HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1252-5

Before making an order under section 1 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967, the authority shall consult with any body which appears to it to have an interest in the countryside, and the Minister may require it to consult with any body.—[Mr. Iremonger.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Iremonger

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This Clause is about trials, and the point is that Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act, 1967, provides in subsection (1)(e) that road traffic regulations which restrict the right of the public to use roads may be made for preserving the character of the road in a case where it is specially suitable for use by persons on horseback or on foot. Clause 25(2) of the Bill amplifies and adds to that provision by saying that regulations may be made for the purpose of conserving or enhancing the natural beauty of the area, or of affording better opportunities for the public to enjoy the area for recreation or the study of nature. The object of the new Clause is to try to ensure that that subsection will not be used dishonestly to stop trials which are tests of riding skill and an essential part of the motor cycling sport. The trouble is that there is a history of suspicion behind this because the Road Traffic Act, 1960, Section 26, which was not intended for the purpose at all, was used in 1964, for example, to close a road to public traffic. I am referring to Wise's Lane, Ashtead, in Kent, and there are other examples in the Dartford Rural District in the case of Wood Lane, Darenth and Ash Church Lane, which was closed because one man went down it on a motor cycle one day. These roads were closed by this method—and one of them was used for the trials of the South-East Centre of the Auto Cycle Union—simply because it was thought that there was no other legal way of controlling the holding of trials.

Trials are now controlled, as it is right they should be, under the Road Traffic Act, 1962, and the Minister of Transport has a standing committee to investigate any complaints against those taking part. So the control is strictly exercised and grudgingly, perhaps, but none the less wholeheartedly accepted by the motor cyclists.

12.15 a.m.

But the danger is seen here that the general use of roads could be stopped maliciously, or by individuals, against the public interest. For example, the frontager who had a property near the head of a dalehead road at the end of which was a car park could get the road stopped at the point where is came abreast of his property and so on, chopping backwards ore by one a few yards at a time, so that the road could be stopped and made no longer open to vehicular traffic. The British Motorcyclists Federation has evidence of malicious closures of this kind.

There is another possibility in that it is sometimes found convenient to stop traffic or make traffic one-way traffic in such a way as to destroy a through route.

It would be very helpful if the Minister could give a reassurance that this is not the intention of Clause 25 of the Bill, that it will not be permitted for the Clause to be used in that way, and that if there is any doubt about the application of the Clause, consultation with the vehicle users could be put into effect to relieve it.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able either to accept the new Clause or to explain convincingly that its purpose can be achieved in another way.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I support the Clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). As I said during the debate on the last Clause, Section 1(d) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967, is important to the motor cycle riders and their union centres, and I hope very much that the Minister will be able to clear this matter up and make it clear beyond peradventure that these very responsible organisations should be consulted when there are inquiries about the closure of roads.

Mr. Skeffington

I think I can again reassure the hon. Gentleman in the matter which is causing concern to him and those for whom he speaks.

If I may very cautiously say so, and without in any way wishing to interfere in the workings of the organisations for which he speaks, I think that if they were able to consult someone who specialises in this matter they might realise that their fears are groundless because these matters are covered by legislation.

The fact is that there has to be consultation before these orders can be made. The latest enactments in this connection are the Road Traffic Regulation (Procedure) (England and Wales) Orders, 1968, which were, I think, only issued in January, although there have been earlier Regulations.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at Regulation 5 of these Regulations he will see this Before making an Order, a local authority shall— (a) consult with the chief officer of police of the police area in which are situated the roads to which the proposed Order relates and with such representative organisations as they think fit, This is mandatory, and there is a similar provision which I think relates to bridges, and which might be just as relevant, in Regulation 21.

There is, of course, a further power in Section 4 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 whereby the appropriate Minister—the Minister of Transport, the Secretary of State for Wales or the Secretary of State for Scotland—can lay down the procedure to be followed by local authorities making these Orders. So there is a clear duty to consult representative organisations. These powers will bite only as far as is laid down in Clause 25 (2), which refers to the making of Orders under the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967, including … the purpose of conserving or enhancing the natural beauty of the area, or of affording better opportunities for the public to enjoy the area for recreation or the study of nature. It is possible to use the powers for particular forms of transport, but only as far as that subsection provides. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Clause, since the matter is covered elsewhere.

Mr. Iremonger

I think that the House is grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his exegesis of this baffling and complex traffic legislation, which I am sure will be studied with benefit in the relevant quarters. I hope that they will take his speech as an open invitation to seek his guidance, and that he will be able to help them if they are not clear. Perhaps this might be pursued further on another occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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