HC Deb 28 November 1984 vol 68 cc1032-46 11.48 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)

I beg to move, That the draft Road Traffic, Transport and Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved. The order seeks to bring our basic legislation up to date through amendments which have already been put into effect in Great Britain.

Article 3 will enable the Department of the Environment to conduct experimental traffic schemes. These will last initially for six months but may be extended to a maximum of 18 months, after which the experiment must either be made permanent or abandoned. This will give us more flexibility in testing solutions to road traffic problems. At present, changes can be introduced only after a somewhat time-consuming statutory process. As hon. Members will know, in road traffic management, as in other areas of life, theory and practice often differ. It will therefore be to the benefit of all road users if the Department, as road authority, can quickly make amendments to traffic control measures to ensure that the most efficient and cost-effective measures are adopted.

Article 4 provides new powers to deal with a common source of complaint in the Province—the parking of heavy commercial vehicles on footways where they not only cause considerable damage to the surface and to underground services, but constitute a danger and inconvenience to pedestrians, especially the blind. There will be a general prohibition on the parking of such vehicles on verges, footways and the land between two carriageways with exemptions in certain instances such as loading or unloading where the operation could not otherwise be carried out.

The provisions of articles 5, 6 and 8 seek to strengthen the hand of the Department and the RUC in dealing with goods vehicles. Powers are sought to prohibit the driving of overloaded goods vehicles, to require goods vehicles to proceed to a place not more than five miles away for the purpose of being inspected—at present the distance is one mile—and to facilitate the use of dynamic axle weighbridges.

Article 7 places Ulsterbus Ltd. and Citybus Ltd. on a similar footing to publicly-owned bus undertakings in Britain by exempting them from the requirement to have third party insurance cover as required under the 1981 road traffic order. In effect the companies will carry their own insurance, subject to such underwriting arrangements as they deem necessary.

The provisions affecting transport also touch on vehicle licensing and railway issues. Article 11 is of special significance. It will enable the Department to attach to a road freight vehicle licence conditions relating to its parking. This power will be used in conjunction with those in Article 4 to ensure that the parking of goods vehicles in residential areas is kept to a minimum. It is an environmental as well as a transport provision.

Article 15 makes new provisions with respect to level crossings, and was not in the draft order circulated for consultation and considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, I feel that because of the continuing programme of level crossing automation being undertaken by Northern Ireland Railways Ltd., it is important that Northern Ireland legislation should be brought into line with that in Great Britain as quickly as possible. At present it is not possible for Northern Ireland Railways to automate crossings on private roads, many of which are operated by the road user. With increasing urban development, several crossings of that type now have a considerable volume of traffic, and enhanced safety measures are desirable. The new proposals will allow automatic controls on all roads to be introduced by order made by the Department. We also propose an element of statutory local consultation for all roads, in that Northern Ireland Railways will be obliged to refer its proposals for automation to the district council for the area concerned.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

The hon. Gentleman referred to level crossings on what he called private roads. When does he expect to receive the report of the inquiry that has been established by Northern Ireland Railways into what it calls accommodation crossings, which I believe are what the Minister called crossings on private roads?

Mr. Patten

I hope that I shall have a chance to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question before the end of the debate.

Any representations which the council wishes to make—I return to the matter of consultation—must be taken into account by the Department when it decides whether or not to make the order.

This important proposal seeks to balance, as it must, the needs of railway safety with the need for a more cost-effective railway system. Hon. Members may appreciate a clearer understanding of the considerations that will apply when a level crossing is brought forward for automation. The proposal is subject to extensive consultation involving the railway company, the RUC traffic division and the Department's roads and road safety officer services. The Department will make the appropriate order only when it is satisfied that all the parties are in agreement both on the principle of the automation and on its detailed operational requirements.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Will the Minister remind the House to what parliamentary procedure, if any, the order would be subject in present circumstances?

Mr. Patten

As I recall, the order would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. We seek in the order to bring the situation into line with that in Great Britain, but I will return in more detail to the right hon. Gentleman's point.

The automatic crossing will then be installed to the specification approved by the Department of Transport in Great Britain and inspected by that Department's railway inspectorate prior to coming in operation.

Article 16 gives the railway company the power to construct railways and to allow the transport holding company compulsorily to acquire land to facilitate such construction. The power is sought as a desirable element in general transport planning.

