How many Earls does it take to change ……………… the mind of the Department for Transport

I have just introduced a short debate in the Moses Room (Grand Committees in the House of Lords take place in a room known as the Moses Room as there is a large fresco called ‘Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law from Mount Sinai’ there) on the possible use of the Segway Personal Transporter in the UK.  My interest in this was fired by seeing a demonstration of a Segway in use and hearing of the use of  them made by some 1000 police and law enforcement agencies around the world.

The police experience elsewhere has found a series of benefits: they can easily be integrated into patrolling, they cut down response times, they provide a better line of sight for officers (because the officer is on a platform 40-50cm above the ground), and they improve engagement between the police and the public (compared with officers in a car).

They are also of use for other specialised purposes.  For example, BAA deploy them at Heathrow and find that they speed up response times in the event of an incident or equipment breakdown and provide an efficient way of patrolling and doing routine maintenance tests.  A number of UK local authorities are also interested in deploying them in parks, city centre precincts, routine maintenance patrols and even for parking enforcement.

Finally, if made available for general use, there is evidence from a major study in Canada that a high proportion (62%) of car users would be keen to give up their cars for many short journeys – with a considerable saving in carbon emissions and congestion.

Most other countries permit their use.  In the UK, however, the Deparment for Transport is adamant that existing legislation does not permit their use on roads, on cycle routes or on pavements.  Moreover, there are – it is claimed – no powers that would even permit a trial to take place. (I am not convinced of this.  As a non-lawyer, Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 seems to permit the appropriate exemptions to be made.)

Andrew Adonis, the Lords Transport Minister, stonewalled elegantly on behalf of the Department.  However, he did agree to try one out himself (although he insisted that I do so as well) and offered me a meeting with his Departmental colleague, Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

What was noticeable was the make-up of the discussion.  As Andrew pointed out, he and I, “as the representatives of the Proletarian Party were the only mere Life Barons present”.  The other speakers were the Earls Attlee (grandson of Clement, but now speaking on behalf of the Conservative front-bench), Liverpool (also a Conservative and descendent of another former Prime Minister – a Tory this time) and Erroll (a cross-bencher who is also the hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland), and Viscount Falkland (speaking for the Liberal Democrats).  The Earl of Glasgow (another Liberal Democrat, who had originally wanted to speak as well) also sat in for most of the debate.  When Earl Attlee expressed his sympathy to Viscount Falkland that he was only a Viscount, Lord Falkland hastened to point out that he was, in fact, also an Earl, but as it was a Jacobite creation it didn’t count.  All in all, five of the ninety-two remaining hereditary peers still sitting in the Lords were present.  I am not sure what it means, but it certainly felt strange.

2 thoughts on “How many Earls does it take to change ……………… the mind of the Department for Transport”

  1. For once, my Lord Harris, you have it right to Dixie.

    As I have blogged elsewhere, the Segway — both in its present form, and in the new, improved version — deserves a more benign reception in the UK.

    I have seen them operating in the US and elsewhere: they seem to be quite complementary to other traffic, though they are (I gather) total buggers in the wet. As you say, they can be used for policing and similar activity. They are at least as acceptable in pedestrian areas as, say, luggage trolleys at King’s Cross or less-abled conveyances at airports.

    I saw Segways on hire in Pisa a few weeks back. Now Pisa, with cobbled streets, mass tourism and a medieval street lay-out, where they have to merge with other conventional traffic, must be the ultimate test. Yet, with half-an-hour of basic training, the general public are let loose on them. As far as I know, the casualty rate is below the attrition claimed by Blasted Boris from bendy buses (i.e. nil).

    As for your problems with the remaining hereditaries, that’s down to the craven capitulation of New Labour. I myself favour the Kalashnikov solution.

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