in Sweden, which has the highest number of accidents involving impact with animals.
Now bull bars are being sold in this country in the belief that they prevent disabling and trivial damage to the fronts of vehicles. They are also being sold because they are aggressive in appearance and will intimidate other road users with the message, "This vehicle is tougher, harder and stronger than you. Keep out of my way." They have also become a declaration of the life style of the country person and the generation who had Tonka cars when they were young—cars with chunky, large wheels. They have a tendency to fall for bull bars in the pursuit of a fashion image.
The case against bull bars is proved and cannot be questioned. Every safety organisation and group of independent scientists, particularly in this country, Germany and Australia, has said that the rigid metal structure concentrates and multiplies the force of impact at the level of a child's head and vital organs.
Hon. Members will be familiar with the stiletto heel syndrome with which we were familiar in the 1950s when seven stone young women were wrecking the floors of dance halls that had survived for a century because, as they pirouetted on the tiny heel, their weight was changed from that of a young woman to that of a fully grown elephant and they bored sixpence-sized holes in the floor. Exactly the same physics is at work when a bull bar hits the head of a child. Not only does the bar, which might weigh about 100 lb, hit the child but it has the force of the vehicle behind it, all concentrated in a tiny area on the circumference of the bar's rim. Research proves that the bars change trivial accidents into serious accidents and serious accidents into fatal accidents. In Australia, the Madymo simulation proved that the bars changed the direction of the fall of pedestrians who were hit and consequently increased the danger of deadly head injuries.
The campaign against bull bars on four-by-fours has had some success. A firm on the borders of my constituency, which employs some of my constituents, manufactures bull bars. Nearly a year ago, it said that it had lost 50 per cent. of its sales. I told the company that 1317 sales should go down because there would be fewer deaths and injuries, but that I would like it to diversify into other, safety areas—there is a great market in safety. I take no joy in the fact that there might be a threat to the jobs of my constituents, but the lives of young children are far more important.
Manufacturing companies have altered the bars' image by changing the name from the aggressive bull or nudge bar to the protector bar. They are now concentrating on selling them to owners of vans, with some degree of success. The term protector bar is deceptive. Research proves it to be entirely inappropriate, but some van drivers feel that they are under threat because they have no engine but only a thin layer of metal between them and the rest of the road traffic. Manufacturers adamantly deny that there is any truth in the belief that those vans are inherently dangerous. Even if it were true, it would be unforgivable for people to make themselves safer by greatly magnifying the risk to other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.
All the research has proved that bull bars fitted on four-by-fours or vans increase the severity of injuries and multiply the number of deaths not only for the people who are hit but for the passengers and drivers of the vehicles on which they are fitted, for reasons that we all understand. Bull bars stiffen the fronts of vehicles and destroy the vital controlled shock absorption that is designed into vehicle fronts. The forces of the crash are transferred from the vehicle and the impact hits the bodies of those inside, increasing their injuries.
Bull bars also interfere with the operation of air bags because the sensors are put out. The bags can inflate unnecessarily, but may well not be activated when they are required in a smash. By wrecking the aerodynamic profile—they alter what are known as the laminar boundary layers—the weight and the drag of the vehicle are increased, thus adding greatly to fuel costs, air pollution, tyre wear and making handling more difficult.
Few studies have been carried out on the extra injuries caused to passengers in vans, but studies in Australia showed that no extra safety is to be gained by the use of bull bars. In detailed studies in Australia it was found that injuries were likely to increase as the force was concentrated into a smaller area. In one accident examined, the bull bar changed shape and inflicted injuries to the top part of the body of many people in the van.
Virtually everyone is in favour of the Bill, except those who want to use bull bars—a declining group—and those who have a vested interest in profiting from them. The organisations that support the Bill include the Royal Automobile Club, Automobile Association, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Pedestrians Association, Headway—an organisation for head injuries—the Cyclists Public Affairs Group, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Child Accident Prevention Trust and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Does it not seem strange that insurers are the one group missing from that list? Would it not seem sensible for them to take into account the fact that third-party costs that may arise out 1318 of insurance policies could be increased, as could personal damage risks? I should have expected insurers to be penalising rather than encouraging the use of bull bars.
§ Mr. Flynn
I have good news on that front as I wrote 18 months ago to every insurance firm in the country and although I received a fairly negative response at that time, since then one insurance organisation, CGA Direct, has said that it will not insure any vehicles fitted with bull bars and Norwich Union, Eagle Star, Cornhill and others have taken action to waive the policies. That has become a major issue among insurance companies.
There is good news also on the newspaper front. Vigorous campaigns have been conducted by Wales on Sunday, the Northern Ireland Sunday Life, the Nottingham Herald and Post, the Evening Chronicle and the Daily Express—the Express is not a newspaper that I have praised before, but it has printed a splendid series of articles inviting its readers to nominate uses for dead bull bars. It received more than 100 entries. Most prominent of all have been The Independent and The Independent on Sunday and Christian Woolmar's long campaign.
There are distinguished supporters of the campaign to ban bull bars. Anneka Rice, Roger Cook and a lady who I cannot mention by name but who has some influence in the royal parks have all removed bull bars from their vehicles. They have responded to my letters. There has been a response also by many hon. Members, some of whom are in the Chamber. Some of them have views that would lead others to think that they would not necessarily support proposals related to defensive driving. For many weeks I have not seen a bull bar in the car park, where 27 were once assembled.
The Bill is straightforward. The intention behind it is that no person shall use on a road a motor car to which a bull bar is attached. It sets out suggested sentences—prison sentences and a maximum fine at the appropriate level. There is a similar Bill in the other place and there is activity in the European Parliament.
A letter was sent to the Minister on 24 May 1995, and it is of some significance. It was written by an EU Commissioner, who suggested three approaches, which might be the subject of detailed discussion today. There is a view that was supported by The Mail on Sunday in a headline that declared that Britain had won an EU ban on bull bars. Sadly that is not true. There is a dispute over who should be responsible for introducing such a ban.
The Commissioner stated that there were three ways in which the Government could ban bull bars. He said that if they were not fitted as part of the original European type approval, owners could be compelled to remove them because they would be breaking the law. Secondly, there is the safeguard clause within the framework directive for European type approval. It allows member states to introduce a temporary ban on registration if bull bars are considered to be a serious risk to road safety. I believe that a temporary ban would become inevitably a permanent ban. The third approach is to prohibit bull bars on vehicles that cross borders from one member state to another, under articles 30 and 36. That would be a powerful weapon in reducing the number of bull bars on vehicles.
It has been suggested that the Commission no longer takes seriously the three approaches to which I have referred. Accordingly, I ask for confirmation that it does 1319 take them seriously. By coincidence, the RAC met the Commission on Monday. In a letter to me, it reports that it is adamant that the three courses of action are accurate and can be adopted unilaterally by the United Kingdom. That view has been supported by the Commission and made known to two Select Committees that visited the Commission in the past six weeks, the Select Committees on Transport and on European Legislation.
One reason that the Government are advancing for taking no action is that they are waiting for the results of research undertaken in 1994. If the Minister has examined the findings of that research, I hope that he will agree that a report has been much delayed and that it may be better if a report is never produced as it would not be worth the paper on which it was written. Disastrously unscientific methodology was employed. It constitutes a voluntary and amateurish exercise. Accidents were reported haphazardly and chaotically.
The Minister seems to be taking an interest in this part of my speech, for which I am grateful. I wrote to all the police authorities. Some had taken part in the research and others had not. Any conclusions drawn from it would be meaningless and possibly dangerously misleading. Only 29 of the 50 authorities took any part in the research. It was not treated seriously by many of them. According to the chief superintendent of Northumberland, participation was voluntary, which suggested that there was no attempt to ensure that the police forces taking part were a representative sample. The Northumbria police authority did not take part. Yet I have evidence from my mailbag of fatal accidents in that area.
The replies from the police to my letters show that the numbers of accidents vary greatly from county to county.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
It would seem that the hon. Gentleman has encountered research the results of which he does not like. It is extraordinary how the findings of research are denigrated in those circumstances. It was never the intention that all the police authorities should be included in the survey. The hon. Gentleman refers to "only 29" as if that implies that the others had declined to take part in it. In fact, the 29 constituted the survey group that we selected. We did so deliberately.
§ Mr. Flynn
I raised the matter in anticipation of the Minister using the findings to be drawn from the survey.
I want to reach an intelligent conclusion on the value of the figures that the research produced. I have studied them, as have others, and other parties have reached conclusions. I shall refer to the conclusions of those groups.
The Hertfordshire police authority took the issue extremely seriously. It has an interest in it. Until recently, some police authorities were using bull bars on their vehicles. Their attitude has, regrettably, come through in the results obtained. The Hertfordshire authority reported that in one year total casualties involving bull bar accidents were 143, in 91 accidents. A nearby county reported no such casualties or accidents. That is not plausible. In Dyfed, Powys and Gwynedd there were no injuries caused by bull bars throughout the period in question. Any respectable statistician would come to the conclusion that the counties that took part in the exercise 1320 were not entirely representative. I find it strange that the Metropolitan police were not involved and tiny Scottish counties were.
An analysis was undertaken by an independent body of the results of the survey. It has reached a judgment that is based on the accidents of which we are aware. I should say that in my office there are figures that did not appear in the report. They were not reported by the police. In some areas the police are blind to the involvement of bull bars in accidents.
The independent body to which I have referred puts its considerable reputation behind the conclusion that 70 people were killed in accidents involving bull bars and that 400 were seriously injured. Those findings are based on the independent body's interpretation of the figures. It is a body for which we all have a great deal of respect because of its campaigning activities.
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the total number of vehicles that are fitted with bull bars? Is he aware also of the percentage of vehicles that have them and of any geographical spread?
§ Mr. Flynn
Half a million has been quoted for some time. Many people, however, have now removed them from their vehicles. There has also been a trend to fit bull bars on to vans. There is no reliable, accurate figure.
In a debate last April and in an interview that the Minister gave to the Daily Express, he expressed similar views. He takes the view that it is not possible for us, the United Kingdom, to take independent measures to ban bull bars. He takes the view also that there must be an appropriate directive from Brussels. He has said that he will keep up pressure on the EU, adding that the Government have not thrown up their hands. I hope that he will not do so today.
The Minister gave an interview to The Mail on Sunday on 19 November last year. It appeared under the heading that Britain had won an EU ban on bull bars. It told us that the EU had caved in to pressure to change a Euro directive so that controversial steel cages would be outlawed on new vehicles. Apparently the promise was given to the Minister after he had lobbied the Commissioner with responsibilities for transport, Mr. Kinnock.
Is there really reform coming from Brussels? In a letter written on 21 March, the Director General of the Transport Commission says:The Commission has drafted an amendment to a Directive"—a well-known directive, with which the Minister will be familiar—to include a bull bar as an item that should not be too hard or sharp so as to cause an unacceptable risk of injury. This draft amendment has been discussed with member states and they hope that it will be accepted within the next few weeks. It will take a while for it to pass into law and then for it to be adopted by member states.Sadly, the effects of the directive will he far more limited than the Bill, which seeks to ban the use of bull bars on all vehicles. It is certainly no substitute for the Bill, although it will, I believe, make it easier for the Government to accept it because action will be taken European wide and not just in this country.
The letter continues:The legislation will relate to new cars, and not vans"—1321 as I have already said, vans are becoming the main problemand equipment sold as 'separate technical units'.Again, that covers a huge range of bull bars, because many are sold by companies as accessories and are not fitted when they are new.The legislation is not retrospective in that it cannot encompass vehicles that are already on the roads.We will have a ban from Europe that cannot cover more than 20 per cent. at the most of existing vehicles. There is no cavalry galloping over the horizon from Europe to rescue the Minister. The Euro ban will not cover vans, which must be about 50 per cent. of the vehicles involved, or bars that are sold as accessories.