I shall deal finally with the roads part of the order. I do not need to tell right hon. and hon. Members from the Province what road humps are, as they have been used extensively as a security measure. Article 18 proposes a new use for such humps as a speed control measure. The Department will be given the power to construct humps on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph or less. Humps are therefore to be used on urban roads, especially those which are designed to serve residential areas only and which have become used as through routes by traffic. The installation of humps with the consequent reduction of speed should discourage unnecessary through traffic and offer an important road safety element.

This is a wide-ranging order which embraces a wealth of detail and I trust that., even at this late hour, my exposition has proved of passing interest.

11.55 pm
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

It is a convention of the House that, immediately a Minister has resumed his seat, the spokesman for the official Opposition should rise to express his party's reaction to the Government's proposals. Normally that is a sensible way in which to proceed, but when we are considering a measure that is not controversial in a party sense I wonder whether it might not sometimes be better to see first whether any hon. Member wishes to raise a fundamental objection so that the debate is begun by formulating the principal issues. I have no such issue to raise.

If there is any one theme running through the order I fail to discern it. It is a collection of measures, each of which seems modest but worthy, for facilitating transport in the Province. We are grateful to the Minister for the clear but brief way in which he described them. I wish to refer only to article 16 which is headed, "Power to construct railways." I hope that the Government have it in mind to use these powers, as they are asking for them, and I hope that one of the earliest uses they make of them is to proceed with the rail link between York road and Central station, Belfast, about which I wrote to the Minister last February. He will recollect the consultants' report on the Belfast urban area plan and the public inquiry that followed. The inspector recommended provision of the link saying that it would increase the overall efficiency of the rail network.

There was wide public support for the link. It seems generally to be accepted that it would make an important contribution to the complete transport system, yet earlier this year the Minister said that consideration would be delayed for, apparently, three years. That was a deep disappointment to many people, to employees of the railways and to potential 'passengers. If the Minister can say anything to offer hope of an improvement on that time schedule, we shall regard that as a bonus.

It would be illogical on our part to deny the Secretary of State these powers because we thought that he might be too lethargic in exercising them. Beyond that, at this late hour, the House will be pleased to hear that I confine myself to welcoming the order.

11.58 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

This is indeed an order which covers a wide number of subjects and on some of them I hope that I can induce the Minister to expatiate rather more than he did in presenting the order. I do not intend to refer to more than a few of them.

I should like to mention humps and the experimental traffic control schemes that include them. We have the benefit in the order of a definition of the word "hump." A 'road hump' means an artificial hump in or on the surface of the road which is designed to control the speed of vehicles". As the Minister said, we are familiar with this device for purposes of security. In Newry—I apologise, as I am being betrayed into trespassing into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson), not entirely having got over no longer representing Newry. If my hon. Friend will permit me to say so, there are humps in the road approach to Newry which could well be reconsidered and thought to be fit for withdrawal, having originated in a security provision.

One seriously wonders what the potential scope is for series of humps in residential roads. I hope that the experimental period, and its results, will be severely considered before schemes are made permanent, as the apparently good idea of a road hump on many private roads seems to have severe limitations if it is to be applied to public roads, even in residential areas.

Article 4 deals with the Parking of heavy commercial vehicles". I can only agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) that, if we could eliminate the parking of commercial vehicles on verges, many parts of Northern Ireland would be happier places and many roads would be more sightly. But I warn the Minister that it will not be sufficient for this article to become law. He will have to ensure that this provision is enforced and policed. It is all too easy for commercial vehicles to use a road verge relatively briefly and to leave it in a condition which is a horrible offence to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and for that offence to be repeated many times until it becomes virtually habitual and yet for no particular offence to have been identified when it was committed. I hope the Minister will understand that the provisions of article 4 call for very special police attention and vigilance in enforcement.

I stray again into the same prohibitive reminiscences. On the Minister's visits to Newry, which I know are not infrequent, he may recall that on his way into the town he passes on the right hand side what appear to be a series of monumental little lighthouses along the verge of the road. Eventually these were found to be the only remedy for the harassed inhabitants of the houses on that side of the Banbridge-Newry road against the incessant parking of commercial vehicles, which had reduced the verges to a slough. Legal provision is fine, but it will be inefficacious unless it is severely policed. I hope the Minister will be able to communicate from this House a wish that the vigilance exercised when this order comes into force should be specially acute.

