HC Deb 06 July 1990 vol 175 cc1237-54

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 4, line 39, leave out "and (3)" and insert ", (3) and (4A)"

9.49 am
Mr. Martin. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 8.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to be turning to the House with my Bill for its concluding stage today. It is a little more than five months since the House approved the Bill's principles when it granted it a Second Reading. I hope that I shall be permitted to detain hon. Members a little longer than I was able to do on that previous, brief occasion. Having thanked colleagues and other hon. Members previously for their help with this measure, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, who so kindly took up the measure and steered it expertly through another place.

The amendments deal with unfinished business which we did not have time to complete during the earlier stages of the Bill. They can be debated as single group because they are consequential upon one another and result from the undertakings that we gave in this place to interested parties: the Ramblers Association, the British Horse Society and others. Naturally they were concerned about the impact that the Bill might have, unamended, on walkers, riders and other non-motorised traffic.

The House will recall the misunderstanding on Report, on 27 April, and the limited time that we had for Third Reading, on 4 May. That meant that we were unable to deliver our promises before the Bill went to their Lordships' House. The House accepted that we would table suitable amendments to meet the criticism and concern. The other place was clearly satisfied with our proposals, and had seen and accepted the correspondence with interested organisations, which are also satisfied with what we have proposed and with what their Lordships have done.

I hope that the amendments will be accepted by the House, since they satisfy the promises that we made, although I am more than happy to provide a little detail so that colleagues on both sides of the House may feel satisfied.

All the amendments refer to the schedules. The first five refer to schedule 1, paragraph 15. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 insert a new paragraph, (4A), which makes effective provision for the shorter order time of six months, which we accepted was reasonable in the circumstances. We have tried to solve that problem while preserving the main thrust of the Bill which was to create an 18-month temporary traffic order. Notices are of much shorter duration.

Amendment No. 3 describes when such different provision will apply and meets concerns that I outlined earlier and on Report. Amendment No. 4 means that the 18-month order will not apply when the temporary prohibition or restricton is made for reasons mentioned in paragraph 14 (1)(a) and that it will take longer.

Amendment No. 5 defines the process by which the Secretary of State can extend an 18-month order. Amendment No. 6 inserts two new paragraphs, (4A) and (4B), to respond to the two new order times of six and 18 months, and to how and in what circumstances the six months order can be extended. The amendment also clarifies what must happen if the Secretary of State refuses an extension.

Amendment No. 7 recognises the two new paragraphs by inserting them in paragraph 6 of the main schedule. Amendment No. 8 seeks to define a footpath, cycle track and byway. I am pleased that we have tried to ensure that the words will have the same meaning north of the border.

The law outside Greater London imposes a three-month limit only on temporary traffic orders, and the Secretary of State has the power to consent to longer periods on request. The major objective of the Bill was to relax that requirement and to create an 18-month order.

The proposed period in the Bill was understood to be consistent with the extensions of the time limit that was acceptable to the Secretary of State in the past. It matched the 18-month period allowed for experimental orders under section 9 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and it seems to represent a reasonable step towards deregulation as it removes the need for many orders to be subjected to the unnecessary bureaucratic process of approval. Consent requirements have been progressively relaxed since the early days, when a Minister for Transport approved all traffic regulation orders. So, the time is ripe for a modest further move away from central decision-making.

The proposal in the Bill is among a number of ideas on which the Department of Transport consulted widely in 1987, following the report of the traffic and parking working group, which involved representatives of local authorities; and the proposal received majority support from consultees.

The Bill caused the Ramblers Association and other groups to make fresh representations on the issue, which were well received; we were sympathetic to their concerns. It is fair to say that they had always been a little cautious about the relaxation proposals and they felt that a shorter period would be appropriate for temporary orders affecting paths, bridleways, cycle tracks and bridleways that are open to all traffic. I understand and share their view.

Temporary orders can be used only to restrict or prohibit traffic. For the purpose of the 1984 Act, traffic includes pedestrians and any person driving, riding or leading a horse or other animal of draught or burden. The result is that a temporary traffic order can be used temporarily to restrict the passage of all traffic, including walkers and riders—hence the concern that was expressed. I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is in his place, as he particularly wished to raise these matters early in proceedings on the Bill.