I shall be as brief as I can, as many of these points have been made many times. I am reluctant to go through the long, bleak litany of names of those who have been killed by bull bars, but there have been many deaths: ranging from infants and toddlers to the elderly—one woman involved in an accident was in her 90s—and they happen in every part of the country.
I shall bring one case to the attention of the House. I know the family well, and the mother has been to the House recently. It is a case that must bear down on all of us as Members of Parliament, because this death followed last year's debate. As the child's mother rightly said, the House can act very swiftly when it wants to; when there is a major accident or major event, it concentrates all our attention. We had the debate a year ago, and other debates stretch back over two years. The child, Helen Baggs, whose picture I keep with my family pictures on my desk, died on the last day of the summer term last year. Rushing home excitedly from school with her sister, she ran into the path of a slow-moving Landrover with a ball bar attached. She was hit by the bar itself—the bracket on the bar broke in the impact. She lived for about seven days after, suggesting that her injuries were not instantly lethal. As the coroner said, Helen Baggs would almost certainly be alive now if it was not for that bull bar. We must all take it on our consciences that if we had acted swiftly last year we would have saved her life and, probably, if RAC figures are right, the other 70 unnecessary and avoidable deaths that have since occurred.
Any hon. Member today who wishes to see action taken speedily must ensure that the Bill is passed. If we do not pass it, we, as Members of Parliament, will be as responsible for future deaths, which will certainly occur, as a drunken driver at the wheel who had slain a child after taking a lethal gamble. We cannot do that. We must pass the Bill today. It is the only chance that this country has of a comprehensive ban that will save lives and avoid serious injuries. It is up to us now to reduce the crippling injuries and to save lives.
Bull bars reverse the life-saving culture of defensive driving and turn it into aggressive, lethal and offensive driving. Futile macho fashion accessories turn vehicles into child-killing machines. They intimidate and bully, and, tragically, they make trivial accidents serious ones and turn serious accidents into deaths. Fellow human beings are being sacrificed to what has become the foolish greed of the manufacturers and the vanity and macho feelings of irresponsible drivers.
§ Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to the debate.
I unreservedly congratulate the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). What he has sought to do in his campaign in the past few years is in the best traditions of Back Benchers. He has taken on board a cause which enjoys considerable public support—indeed, cross-party support—and has moved with it, and, I believe, has moved public opinion with him. I applaud him for what he has done and for his speech.
I am delighted to see present my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London, because nobody has done more to highlight the issues of road safety in this country in an imaginative way. I believe that, in spirit, he accepts the underlying theme behind the Bill—the acceptance that bull bars cause grave problems for road safety considerations. I am sure that he will address that in due course.
I wish to comment on remarks made in the previous debate by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths). He seemed to imply that Conservative Members of Parliament were not taking the issue of bull bars seriously. Yet the Opposition Benches are totally vacant. Only the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is present. [Interruption.] I am sorry, I thought that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) was a Front Bencher. It is a disgrace that the campaign is so ill supported by the hon. Gentleman's fellow Labour Members of Parliament, and I am horrified that no Liberal Democrat is here for the debate. Labour Members certainly cannot be talking to their farmers, which is precisely what many Conservative Members will be doing in the next day or two.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)
We are adopting exactly the same position on this measure as we adopted on the earlier Bill. We want to give the Bill a fair wind, but there has been misleading information about reasons for not proceeding with the measure. The legislation is vital and the Bill is supported by many hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) gave a good account of why it should proceed, and we look forward to the Minister assuring us that business will conclude before 2 o'clock so that the Bill is passed.
§ Mr. Spring
The hon. Gentleman is clearly not aware of the fact that I am one of the Bill's sponsors. The hon. Member for Newport, West is enjoying no support from Opposition Back Benchers. They are not here, and that is a reflection of the attitude of Labour Members.
§ Mr. Dover
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) says that he wants hon. Members to be here to support Bills that should be unopposed. Opposition Members who say that they want the Bill to be rushed through are not present. The earlier Bill was presented on a Friday when many of us were in our constituencies, some of which are distant. How on earth can we be in our constituencies and here at the same time? Labour Members are saying one thing and doing another. They say that they want the Bill to be rushed through, but they are not here to support it.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any Labour Member who opposes the legislation? Does he agree that the Bill will be stopped only by extended speeches by Conservative Members and the Minister? It makes sense for Opposition Members not to take part in the debate because that facilitates the Bill's progress. I have been in the House for 32 years and I am fully aware of how Governments operate on Fridays. The hon. Gentleman would be silly to try make this issue party political. There is consensus on the Bill.
§ Mr. Williams
I gather that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is opposed to it. No doubt my hon. Friends will draw that to the attention of his constituents. Many parents in his constituency will want to know what the hon. Gentleman has to say on this matter.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. The purpose of Second Reading is to discuss the merits or otherwise of a Bill. It is not the occasion on which discuss who is here or who is not here.
§ Mr. Norris
I shall be mindful of your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. The issue is whether a Bill of this sort should be debated and thoroughly examined and whether we should accept the proposition, which is supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring), who is one of the Bill's sponsors, to ban aggressive bull bars. It is ludicrous to suggest that although we all support banning such bars we should simply nod the Bill through without serious examination. It is entirely right that hon. Members should seek to speak in the debate so that we can examine not whether we want to legislate against aggressive bull bars, but whether the Bill is the right mechanism to do that.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You said that a Bill's principles are discussed on Second Reading. Is it not also true that the place for detailed nut and bolt examination is in Committee?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Yes, but there is no reason why some details should not be considered on Second Reading, especially those that affect the Bill's principles.
§ Mr. Spring
Progress on the Bill has been delayed not by Conservative Members but by constant Opposition interventions. I do not know whether Labour Members 1324 universally support the measure, but it is a fantastic parliamentary principle to say that if a Bill is supported we should not debate it. That is absolutely ridiculous.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson
The Bill carries serious penalties of imprisonment or a level 5 fine, which is a considerable sum. It would be quite wrong for the House to nod through legislation that is incomplete and which would make people vulnerable to losing their freedom.
§ Mr. Spring
My hon. Friend is correct. In view of your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall move to the essence of my speech.
My intense feelings on the subject arise from a personal experience. In December 1992 I was parking my car, a Volvo estate, in Bury St. Edmunds. It was stationary and in the rear view mirror I saw a four-by-four vehicle coming towards me at about 35 mph. It hit the back of my estate car. I saw it coming and wondered what damage the impact would cause as my estate car is supposedly one of the safest in existence with a protected outer steel chassis. I was appalled to find that the impact buckled the chassis of my car. The car was a write-off. That was a deeply shocking experience. That is why—I think that the hon. Gentleman will confirm this—I have in principle, all the way through, supported what he is trying to do.
An article in the Financial Times on 9 December 1995 dealt with the issue. Written by Stuart Marshall, it graphically summed up his feelings in a similar vein. He says:It was morning school rush hour. Young mothers, many driving too fast, were arriving with their children. As I neared the school gates, a three-year-old slipped his mother's hand and started to run across the road. Because I was doing no more than 20mph … the Citroen Xantia pulled up almost instantly when I stamped on the brakes. Even so, the toddler was just touching the bonnet as I stopped.He was unharmed, but I would not like to say whether he or his mother were the more terrified. My heart rate was above normal, too. The Xantia's bonnet, by design, is pedestrian friendly. But what if I had been driving a recreational 4 x 4 with steel-tube bull bars across the front? A little boy would at best have been concussed, at worst received a fractured skull.That graphically sums up the position. He goes on to say:Interestingly, the Association of British Industry thought bull bars might increase the risk of a vehicle being stolen. A Range Rover or Mitsubishi Shogun with a hefty set of bull bars would, it reasons, be an even better car for ram raiding than one without them.That is the sort of thinking of people who would steal a car for that purpose.
I can, therefore, genuinely say that I feel strongly about this subject. Bull bars are monstrosities, not fashion accessories. The hon. Member for Newport, West has said that they have been banned in Australia, where they originated. I am interested to hear that. I thought that it was only an urban ban.
§ Mr. Spring
I understand that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point.
1325 In the United States of America, bull bars are known as moose bars. In this country we do not have large beasts such as moose or kangaroos. Bull bars have no place in a temperate climate and in the United Kingdom with its wildlife. It is not like the United States or Australia. Even the beast of Bodmin moor is not especially large by all accounts. Therefore what goes on in the United States and in Australia is not relevant to the UK.
The main point, however, as that journalist graphically pointed out, is that bull bars are at the same level as a child's head. It may be a fashion that has caught on. It has spread from motor cars to lorries, to delivery vans, to buses and even, appallingly, to ambulances.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
May I draw a parallel from a different matter which remains persistently within the British safety regulations? The only people who can easily reach three-pronged sockets in domestic houses are toddlers, from whom we are supposed to keep three-pronged sockets away.
§ Mr. Spring
Exactly. The more we raise the level of consciousness about safety measures for children, the fewer fatalities we shall have in this country.
The Transport Research Laboratory has shown that a child may die as a result of a vehicle fitted with a bull bar travelling at only 12 mph, compared with a normal vehicle travelling at about 25 mph. As the hon. Gentleman said, the RAC recently said that it believed that the total number of fatalities as a result of bull bars was 70. Others, such as the Transport Research Laboratory, have argued that that number is too high and that the real figure is perhaps only half of that. The Association of Protection Bar Manufacturers has talked of only five deaths, but it would be bound to say that, would it not? And even if there were only five deaths, that would be five too many. Bull bars are a dangerous monstrosity.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
If the hon. Gentleman goes into the House of Commons car park, especially when it is absolutely full, such as before a Division, he will see some vehicles fitted with bull bars. I am not saying that they belong to Members, because other people can park there, but should we not set an example by ensuring that no car can enter the Palace of Westminster if it is equipped with bull bars?
§ Mr. Spring
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. Largely as a result of the campaign of the hon. Member for Newport, West, I understand that there has been a substantial diminution in the number of vehicles in the House of Commons car park fitted with bull bars. I wish that there were none at all.
The two major road organisations, the RAC and the AA, have made very negative comments about bull bars. As I have said, the RAC released a report in February showing that the number of fatalities is twice what it was previously estimated to be. We have heard the oft-repeated and ghastly story of 12-year-old Victoria Moule, who was thrown no less than 30 ft up the road as a result of being hit by a Vauxhall Frontera, and a piece of her pelvic bone was broken.
The RAC has said that bull bars can cause injuries to drivers—this is the other significant point—by transferring the impact of a collision away from the 1326 car's crumple-zone panels so that the impact of the crash is felt around the car. Not only are bull bars dangerous externally when they hit people; they enhance the danger to passengers in and drivers of cars to which they are fitted. On both counts, they are extremely dangerous. Regardless of whether bull bars kill 70 people or one person per year, they are wrong. They are not a fashion accessory; they are a killing accessory. Tests in Germany suggest that the impact of a bull bar trebles the destructive impact on a human being. That is a terrifying statistic.
As I said earlier, I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is essentially sympathetic to what I am saying. I also know that there are difficulties in trying to integrate our procedures with European law. My hon. Friend will recall that he and I corresponded on the subject of fitting seat belts in minibuses carrying school children. Again, such provision could not be brought into British law unilaterally without European agreement, and I understand that in principle. I know that my hon. Friend is doing everything possible to persuade the Transport Commissioner, Mr. Kinnock, to speed up the process so that whatever blockages there are can be cleared and the legislation put in place.
The hon. Member for Newport, West mentioned—I am not clear about it—that Cyprus, and more recently Jersey, have banned bull bars. I understand that they may have a different relationship to the European Union than we have. Perhaps that is the point. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to comment on that in due course. I very much regret, however, that it would appear that we cannot take unilateral action, which would be very popular. I hope that my hon. Friend will explain exactly why. However, that is no reason why others—such as organisations—cannot act.