Article 10 deals with the Licensing of public service vehicles". Paragraph 2 refers to public service vehicles…while making journeys to or from places outside Northern Ireland if they are registered in Northern Ireland and vice versa.

If I have not mistaken the nature of these road service licences, I wonder how this provision accords with the Government's intention to remove from road services the straitjacket in which they have hitherto been confined by road service licensing. It would be a strange paradox if while freeing from that straitjacket the development of public service vehicle traffic inside Great Britain we introduced or continued powers to restrict and licence it as between the Province of Northern Ireland and the mainland.

It may be that a misunderstanding lies at the root of my comment, but in any case I would be grateful if the Minister could clear it up and bring it into relationship, if there is a lack of one, with Government policy on the mainland.

Article 15 is directed to level crossings. It is interesting to compare the new section with section 66 of the 1967 Act, which it replaces. The point that will strike a diligent collator of the section in the 1967 Act and the article is the ousting of parliamentary control. Subsection (1) of the proposed new section 66 reads: The Department may…by order provide that, any statutory provision shall not apply". It is a general principle that is observed in subordinate legislation that it is objectionable for uncontrolled subordinate legislation to repeal or alter statutes. We do not make statutes in the House, even on railway undertakings and level crossings, to have them repealed by Departments. We have historically been jealous of a suspensory power. In the original legislation that power was properly subject to affirmative procedures in the House. That seems to be the right procedure. If Ministers are to say that a statute which the House has made is no longer to have effect, it should be the House, in effect, which by affirmative resolution says that. I would not regard it as adequate if there were substituted for the former affirmative procedure a negative procedure, bearing in mind how rarely it is possible effectively to assert negative procedure, especially if it should turn out, when the Minister has had further time to examine the matter, that the negative procedure is the sort which, under the conditions of direct rule, turns out to be no procedure at all. We shall listen with great interest to what the Minister has to say on control by the House of the powers in new section 66 to oust statutory provisions.

The Minister set out the consultations which it is intended shall be gone through with local representative authorities and others before any such alterations are made. However, consultation is no substitute for parliamentary procedure when we are removing safeguards that the House has imposed. I hope that that will be taken to heart more generally as well as in the immediate context of the article.

I refer last—it is a kindred point—to part V of the 1967 Act, which provides for the construction of railways. It was with some surprise that those studying the order found that they were called upon to enact powers to enable railways to be constructed. I take it that the intention is to enable railways to be constructed more conveniently and with less interference by parliamentary and other action than would otherwise be the case. I notice that this part was described by the Minister as a desirable element in the development of transport. It may or it may not be. That depends on how the powers are exercised.

I assume that in this part of the order we are converting the old railways clauses, which used to have to be embodied in the private Acts that authorised the construction of the railways, into a piece of a regulation. If so, we are again removing from the purview of the House in its legislative capacity something which has hitherto lain within that sphere. If that is what has happened, we should be clear about it. At this moment, as I understand it, if it is intended to build a new railway—and I shall put forward a suggestion in a moment—

Mr. Chris Patten


Mr. Powell

The Minister is about to guess.

Mr. Patten


Mr. Powell

The Minister is right. He is aware of my obsession with Warrenpoint and the coming development in communications between the mainland and the Province. However, before I come to that obsession I invite the Minister to be a little more clear about the legislative consequences of article 5. Are we in fact dispensing with the necessity, for the future, of private Bills being promoted for the creation of railways, and are we in effect depriving the public, by these measures, of any opportunity that they would have had by petition or otherwise to put forward their views when a new railway construction is anticipated?

On second thoughts, I shall not return to Warrenpoint, as I am glad to find it already in the Minister's mind. No doubt he will observe that little major engineering would be necessary to re-extend from Newry — trespassing again — into Warrenpoint in the Down, South constituency the railway that used to serve the port of Warrenpoint which, from next year, will be very much busier than it has been for many a long year, much to the advantage of the hinterland of the Province and, indeed, to the island of Ireland as a whole.

12.11 am
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I know that it may be hard to detect that the Road Traffic, Transport and Roads (Northern Ireland) order has produced any sense of occasion in this House, but I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that for one hon. Member at least there will be a sense of rejoicing at the acceptance of the order. It will be known to me not under the title that I have just mentioned, but rather as the road humps order.