The powers can be used only for the purposes set out in the Bill—because of works or proposed works on or near a road, or because of the likelihood of danger to the public or of serious damage to the road. The Bill makes no significant change to the present law in this respect, but it is clearly right that the authorities should be able to restrict or prohibit all traffic on the grounds of public safety, until the problem—a temporary danger caused perhaps by subsidence from quarrying, an unsafe building or fallen trees—can be dealt with.

I have spent a little time giving the background to the Bill in some detail to explain the need for the Lords amendments. I have accepted, as the Government have accepted, that the restoration of footpaths and bridleways ought generally to be less problematical, and to take less time, than the restoration of vehicular use where that has had to be restricted or temporarily suspended for more substantial remedial work.

Diversions are more likely to be disruptive for users on foot or on horseback than for motorised traffic, which may be back on its intended route fairly quickly. A detour of a mile is perhaps insignificant when travelling by car, but it is a rather different matter for walkers. For those reasons, a shorter period for such orders seems to be wholly reasonable. The amendments propose a period of six months, which has been accepted as a reasonable compromise by all concerned parties.

When necessary, an authority can, before the six months perod is up, seek the Secretary of State's consent to a longer period of closure or restriction. That follows the present law.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

My hon. Friend is on an important matter. Some years ago, I used to go horse riding in Heston farm, and when the M4 was being built, the bridlepaths that I used were closed for about two years. The building of major motorways and railways is important, but they can take two or three years to complete. Is it right that the local authority should be able to apply to the Secretary of State to close the appropriate footpaths or bridleways for that period?

10 am

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

If the footpath, bridlepath or cycle track is in integral part of a road, road restrictions will apply and people will not be able to treat the footpath or bridlepath as a separate entity. We could not have allowed a coach and horses to be driven through the arrangements for the building of the M25 simply because a foothpath ran across the route. We could not have a six-month rule for one bit and an 18-month rule for the other. If a footpath or bridle path is an integral part of a projected road, we are dealing with a highway and not with a footpath in the accepted sense of the word.

If the Secretary of State refuses consent, another order may not be brought forward until three months have elapsed. I do not think that the consent procedure will be used very often, but it is a sensible arrangement where circumstances warrant it or necessity dictates. The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to prescribe by regulations the procedure to be followed in connection with temporary restrictions by order or notice. Those powers are contained in clause 1(2), which is a substitute for section 16(2) of the 1984 Act. The regulations will be made by statutory instrument after consultation with the relevant bodies. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister has given such assurances to the organisations that will be consulted about draft regulations.

For the purposes of illustration, I have concentrated on footpaths and bridleways, but the amendments apply equally to cycle tracks and byways that are open to all traffic. That is for the reasons that I have outlined and is subject to the explanation that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). Definitions are provided in the final amendment by reference to existing statutory definitions. Surprisingly, they differ north and south of the border, so reference is made respectively to the position in England and Wales and in Scotland to which my Bill also extends.

We are working from Bill HL 76 which was printed on 9 May and the amendments refer to that document. The Bill was reprinted on 21 June after their Lordships' deliberations as Bill HL 99, and it contained some printing errors. They have been noted and I am assured that they will be rectified in the Act if the Bill is successful. The errors relate simply to cross-references consequential upon the insertion of the new amendments to section 15 where it appears in the schedule. In the wrongly printed Bill, in page 4, line 40, the reference to subsection 2 should be to subsection 3. In page 5, line 15 the reference to subsection 4 should be to subsection 5. In line 21 on the same page, the reference to subsection 3 should be to subsection 4. On page 15, line 48, the reference to subsection 2, should be to subsection 3. I would not like the House to think that I had been careless and had not noticed those errors. That is why I am drawing them to the attention of the House.

