Second Standing Committee on European Community Documents


Thursday 7 July 1988



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Miss Janet Fookes

Bidwell, Mr. Sydney (Ealing, Southalt)

Bottomley, Mr. Peter (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

Callaghan, Mr. Jim (Heywood and Middleton)

Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth (Lincoln)

Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Crewe and Nantwich)

Dykes, Mr. Hugh (Harrow, East)

Knowles, Mr. Michael (Nottingham, East)

Lloyd, Mr. Tony (Stretford)

Macfarlane, Sir Neil (Sutton and Cheam)

Marland, Mr. Paul (Gloucestershire, West)

Mates, Mr. Michael (Hampshire, East)

Michie, Mrs. Ray (Argyll and Bute)

Montgomery, Sir Fergus (Altrincham and Sale)

Moss, Mr. Malcolm (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

Mudd, Mr. David (Falmouth and Camborne)

Thompson, Mr Patrick (Norwich, North)

Vaz, Mr. Keith (Leicester, East)

Young, Mr. David (Bolton, South-East)

Panton, Mr. S. A. L. Committee Clerk

3 Second Standing Committee on European Community Documents Thursday 7 July 1988

[Miss JANET FOOKES in the Chair]

European Community Documents Nos. 6878/86 and 7946/87 on Roadworthiness Testing

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley): I beg to move, That the Committee takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 6878/86 and the supplementary explanatory memoranda submitted by the Department of Transport on 8th and 27th June 1988 and 7946/87 on roadworthiness tests for motor vehicles and their trailers; and agrees that her Majesty's Government could accept an extension of roadworthiness testing providing that the items to be added to the Department of Transport test were beneficial and could be tested to member states' own test methods. We are considering tests of cars and light goods vehicles, generally known as MOT tests. We are to consider two proposals from the Commission. One of the two is a minor amendment of the first. Proposal 6878/86 is the important one. The supplementary explanatory memorandum dated 27 June 1988 reflects the latest state of play, including the Council's agreement on 20 and 21 June. The Council agreed to extend the directive to light goods vehicles from 1993. The United Kingdom entered a parliamentary scrutiny reserve. Two other member states entered waiting reserves, which have since been lifted. The proposal to extend the directive to cars remains on the table. It was to have been debated in the House on 16 June, but the time taken on earlier business prevented it being reached. EC directive 77/143 has, for some years, required member states to test heavy goods vehicles and public transport vehicles at least once a year. In Britain, the directive is implemented through the annual tests of heavy goods vehicles by the Department's testers at the Department's heavy goods vehicle testing stations, and the annual tests of public service vehicles by the Department's vehicle examiners at operators' premises and heavy goods vehicle testing stations. Tests of heavy goods vehicles and PSVs are carried out on vehicles as soon as they are one year old. Many items are checked. The Commission has proposed extending the scope of the directive to cars and light goods vehicles. Its extension to cars has so far proved too difficult for some member states. That part of the proposal may be discussed before a new regime for light goods vehicles takes effect in 1993. The most crucial aspect of the proposal for the United Kingdom is the list of items to be checked. The Commission's original proposal was for a check of rather more items than are mentioned in the 4 Department's explanatory memorandum of 27 June. It would have required testing of radio interference suppression and several other unjustifiable items that we have succeeded in removing from the agenda. Vehicles must be maintained to acceptable safety standards as they grow older. It would be wrong to require vehicle manufacturers to build a vehicle to demanding European Community and Economic Commission for Europe safety requirements—as indeed they are—but to allow that same vehicle to deteriorate to the point of becoming seriously defective as it grew older. The MOT test helps prevent such deterioration. It is not, and will never be, a way of ensuring that all vehicles are safe, it provides a basic check of the important safety items on vehicles from an age when, in an average car covering average mileage, safety-related components might begin to become significantly worn. Some high mileage, ill-maintained vehicles might have significantly worn components in less than three years while other vehicles might be so well maintained that they could go on for many years without the need for a statutory inspection. A statutory scheme is necessary because many motorists would be tempted to put off getting their brakes checked or their tyres changed without it. There is always the thought that, for one reason or another, a motorist might escape prosecution if driving a vehicle that fails to comply with many construction and use requirements. That cannot be done when the MOT test becomes due and an MOT test certificate is needed to re-license the vehicle. Thirteen items would have to be added to the MOT test at some time after the end of 1992 if the proposal were adopted. I shall go through the list briefly, with a comment on each item. I emphasise that those items would be checked only if they were otherwise required by our law to be fitted to the vehicle. There is no question of a directive on roadworthiness testing imposing retrospective construction standards on old vehicles. I know that that has been a point on concern to owners of historic vehicles. The check on the condition of glass—which means windscreen glass—would be a simple check for evidence of cracking, delamination or ingress of water. We would need to draw a line between serious and minor faults. The check on the driver's field of vision would ensure that the driver's view of the road was not obscured. The check on rear-view mirrors would be for the presence and condition of the mirrors—again, simple check of a safety feature. The lighting checks would require the tester to switch lights on and see whether or not they worked. Rear fog lamps provide increased visibility in fog and other poor visibility conditions; registration plate lamps benefit law enforcement; and hazard warning lamps provide warnings of danger. The check on fuel tanks and pipes would be aimed at reducing the risk of car fires. The bodywork check would be of structural, not cosmetic, items. The MOT test already includes some structural aspects. There may be little or nothing to add to the MOT test. A check on locks has been recommended by 5 the Home Office Standing Conference on Crime Prevention Working Group on Car Security as a useful contribution to the fight against car crime. The check on drivers' seat mountings would ensure that the seat was secure. The checks on the registration number plates and chassis numbers are also related to crime prevention. Finally, the exhaust emission check would be a visual check that the car did not belch forth an excessive density of fumes and smoke. This environmental test could be to the benefit of other motorists and the public at large. The Government's view is that the checks of those 12 or 13 additional items would enhance the value of the test, albeit at some cost to the motorist. The Department would be looking for agreement to simple but effective test methods. Current tentative estimates suggest that the increase in the test fee would be unlikely to exceed £2. I would be looking for a significantly lower figure as the outcome of our detailed consultation on implementation, if a directive were adopted. Adoption of the measure would bring some small benefit to the United Kingdom in terms of the condition of visiting cars. That aspect is of much greater importance to some other member states, for example Belgium, where there is a much higher proportion of foreign-registered vehicles on the road than in the United Kingdom. The position reached at the Council of Ministers on 20 to 21 June was satisfactory in that all the points of principle to the United Kingdom had been resolved. Tests can be carried out in private sector garages. Only items required by our law to be fitted need be checked. Test standards and methods are matters for the United Kingdom. We have time to decide how best to deal with any directive on light goods vehicles. In that time, the Council might look again at cars. The issues are whether to go further than the directive would require and extend the test for cars; whether to have two separate types of MOT test, with some operational complications and costs; or whether to make other changes to the test scheme. In that last respect, we could look again at the first test dates and frequencies, and the weight threshold separating MOT and heavy goods vehicle testing. None of those matters needs to be decided today. The Department will consult fully on any proposals.