Since I was first elected to this House in 1979, I have attempted to persuade the Minister's predecessor to engage in consultation with his colleagues on the mainland to establish whether they would engage in an experiment with road humps and whether our experience with road humps for security purposes could be extended for reasons of road safety to other roads in the Province.

The road that I asked the Minister to study was one of which he should be well aware. If he looks out of the window of one of the offices at Dundonald for which he has responsibility, he can see it. It is a slip road that runs parallel to the Upper Newtownards road and travellers who use a bank at one end then make swift access to Newtownards road. It is the sort of slip road where a 30 mph limit would be unsuitable. But even that speed would be preferable to the speed of vehicles using the road. I hope that my request will be one of the first that the Minister will have the opportunity to consider when the order is passed, as I suspect it will be.

There are several matters on which I hope the Minister will give us further information. I have noted in schedule 2 the method by which the Department intends to inform the public that a road hump is to be situated at a given location. The method of site notices is one which he intends to use. I believe that he is aware that their use for this purpose may be used against him by those of us who have been arguing for them for another aspect of his responsibility—planning. I know that he is considering some changes in neighbour notification and site notices and also in third party appeals.

Are there criteria set down in the Department as guidelines for where such road humps should be placed? Will it be decided on the basis of accident figures for a given area, or of who can cry the loudest to have one in his street? Will any restrictions apply to site lines? I imagine that there would be considerable difficulty if the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) were to travel round a corner at about 60 mph in the Bogside and confronted a road hump.

There must be some restrictions. Will the Minister tell us about the regulations which he intends to have laid down in his Department? May I assume in the references to the dimensions and spacing of road humps that the regulations are likely to be similar to those that have been used for security purposes?

12.16 am
Mr. William Ross

At first, when one reads article 4 about the parking of heavy commercial vehicles, it seems that there is a blanket ban. However, as one proceeds, one discovers that there are a number of let-outs for anyone who wishes to park a heavy goods vehicle. I am curious to know why the bans are imposed on heavy goods vehicles only. I know of areas where the grass verge has been churned into a mud bath by lighter vehicles using them as parking areas. Why should we restrict parking for heavy vehicles when cars, tractors and large vans such as those used by telephone engineers also cut up grass verges? Why is the prohibition only on heavy vehicles? Considerable damage can be caused by considerably lighter vehicles, depending on their tyres, and so on.

Article 4(3)(a) states that a vehicle can be parked for the purpose of loading or unloading. The condition for parking under article 4(3)(b) is that the loading or unloading of the vehicle could not have been satisfactorily performed if it had not been parked on the footway or verge. What happens if in a built-up area an individual discovers, as did a constituent of mine, that he must park on a footpath to unload his vehicle but that there is a double yellow line? The end result of constant police and traffic warden action was that he closed his business and moved elsewhere. Because he received so many fines and was constantly harassed, he could not carry on business. Is there a way round the problem? Does this provision open a window of opportunity to such people?

Article 4(2)(a) states that permission can be given by a member of the Royal Ulster Constabularly in uniform or a traffic warden. That would appear to mean that the traffic warden need not be in uniform, although the police officer must. I see no good reason for that. On many occasions a plain clothes police officer might wish to give such permission, but, as the legislation is drafted, he could not. Will the Minister say why that is so, and why an off-duty traffic warden would appear to be able to give such permission? The Minister may believe that this is nit-picking, but it could have practical applications to many people.

Article 6 states: An inspector of vehicles or a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary may at any time require a person in charge of a stationary goods vehicle on a road to proceed with the vehicle, for the purpose of having it inspected…to any place where an inspection can be suitably carried out not being more than five miles from the place where the requirement is made. Why is it that only a person in charge of a stationary goods vehicle can be asked to proceed with the vehicle for inspection? Is the Minister saying that if the police or an inspector of vehicles come across a vehicle parked in a layby, while the driver and has helper are having their tea, they can tell the driver to go to the inspection centre, whereas if the police or the inspector are parked in the layby and they stop a goods vehicle coming along the road they cannot demand that the—

Mr. Chris Patten

It is usually necessary to stop the vehicle in order to talk to the driver.

Mr. Ross

Yes, but the legislation does not say that. It refers to any person in charge of a stationary goods vehicle. It does not say that the vehicle must be stopped. My impression of the legislation is that it applies only to parked goods vehicles.