When I introduced my Bill, I scarcely thought that it would in any way promote the green image. Its primary objective is to rationalise and enhance the powers of highway authorities in dealing with temporary restrictions on roads where by far their most challenging problems must arise. I respect the interests of walkers, riders and cyclists, and I am glad to be able to meet their concerns by these amendments.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I shall be brief. The last time that I spoke on a Friday, I was upbraided by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who accused me of speaking for 77 minutes. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said that you found that difficult to tolerate. It is amusing to note that, just 12 hours ago, the hon. Member for Linlithgow spoke for even longer. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) for drawing my attention to that and contrasting it with my 77–minute speech two months ago.

The Bill is a good one and deserves a speedy passage after consideration of the Lords amendments. I am delighted to support the amendment which the Lord Brougham and Vaux proposed and which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) has drawn to our attention. The amendment is necessary because, when the Bill left this House, some voluntary organisations, especially the British Horse Society and the Ramblers Association, were worried about it. I am grateful to those organisations for allowing me to have copies of the correspondence between them and my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.

The British Horse Society wrote to my hon. Friend on 2 May and said that it supported the amendment as a strengthening of the Bill in the context of footpaths and bridleways. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, the amendment also covers cycle tracks, so that restrictions should not be subject to 18 months but to a much more acceptable period of six months.

The British Horse Society asked my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the issue of appropriate guidance by his Department on the exercise of these powers by highway authorities, and the society would like to see consultations about the preparation of such guidance.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the way in which he has responded to the British Horse Society, the Ramblers Association, and amendment No. 1. The Department of Transport consulted interested parties to ensure that the amended legislation meets with their approval. That shows the Department at its best. That is why it will be possible to incorporate the amendment in the Bill.

I see that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is present. He has taken a great interest in footpaths, bridleways and rambling for many years. He will agree that the way in which consultations have taken place on Lords amendment No. 1 before it was put to the House, are a great assurance to the people outside the House whom he represents. It is on the record that there have been exchanges of correspondence between the organisations and the Department.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is starting a long filibuster, with several of his hon. Friends, to stop us reaching the Protection of Badger Setts Bill. I warn him that Opposition Members will be tempted to call Divisions if the filibuster continues on this amendment, which could have been moved formally. We have been through all the matters which the hon. Gentleman is discussing. Divisions had a disastrous effect on the Bill on a previous occasion. I suggest to him that, in trying to prevent us from reaching the Protection of Badger Setts Bill, he should not tempt Opposition Members too far.

Mr. Brown

I would be prepared to have the charge of filibustering levelled by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker or by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), if I had been speaking for 77 minutes. However, I resent it utterly when I have given you, the House and now the hon. Gentleman, a commitment that I have no intention whatever of filibustering. My speech will probably now last six or seven minutes instead of four or five minutes. It will have been prolonged not by me but by that intervention.

When I have given an absolute assurance that I do not intend to filibuster and shall speak for only six or seven minutes, I am not prepared to have that charge levelled at me. I have spoken for less than four minutes. I spoke for 77 minutes two months before the hon. Member for Linlithgow spoke for 80 minutes. If I had spoken for a similar length of time today I would accept a charge of filibustering from the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

I now wish to make progress. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish would know right from the beginning of my speech if I intended to filibuster. The signs are not there today. Those who have had the good fortune to listen to some of my slightly more lengthy speeches can tell from the tone and style of my speech and the speaking voice that I use whether I am filibustering. This morning I am not filibustering.

Representations were made in the House from various quarters. Therefore, it was agreed that a shorter period, of 18 months, would be appropriate where temporary orders would affect walkers, horse riders or cyclists, who may be rather more inconvenienced than motorised traffic by temporary closures and diversions. The effect of the amendment is simply to introduce a six-month time limit for such orders instead of an 18-month limit.

The amendment provides that the Secretary of State may extend the six-month period at the request of the authorities which issues the order.

That is an important fallback for the authorities. One cannot guarantee that everything will always be in apple-pie order within the six-month period. Equally, I understand worries about the original period of 18 months. That allows, as now, for some flexibility where circumstances justify a longer restriction. If my hon. Friend the Minister refuses the request, the authorities may not frustrate it and bring forward a further order until a period of three months has elapsed. Again, that formulation already exists in section 15.