I am pleased to see that the number of bull bars in the House of Commons car park has reduced substantially. I wish that it were zero—perhaps it is already. I am gratified that police authorities such as the Lothian and Borders police have banned bull bars on their vehicles and that many delivery organisations have done likewise.
I was delighted to receive last night a letter from DHL, an enormously successful and widespread organisation. Knowing that I am a sponsor of the Bill, DHL wrote saying that it would like to express on behalf of DHL International (UK) Ltd. its support for the forthcoming Bill for the prohibition of bull bars and saying that, following the public concerns about the safety implications for pedestrians posed by bull bars fitted to vehicles, DHL had removed the bull bars from all its vehicles to which they were fitted.
DHL has a good safety record; none of its vehicles had been involved in an accident, so it is not as though it was reacting to pressure from that quarter. It began the process of removing bull bars in October 1995. It took about three weeks and 250 man hours and was not cheap. It cost the company £60,000, but DHL felt that it was the right thing to do, not simply to improve its public image but because of the possibility that one of its vehicles might be responsible for a fatality. I endorse that sentiment.
Bull bars were originally fitted to 300 of DHL's vehicles out of a total of 627, but by October 1995 the figure had increased to 500. I am therefore very encouraged by the fact that that organisation, so well 1327 known world wide, has taken the initiative. Other organisations, not only delivery organisations, should take that route.
§ Mr. Spring
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Several insurance companies are preparing or have begun to go down that route. We are having this comprehensive debate to bring the issues to light on the Floor of the House of Commons, after which they will no doubt be widely reported, especially in specialist magazines. I hope, therefore, that insurance companies will pick up my hon. Friend's point.
With that matter in mind, on my own initiative I have written to several organisations in the county of Suffolk. Yesterday I wrote to the leaders of St. Edmundsbury borough council and the leader of Forest Heath district council, asking them to set a best practice example in my constituency by encouraging councillors attached to those authorities plus all employees to remove their bull bars.
Twice I have written to the chairman of the highways committee of Suffolk county council to ask him to do the same for the county council. I regret to say that the gentleman has a bull bar fitted to his own vehicle. I was on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning discussing the Bill when a quotation was broadcast in which he said that he believed that there was no reason for him to remove the bull bar because he had no convincing evidence that bull bars were unsafe. I do not wish to personalise this issue, but I believe that he is setting a poor example. I have asked him to consider disallowing reimbursement payments to any councillor or council employee attached to Suffolk county council who has fitted bull bars on their vehicle. I would very much like that action to be taken.
I talked about my car being severely damaged. I believe—I hope that I shall not be corrected—that Volvo is the one manufacturer to have banned bull bars from being fitted. However, other manufacturers are moving down the same route. The Land Rover Discovery, for example, has a foam plastic variant. Mitsubishi has introduced a polyurethane bar and I understand that other manufacturers are going down that route, very much driven on by public opinion and by the gathering feeling that bull bars are nothing other than very dangerous items. I wish that car manufacturers would remove bull bars now from the specified list of options; they are invariably options and are not fitted automatically. Let us make the United Kingdom, from a car point of view, a macho-free zone.
I now turn to the European dimension, an issue that my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to address. Frankly, I find the whole issue confusing. In September 1995, the European Parliament backed a motion to ban bull bars but nothing much seems to have flowed from that. The European Commission is somewhat inhibited from taking action because of the attitude of Finland and Sweden. I find that difficult to understand. If Finland and Sweden have a particular problem with reindeer accidents, why should not the principle of subsidiarity be invoked?
1328 Moreover, most people in those two countries live in major urban areas such as Gothenburg, Stockholm and Helsinki, so it is not clear why they need to continue to have bull bars fitted to their vehicles. Even if they wish to have them, why cannot the principle of subsidiarity operate so that they can continue with bull bars while those of us who take a more sensible view are able to deal with the problem? That would be excellent.
There has also been talk, which I find rather disappointing, that an EC directive dealing comprehensively with the issue will not come through until October 1998. As the hon. Member for Newport, West said, the European Commission seemed to imply that the United Kingdom could take unilateral action, but only for a limited period of six months. It is not clear to me why that suggestion has not been taken up or why, as was hinted at the time by the European Commission, an extension could not be added. I understand that the British Government could ban non-approved bull bars, although I accept that that is a small number of cases.
Let us consider public opinion on the matter. Some 87 per cent. of readers of Auto Express, when canvassed, wished to have bull bars banned. The evidence is that with bull bars the crumple zone, far from protecting the vehicle and passengers, actually increases the danger to them. That is why the readership of Auto Express took that view. I understand that local authorities in Kent, Hampshire and Surrey have banned vehicles with bull bars from cross-country driving.
What is to be done? Lord Kinnoull sought recently to introduce the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill in another place. I was interested to find out exactly what their Lordships discussed. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will explain a little further what was meant by the following observation by Lord Goschen in reply to the debate:Preventing the use of bull bars on all vehicles would be difficult to achieve at the present time. Popular models with bull bars fitted as original equipment by the manufacturers are likely to have been granted European type approval in respect of external projections. The free circulation of such vehicles cannot be impeded. That point was taken up by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas … Such European considerations, and the fact that as yet there is no specific hard evidence as to the effect of bull bars on injuries to people, are partly why we have held back from proposing national action. We hope that when we have the results of the work that has been undertaken, we shall be in a much better position to judge the issues empirically.I am nonplussed by all that, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with it. Lord Goschen further said: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."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 January 1996; Vol. 568, c. 691–93.]I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to comment on that.
1329 Penultimately, I want to touch on the relationship of Jersey and Cyprus to the European Union. Recently, when Jersey decided to ban bull bars, the RAC spokesman, Edmund King, said:Jersey's rules are based on UK legislation and therefore the same interpretation of the rules could be made throughout Europe.My hon. Friend the Minister should comment on that.
Finally, in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Minister in the autumn, I received a letter dated 23 October 1995 in which he said:With regard to the legal position of bull bars, it is not at all clear what we can actually do. Most bull bars, and probably all those fitted to new vehicles, comply with the technical requirements of Council Directive 74/483/EEC on 'External Projections'. The articles of this Directive say that no Member State may prohibit the use of a vehicle on grounds relating to external projections if the vehicle conforms to the requirements of the Directive. We are in communication with the European Commission to clarify what we could and could not enforce.The European Commission seems to have suggested that we could, in limited circumstances, undertake unilateral action if it was on a temporary basis. Will my hon. Friend the Minister comment on that?
§ Mr. Norris
Will my hon. Friend, as a sponsor of the Bill, express a view on the value of our taking action clearly limited to a few months' duration, after which, assuming that there had been no legal challenge in the meantime, the provision would lapse? Is that the way in which the House should proceed on a matter of such importance?
§ Mr. Spring
My hon. Friend raises a valid point. The point of this debate is to give him more strength in his negotiations with the European Commission to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. The fact that the Bill enjoys cross-party support and the overwhelming backing of public opinion in the United Kingdom should send a message to him. Whatever can be done to resolve the problem permanently should be done. I am confident that my hon. Friend will be able to do that as speedily as possible.
§ Mr. Flynn
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear, as perhaps I did not in my speech, that the letter from Europe last May set out three methods for Britain to take unilateral action to ban bull bars? In connection with only one of those was a temporary ban mentioned. The other two methods suggested would have been permanent bans, and Europe has confirmed three times in the past six weeks that we can still choose any one of those three methods on our own.
§ Mr. Spring
With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would care to address that point.
§ Mr. Norris
That intervention by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has produced a version of the correspondence greatly different from my understanding of it. No doubt the Commission may have suggested that there are three courses of action open to the United Kingdom Government, but the Commission has agreed with me, and the Commissioner has agreed with me personally face to face, that none of the three options presents a satisfactory long-term solution. That is the 1330 point that I was asking my hon. Friend to address, and I repeat it. I fear that the hon. Member for Newport, West is in danger of misleading the House if he suggests otherwise. I do not mean that he would knowingly wish to mislead; nevertheless what he said would be misleading.
§ Mr. Spring
I conclude by repeating that I support the Bill, I support the principle behind it, and I believe that the overwhelming majority of people in Britain also support it in principle. There is no reason why, while the negotiations between my hon. Friend the Minister and the European Commission are going on, there cannot be unilateral action by organisations throughout this country.
I hope that what comes out of the debate will strengthen my hon. Friend's authority in those negotiations. The message is loud and clear, and I know that he has already heard it, and will hear it again during the debate. It is that action should be taken as soon as possible. I have great pleasure in supporting everything that the hon. Member for Newport, West has done. I thank him for the dogged campaign that he has undertaken, and I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)
I shall now make what I hope will be the shortest speech on the Floor of the House in my career. I totally agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has said, and also with the powerful case made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring).
I wish simply to underline what has been made clear in all the written communications from Europe. In the letter from Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock to the Minister dated May last year, the Commission outlined three specific measures that the United Kingdom could take. The director-general of the transport directorate within the Commission, in correspondence with an individual in this country dated March this year, stressed that the United Kingdom has the power to take unilateral action.
In a letter dated 27 March, not three days ago, the Royal Automobile Club reported a meeting of the European Commission with members of both the transport and the trade directorates, at which Commission officials were adamant that there were courses of action that the UK Government could take unilaterally.
It would therefore be wrong—indeed, bordering on the misleading—for the Minister to suggest that the Government do not have powers to adopt such measures.
I finish by urging Conservative Members—
§ Mr. MacShane
As I said, the letter was dated May last year. But since then there have been two written communications, one dated March 1996—we cannot get 1331 much more up to date than that—confirming what was set out in that letter. So if there is to be any obstruction, it will be on the part of the Government.
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman used the word "misleading"; I have also used that word. It might be helpful to him, in considering which of us is right, if I quote from a letter that I received from Neil Kinnock on 7 November last year. He said:while I agree that the suggestions I made for action by the UK in my letter to you of 24 May do not constitute a long-term solution, they do nonetheless offer possibilities for action by the UK without waiting".A key to this debate is that that was an opinion that he expressed, which is not shared by the people who advise me on such matters. Even if the situation were as the Commissioner suggests, he says in terms that the measures he proposes do not represent a long-term solution.
§ Mr. MacShane
In the long term, we shall all be dead. In the meantime, can we at least protect some children from these wretched bull bars? Every written communication and every meeting between the Commissioner and the Transport Select Committee and the European Legislation Select Committee confirmed what he said last year, and what has been said as late as this month.
I appeal to Conservative Members, whether they are Back Benchers or Ministers, and after two excellent speeches on the issue from both sides of the House, not to talk out the Bill. If one child dies as a result of a bull bar injury because the Bill is not allowed to go into Committee, the consciences of those who talked out the Bill will rest heavy.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
I do not want to bring a gritty tone into the debate, but I must say that I do not agree with the Bill. Perhaps one of the more unattractive features of private Members' days in the House, on Fridays, is that the majority of the Bills that we seek to introduce are those that seek to stop people doing something that they want to do. We must consider carefully before we do that, because the right to choose and to make one's own decisions in life is extremely precious.
The hon. Members for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) used an emotional arm-lock on us. They said that if one more child should die because of an accident, we would be to blame. If they want to save lives, they should introduce a Bill to ban young men under 25 driving high-performance cars. If we want to reduce the death rate on the roads, those are the people whom we shall have to stop. High-performance cars are no more and no less a fashion accessory than are bull bars.
I make it clear that I have no particular enthusiasm for bull bars. I do not have them on any of the cars that I own because I find no need for them. The hon. Member for Newport, West said that they are macho and unattractive, but the House's purpose is not to legislate on people's taste; the House's purpose is much more serious than that.
1332 I may not like beards, for instance, and I may not like bow ties, but I do not say that the hon. Member for Newport, West should shave off his beard or that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should not wear a bow tie. Those are purely matters of taste.