I cannot understand why there is a five-mile limit on the distance within which the vehicle can be compelled to move for inspection. It will mean that the vehicle inspection department of the RUC will try to find stationary vehicles within five miles of the vehicle inspection centres, and nowhere else. At present, it is possible to stop a vehicle and tell the driver to take it to an inspection centre within a specified time. That is a bone of contention of many of my constituents, who say that, although their vehicles have been inspected and passed as fit for the road even the week before—they also have the necessary documentation for the vehicles—they are told to take their vehicles to the inspection centres and have them inspected again.

My constituents whose vehicles have been passed as roadworthy for 12 months ask why they should be forced to return to the inspection centres after such a short time. It should be enough for them to produce the necessary documents, which show that their vehicles passed the inspection recently and were deemed fit for the road. If something is wrong with the vehicles—apart from minor breakages which the drivers or owners would repair within a short time — the inspection process cannot be very good.

Does article 6 give the Northern Ireland authorities power to require vehicles that pass through the Province, from or to Great Britain or the Continent, to undergo a thorough inspection? I hope that that is the way it is to be, because one hears horrific stories of vehicles being used which are not suitable and are not up to the proper standard.

In recent weeks and months there have been a considerable number of orders capable of being prayed against passing through the House on the subject of level crossings on the railway lines between Londonderry and Belfast and Belfast and Dublin, and there are a number of others pending. Until I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), I believed that that type of order would continue in the future. Having listened to him, I am not so sure. If that is not the case, I shall be extremely worried.

Although this order lays a requirement on the railway authorities to inform the council of the area, which may then make representations, if it stops at the council the representations may not be listened to. It may be that the Department, which will be the deciding authority in this case, will simply overrule the wishes of the council and the people in the area. If there was no order coming before the House on which some sort- of parliamentary action could be taken, our constituents would be deprived of the protection that I feel they need.

There are places where the requirements laid down in the order are acceptable. There are many quiet country roads where lights and automatic gates are acceptable, although I personally do not like them. But there are other places where roads are extremely busy, some of them even in towns, and where the proposed regulations are quite unacceptable.

Some time ago I wrote to the Minister about one example of what I mean in Milburn in Coleraine, where the railway line is crossed at a very dangerous location. The line is at the top of a hump-back. On one side there is a post office. On the other side there are the Crown buildings which house several Government Departments, including the unemployment office, the agricultural office and several others. There is also a large primary school close by, and there is a large housing estate surrounding it, with children going to and from the school in fairly large numbers every day and having to cross the railway line, which at present is manned, with gates.

I understand that somewhere in the pipeline there is an order to remove the present equipment and put in automatic equipment. That is quite unacceptable to me and to my constituents in the area. It is one of those areas right in the middle of a town where we must maintain the present high standard of protection and manning. Nothing else is satisfactory in those circumstances because this is a very busy road where there is an enormous number of children during the school term, where many other people travel to and from the Crown buildings and where there is quite a lot of traffic passing in any case. That is perhaps an extreme example of where the gates should be kept, but there are other cases, of busy roads out in the country, or where the level crossing is in a bad position, where it is necessary to maintain a much higher level of protection for the public than that which is possible under the order.

I hope that the Minister will tell us what these changes mean in relation to the representations that we may be making in the House on behalf of our constituents. We want to know what his criteria will be whenever he has to decide whether automatic barriers will be allowed. We want to know about this, and there is no time like the present, before the order for Milburn is printed and distributed.

12.30 am
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

This order is relevant to the reservations that have been expressed about the legislation concerning railway crossings. We may be correct in assuming that this is another victim of direct rule. Under Stormont rule, presumably, these orders were affirmative and, like all legislation affecting Northern Ireland under direct rule, they have all been down graded one step so that we are now faced with negative orders. This is not very satisfactory, because, unless one is fairly quick on the draw and spots those two little lines of italics, one does not get in within the 40 days.

The Minister spoke about the road humps. In my maiden speech to the Antrim county council 20 years ago I suggested a physical device for the slowing of traffic at dangerous spots. I suggested that the then county surveyor, who is not unknown to the Minister, should examine the Dutch system, in which sections of the road approaching danger spots are replaced with a corrugated device in precast concrete. That has an advantage over the humps, of which we have had all-too frequent experience in Northern Ireland in the past few years. The humps may not be properly constructed, or an inexperienced or nervous driver, no matter how slowly he may proceed, may take the hump in the wrong way. He may lose his exhaust pipe or break his sump.