Definitions are also provided for footpaths, bridleways, cycle tracks and byways open to all traffic by reference to existing statute, including those in Scotland where appropriate. The objective behind the amendment was agreed by the parties who intially expressed anxiety about long restrictions.

I bring my remarks to a close approximately two minutes later than would otherwise have been the case if the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish had not intervened.

10.15 am
Mr. Robert G. Hughes

It is a great pleasure to speak on the amendment. This most important Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) was a good Bill from the outset but, because of the examination that it received in another place and, indeed, its examination by organisations such as the British Horse Society and the Ramblers Association, it is now a better Bill. None of us can doubt that, after the work that the organisations have done, and the generous response which they and members of another place received from my hon. Friend the Minister, the Bill has been improved.

I was a local councillor and then a member of the Greater London council, so my local government experience is confined to London. I must confess that I had not realised what a mess this aspect of the law is outside London. I am pleased to note that London can teach the rest of the country something in that respect. There is no doubt that the law was a mess. We may well have cause to be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South for sorting out the law on the matter.

Road users stand to gain from the presence of an adaptable and comprehensive measure to regulate traffic where necessary. The relaxation of the period for temporary orders will be widely welcomed as a useful step towards deregulation. The 18-month rule and the six-month rule created by the amendment will almost certainly simplify and reduce much of the bureaucracy. I am led to speculate on why the Bill and the amendment are necessary. The answer is that people do not get the efficiency they want from local authorities. Neither is it satisfactory from other statutory undertakers. When a sewer is replaced, or gas, or electricity or British Telecom works take place, promises are made about how long the work will take. We have all experienced that and we know that the promises never come true: the works go on and on. If one is really lucky, when the gas board finishes, the water authority immediately starts work.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

The hon. Gentleman's remarks on that matter should be directed to the Minister. It is well within the power of the Government to bring in legislation in a new street works Bill to deal with the problem that the hon. Gentleman outlines. That is not the purpose of this Bill.

Mr. Hughes

The Labour party thinks that it is possible to legislate for everything. I recognise that the Labour party takes the magic wand approach to policy.

Ms. Ruddock

I am sorry, but that remark is not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that the Department of Transport has held long sessions with working parties and that there is a consensus on the need for a new street works Bill. It is not a Labour party matter, although we support the proposal. There is a consensus across local authorities and the Departments involved.

Mr. Hughes

I am suitably admonished. I accept that that remark was not worthy of me. There again, it was an accurate description of Labour policy.

I wish to examine the matter in detail. Local authorities probably have a responsibility. Undoubtedly people who use footpaths, bridlepaths and cycle tracks have been frustrated about the amount of time that the paths have been obstructed. The main procedural difference is that orders require local publicity in advance of restrictions, whereas notices can introduce restrictions with immediate effect. The more summary notice procedure is therefore strictly time-limited. The Bill clarifies the need in both instances to have regard to alternative routes. It will allow procedures to be prescribed that will ensure adequate signing.

What are the incentives for speedy completion of works? We all know that footpaths and bridleways are highways. One would not think so from the way in which they are abused at times. Authorities are under a general duty under section 130 of the Highways Act 1980 to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway and prevent…as far as possible, the stopping up or obstruction of the highways". Authorities must still have regard to that duty when satisfying themselves of the need for a temporary restriction. Such restrictions will not be allowed to continue indefinitely, and those who wish to protect the right of people to use highways, bridleways, footpaths and cycleways will have the law on their side when they seek to ensure that that does not happen.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) when he responded to my intervention about major roadworks. Everybody wants major public works in principle, and everyone demands that the Government should pay for them. No one, however, wants them built on his doorstep. We may have an interesting example of that when we come to debate private business next Thursday. We shall learn whether hon. Members think it more important to build a new tube line in London than to have life disrupted just outside their front door. It will be interesting to hear the reaction of hon. Members. No one wants disruption, but it must take place if we are to have the infrastructure that we require.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South flattered me unintentionally. He thought, when I was talking about riding horses in my youth, that I was referring to the building of the M25. I am rather older than he thinks. I was talking about the construction of the M4, which cut across the footpaths and bridleways that I was accustomed to using when on horseback. I am grateful for the clarification that the Bill will not stop that usage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke about the British Horse Society and the consultation with it. He posed a question, and I am uncertain about the answer that he received. I know that the society, in a letter of 2 May to my hon. Friend the Minister, asked to be included among the interested bodies to be consulted on procedure regulations to be made under Clause I. What was the answer to that request? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to clarify the position when he replies to the debate. The society and other organisations should be included in consultation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to direct his remarks to the amendments that are before the House.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your intervention. I recall that the subject of consultation, and participation in it, was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South. I was seeking clarification. It is important that the British Horse Society and other organisations should be consulted and that their views should be known in detail, and not only in terms of the Bill, the provisions of which will be set in concrete when we enact it.