10.39 am

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): We are grateful for The Minister's straightforward statement, but there are one or two questions that I should like to ask. My experience of European legislation is that frequently a final position is reached that modifies the law of the individual countries and inevitably that means a compromise. The Minister did not mention the time between individual tests. Will he assure me that by accepting the directive, we shall not lower road safety standards in any way? It would be unfortunate if the time between different tests was longer or if the various technical tests were inferior to the present legislation. There are already many deaths from road traffic accidents in this country and we would be loth to allow a directive to slip through Parliament on the 6 apparent agreement of the Government if there were the slightest suggestion that standards would be lowered. Are we to understand that the Minister will return to the House with subsequent directives on light goods vehicles? If that is so, we are prepared to accept the present methods, but it will be most worrying if the Committee assents to subsequent legislation on light goods vehicles which we shall not discuss in detail. If the Minister can assure us on those questions, we would be prepared to accept the motion.

10.41 am

Mr. Bottomley: I shall respond to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). We are today taking note of European Community documents—if the motion is agreed by the Committee—and we shall be lifting the parliamentary reserve. The Council of Ministers agreed to go for a directive requiring the testing of light goods vehicles from 1993 onwards. I spoke of the potential implications for car testing, but the real consequence is that 12 or 13 extra items will be included in our test. I was open with the Committee. We can consider the frequency of testing but the European document does not suggest that we should lower our standards of testing in any way. Within the overall framework of the Community regulations, we can come to the House with our own regulations, within the basic minimum that the Community requires. We have retained the option to have our own standards, and we maintain higher standards in this country than in most European countries. I cannot imagine that the House of Commons would approve regulations which in any net way reduced the safety standards in vehicle checks. I must re-emphasise that no driver should rely on the MOT test, or the HGV test, as proof that a vehicle is safe every day of the year. All that the system does is to say that a vehicle has passed the test at a testing station, on a particular day. There is an obligation on an operator of any vehicle, whether it be a domestic car, public service vehicle, light or heavy goods vehicle, to ensure that it is well maintained and driven safely.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Do the Government intend to consider testing the strength of windscreen glass? Is there any mention of examining the couplings for safety belts? If we are to have legislation enforcing the use of belts in both the front and the back of cars, why is there no mention of the stanchions required to anchor belts? After a lifetime of helping to cut people out of cars, I have strong views on road safety. No member of my family would be allowed to travel without seat belts fastened in the front and rear of their cars.

Mr. Bottomley: The Committee is grateful for the hon. Lady's remarks. Two thirds of us drive children, and 90 per cent of us drive adults, unbelted in the 7 backs of our cars, and that is stupid. It is the sort of subject into which a Lord Justice should inquire, as we are exposing many people to unnecessary risk. The checking of seat belts is included in the existing test, where they are required. Historic vehicle clubs are not at risk as we do not expect old vehicles to be brought up to the standard of new vehicles in their construction and use requirements. The MOT system is designed to test vehicles on the equipment required at the time of manufacture: there are few requirements for retro-fitting. If we were to require retro-fitting we would say so openly, and ask for comments from those affected. The hon. Lady asked me about windscreens. We do not foresee a major test of the strength of the 8 windscreen during the life of the vehicle, but we expect drivers to be able to see out of their windscreens. That is the additional requirement that will come under the Community documents.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 6878/86 and the supplementary explanatory memoranda submitted by the Department of Transport on 8th and 27th June 1988 and 7946/87 on roadworthiness tests for motor vehicles and their trailers; and agrees that Her Majesty's Government could accept an extension of roadworthiness testing providing that the items to be added to the Department of Transport test were beneficial and could be tested to member states' own test methods.

Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Eleven o 'clock.


Fookes, Miss Janet (Chairman)

Bottomley, Mr. Peter

Carlisle, Mr. Kenneth

Dunwoody, Mrs.

Dykes, Mr.

Knowles, Mr.

Macfarlane, Sir Neil

Marland, Mr.

Michie, Mrs. Ray

Moss, Mr.

Thompson, Mr. Patrick