That takes me back to an occasion when I was being driven around the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). At that time he had an addiction for what I can only call low flying. He took one of these humps at excessive speed, and when he came out the next morning he found that the sump oil had trickled across the nice concrete parking space. He was held up and missed an entire day's canvassing.

I come back to the practical suggestion. I hope that the use of the word "humps" in the order can be construed in such a way as to allow the use of the other device. It causes the maximum discomfort to any road hog driver. It may damage the suspension, but it cannot do other physical damage to the vehicle, as can the road humps of blessed memory, which are thankfully now being removed from many areas where they were never necessary anyway. I do not expect the Minister to give a definitive answer tonight, but perhaps he will feed that suggestion into the machine and see whether the experts in his Department can construe humps as meaning the corrugated device, which can be much more effective.

12.33 am
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I welcome article 4, which is a necessary measure against the parking of heavy commercial vehicles on the pavement. A number of accidents have been caused by large commercial vehicles being parked and other vehicles running into them in the dark. On other occasions, even in daylight, children have run out from behind the vehicles. As the Minister said, another problem is the blind trying to get along the footpaths and finding the vehicles parked in their way, which is dangerous. Attempts have been made to curb that type of parking, using the present legislation. That has not proved successful.

Generally, commercial vehicles park around filling stations. Double yellow lines are put down on both sides of the road, which means that the people who live on the other side of the road cannot park outside their houses. That disadvantages those who live close to the filling stations.

At a certain filling station in my constituency, drivers of large vehicles have a habit of driving on to the footpath to fill up with diesel at a pump which is conveniently placed beside the footpath, instead of driving on to the forecourt. A difficulty arises because the drivers forget about their lorries parked on the footpath and go into the café, which is in the filling station, to have their meal. They come out again in about an hour. I am not trying to prevent the drivers from having a meal, but it would be better if they parked on the forecourt or in the lay-by which is just a little way down the road.

It is fine to bring in the order, provided that it is enforced. What if it is enforced in the same way as regulations dealing with gipsies and itinerants? My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) has been fighting a rearguard action in upper Balinderry against vehicles, caravans and even horses which graze on the grass verges.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

No donkeys.

Mr. Forsythe

No donkeys. It is essential that the order should be enforced rigidly. The Under—Secretary should realise — he probably agrees with me — that large vehicles parked on the footpaths destroy the surfaces and perhaps even the electric wiring beneath the footpaths, causing the street lights to go out. It would be helpful if large lorries could be kept off the verges.

I express interest in this subject because I live on the road that comes from Templepatrick, past Ballyclare to Larne. There are lovely grass verges by the side of the road. The lorry drivers decide that they want to take a rest and so they drive on to the grass verge. They plough up the grass verge and we end up with no grass. That is unfortunate, considering the fact that the Department of the Environment keeps the grass verges in good order.

Article 26A(2)(a) states: A person shall not be convicted of an offence by virtue of paragraph (1) if he proves to the satisfaction of the court that the vehicle was parked—

  1. (a) in accordance with permission given by a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in uniform or a traffic warden".
If a driver had been given permission by a policeman in uniform or traffic warden to park, who would take him to court? I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give an explanation.

I understand that a vehicle could be allowed to park on the verge of a road for the purpose of loading or unloading. If the vehicle would otherwise hold up traffic, it must be parked on the verge to keel) it out of the way.

Article 26A(3)(b) states: that the loading or unloading of the vehicle could not have been satisfactorily performed if it had not been parked on the footway or verge". Not having been in the construction industry I do not understand why one cannot unload on the road if one can unload on the footpath. I do not know why this provision is included.

I can see extra employment being created because of article 26A(3)(c). It states: the vehicle was not left unattended at any time when it was so parked. I assume that the driver will ensure that he has someone with him all the time to look after the lorry.

I welcome, as other hon. Members have, schedule 2, which provides for humps on roads to assist with road safety. I can think of roads in my constituency where cars come to a bottleneck. They slip down a side road and drive through residential districts where a great many children play. We have occasionally asked whether there is a way to stop that, but we have been told that it is not possible to put up a "No entry" sign because the road is a through way, and there could not be a 15 mph sign because motorists would not obey it and the police would have to sit there all the time to enforce it.