If one could demonstrate that bull bars, as they are currently designed, are without doubt dangerous, the situation would of course change; that is what we must debate carefully. In many respects, the Bill is defective. It proposes, of course, a gaol sentence of three months—
§ Mr. Atkinson
It proposes a maximum gaol sentence of three months—I take the point—for anyone who has a bull bar on his car, and a very heavy fine, up to level 5. So the Bill is a serious measure. The problem is that the data on which the hon. Gentleman bases his Bill are incomplete, and we do not yet have proof that bull bars are essentially dangerous. The proof is not yet at a stage at which we should be able to take away someone's right to do something that he wishes to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring)—with whom I hate to disagree, because we have agreed on virtually everything that we have come across in the House—said that bull bars are a fashion accessory. To some extent, they are not a fashion accessory. My constituency compromises much hill country in the north of England. We had a lot of snow this winter, and people need four-wheel-drive vehicles. Many use four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks for farm work in which vehicles can easily be damaged.
§ Mr. Atkinson
With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman is making an entirely impractical suggestion. Bull bars are heavy and thus difficult to fix to vehicles. The idea of a demountable bar that can be removed as a vehicle crosses a road from one field to another and then replaced is utterly ludicrous.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I do not wish to continue this agricultural debate, but those who know about farm implements will understand that it takes a long time to remove such an implement from, for example, the back of a tractor. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is impractical.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that there are no moose or reindeer in this country, but there are deer. One of the reasons why the Lothian and Borders police fitted bull bars to their four-wheel-drive vehicles was the danger of hitting deer. I have seen vehicles—no doubt my hon. Friend has, too—which have hit deer while travelling at 50 mph. In such circumstances, deer can cause a great deal of damage. In Scotland, the problem is caused by red deer.
§ Mr. Spring
With respect, my hon. Friend misses the point. Lothian and Borders police have in fact removed 1333 bull bars from their vehicles. My hon. Friend will know that my constituency contains Thetford forest, in which there are a considerable number of deer. Sometimes, they are, regrettably, involved in accidents but, as devoted as I am to the deer in Thetford forest, in the grand scheme of things, I would prefer any fatal collision to involve a deer rather than a child.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I understand that Lothian and Borders police have removed their bull bars, but the reason why they introduced them and why some people like having them on their vehicles is the damage caused by hitting deer. The point that I am trying to make is that bull bars are not exclusively macho accessories—for some people, they are a useful motoring accessory.
§ Mr. Spring
Bull bars represent an external danger when hitting, for example, a child, but we know that the crumple zone and the force of energy are such that, if the energy is absorbed by the steel bull bar, the effect is to reduce the safety of the driver and any passengers. Bull bars are not only externally dangerous, but do not preserve the life of the driver or passengers. In fact, the contrary is demonstrably true.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I do not want to dispute those particular points, but my point is that people have bull bars on their cars not only for the sake of fashion—although, if they do, that is their choice and taste—but because they need them on, for example, vehicles used regularly on farms, in areas such as the highlands of Scotland, the borders of England and Wales and, indeed, Suffolk, where there are large deer populations. Bull bars are more than fashion accessories to such people.
Before the Bill is passed on the nod, as has been suggested, we must determine the facts. There are two questions to be asked. Are bull bars genuinely a threat to life? I shall return to that in a moment. Secondly, can they be made safe? Can we ensure that, if people want to fit bull bars to their cars, the bull bars are not dangerous?
One of the difficulties with this issue, as with all safety and road safety issues, is that as soon as it is raised, a whole host of pressure groups come out of the woodwork to grind their axes to show their members that they are clever, pretty and enthusiastic, so that they can raise more funds by getting more members. Often in such circumstances, the pressure groups—sadly, in this case, including the RAC—make predictions and often the data, facts and truth get rather blurred. In this case, that is what has happened, because if we consider the available figures in detail, the forecasts of death and injury are extremely misleading.
I accept that the figures that I shall give to the House were produced by another pressure group. I am grateful to Off Road and 4 Wheel Drive magazine for supplying me with the figures.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Hon. Members may stand up all over the House, but I wish to finish my point. I am aware that the magazine is also a pressure group, but my point is that we must treat the data that we have at the moment with great suspicion.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that exactly the same argument was used in the 1970s about seat belt wearing? There were thousands of unnecessary deaths and tens of thousands of unnecessary injuries. The facts here are overwhelming.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The hon. Gentleman says that the facts are overwhelming, but in my view the facts are not overwhelming. We should forget the projections. We have had projections of 35 deaths a year from the Transport Research Laboratory, based on figures collected by some police forces in the sample area that my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London mentioned. We have had figures of up to 70 deaths from the RAC, but I am not entirely sure about the basis of those figures. But other figures, produced by the Association of Protection Bar Manufacturers—which, I accept, is a vested interest—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newport, West may laugh, but that organisation represents a £25-million-a-year business, and 1,000 employees. I accept that it is a pressure group, but it is no more and no less of a pressure group—and its evidence is no more and no less questionable—than the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents or any other organisation.
§ Mr. Flynn
The hon. Gentleman obviously does not have a financial interest because he would have declared it, but he is speaking on behalf of a group that has an interest in making money out of selling bull bars. The other groups that we have quoted are safety groups, which are interested in road safety and in the well-being of pedestrians and people who drive cars. There are no authoritative figures from his organisation or any other, but the best we can do is to work on the imperfect figures we have. The independent bodies say that there will be 35 or 70 deaths a year.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for accepting that the figures are imperfect. That is exactly the point that I am trying to make, so we do not disagree on that. So we have a situation in which the hon. Gentleman is basing—by his own admission—the need for the Bill on imperfect figures. I do not believe that we should take away someone's liberty and ability to choose on figures that we all admit are imperfect.
A cynic may say that the Association of Protection Bar Manufacturers undoubtedly has a vested interest—the industry makes £25 million a year and employs 1,000 people—but so do the road safety pressure groups. Life in a pressure group today depends on one's success in increasing membership and obtaining funds. That is how people in pressure groups keep their jobs and that is how pressure groups earn the money to advertise for more members. Both sides are grinding axes and—not unreasonably—pushing for their vested interests.
We discovered that, in 1994, there were only six deaths of pedestrians who were killed by cars fitted with bull bars, and only four of those could be blamed in any way on the fact that the car was equipped with a bull bar. One famous case, which the hon. Member for Newport, West mentioned, involved a Mitsubishi Shogun, fitted with a bull bar, which was claimed to have killed a pedestrian. But when the coroner's inquest on the victim examined the evidence in detail, it discovered that he was under the influence of drink at the time, had walked into the side of 1335 the car and was thrown on to some railings at the edge of the pavement. That is how the coroner reported that, but it went down as an accident involving a car with a bull bar.
I am trying to point out that my hon. Friend the Minister should not proceed in any way with the legislation until the data are absolutely copper-bottomed and we are able to show that the right to choose should be taken away from people.
§ Mr. Flynn
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, although we know from all independent expert opinion in the world that bull bars kill and will kill many more people, we have to wait until we are absolutely certain of that and take our action after the deaths? Is he happy to have those deaths on his conscience?
§ Mr. Atkinson
I am not happy to have any deaths on my conscience, but is the hon. Gentleman happy to have the deaths that will be caused by young drivers under the age of 25 driving high-performance cars on his? He is saying that we should outlaw everything that could cause any chance of a death, otherwise all hon. Members will have endlessly sleepless nights. It is a preposterous suggestion that we should be railroaded into passing bad legislation on the basis that, if we do not do so, we shall not sleep at night. That is not a way in which the House can continue.
On a more positive note, bull bars are being redesigned by responsible manufacturers that are members of the Association of Protection Bar Manufacturers. In Germany, they have already developed a bar that may well meet the high road safety standards required there.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I find that an insulting remark. If I were being paid in any way for doing this, I would have declared it. I had absolutely no knowledge of the Association of Protection Bar Manufacturers until yesterday. When I saw the Bill, I took the trouble to ring Mr. Scott, the editor of Off Road and 4 Wheel Drive magazine, to ask whether there were two sides to the story. He said, "Yes, there are." He told me that, if I wanted to hear the other side, I should ring up that organisation. That is my sole interest. In fact, I have not even communicated with the association. I simply received an extensive fax, stating its case. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that no cheque was attached to the fax.
Manufacturers are studying ways to make bull bars more user friendly, by making the surface of impact much softer and making them from plastic, which will not be caught within the provisions of the hon. Gentleman's Bill. The bars should have energy-absorbing features and should not have any features likely to catch or entrap pedestrians or cyclists. They should also spread the load of impact over as large an area as possible and not block the headlights.
The hon. Member for Newport, West mentioned the problem with airbags and bull bars. The magazine states: 1336Jeep, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi all crash-tested their airbag-equipped vehicles and found there was no chance … of malfunctionif the vehicle was fitted with standard bull bars. Only Suzuki recommends that its vehicles should not be fitted with the bars.
The European aspects have been touched on. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with what the European regulation is, but as I understand it—perhaps he will put me right—the European Community is working on a directive to make the bonnets of all cars user friendly. A European Union-designed car front is a slightly chilling thought. No doubt, we shall be seeing stories in the newspapers saying that the traditional Rolls-Royce lady will have to disappear. That will also have a considerable impact on vehicles such as Land Rovers, Range Rovers and the other four-wheel-drives, which are much heavier than ordinary cars.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds talked of Volvos and read out an illustration about a Citroen Xantia. By their nature, four-wheel-drives are heavier and bigger. Irrespective of whether it is fitted with a bull bar, there is always the likelihood that if a pedestrian is struck by a four-wheel-drive vehicle, he will suffer more injuries than if he is struck by a family saloon. That is probably inevitable. Similarly, if a pedestrian is struck by a heavy goods vehicle, his risk of injury will be vastly greater than if he is struck by a Ford Fiesta. That is one of the facts of life. Surely we do not propose to ban Range Rovers, Land Rovers and heavy goods vehicles.
I do not support the Bill. I would not wish to see its enactment. I shall have to live with my conscience. It is the absolute duty of the House to ensure that the legislation that passes through it is properly thought out and properly discussed, and does not gratuitously take away the right of the individual to make choices about his life style and to make decisions.
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
I am an agnostic in my attitude to the Bill, but I think that it goes over the top. Threats of possible victimisation of fellow colleagues do not go down well with me.
In many instances, bull bars are found not only on the front of vehicles. There is talk of offensive weapons on vehicles, but there are bars on the corners of vehicles to protect lights. They are to be found on lorries as well as on cars and four-by-four vehicles. They are also on the rear of vehicles. Others may not call those bars bull bars, but I do. They are bars that provide protection. Recently I have experienced two instances in which, unfortunately, my car lost its nearside front winkers and lights, both front and rear. I would have been delighted to have some sort of protection. The bill was virtually £100 for two small pieces of glasswork.
Bull bars are fashion accessories. There is a tremendous accessory market throughout the transport industry, and long may it last. Many jobs depend on it. I have no objection to vehicle owners using bull bars as fashion accessories. They make the vehicle look more appropriate to the circumstances in which they want to use it. They attract vehicle enthusiasts generally. The magazine industry that is based on the latest gadgetry and fashion is to be applauded. Computers, cars and vehicles generally 1337 are involved. I welcome the industries that have mushroomed over the past five or 10 years as a result of the interest in accessories.
The design of these appliances is all-important. We are talking about pedestrians being hurt by bull bars, but there is nothing to stop them being designed and produced using materials such as polyurethane. If we adopted that approach, damage would not be caused to pedestrians if they were hit. At the same time, vehicles would be protected along with their occupants. Such bull bars could be attractive. They could be produced in all colours. I see no reason why they should be considered as ferocious accessories. I accept that there are some mad people who want to assert their authority on the road, and we are aware of road rage, but many people look after their own vehicles and are proud of them.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the bars about which he is talking would be exempt under clause 2? The example that he has given is a bull bar that would be exempt from the Bill's provisions. Has he not read the Bill?
