HC Deb 26 October 1982 vol 29 cc945-8


Lords amendment: No. 65, in page 55, line 23, at end insert— ( ) An order under section 81(3) of the 1967 Act may not authorise the employment of a traffic warden to discharge any function under this Part of this Act in respect of an offence if the offence appears to the traffic warden to be an offence involving obligatory endorsement.

Read a Second time.

Mr. Stott

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, at end insert 'as an offence under sections 32, 33A or 33B of the 1972 Road Traffic Act'. We seem to have made swift progress to the issue now before the House. The hon. Lady and I have been at one in our discussions in respect of the seat belt law that this House has passed. It was important, in the interests of road safety, on the basis of all the available evidence, that the use of seat belts should be made compulsory. The legislation has gone through the House. It will come into operation early next year.

When we were debating the fixed penalty procedure in Committee the hon. Lady indicated that there were a number of offences that could be brought into the fixed penalty category. There were a number of offences that could be dealt with by fixed penalty, but also offences that would require obligatory endorsement in addition to the fixed penalty.

I understand that the provisions within the Bill as it came from another place mean that traffic wardens are not permitted, under the legislation, to issue fixed penalty notices when the offence is an endorsable offence. That is a wise precaution. One recognises the valuable work done by traffic wardens. It would, however, be unwise to extend their powers to issue fixed penalty notices in respect of any of those offences that warranted an obligatory endorsement. I agree with the Government that we should not proceed down that path. There are a number of offences listed in the schedule that are not endorsable and that would fall within the scope and range of traffic wardens. This has to be welcomed as an advance in tidying up so that these offences can be dealt with by fixed penalty through traffic wardens.

My concern is personal. I do not reflect any party political point. This is not a party political issue. I am, however, concerned that the Bill contains provisions which, if not altered, would enable traffic wardens to issue a fixed penalty notice to a person who is in breach of regulations relating to protective headgear for motor cycle riders and passengers. A traffic warden could issue a fixed penalty notice for someone in breach of regulations that require the wearing of seat belts. A traffic warden could issue a fixed penalty notice for breach of restrictions on the carrying of children in the front seat of vehicles. These are categories of contention.

The first category relating to the wearing of crash helmets is very contentious. It is against the law for a motor cyclist not to wear a crash helmet. That law was passed by the House for motor cycle riders with the exception of Sikhs, on whose behalf my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) successfully piloted his Private Member's Bill. I agree that motor cyclists should wear protective headgear. Unfortunately, from time to time, there are demonstrations by certain groups of the motor cycle fraternity who flout the provisions of the law and demonstrate their objection to it.

Given that fact, I would not have thought that it would be a prudent move to allow traffic wardens the power to issue a fixed penalty to someone who is not wearing a crash helmet. The responsibility should be that of a constable in uniform. We should not alter that provision. The new provisions will allow the traffic warden to do what I believe he should not do.

Section 33A of the Act relates to breaches of regulations that require the wearing of seat belts. I said at the beginning of my remarks that I am four square behind the philosophy of the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I have always been shoulder to shoulder to the Minister in that respect. The House has passed that law. However, it is a recent law. It has not yet come into force. It may prove to be more difficult to operate than we would imagine. It comes into force in the early part of the new year.

Mrs. Chalker

On 31 January.

Mr. Stott

That is a further commercial about the implementation of the compulsory wearing of seat belts.

I am not suggesting that people should break the law. However, we could encounter passive opposition to that law until the general public believe that it is an offence not to wear seat belts. Given that we are introducing a new law in respect of the compulsory wearing of seat belts, I do not believe that a traffic warden should have the responsibility of issuing someone who is in breach of that law with a fixed penalty notice.

It is very important that the new measure on compulsion should be taken seriously by every law-abiding citizen in the United Kingdom. If that law is flouted, for whatever reason, the person who issues the fixed penalty notice should be a constable in uniform and not a traffic warden. If a traffic warden issued the notice, that would lower the offence in the public eye. The public would treat it simply as a parking ticket fine to be paid at a future date. The non-wearing of seat belts is not to be treated in that way. The House has decided by a large majority on a number of occasions that the law should be put on the statute book and that it should work. If it is to work, the people who should see that the law is implemented should be the police and not traffic wardens, although traffic wardens can implement the law in other areas.