There is a case for humps to be constructed so that motorists are discouraged from taking short cuts. If they run into a couple of humps they might find it better to go up to the bottleneck.

12.41 am
Mr. Chris Patten

I am grateful for the varied and interesting contributions that right hon. and hon. Members have made, beginning with the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). He referred understandably to article 6 and asked whether it related to the cross-harbour rail link and what the Government's latest proposals were on that substantial capital project.

As I said, the power to build railways provided in article 6 is being taken as a general transport planning provision. It could be used for the cross-harbour link should that project be proceeded with.

Equally, and this is a point I make because I have listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), it could be used should the rail network be involved in the transport of lignite, given the encouraging signs that there are about that discovery.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) asked about the rail-road link across the Lagan. The rail link remains part of the Belfast transportation strategy. I cannot say any more to the House than I said at the beginning of the year to the Belfast city council. We shall review the position each year when we consider public expenditure for the three-year period ahead, but the rail link will not be provided in advance of the road link. The estimated cost of the rail link, at 1984 prices, is £16 million. That excludes land costs. I am aware of the interest in that project and we shall continue to consider it in the public expenditure discussions year on year.

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) referred to the rail network in the Newry area. It is a subject about which I know a certain amount. I spent one of the happiest days of my happy year and a half in Northern Ireland opening the new railway station at Newry. I note what he says about the rail link to Warrenpoint. I am sure that Sir Myles Humphreys, the chairman of Northern Ireland Railways, and his board, will also note it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the new powers on railway construction. He was right in saying that we are removing the need to proceed by means of a private Act. However, I feel that there are adequate safeguards in the proposed procedure. There will, for example, be provision for a public inquiry in relation to the vesting of the land and the construction of the railway, but the essential point made by the right hon. Gentleman was correct.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the detailed provisions of article 10, particular in relation to paragraph (2). Similar regulations have been made in Great Britain by the Department of Transport, requiring public service vehicles registered in Northern Ireland, when Operating certain services within Great Britain, to carry authorisations issued by the Department of Transport. Therefore, the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland has to make a reciprocal Northern Ireland regulation to deal with public service vehicles registered in Great Britain which operate similar services in Northern Ireland.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Is the object of the licensing to restrict or control the provision of transport services? Is it, as it were, an old style transport planning provision? If it is, why is it still being maintained?

Mr. Patten

Perhaps I can take up the point with the right hon. Gentleman later in correspondence, as obviously I have not made the point sufficiently clear at the Dispatch Box.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the procedure for level crossing orders and the alterations in it. Again he was right. Section 66 of the Transport (Northern Ireland) Act 1967 provided that such orders were to be subject to affirmative resolution. The point was also made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley in the Stormont Parliament. Under direct rule, such orders are subject to negative resolution at Westminister and come before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The substituted section 66 makes no specific provision as to how level crossing orders are to be treated. They therefore fall to be dealt with under section 78 of that Act, which provides that regulations are to be subject to negative resolution, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier. Such orders will be submitted in draft to the Northern Ireland Assembly and will be scrutinised by the Examiner of Statutory Rules. I do not think that it is necessarily appropriate that orders with a very localised impact should continue to be dealt with here at Westminister. I note that their Great Britain equivalents are not subject to any scrutiny such as that.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley asked about accommodation crossings. Northern Ireland Railways have plans to provide improved safety measures at accommodation crossings. Those measures are being carried through by the company in a programme planned over a six-year period.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) raised a number of issues, particularly with regard to level crossings. I know the hon. Gentleman's interest in and concern for the subject. I assure him that the Department will not consider the making of an order unless it is satisfied that all concerned are content with the detailed safety measures proposed.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern about the endangering of pedestrian safety by the removal of gated crossings, but, as I have pointed out to the hon. Member in correspondence, the evidence from Great Britain shows that gated crossings have the worst accident record, and that the automatic safeguards built into the open crossing system offer substantial protection to all crossings users.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) asked a number of questions relating to road humps, which understandably concerned other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that our draft follows the Transport Act 1981, particularly section 32. The criteria will be set out in regulations designed to protect not only residents but motorists. The hon. Gentleman is particularly concerned about the criteria that would be applied. Of course, as usual we shall have to take account of accident figures, vehicle and pedestrian flows—the usual rational criteria that always determine major and minor capital works on roads.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Perhaps it would be wise at this stage to draw the Minister's attention to the lack of enthusiasm that there will be for road humps in Omagh roads division, especially in my district council area, where we have been beseeching the Minister for a considerable time to provide adequate finance to remove the unnatural humps and other impediments in our area. When that is done, no doubt we shall welcome the provision of humps, to which the Minister referred.