§ Mr. Dover
I do not want tight, restrictive legislation that could lead, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) said, to imprisonment. We should not be in the game of over-regulating car users. Vehicle users generally are going about their business, enjoying leisure activities or travelling to work. We do not want to put unnecessary restrictions on them. We want instead to ensure that they have vehicles that are fit for the purpose to which they want to put them, and that they can ride where they wish and how they wish.
It is important that, as well as protecting pedestrians or anyone else, bull bars protect vehicles and their occupants. Clearly, impact absorbtion is important also.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury for St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) mentioned children in minibuses. Minibuses, frankly, are open to impact, particularly by lorries, and I dread to think what might happen if a minibus with 20 or so children scrambling about inside without seat belts was hit by a lorry. In my book, there is nothing wrong in having protection back and front, ensuring that the reinforcement is there, in the interests of protecting the occupants, particularly those of a tender age.
I draw the attention of the House to a note from the Library on bull bars, which has been alluded to. It relates to personal injury road accidents in 1994. Twenty-nine police authorities listed in the briefing produced figures. I shall raise one particular point. Under the heading, "Accident distribution", the table lists the number of accidents that were fatal, serious or slight. The total population covered by the 29 police forces that reported bull bar accidents is approximately 29 million—well over half the population of the United Kingdom. The figures show clearly that the total number of accidents involving a vehicle fitted with a bull bar, or pedestrian accidents involving such a vehicle, amount to only 1 per cent. of the total accidents in those police authorities.
One might say, "That's irrelevant. So what?" The fact is that I asked the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) how many vehicles he thought had bull bars fitted. He said that the number was reducing, and that people were removing bull bars. Fine. He estimated that 1338 there were 500,000 such vehicles in this country. I think that at the most there are 25 million vehicles in this country. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister knows the exact number—
§ Mr. Flynn
I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman. I said at some length that that survey is entirely discredited, from the evidence of the police themselves. There is no way to explain how one county force reported 129 casualties, and a neighbouring county reported none. The report is not plausible, because it was not treated with any seriousness by the people who took part. Those who have analysed the figures, from some of the police forces that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, who did take it seriously, have come to the conclusion that there were 70 deaths and 400 serious accidents. They are not pressure groups; they are independent bodies, such as the Transport Research Laboratory and the RAC.
§ Mr. Dover
I welcome that intervention. All that I am trying to point out is that the figure is statistically significant. Otherwise, surely those police forces would have made a nil return or just said, "Sorry, we don't have the detailed information." Perhaps some of the areas do not have many accidents, or have zero accidents involving bull bars. As we know, statistics can be twisted to show anything, but what I am saying is that approximately 2 per cent. of vehicles are fitted with bull bars, but only 1 per cent. of accidents involve such vehicles. One can give equal weighting to the figures, and the table from the police authorities is official. A new survey by the RAC shows that 70 deaths a year could—I emphasise the word "could"—be caused by bull bars. I would put that against the figures in the brief from the Library. The House of Commons Library has no axe to grind and provides us with wonderfully accurate and unbiased briefings.
We must be careful not to prejudge the issue on numbers alone. I am agnostic on the issue. People should be free to fit to their vehicles attachments that they think will protect them. If Parliament thinks that people are going over the top, it should introduce gentle regulations and guidelines advising that certain components should be modified or reduced in their effect. That is better than introducing a draconian measure that hints at victimisation, to which I take great exception.
I am not in favour of the Bill as drafted. More needs to be done, and I am delighted that the Minister has met his opposite number in the Commission and has had several constructive discussions. The correspondence between them has been made available to us. That is a responsible approach, and the way ahead should be to legislate lightly. We should reject this draconian Bill.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)
I am afraid that I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover). We are debating the serious 1339 matter of road safety and, in view of the potential danger of road vehicles and the real danger as shown by accident statistics, it is incumbent upon Parliament and the nation to ensure that steps are taken to require all motor vehicles to comply with the highest standards of safety. That should be a mandatory requirement. One cannot allow individuals to make decisions about fittings on their cars that are designed to protect their own safety when what might provide safety for them may be to the detriment of others. We require impartial, carefully calculated and scientific engineering design that will enable cars and other vehicles using our public roads to have the highest degree of inbuilt safety.
Like many hon. Members, my attention was first drawn to bull bars and the potential risk by constituents. I was vaguely aware of such additions to vehicles but I had not thought about the safety aspect. I had assumed that, in the 1990s, additions that sprouted on cars were subjected to exhaustive tests and complied with the highest safety standards. Perhaps that assumption is a damnation of the system.
When I received letters and phone calls from constituents I became very concerned, because the evidence suggested that these additions to vehicles gave rise to great risk and that people were being killed because of them. I listened carefully to the comments, many of which were not deeply scientific but were based on commonsense judgment. I was contacted by a local GP, Dr. Roger Wells, who was motivated purely by his own judgment and his medical knowledge of the damage that can be caused when a person is hit at certain levels of the body by a fast-moving piece of metal, which of course describes a bull bar.
I looked into the matter in more detail and was surprised to find that tests had not been carried out before bull bars becoming available. In my naivety, I always assumed that a vehicle had to meet safety regulations on car bumpers and the collapsible elements of a car's structure for it to receive type approval and to minimise the damage not only, of course, to the driver and passenger, but to pedestrians. I am disappointed, therefore, that, in a way, we seem to be going backwards: something has come in first and we are talking about the safety implications only now.
One point has been missed.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
The hon. Gentleman makes a lucid case. Will he reflect on the fact that many of the libertarian arguments adduced today for opposing the Bill were the same type of arguments that were used to try to prevent the compulsory use of crash helmets? Now, everybody recognises that lives have been saved and people have not been turned into cabbages because they do not suffer the serious injuries that they otherwise would have suffered. Today, we are hearing almost a rerun of that pterodactyl case.
§ Mr. Merchant
That is true in relation to crash helmets and safety belts. I am not a libertarian, but I have some libertarian tendencies in the sense that I do not like unnecessary state intervention or unnecessary regulation, but that is not to say that I reject regulation if it is necessary. When it conies to safety and, especially, individual safety on the road, an extremely dangerous place, regulation is justified.
1340 I want to inject one word of caution. As far as I am aware, today's discussion has linked bull bars with the danger that they can cause in an accident, but there has not been much discussion of the other contributory causes. That is not, in any sense, a defence of bull bars—no one would think, from what I have said, that I am in that line of business—but we must bear it in mind that, for a bull bar to cause damage, there must be at least one additional contributory factor: speed, error by one of the parties involved and so on.
That is an important point, not just because it puts the whole thing in proper perspective. During research into the causes of accidents, apparent anomalies can emerge as the accident is probably multi-factorial: it could be ascribed to speed, to weather conditions or to a pedestrian's mistake. Statistics might not show that the bull bar played an important part in an accident. However, the reverse can be true. We can fall into the mistake of thinking that only the bull bar is to blame when other factors also contributed to causing the accident.
§ Mr. Norris
My hon. Friend's observation is especially acute bearing in mind the fact that, at 40 mph, more than 80 per cent. of people involved in a pedestrian accident are likely to die, whether the vehicle has a soft front or a bull bar. That is a regrettable fact that we should never forget. It is in that area that some of the analytical difficulties lie.
§ Mr. Merchant
Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.
I reach two conclusions from this. First, important though it is to legislate on this matter, we must keep it in context and be cautious about the statistics, whatever they are and whenever they arise. Secondly, in legislating, we must bear it in mind that other action must be taken in the realms of road safety. Speed in particular is a major cause of accidents, but there are others too.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will well remember this. I have spoken in the House many times on road safety matters, which are a particular concern of mine, and on previous Bills on the subject, some of which have passed into law. I have always been motivated by the general desire to achieve a reduction in accidents. The law has an important part to play in that, but it is mistake to think that any one measure alone will achieve everything that we want. Nevertheless, the issue of bull bars has been in the public domain for some time. Months, indeed years, have passed in which we have been able to identify a cause of serious damage to humans on roads without taking any real action. I greatly regret that.
Evidence from the RAC, the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, road safety officers and RoSPA has mounted, and action has been taken by companies such as DHL, which has been mentioned, and insurance companies such as CGA Insurance, all of which I welcome, but none of which has yet taken us the necessary further step to legislative action. That seems largely to be because of confusion over the roles of the Government and the European Union. It seems that, all too often, the EU acts when it is not necessary and fails to act when it is necessary. There is no doubt that if the EU were determined enough, action could be taken at European level. I would, however, very much prefer that action were taken at national level, and it is regrettable that, under our treaty arrangements, and so on, that does not entirely seem possible.
1341 We should be listening to the day-to-day experience in this country, and acting on it. I was in touch with Andrew Rogers of the Bromley road safety unit in my borough and quickly discovered that, based on their professional judgment, the head of the unit and the borough's director of engineering, Gordon Hayward, are totally opposed to bull bars, and say that the sooner that they are removed from all vehicles the better.
I rely heavily on such experience and judgment because such men have the full-time task of monitoring road safety at local level. They are not sitting behind a desk compiling statistics—valid though they may be—or talking about it, as we do in the House. They are out there at the sharp end, at street level, seeing what happens and judging where there is safety and where there is not. They do not make their judgment on the basis of statistics, as I understand that the Metropolitan police force is not among the forces conducting a statistical analysis.
It is important to look at the wider statistics on accidents. The 1995 accident figures for Bromley statistics showed a rise in the number of deaths from nine to 12 since the previous year. That occurred after many years of a declining trend in the number of fatal accidents. There has also been an increase in serious accidents from 115 to 129, and 275 accidents in the past year have affected people under the age of 18. Unfortunately, those figures are also matched nationally. Figures published yesterday showed an increase in road deaths nationally, which I very much regret. It follows great achievements in continuing reductions in the death rate on the roads over the past decade. We must therefore double our efforts in all directions to do everything that we can to reduce accidents, deaths and serious injuries. The Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) will play an important part in that process.
§ Mr. Merchant
My hon. Friend must have missed my point. When I was reporting the views of road safety officials in Bromley, I said that they did not have those figures because the Met was not one of the forces collecting them. I sincerely hope that it will conduct such research and collect figures. I would very much welcome that. However, I felt that I could rely on the professional judgment of the road unit, based not on statistics but on the experience of men who have been in the business long enough to have a good feel. In a way, I would rather rely on that than simply on statistics that are capable of many interpretations.
§ Mr. Merchant
Yes, I have been approached by many people; I said at the start of my speech that my interest had originally stemmed from that.
It is not up to me to analyse individual accidents. I would be in danger of using only hearsay evidence. I have heard of some, and I have read details of accidents 1342 outside my constituency in which bull bars clearly played an important part in inflicting injuries, but I hope that we would not need to base our judgment entirely on the evidence of fatalities that have occurred. I would hope, as I said when I was discussing safety measures on vehicles, that we could be forward-looking enough to work out where accidents would be at their worst and take steps to prevent them from happening.
Pertinently, the hon. Member for Newport, West mentioned the macho image of driving. Why do people want bull bars on their vehicles? In general, they are not put on for safety reasons. The signs are that they do not improve the safety even of the occupants of the car, and some studies say the reverse. No; people put bull bars on their vehicles because it is a fad—a trend. Unfortunately, motoring is very susceptible to trends. It should not be.
The object of getting in a vehicle is to travel and it should be to do so reasonably comfortably and, above all, as safely as possible. I deprecate fashion accessories that have nothing to do with safety or with the drive. Moreover, this fad is dubious because it panders to people's image of driving as an aggressive, macho power kick, and that is one of the most dangerous elements evident when someone is behind a wheel. I start from a position of considerable doubt, even if there were no evidence of danger, because of the psychological aspect.
Bull bars are a visual element. The definition of a bull bar in the Bill is a "protection system". There is evidence that in many cases it is not a protection system but a decorative, visual system. I hope that the hon. Member for Newport, West takes note of that.