Largely due to the pioneering work of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) in Committee on various Transport Bills, a regulation on carrying children in the front seat of vehicles has been introduced into the Bill. On a number of occasions my hon. Friend argued cogently that we should make it an offence to carry children in the front seats.

Under current legislation it would be possible, if someone were to commit such an offence, for him to be issued with a fixed penalty notice by a traffic warden and not by a constable in uniform. The Minister, whose gesticulations I have come to learn and admire over the months, is furiously shaking her head. If she catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, she may show that my fears are unfounded.

Mr. Bidwell

My hon. Friend will recall that in Committee in proceedings on the Transport Act 1981 we argued that only a policeman in uniform should be able to give the breathalyser test. We thought that there would be great community difficulties if a policeman or a person in authority out of uniform were to carry out the test. There is a certain logic in that, and in what my hon. Friend is arguing, in another context.

Mr. Stott

My hon. Friend is right. We are seeking to ensure that the majesty of the law is effected by the constable in uniform and no one else.

I would not like these three offences to be flouted by the general public or seen to be an extension of a parking offence simply because they are in the fixed penalty category. I shall welcome the Minister's intervention. We shall see whether I have persuaded her by the force of my . argument that traffic wardens should not be given the powers in future regulations to issue fixed penalty notices to people who break the law that I have mentioned. It would be a retrograde step if the public thought that they could get away with the offences simply because the certificate was issued not by a policeman in uniform but by a traffic warden.

Mrs. Chalker

As the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) knows, I have many views in common with him on road safety. I have not always favoured compulsory seat belts. However, when one's life is saved by them, that brings home the danger more than at any other time. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) is in a similar situation to me.

When we previously debated this matter, the Government made it clear that they had no intention of extending the powers of traffic wardens in the foreseeable future. That is why I can tell the hon. Gentleman that his fears are unfounded. There are not enough traffic wardens to do their present job. If more become available, careful consideration will need to be given to extending their duties, where issues of principle are involved.

As the House will also know, the duties of traffic wardens cannot be extended except by the affirmative resolution procedure so that if any Government introduced offences such as those in section 32(3), section 33A(3) and section 33B(2), of the 1972 Act, which relate to protective headgear for motor cycle drivers and passengers, the breach of regulations on the wearing of seat belts and the breach of restriction on carrying children in the front of vehicles, that would have to go through the affirmative resolution procedures of both Houses. I have always thought that that was adequate safeguard for Parliament's interests. We have always felt strongly that this Administration should not prejudice the right of Ministers in future to bring proposals before Parliament if the time seemed right.

Given the anxieties that had been expressed, however, and the inherent unlikeliness of any Administration wishing to give wardens powers to deal with endorseable offences, we agreed, as amendment No. 65 reflects, to exclude endorseable offences from any functions that traffic wardens might be asked to carry out in the context of the fixed penalty system. That is how it should be left. The Government have no intention at present, or in the foreseeable future, of allowing traffic wardens to undertake their duties for any new non-endorseable moving offences. If and when any Government ever did do, it would have to be through the medium of the affirmatiive resolution procedure. The House should not underestimate the safeguards already built into the system in the combination of the 1981 Act and the Bill.

That is why I cannot accept that the hon. Gentleman's amendment is necessary. Therefore, I ask the House not to accept it, but to realise that amendment No. 65 is the one that their Lordships have sent back to us. It excludes endorseable offences from any functions that traffice wardens might be asked to carry out in the context of the fixed penalty system. I sympathise with the view that some jobs should be done by the trained police officer in uniform. We have been talking about those matters We are not talking about extending those powers to traffic wardens in or out of uniform.

Amendment to the Lords amendment negatived.

Lords amendment No. 65 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 66 agreed to.

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