Mr. Patten

I recently had the opportunity to discuss at some length the provision of funds in the Omagh division with a council in that division. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the point of view that he put to me vigorously was put equally vigorously by several councillors on that occasion. Several councillors wished to make it clear to me that they, too, did a good deal of low flying around their own area.

I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe that we have made more money available in that division, as in others, particularly for minor works, in the past year or so. Roads expenditure as a whole in Northern Ireland has fallen as housing expenditure has risen, almost exponentially. Though that has unfortunate consequences for any Minister regularly visiting district councils. it is wholly justifiable in terms of the overall allocation of funds within the programmes in Northern Ireland.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley talked about a device which I suspect is designed for slowing down fast traffic on a main road, but by definition the humps that we are thinking about are designed for an entirely different purpose—to discourage the rat runs, to which the hon. Member for Belfast, East referred, through suburban streets, which I know causes a good deal of alarm and concern, particularly to mothers taking their children to school in the mornings.

The hon. Members for Londonderry, East and for Antrim, South and the right hon. Member for South Down talked about parking on verges. I should make it clear to the hon. Member for Londonderry, East that in Great Britain the Government took power to ban all footway parking, but the difficulty is that the Government have not been as successful as we should have liked in implementing that ban universally. Heavy vehicles do the most damage to verges. We are, therefore, wise to start with them. It is important to ensure that the legislation is adequately enforced—a point made strongly by the right hon. Member for South Down. The way that we are concentrating on heavy vehicles gives us the best chance and opportunity of doing that.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Can the Minister assure the House that there is adequate legislation to prevent the growing development of verge sales throughout the year in Northern Ireland, particularly at roundabouts?

Mr. Patten

I think that there are two issues here, one of which sometimes stems from sales involving more permanent parking by itinerants or travelling people. I believe that the hon. Member for Antrim, South referred to that. I very much hope that the proposals that I announced recently will help in that regard. As for sales not involving travelling people or the curious category of "static travelling people" as they are sometimes described, powers are available to the constabulary to deal with the problems that arise although I accept that those powers need to be examined.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East referred to the powers available to stop vehicles. Power to do that already exists in the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. The new provision will enable the RUC or an inspector of vehicles to direct a vehicle that has been stopped to a place where it can be examined. The new power will be useful in dealing with overloaded vehicles, which I believe that the hon. Gentleman had in mind. The Department is engaged in providing more weighbridge facilities, which should help us to deal with those vehicles. The five-mile provision is designed to bring more goods vehicles into the weighbridge net and thus to ensure both fairer competition and road safety.

Mr. William Ross

Is the Minister saying that the inspections are now to be restricted merely to determining whether a vehicle is overloaded and that the provision has nothing to do with the mechanical safety or otherwise of the vehicle?

Mr. Patten

No, of course we are concerned about the mechanical safety of vehicles as well. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought that he had referred particularly to overloading.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to foreign vehicles. I confirm that power already exists under the 1981 order to inspect, weigh and, if necessary, prohibit the driving of such vehicles. That should catch the kind of vehicle that he had in mind.

With the exception of the matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Down with which I did not deal adequately, I believe that I have covered most of the points referred to by hon. Members.

Mr. William Ross


Mr. Patten

I see that another is coming up.

Mr. Ross

In view of the change that is evidently coming in relation to the provisions about level crossings and as the order will come into operation two months from today, is the Minister in a position to give an undertaking that the Milburn order will be laid under the existing provisions rather than these provisions before that dare?

Mr. Patten

No, I am not in a position to give that undertaking but I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on that, as I am aware of his concern about it. I am extremely keen to ensure that there is as full and open consultation as possible on the subject of crossings, as extremely important questions of safety arise in which the hon. Gentleman, other hon. Members, councillors and other people representing the interests of local communities take a very proper interest. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for showing that interest again today.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Road Traffic, Transport and Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 13th November, be approved.