I am worried about the reference to a "metal" bar because, although I have no evidence for saying so, common sense tells me that a bar might be made of other materials that might be equally dangerous. They might be equally tough—as are carbon fibre-based materials—or they might on impact do equally serious damage. A plastic bar might fracture, producing sharp edges that would drive into someone's side. The Bill's scope should be not narrowed but widened.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) mentioned a survey carried out by RoSPA and Auto Express, which showed that three quarters of those surveyed believed that the bars were fitted to vehicles only because they were fashionable and that 90 per cent. of the readers of Auto Express—people in driving for driving's sake—wanted bull bars banned. Eighty-nine per cent. believed that bull bars were dangerous. The public view is perceptive and should be taken into account when we examine such issues.
I made passing reference to PACTS. Its conclusions are interesting. Its members are experienced people who know what they are talking about and have considered the matter in detail. The council said in September 1995:Given widespread public concern, the government should introduce national legislation to prohibit aftermarket fitmentwhich is probably permissible under European agreementsand to discourage manufacturers who force purchasers to fit bull bars in order to be able to have optional extras such as spot or fog lights. PACTS also believes that exhortation and advice are not sufficient to cover the problem of aftermarket fitment.That comes on top of conclusions that back up virtually everything that the hon. Member for Newport, West said and gives further credence to fatality and injury figures.
1343 The council backs the Transport Research Laboratory's initial findings of 35 deaths and 350 serious injuries. The council's view is powerful evidence that needs to be taken into account. We cannot agree today with certainty on a specific figure for deaths, but that does not matter because in my book, one death is too many—indeed, one potential death is too many. I am sure that, however one reads the statistics, more than one death has resulted from bull bars. That requires us to act.
We could simply wait, but I believe that the evidence is strong enough and that commonsense signs are powerful enough for that to be a dangerous and rather irresponsible direction to take. Alternatively, we could explore the possibility of taking limited action in the knowledge that we are probably restricted from the overwhelming action that I would like to see because of European agreements.
If we can take limited action, there is a powerful argument for doing so. There is also a powerful argument even for temporary action. I understand the problems and limitations, and especially the upset that such action will cause tidy legal minds or tidy departmental minds. However, if we had a three or four-month period in which we introduced a total ban, we would probably succeed in delivering a death blow—perhaps I should not have used that phrase—or in making an impact on the industry and on consumer attitudes that would be so powerful that the fashion would never recover. In other words, the fashion would be wiped from people's minds.
§ Mr. Dover
Is it not far better to use persuasion? Already, the number of vehicles with bull bars fitted has declined and some bull bars have been taken off. Surely that means that the art of persuasion is working and that it is far more effective to ensure that people realise why bull bars are dangerous objects and why they should take some avoiding action.
§ Mr. Merchant
I entirely agree that persuasion is important and I hope that this debate is part of the process of informing and persuading. Sadly, however, persuasion is normally not sufficient with human beings. Not everyone who is attracted by bull bars will be persuaded, and there will remain irresponsible individuals who will continue to use them. They will probably be the worst offenders because they will have bull bars for entirely the wrong reasons. They are exactly the people who may then, regrettably, be involved in fatal accidents. We are talking about people's lives and about the terrible mayhem that still occurs on Britain's roads, which would not be tolerated in any other part of our national life. Bearing that in mind, we cannot simply rely on persuasion, important though it is. We must take further steps and those steps must be legislative.
I mentioned two possibilities—doing nothing or taking limited action. There are two other possibilities. One is to press forward with greater vigour to try to achieve a European settlement on the matter. I have no objection to that being done, but I am sceptical—it is not the only sense in which I am sceptical about the European Union—about anything resulting from that in the near future.
I have worked on directives, or objections to directives, where it has been promised that one will be introduced next year, and then that it will be introduced the year after.
1344 Four or five years on, one normally finds that it has not been finalised or agreed, or, if it has, it has been watered down. When it eventually comes, it is not properly applied across Europe. I have no objection to a directive, but we would be literally taking our lives into our hands if we sat back and waited for one.
I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that the House should take definitive action. That is why I so much welcome the Bill. It may be that once it has been scrutinised, improved and brought into law, we would clash with the European Union over it. I for one would not find that especially unwelcome. Apart from anything else, it would put tremendous moral pressure on European institutions to act more quickly and responsibly. Even if, having passed the law, we were prevented from putting it into full effect, that law would shame the European Union into taking action. For all those reasons, I find the argument in favour of firm, swift and full action against bull bars overwhelming. I hope that some means will be found to bring into law in this country a measure that will not only enhance safety on British roads but save British lives.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on introducing the Bill. He may be surprised to hear that from me because on the previous occasion on which we met in a public debate, we were of different opinions. That does not mean that we must always be at odds with each other.
I support the Bill, its spirit and its determination. When I read it, I was especially pleased that it was so determined to hammer home the point about the harm that bull bars can do. It provides for a three-month gaol sentence for any person driving such vehicles, which are killing machines. There is no other term for them. The Bill's spirit is appropriate.
I do not believe that concern about violence on the roads—that is what we are dealing with—is restricted to the hon. Member for Newport, West and those who have been immediately involved with the sponsorship of the Bill. I am well aware that my hon. Friend the Minister has been following the issue for some time. He has been hitting the bureaucrats. I am sure that he will tell us about the results of that. If he is getting at the red tape and the dilatory thinkers, they will not stand a chance.
We are talking about `roo bars, crash bars or bull bars which originated in the Australian outback. It is a romantic notion to think of vehicles skidding across that wide open landscape trying to avoid damage from leaping kangaroos, which are much attracted by the headlights of cars. In the right environment, bull bars are valid. In the Australian outback, kangaroos are a hazard, as were cows when cowcatchers were fitted to trains in America in the last century.
Times have moved on. It is a curious paradox that Australia, where one might have thought that there was good reason to keep such bars, has now banned them. The news has travelled from down under back to the mother country and we are behind the Aussies. I love the Australians dearly for many reasons, but this time it is salutary that we should consider their experiences. In 1980, Australia's transport department began studies that showed that bull bars, and their increasing use in urban areas, were causing more accidents, injuries and fatalities and that pedestrians were particularly at risk.
1345 In this country bull bars are legitimately used by farmers in their four-wheel drives. The RAC, and probably everyone now in the Chamber, would admit that in the right situation they are perfectly acceptable. However, the difficulty is that in the early 1990s vehicles with bull bars achieved a tremendous boom in popularity, and became a common sight on urban streets.
This morning, making a quarter of an hour's journey in my little Ford estate—which has no bull bars—while I was going round Trafalgar square, down into Parliament square and into the House of Commons, I spotted three jeeps with bull bars in that small area, although I am glad to say that I also spotted seven without.
It is good to arrive in the House of Commons car park and realise that we are now, by election, a bull bar-free zone, but we must still ask ourselves why on earth people put bull bars on vehicles. Much as we love to pretend that we live in the country, we do not have to brush cows and bulls from the motorways or from our streets. They are not even seen in the streets of my leafy constituency of Sutton. The majority of bull bars are fitted purely as a fashion accessory to vehicles that have never been driven off the highway and into the countryside—vehicles that have never crossed turf in a field and never will. Fashion has gone mad.
Macho, ego-boosting, fitted to vans and pick-up trucks, bull bars have now caused unacceptable damage. They are an extra hazard on the road, in addition to road rage and ram-raiding. Indeed, I suspect that much of the ram-raiding is carried out using such vehicles. So what are bull bars really for? It must be vanity. It is estimated that no less than 12 per cent. of the vehicle fleet in this country have had them fitted. As the hon. Member for Newport, West said, 500,000 vehicles are involved, and that is fashion design gone mad.
I do not believe that a bull bar is worth the sacrificing of a life. Three tragic cases, out of many more, come immediately to mind, such as that of 12-year-old Helen Baggs, hit full-square in the chest. I was deeply moved by the description by the hon. Member for Newport, West, because she was his constituent and he must know her family well. It is always deeply painful for a family to lose one of its loved ones, but to lose a child is even worse.
We also think of pensioner Ivy Harnett, and 13-year-old Victoria Moule, who was seriously injured. I pay tribute to Victoria's mother, Sharon Moule, who has worked tremendously hard to bring to public attention the awful and totally unnecessary suffering brought about by bull bars.
Surely vanity should not be allowed to cause 35 fatal accidents over the past year, and 350 serious injuries. And according to the RAC, the real figures could be twice as high, because it is difficult to obtain correct figures from the police. Of course the police force is not trying to be deliberately obstructive, but there is a genuine difficulty in analysing precisely what was the cause of an individual injury or death. One thing is for sure: whenever bull bars are attached to a vehicle involved in a serious accident, the injury will be infinitely greater. It is ironic that when more effort than ever before is being put into designing safer cars, we are still producing devices that are the antithesis of good practice and safety.
It is worth bearing in mind the new tests carried out by the BBC1 consumer programme "Watchdog", which are said to show just how dangerous bull bars are. Research 1346 showed that nine out of 10 children would survive if hit by a car travelling at 20 mph and without bull bars hut that all would most certainly be killed if knocked down by a vehicle with bull bars and travelling at only 12 mph. It is therefore hardly surprising that Sharon Moule should have been so determined to carry on her courageous work. She provides a salutary lesson because she has in her daughter a consistent reminder of what bull bars can do. Her daughter is still suffering from her injuries, has dizzy spells and has fallen behind at school, yet Mrs. Moule says:We are the lucky ones.I hope that in future there will be no more cases like that involving Victoria Moule.
Most cars and vans and newer models of four-wheel-drive vehicles are now designed with what are known as pedestrian-friendly bonnets and fronts that crumple on impact, but bull bars transform the bonnet into a solid barrier. About 8 per cent. of pedestrian casualties of road accidents are children. The hard, narrow steel bull bars are set at a child's eye level and adults are likely to be hit in the chest, abdomen or pelvis, but adults and children alike will be hit in the legs by the reinforced bumper area of the crash bar. In some well publicised cases, surgeons, coroners and police officers have expressed the opinion that accidents would not have been fatal had bull bars not been fitted.
Research in Germany, New Zealand and Australia concludes that bull bars turn slight injury accidents into serious ones and serious accidents into fatalities. It is interesting that not one researcher has concluded that bull bars add anything to safety. Research in Germany found that a collision between a pedestrian and a car fitted with a steel bull bar can be fatal at only 16 mph. Because of the better energy absorption, the speed at which a fatality occurs when elastic, plastic devices are fitted is 37 mph. Further tests found that a vehicle equipped with a steel bull bar was six times more unsafe than one without.
In addition, the fitting of bull bars can provide a sense of invulnerability. Drivers believe that they are beyond harm and can hurtle along the roads, up and down back streets and in and out of traffic. We have all seen them sitting high up in their seats, holding a big wheel and hitting the accelerator, confident that the bull bar will protect them from everything. It might, but it certainly does not protect pedestrians. In fact, such drivers' safety is only illusory.
Research has shown that drivers of vehicles fitted with bull bars are at risk because their feeling of security is undoubtedly misplaced. Bull bars increase the risk of serious injuries to the occupants of a vehicle. A car fitted with bull bars will absorb the energy of any impact in such a way as to trigger the mechanism that brings into operation the safety bag or, indeed, delay it, as the case may be.
There has been some debate as to whether the Department of Transport has carried out sufficient research into the effects of bull bars. I draw the House's attention to a working paper that the Transport Research Laboratory at Crowthorne in Berkshire produced at the suggestion of the Department of Transport, because it makes interesting and useful reading. It certainly adds to the arguments in favour of the Bill. The document states:Crash bars fitted to vehicles used on the public roads are likely to increase the risk of serious injury to pedestrians in road accidents.1347 A detailed, six-page document follows, which anyone can examine and which leaves us in no doubt about how important it is to consider direct action and not just to leave regulation to wishful thinking, self-regulation and self-motivation. Those are not working.