Lords Amendment No. 8 is important because of definitions. We always think that we know what we are talking about, and before I considered the Bill I thought that I knew what a footpath was. It is sometimes said, "I don't know what it is but I know it when I see it." When the Bill becomes law, it will be abundantly clear how a footpath, a cycle track or a bridleway is defined. The amendment redefines these facilities in a commonsense way that will be helpful to everyone.

When others come to determine tricky problems of protecting the countryside, including footpaths and bridleways, I believe that they will congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South on accepting Lords amendment No. 8 and on introducing the Bill to the statute book. I say that in a wider sense than footpaths and bridleways, because I consider the Bill to be an important measure, if a limited one. In times to come, people may want to name footpaths and bridleways after my hon. Friend; instead of Grimsdyke, which runs through part of my constituency, we shall have Brandon-Bravo footpaths and cycleways. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) is to be congratulated on having successfully piloted his Bill through to this stage. It has not always been easy. I recall that there was one occasion earlier in the proceedings when it almost seemed that the Bill had been lost. But he rescued it from the brink, and has seen to it that we are taking our final opportunity today to wish the Bill well.

It was perhaps a mark of the astuteness of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South that he should choose a measure whose general principles had already received a favourable response when they were the subject of wide consultation with interested bodies back in 1987. I refer to the TAPWORK report—the report of the traffic and parking working group—which my Department produced following discussion with local authority associations.

I understand that this group continues to provide a forum for discussion on a range of traffic and parking issues of mutual concern to the Department and authorities. I welcome that. The issues at stake in this area are as much of local relevance as they are nationally, and can only benefit from the mutual discussion and exchange of views which such a forum provides.

Other recommendations in the report have also found their way into law, notably in the Parking Act 1989, which was sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope). We are indebted to hon. Members on both sides of the House who bring forward worthwhile measures of this sort. Sponsoring a private Member's Bill can be a bit of a thankless task, but those who persevere, like my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, have their reward, if only in terms of personal satisfaction.

The proposal to relax the existing consent requirements on temporary orders was included among a number of other proposals for improving traffic and parking powers and practices. As my hon. Friend has said, it met with majority approval. Local highway authorities, in particular, supported the suggestion that the time periods should be relaxed. The existing three-month time limit outside London has proved unrealistic. It has resulted in large numbers of orders being referred to the Department for extension. The case for an extention is incontrovertible. It makes no sense for central Government to be involved in such matters on a routine basis.

So it is clearly time for change. Local highway authorities are responsible bodies. They should be trusted to make their own judgment in these matters without having to resort to the Department.

Local highway authorities are also creatures of statute—with statutory obligations to exercise their traffic regulation powers with due regard to maintaining access, to the effects on the amenity of an area, and to other relevant matters. They must secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of traffic". They must prevent as far as possible the stopping up or obstruction of the highway". And they must protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of the highway". These duties are enshrined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Highways Act 1980.

Against the background of these safeguards, it is indefensible to continue to subject authorities to a second-guessing consent regime after three months, especially where measures of a temporary nature only are involved. The case for relaxation is therefore overwhelming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South has explained the amendments themselves in careful detail. I fully endorse his remarks. I am happy to express the Government's support for the amendments which are before the House and which were approved in the other place. what they will do is help to provide an incentive for authorities to limit the duration of orders affecting walkers, horse riders and other non-motorised traffic. It ought to be possible—as he says—for the inconvenience to such groups to be minimised, and rights of way restored more quickly after their temporary suspension.

The arguments advanced by the Ramblers Association and others were cogent and persuasive. I was therefore happy to give written undertakings to them and to the British Horse Society that their concerns had been noted.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) for his kind comments about the Department's response to those who were concerned. It is very much the business of the Department, where it possibly can, to ensure that agreement is obtained. In this instance, the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South, together with my officials, has resolved the difficulties. It may be appropriate to put the undertakings on record, which I was not able to do in earlier proceedings. I shall read out the main text of my letter of 30 April, addressed to the deputy secretary of the Ramblers Association:

I believe you are not opposed to the Bill, in principle, but have a number of concerns over the details, on some of which there was unfortunately insufficient time for debate last Friday. I discussed these with Mr. Brandon-Bravo and we had agreed between us a number of points on which we hoped we could have satisfied you. It may be helpful if I record them below. We are content for the Bill to be amended so that temporary orders affecting traffic other than motor vehicles on a footpath, bridleway, cycle track or byway have a more limited duration. We would like to propose 6 months, which would provide a limited relaxation on the present 3 month period, with a power for the Secretary of State to authorise a longer period, on the same basis as now under section 15 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. A suitable amendment would be brought forward in the Lords. I am also prepared to consider whether, when the Bill is enacted, appropriate guidance might be issued by the Department to highway authorities about the exercise of their powers. This would aim to emphasise the statutory duties which already oblige them to protect rights of way and minimise obstruction. The Bill enhances the provisions about traffic signs. Guidance would underline the need for clear signing and its maintenance throughout the period of any restriction. It could also endorse the requirements in respect of alternative routes. I would be prepared to involve interested bodies in the preparation of such guidance. They will, in any case, be consulted on procedure regulations to be made under clause 1. 10.30 am

Those undertakings are now on the record, and I promise the House that they will be carefully respected. I am glad to report that the responses received were united in their welcome for, and acceptance of, this proposition.

For the Ramblers Association—this is the point that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) raised in the original debates—Mr. Trevelyan suggested, in his reply, that the proposed guidance might be discussed in due course in the rights of way review committee, an informal non-statutory committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). At the most recent meeting of the Committee, which I believe was on Monday this week, whose constituent members include the Ramblers Association, the Countryside Commission and a variety of other bodies concerned with countryside matters, I understand that members expressed their satisfaction with the outcome on the Bill and were content to be consulted in due course through their representative organisations. I should like to put on the record my gratitude to them for their co-operation, which I know is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South.

As has been said, clause 1 provides for the Secretary of State to prescribe procedures to be followed in connection with the exercise by highway authorities of their powers under the Bill. This approach mirrors that already followed in connection with the main types of traffic regulation and parking place order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. It has the advantage that procedures can be more easily modified at a later stage to reflect changes in circumstances; and that time can be taken to consult affected parties and take account of their views in drawing up the necessary regulations. The 1984 Act requires such consultation before regulations can be made. We value that process and will look forward to receiving responses from consultees in due course.

I hope that we shall consult on draft regulations during the autumn. Suitable guidance would be prepared at the same time. We would then aim to implement what I hope by that time will be an Act by commencement order, and publish the guidance, simultaneously with introducing the procedure regulations—perhaps, I hope, around the turn of the year.

Regulations on procedure will replace the provisions currently set out in schedule 3 to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Those deal, at present, with requirements for the prior publication of notices in local newspapers before a temporary order is made, and further notices to be published when the order is made. The notices must state the effect of the order and include a description of alternative routes available.

In the case of temporary restrictions by notice rather than by order, there is no requirement for prior publicity, but the same obligation to describe alternative routes must apply. In all cases, whether the restriction is by means of a notice or order, street notices must be posted conspiciouly at each end of the road and at intermediate junctions.

It is envisaged that new procedure regulations will cover much the same ground. There may be some modifications. In the case of motorways and urban clearways, for example, it hardly seems appropriate to require the posting of street notices where motorists cannot possibly stop to read them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the Minister will tell me how all that relates to the amendments.

Mr. Atkins

I had hoped, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I was dealing with the amendments in the round. As we did not have the opportunity to debate the details that were raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish on Second Reading, I was seeking to deal with them now. I hope that that meets with your approval.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the Minister can tell me and the House how he relates the matter that he is describing to the amendments that we are considering; otherwise, he must address his remarks specifically to the amendments.

Mr. Atkins

I shall endeavour to do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was under the impression that I was discussing those matters at the request of the House, following the Second Reading debate, when I undertook to provide amendments that the representatives of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South could table in another place. I said that, when the amendments returned to this House, I would respond to them, and that is what I was endeavouring to do.

Perhaps I can continue, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if you find me—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the Minister will not be too prolix and that he will recognise that the Chair has a duty to safeguard the interests of other hon. Members who are waiting for their Bills to be reached. This is a private Members' day.

Mr. Atkins

Yes, I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was trying to respond to the real concerns that were raised in the original debate, which I was requested to do by hon. Members of all parties, when my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South and others raised a number of topics. I thought that I had recorded my desire to do so in my earlier remarks, and my gratitude to those people who responded as a result of the amendments that were tabled in the Lords. What I am saying relates to those amendments. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South will agree with that. I shall endeavour to proceed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and see whether I can stay within your terms of order.

I am glad that, in his later comments, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South recognised the importance of traffic management. The main impact of the Bill will be in respect of traffic on the road network. We must ensure that highway authorities have an adequate and efficient means of managing the network. That is as relevant to temporary measures for emergency work, repairs to water mains, or other remedial work as it is in respect of permanent traffic orders. With rising car ownership and the increasing demand for travel, we must use every endeavour to ensure that we make the best use of the available road capacity.

I know that many hon. Members are concerned about congestion and delays that result from roadworks. That matter was referred to in interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). The Bill does not seek to strengthen the law in respect of road works by utilities, and the matter of subsequent reinstatement. Many hon. Members have made clear their support for more far-reaching changes in the management of utility street works. The Horne report—the report of a review carried out under the chairmanship of Professor Horne—made a convincing case for reform. The Government accepted that case, and I am delighted that the hon. Member for Deptford also accepts it. I hope that, when that matter is debated in the House, we shall have a short debate and reach agreement on the reform of the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950, which covers the matter that we have discussed.

The Bill, however, is now an appropriate vehicle for piecemeal changes to street works legislation. I hope that we shall bring forward such legislation in the not too distant future.

The Bill and the Lords amendments relate to the TAPWORK report—the report of the traffic and parking working group—to which I referred in my opening remarks. The report supported the recommendation of the Horne committee that highway authorities should have the power to charge public utilities undertaking road works, so recovering the costs of making traffic orders, erecting signs and other associated costs.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that that has anything at all to do with the amendments. Am I wrong?

Mr. Atkins

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but this matter arose during the debate and I am responding to it. I thought that that was the task of a Minister during debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think that these matters relate to the debate—I may be wrong. Perhaps the matter was referred to when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair.

Mr. Atkins

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you were not in the Chair when that matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West, and the hon. Member for Deptford intervened; Mr. Speaker was in the Chair at the time. In the circumstances, I thought that it would be wise for me to touch on that matter now, and I hoped that the House would approve of that. That was certainly my intention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South has not sought to include those matters in his Bill. Perhaps he was wise to limit his ambitions in that respect. The Government have, however, already accepted the principle that the highway authority should be able to recover from any body excavating in the highway any reasonable costs in making temporary traffic orders and signposting traffic diversions. That is what the Bill and the Lords amendments are all about.

In view of your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily. There are matters that I can gloss over, in view of the concerns that have been expressed. The ones to which you have just referred are not incorporated in the Bill. In many respects I am glad that they are not.

On Report, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish suggested that the sole aim of the Bill was to help bureaucrats in the Department and in local authorities and that it would do nothing for the general public. That is not the case. