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Satellite Navigation (Updating Scheme)

Volume 599: debated on Tuesday 8 September 2015

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to establish a scheme under which UK-based providers of mobile satellite navigation services must offer their customers incentives to provide real-time updates on route suitability and traffic management measures; and for connected purposes.

I am grateful for the chance to introduce the Bill and I hope that hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber will not rely on sat-nav to get to the Tea Room—if they can find it at the moment. If they do, some of them will probably end up floating in the Thames. I admire the wizardry of sat-nav, but I am painfully aware that it does not always work.

The purpose of my Bill is simple: to prevent heavy lorries from getting stuck under low bridges, on roads far too narrow for their trailers, up perilous mountains or across boggy fields, and from driving headlong, in one or two cases, into rivers. Satellite navigation is supposed to take the worry out of motoring, but tell that to a party of schoolchildren who recently got stuck on a coach bound for Henry VIII’s palace that was led to Islington instead. I realise that Islington might become of importance next week as an international shrine for the Labour party, but that makes no difference to the fact that Henry VIII would not have been seen dead in the place. As for the poor children, it was a bit of a disappointing day.

That is just one example of what sat-nav does, and there are far too many more. Another coach party, this time made up of pensioners, was on its way for a jolly day trip to the village of Stroat in Gloucestershire when the driver, who was slavishly following the sat-nav, got stuck. The pensioners walked—or in some cases limped—through several ploughed fields to make it to their destination. Meanwhile, in Hampton Loade, Shropshire, sat-nav has been sending drivers straight into the River Severn. Naturally, the council put signs up; naturally, the drivers ignored them. The same damp ending has happened in Wiltshire, Norfolk and, believe it or not, Leicestershire. A cheery voice confidently tells drivers to go straight on, and then, suddenly—splash! It is somewhat embarrassing.

One might think that something is wrong with the mapping, but often something is wrong with the language. We have the ability to ask locals for directions if we are ever stupid enough to get lost, but if someone’s mother tongue is Lithuanian and their sat-nav goes wonky they probably will not understand a word people say in Charlcombe near Bath. A driver from Vilnius was trapped in his truck for four days until rescuers pulled him clear.

A Czech lorry driver had similar problems in Ivybridge in Devon. His lorry was wedged down a narrow lane for three days, with him stuck inside. The whole of Bruton high street in Somerset was shut for 24 hours after another foreign vehicle misjudged its width, having been urged on by the soothing voice of his navigational aid. The worst example I have found was from Wadebridge in Cornwall, where a Belgian truck driver was directed by his sat-nav into an unsuitable cul-de-sac, tried to reverse out and, quite impressively, demolished a roundabout and six parked cars. So much for European unity.

I would like to explain some of the intricacies of this very clever technology. Sat-navs obviously work from outer space. The global positioning system can provide location, altitude and speed with great accuracy—when it works. Microwave radio signals travelling at the speed of light from at least three different satellites are used by the dashboard receiver to calculate precisely where the vehicle is and how fast it is going. However, only a tiny difference is needed between the clock in the receiver and the time by which the satellites are working to make the measurements go haywire. GPS has a built-in margin of error that can get even wider when travelling in rugged terrain, such as west Somerset. There is only one solution: if all sat-navs were fitted with atomic clocks, we could absolutely rely on them. Unfortunately, atomic clocks retail at about £100,000 each, which I am afraid would put TomTom, Dick and Harry well outside the bracket.

That is why we have to put up with dumb directions from the little box all too often. That is why a party of football fans on a coach from the continent ended up in Yorkshire, rather than Wales. They had typed only one word into their sat-nav: “Wales”. Just outside Sheffield there is a village called Wales, and a very nice place it is too, unless one is expecting to watch a football match 200 miles away at Cardiff Arms Park. An ambulance in Essex that was meant to be transferring a patient 12 miles down the road unfortunately listened to the sat-nav and—believe it or not—ended up in Manchester. In my constituency, particularly on the winding and congested roads of west Somerset, heavy lorries rely on sat-nav, to the exclusion of common sense and always at our expense. They cause frustration and delay and often have to be rescued and towed out, which costs time and money. But the drivers and the companies who employ them always blame sat-nav when their vehicles end up in the wrong place. In my view that is a total cop-out that must be tackled by law.

In the old days we carried maps and—dare I say it?—used our intelligence; we stopped the car, wound down the window and asked somebody where we were. Today, far too many drivers blithely assume that it is all the fault of a box of electronic tricks when they end up lost. Some drivers prefer to obey the voice of their sat-nav, rather than the solid instructions of clear signs screwed to posts by county and district councils. It does not get much clearer than a sign that reads, “This Road is Narrow—No Heavy Lorries”, yet certain gormless truck drivers still choose to follow the voice in the box and ignore the obvious hazards. They might as well drive blindfolded.

It is high time that the law was changed to make the buck stop where it should: with haulage firms that order their drivers to stick to the sat-nav, or with the drivers themselves. The Bill aims to remove motoring’s lamest excuses and put the blame where it belongs. I commend it to the House.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has gone on manoeuvres a little prematurely. He has further information and better particulars to vouchsafe to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Order. The hon. Gentleman should return to his seat. I will talk him through the process. He is showing too much haste. He should have learnt about Treebeard in “The Lord of the Rings”, who warned of the dangers of haste. Who will prepare and bring in the Bill? He should now blurt out the names.


That Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger, Kevin Barron, Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Kelvin Hopkins, Mr Philip Dunne, Mr Philip Hollobone, Robert Neill and Pauline Latham present the Bill.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 October, and to be printed (Bill 66).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 15 April this year a local fishing vessel had its nets snagged in the Irish sea. I made representations to the appropriate Minister, the Minister for the Armed Forces, who informed me—in written correspondence, on the Floor of the House on 20 July and in a written answer to a parliamentary question dated 15 June—that the Royal Navy was not responsible. Following further information, two Royal Navy officers arrived at my constituent’s house in Ardglass yesterday morning to confirm that it was a Royal Navy vessel that was responsible.

Action needs to be taken. The Minister provided a written statement yesterday morning, but she should have made an oral statement on the Floor of the House. Will you, Mr Speaker, advise me on what should be the next steps, and can it be referenced in Hansard that there has been a change of emphasis from not knowing which authority was responsible to now saying that it was a Royal Navy vessel?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and for indicating to me a few moments ago her intention to raise it. My response is twofold. First, the question of whether a Minister comes to the House to make an oral statement is a matter for that Minister, rather than the Chair. Secondly, as the hon. Lady will know, all Members, including Ministers, are responsible for the accuracy or otherwise of what they say. In the event that any incorrect information has been given to the House and a Minister judges that the record needs to be corrected, it is incumbent upon that Minister to ensure that the correction is made, possibly by coming to the House to make an oral statement, or possibly by correcting the record in another way. I am unable to achieve anything for the hon. Lady today, but towards the end of her point of order she inquired whether Hansard could note her concern. In that respect, as she will be aware, she has achieved her own salvation, because Hansard will state tomorrow what she has said today. Ministers will have heard what she has said. If any further action is required, I hope that it will be taken. We will leave it there for today. I thank her for her courtesy.