§ Mr. Dover
Does the paper that my hon. Friend mentioned contain any information about the damage to the occupants of the vehicles? My hon. Friend said that she thought that there was danger to the occupants of vehicles and that those driving them were perhaps over-confident. I am not saying that she is wrong, but does that document include any evidence to that effect?
§ Lady Olga Maitland
It so happens that that document does not consider occupants—I came across that information from other research—but it does state:A code of practice has certain limitations.I am sure that the laboratory has done more work on the subject, and if it has not, perhaps it could be encouraged to do so.
I have said that I am not happy about whether self-regulation is working, but I should pay tribute to the manufacturers that are taking action. It would be churlish to ignore what they are doing. For example, Nissan was the first four-wheel-drive builder to drop the steel bull bars from its vehicles, including the Terrano II, the Patrol GR and its light commercial range. But Nissan has installed instead a mock substitute made from polyurethane. Mitsubishi is doing the same for the Shogun vehicles. I am not happy about that because I do not believe that the substitutes will minimise the impact that much. Indeed, the RAC also does not regard them as especially safe. They are illusory and cosmetic. They make the driver feel good, but they will not make the pedestrian feel any happier.
§ Mr. Norris
I am following what my hon. Friend says with interest and I applaud the remarks that she has made so far. On the question of polyurethane accessories, there is no doubt that those accessories—whether they are of value in protecting the vehicle—overcome the reluctance of hon. Members to allow the fitment of aggressive steel bull bars. The real issue is the aggressive steel bars fitted in front of a pedestrian-friendly front. I would not want my hon. Friend to discredit the polyurethane fitments because I believe that, in road safety terms at least, they are perfectly acceptable.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says. I usually agree with him 100 per cent., but I hope that he will not think that I am being disrespectful if I say that it might be useful to do a little more research on what happens in an accident involving a polyurethane bull bar. I personally would not like to take that statement as read.
§ Mr. Flynn
I am delighted by the hon. Lady's speech, but the point of putting the word "metal" into the Bill was to avoid this argument. It might well arise in Committee. The problem with the polyurethane bars is that they legitimise the metal bars, but research might show that the shape of the polyurethane bars—they are well designed in some cases—has the effect of reducing the impact.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. It is obviously useful to consider such factors.
Other organisations are already throwing away bull bars and we should take comfort from that. Nationwide delivery companies are throwing them out, ambulance services have removed them from their vehicles, which is interesting, and the Army probably never even considered them in the first place for its latest huge order of Land Rover Defenders. One would have thought that the Army would have been a natural customer for them.
Most four-wheel drives do not have bull bars fitted as standard equipment. They are generally an extra-cost option. Losing them will cause no problems for owners, although an exception may be made in any legislation for farmers, for whom they can be useful rather than part of an ego-boosting exercise.
It would be appropriate to remove bull bars from the manufacturers' catalogues. We should discourage their use. Indeed, we ought to encourage people who have bull bars on their vehicles to get rid of them. I understand that discarding them is not difficult; a few minutes' work with a spanner is enough. Massive though they may look, they are effectively free standing with no structural function. They will not be missed. Even I might be able to turn a spanner to taking one off, although I am not always that practical.
People in public life should take a lead. I welcome the fact that Members of Parliament are living up to their responsibilities, but that should also happen in local authorities. I accept that the council in Sutton has taken the hint as far as its vehicles are concerned—acting on the advice of motor insurers it has taken the bull bars from all its 65 Ford Transit vans. That was done on practicalfinancial—grounds because it was told that it would face heavier claims if a child were hit by a vehicle with bull bars.
I ask Liberal Democrat councillors in Sutton to go one stage further and to remove bull bars from their vehicles and get their colleagues to do the same. In that way, the public would begin to understand that that is a policy that should be followed and that the bars are not to be admired.
Interestingly, insurance companies are pushing people to think more clearly on the matter. I congratulate CGA Direct of Horsham in West Sussex, which became the first insurance company in Britain to refuse cover for any vehicle fitted with rigid steel bull bars. The marketing director said:The bars do more damage to other vehicles in collisions, so claims involving cars fitted with bull bars tend to be higher.That is undoubtedly a lead and it is something that I support.
We can also encourage public support in different ways. During a survey by Auto Express and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 87 per cent. of motorists questioned said that bull bars should be banned. The Automobile Association is also very supportive of that case.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Earl of Kinnoull for introducing the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill in the other place a few weeks ago, in January. Sadly, I fear that lack of parliamentary time might prevent it from progressing.
1349 This is no new campaign, as the hon. Member for Newport, West is aware. It began about three years ago and we have to ask ourselves why on earth we have not taken action? What possible reason can there be for delay? I have become lost in the fudge and confusion, and the intricacies and bureaucracy, both at home and abroad. I do not want to throw too many sticks and stones, but it seems to have been a bit of a dance of the hokey cokey. Everyone agrees and says that the ban is obvious—we say it here in London and so do the Department of Transport, the European Union, and Commissioner Kinnock. What is the problem? Why are we so dilatory?
I have read the correspondence that has been passing between Commissioner Kinnock and the Minister. It does not make the issue any clearer. Each party seems to be saying that the other could do more. In the end, my hon. Friend will probably act on his own instincts, in which I have total confidence. I believe that he will say, if the Bill does not go through as planned, "Enough is enough. I am now going for it." I think that he will do that, and he should. He could quite easily justify that approach on the basis of subsidiarity. There are certain matters that should be dealt with at national level. In those instances, it is no one else's business what is going on. We should be allowed to get on with bull bars ourselves.
Let us make a plea for sanity. Drivers have the first responsibility. Let us say to drivers, "Take off your bull bars. You do not need them. You will cause a fatal injury, which will be on your conscience for ever." Let us say to manufacturers, "Don't push or encourage people to have bull bars." I say to the Government and to those in Europe, "Don't delay. Don't drag on. Don't fudge."
We have an important task to undertake. I have every confidence that in the end the Government will introduce effective legislation. In so doing, lives will be saved and we shall be eternally grateful.
§ Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on mounting a one-person campaign to persuade the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, the police force, the royal parks and even some insurance companies to have bull bars removed. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend has saved lives already by the action that he has taken. He is now giving the Government the chance to save even more lives.
I am grateful for support from my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). I welcome the thoughtful comments by the hon. Members for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). The remarks of the hon. Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) have produced a debate and allowed arguments to be aired.
It appears that there are three key objections. The first is that research is not valid and statistics do not count. The second is that the Commission is endorsing the Minister's view that he cannot do anything for the moment. The third is that bull bar owners are entitled to protect their vehicles.
1350 It is clear that the research funded by the Department of Transport, which was published in its news bulletin in 1994, showed that an estimated 35 lives a year were being saved by action taken on bull bars. I recognise that there has been a growth in the use of bull bars since then.
The Minister cited his letter from the Commission in February. I received a letter on Wednesday from officials of the RAC, who met members of both Mr. Kinnock's and Mr. Bangemann's cabinet. The meeting took place on 25 March. They conclude in their letter:The Commission officials were also adamant that there are courses of action which the UK government can take unilaterally.That is clear and we look forward to the Minister taking action.
The hon. Member for Chorley advanced the defence that car owners have the right to protect their vehicles. He told us that his car had lost its lights. Apparently that cost him £100. Helen Baggs lost her life, and that is what the debate is about.
The hon. Member for Hexham dismissed statistics. Previous predictions of fewer deaths were based on statistical information on seat belts, for example. The introduction of seat belt legislation has saved 1,000 lives and 5,000 serious injuries a year. Legislation was introduced on crash helmets. I am well aware of the excellent work that is done by the Astley Ainslie hospital in my constituency, which rehabilitates those with head injuries, and aware also of the beneficial effects of legislation bearing on crash helmets.
As regards the statistics on bull bars, I believe, as I am sure, does the whole House, that Helen Baggs was a person, not a statistic. People's lives have been destroyed. Ian Farnworth, 17, Nigel Sutcliffe and Susan Gardiner—all killed by vehicles that were armed, and I use that word advisedly, with these quite unnecessary bull bars.
One of the privileges of being a Member of Parliament is that we meet some remarkable people, people like Vicky Moule. I greatly admire her fighting spirit and her courage. She is a survivor. She has a great future. She had a lucky escape. Today, the House has an opportunity to replace luck with positive action for safety. There must be no delay. The Minister has 30 minutes to secure the passage of the Bill. Every week of delay could cost a child's life.
§ 2 pm
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
I congratulate hon. Members who have taken part in today's debate. There have been two sides to the debate: my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) did not support the principle of the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) ably expressed his scepticism, whereas the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Members for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), and my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring), for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) were supportive of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, of course, is co-sponsor of the Bill.
In the light of what I am about to say, let me make it clear that I have the greatest respect for the effort that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has put into 1351 this serious issue and for the improvements and action that he has achieved as a result of his campaigning zeal. He does indeed deserve our congratulations, our thanks and much credit for what he has achieved. I hope that it will be plain, if I may say so gently to my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham and for Chorley, whose opinions on this issue I entirely respect, that I strongly support the principle behind the Bill.
Sadly, however, allied to the no doubt perfectly genuine concern that the hon. Member for Newport, West feels about this issue, which as the Minister with responsibility for road safety I also feel, is an element that perhaps might be interpreted as a veiled party political argument: that somehow Labour Members are keener than Conservative Members that action should be taken. One thing that the debate has amply demonstrated, in the excellent speeches from my hon. Friends, two of whom are co-sponsors of the Bill, is that there is equal concern on both sides of the House on what we all accept is a serious issue. A number of hon. Members mentioned individuals who, as a result of road accidents, are sadly no longer alive.
I am not thought of as one who takes some aspects of life particularly seriously. As in most matters, Brian Walden got it right when he said that the vast majority of things in this life do not matter very much and the rest do not matter at all. However, I take some matters extremely seriously and I shall never be flippant about them. The paramount one is my job as the Minister with responsibility for road safety.
I am proud of the fact that, during my time as a Minister, there have been fewer deaths in road accidents than in any year since records were first compiled in 1926. That is an extraordinary achievement to which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham rightly referred in a recent debate on that very issue. He will know, as the House knows, that my great concern is that we should not take pride in that achievement but remember that every day in Britain, including Saturdays and Sundays, bank holidays, Christmas and new year, on average 10 people are killed on our roads. I make it clear to the hon. Member for Swansea, West that I am quite prepared to be unpopular with my own colleagues or with Opposition Members if I believe that a serious road safety issue is at stake.
I was recently criticised by some ill-informed observers about the serious measures that we wish to introduce to ensure that monocular drivers are not allowed to drive heavy, large, dangerous and long commercial vehicles and coaches. I was described in extraordinarily disparaging terms by a number of commentators for what was seen as nannyism, bending over backwards to EC pressure and so on. To those who are aware of the real issue, that criticism was totally misguided and ill-informed, but I hope that it underlines the fact that I am quite prepared to face such criticism if I believe that action is needed to save lives.I shall go on to describe why it is clear that this is not the Bill to do that.
§ Mr. Flynn
The Minister is respected as a man of courage. On the issue he mentions, those hon. Members who are specialists on transport safety are entirely behind him. I am aware of the Minister's sincere support for the Bill's aims, if not for its detail. Will he give an 1352 undertaking that he will not talk it out but will allow it to be further discussed in Committee so that it may be improved?
§ Mr. Norris
No, I will not give that undertaking, and I shall say quite specifically why in my considered and serious view there is no purpose in allowing the Bill to go further. I shall explain why time spent in Committee would be totally nugatory. I know that the hon. Gentleman is kind enough to treat what I say seriously, and it gives me no pleasure whatever to say that the Bill should not proceed. It is my unfortunate responsibility to have to remind my hon. Friends who are equally enthusiastic supporters of the Bill of the reasons why I simply cannot allow it to proceed.
First, the Bill wouldProvide for the prohibition of the use on roads of motor vehicles fitted with bull bars; and for other related purposes.Those purposes are perfectly laudable. Surprisingly, the Road Traffic Act 1988 has not been mentioned in the debate. I refer the House to part II, which is headed:Construction and Use of Vehicles and Equipment".Clause 41 is headed:General regulation of construction, use etc.Subsection (1) states:The Secretary of State may make regulations generally as to the use of motor vehicles and trailers on roads, their construction and equipment and the conditions under which they may be so used.Subsection (2) states:In particular, the regulations may make provision with respect to any of the following matters—and so on. I shall not detain the House further. In the 13 minutes left to me, it is no part of what I want to say to bother to insult the intelligence of hon. Members by reading any further, but the position is straightforward. Adequate legal power is already available to Parliament and to the Secretary of State for Transport to introduce a regulation to produce the Bill's effect, subject, of course, to the fact that the hon. Gentleman is generous enough to acknowledge: in this matter, we are not dealing with the competence solely of the United Kingdom Government.
- (a) the width, height and length of motor vehicles and trailers and the load carried by them, the diameter of wheels, and the width, nature and condition of tyres
- (b) the emission or consumption of smoke
- (c) noise,
- (d) the maximum weight
- (e) the particulars to he marked
- (f) the towing of — vehicles
- (g) the number and nature of brakes
- (h) lighting equipment"
What is crucial here is the extent to which this activity is governed by European directive. Let me make a direct point on that. There are many matters, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam alluded, in which the principle of subsidiarity, which the Prime Minister first seriously articulated at Maastricht and which is such a sensible and straightforward basis on which to frame the relationship between the Community and its individual member states, is involved. She is right to suggest that, under that doctrine of subsidiarity, much should be left to the nation state.
1353 I remember the best of all definitions, which is that the European Commission should do only that which the nation state could not do better itself. One other principle of European Union membership is equally clear: it is a cardinal advantage to every person who manufactures in the UK and who seeks to sell not merely in the UK, but in other member states' markets throughout the European Union, to have an agreed framework of regulations that determines standards of manufacture and that therefore allows a manufacturer, once he has met those standards, to sell his product in any Community country. That is the reason why I—not necessarily noted for my massive enthusiasm for regulation from Brussels—am none the less content that, in this matter, it is proper to look to the European Community directives to establish an appropriate framework for construction and use.
§ Mr. Norris
Yes I will because, so far, I am grateful that the House has seen the wisdom of adopting precisely that approach.
§ Mr. Flynn
If the Minister is blaming Europe for this and saying that we look to Europe, will he explain why he is ignoring the advice not only of the European Commissioner for Transport last year, but advice that has been repeated this week by the industry directorate, led by Herr Bangemann, and the transport directorate, led by Neil Kinnock, who say that we can go ahead unilaterally in three different ways to introduce a ban on our own?
§ Mr. Norris
I will explain that, but I should like to preface those remarks with an important clarification. Because of the general background of the debate in this country about our relationship with the Community, some commentators tend to view every issue in terms of either Britain right, Europe wrong; Britain right, Commission wrong; or, on occasions, Commission right, Britain wrong, depending on how it suits their political argument. I do not doubt that Commissioner Kinnock shares my view on this issue, is serious about it and makes his suggestions as to how the UK Government might proceed in good faith.
When I hear the hon. Member for Newport, West saying that I am blaming the Commission, I fear that not only does he do our relations with the Community no good, he distorts the nature of the extremely constructive dialogue that I have had with the Commissioner. It is important to remember—I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, who said that I am not noted for allowing issues to become bogged down in red tape—that Mr. Kinnock cannot, on behalf of every member of the Community, enter into agreements that require other members' support. He has to work within a consensus framework. He and I have jointly sought to find that right framework.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
First, the Minister has made it absolutely clear for the first time ever that he has the power.
§ Mr. Williams
The Minister has made that clear, and he is not denying it even though he is able to do so. Secondly, he has also made it clear that he will not exercise that power because, basically, it would mean that our manufacturers would have to produce one thing for Britain and another for Europe. That is the essence of it; he is trying to hide behind a universal standard. Will he explain what is to stop British manufacturers, who can make left-hand-drive cars and right-hand-drive cars, being capable of making cars with and without devices such as bull bars?
§ Mr. Norris
Let us be clear what the debate is about. The right hon. Gentleman, for whom, as he knows, I have great respect, suggests that I am "trying to hide behind" the European argument. That would suggest that I have any interest personally in finding a convenient bulwark behind which to hide. For the umpteenth time, I confirm for him and the House that I have no such intention. I believe that the thrust of the Bill's intention is correct.
The hon. Member for Newport, West has been rather scathing about the recent research work done to add practical shape, in the form of statistical evidence, to a great deal of the desk exercises and foreign studies that have shown that bull bars are likely to increase the severity of accidents and lead to unnecessary deaths. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been quite so scathing about perfectly respectable and serious work. I further reassure him by saying that I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham made the only proper and sensible point on the issue when he said that his conclusion may not be deeply scientific but is certain common sense. I share that view.
I associate myself unequivocally with the point that, regardless of whether the research is able to show beyond all reasonable doubt that 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 deaths may have been caused by bull bars, all one's common sense and personal experience suggests that steel bars at the height of a child's head or a young person's pelvic or thoracic area cannot, against the background of our intention to produce softer-fronted vehicles, conceivably be an aid to road safety. I share the genuine frustration of the hon. Member for Newport, West at any argument that somehow we have to prove the point beyond all reasonable doubt. The research is useful, but I consider it corroborative and not necessarily a hurdle.
§ Mr. Norris
Before I give way, I want to make quite clear the reasons why the three propositions advanced by Commissioner Kinnock are not in my view satisfactory. That having been said, I have great respect for my hon. Friend, and of course I give way to him.
§ Mr. Dover
The note from the Library this morning about bull bars, which I mentioned, says that the results of a report on the survey of accidents will be available in late March. I have just received a note today from the Library saying that the report, to be produced by the Transport Research Laboratory based on 1994 accident figures, is expected to be published in April. I urge the Minister to ensure that it is available as soon as possible because it provides fundamental background to the measure before us.
§ Mr. Norris
I shall do so. One of the reasons why the Transport Research Laboratory is still engaged in that 1355 work is that it wants to eradicate the type of anomaly that the hon. Member for Newport, West properly adduced from the existing accident statistics.
§ Mr. Norris
I must proceed.
It would be an irony, given that I have made no secret of my intention that the Bill should not proceed, if I were unable to make the argument that is fundamental to a serious debate on this issue. There is a serious debate on this issue, and it is not helped by wild assertions or by implying that every Conservative Member who chooses to block this unnecessary Bill will have blood on his hands. As someone who spends a great deal of his time every day of the week trying to ensure that we reduce loss of life on our roads, I resent even that implication. It is improper and ill-deserved.
§ Mr. Norris
I will not give way at the moment. I must make some progress because this point is directly related to the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised. As the House knows—there have been many references to it—I have been in regular contact with the Commissioner for some time on the matter. He wrote, in the letter quoted by the hon. Gentleman, in May 1995 about three ways in which he believed that it was possible for the United Kingdom to act unilaterally in this respect.
The right hon. Member for Swansea, West suggested in an intervention that if I had the power, there was no need for the debate to go a moment further. The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House far too long, and has far too comprehensive a knowledge and experience of the relationships between nation states and the Commission, to imagine that the fact, in statute, that the power exists to effect certain actions in the United Kingdom overrides any Community obligation in that respect. It cannot do so. It is part of the sham, and the deep cynicism of some of those who have opportunistically suggested that this is a political debate, that they have so crudely misrepresented the relationship between any sovereign state in the European Union and the institutions of the Union.
The first of the Commissioner's proposals was to invoke a six-month ban on registration of vehicles fitted with approved-type bull bars, under a clause in the framework directive for European type approval. That applies where a member state considers there to be a serious safety risk.
In order for us to invoke such a power, it would be necessary to show that that safety risk was of a different order of magnitude to those safety risks considered by the Commission when it allowed the approval of bull bars fitted as part of whole-vehicle type approval to vehicles that are already legally approved under those terms. On that basis, we would be at least vulnerable to challenge.
Incidentally—it is important to place this on record—who would be the challenger? My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam says, as a mother and as a concerned parent, who could possibly object? That was the tone of this morning's debate. The answer is, first, the many people whose businesses manufacture bull 1356 bars—my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham referred to them—and, secondly, foreign vehicle manufacturers. The idea that we can just say, "Well, this is all jolly good stuff and nobody can object to it because it is all mum and apple pie. Let's get on with it," is an absurd and, frankly, rather facile notion which I am not prepared to entertain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham raised a serious point amid all the rather cynical and bland assertions from Labour Members. My hon. Friend latched on to one of the few really good arguments for adopting a temporary ban. He said that, all other factors notwithstanding, the existence of a temporary ban would at least have—
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman knows that my responsibility in the House is to address the occupant of the Chair, which is exactly what I do. The hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate has been wholly unworthy of him and quite inconsequential. He would do better to be quiet and remain in his place.
§ Mr. Norris
Indeed, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would do better to resign, as my hon. Friend so accurately says.
§ Mr. Norris
No, the Minister will not give way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham made the serious point that even though we knew that the ban would be temporary, unsound and open to challenge, we should impose it in the sense of declaratory legislation. In other words, if I understand his argument—I hope that he agrees that this is an accurate paraphrase—the purpose would be simply to illustrate how strongly Parliament felt. I understand that argument. However, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the custodian of the rights and traditions of this House, will know that it is not within the rights and traditions of the House to pass legislation that, almost at the time of its passing, becomes redundant and open to challenge. It is not within our rights and traditions to pass legislation simply to make a declaratory statement. I regard that as an extraordinary and unsound basis for legislation and the Government cannot treat such a proposition seriously.
The second proposal was to require the removal of after-market bull bars which had not been type approved. The problem with that course of action is that it would have to comply with articles 30 and 36 of the European Union treaty, which introduce broader difficulties. Article 30 prohibits restrictions on trade while article 36 provides powers to take action on safety grounds, but such action cannot be undertaken lightly for the reasons I have adduced. Any such action would have an extraordinarily limited effect and would be almost impossible to enforce as vehicle owners could simply switch to type-approved bull bars. As anyone who really understands the subject will know, it is practically impossible to tell a type-approved bull bar from a non-type-approved bull bar.
1357 The third and last proposal related to a ban on the import of vehicles fitted with bull bars and first registered in another member state. The proposal would be subject to the application of article 30, as I previously suggested. I ask the House to consider this proposition. If we introduced that measure, we would be ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of vehicles that have these devices fitted are registered in this country and are not registered overseas before being brought into this country. Such a move would be extraordinarily ineffective. I would have welcomed a suggestion from the Commissioner that I felt met our requirements. However, I was, sadly, forced to conclude that the three suggestions did not present a practical solution in our eyes.
We hope, however, that we can take the matter forward, by agreement between me and the Commission, through making a change to the external projections directive. We may be able to make some progress in that way. The hon. Member for Newport, West referred to the fact that two directives are in play here. In view of the time allotted to me, I shall have to be very quick about this.
Ideally, we would need the pedestrian protection directive in place to provide a truly comprehensive solution. That directive is likely to be some time off. If we use the external projections directive and amend it by a procedure that is not as difficult, we may be able to obtain a solution which, while not perfect, is more adequate for our purpose than any of the options offered by Commissioner Kinnock that have been so enthusiastically supported—I believe utterly cynically—by Labour Members. If we were to go down the course that I have described, it would mean examining the proposal that we have received in the past week or so from the Commission and considering a form of words. I have told my officials that they should urgently examine that form of words. They know that my predilection is to ensure that we find an adequate form and take the proposal forward on that basis—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday 19 April.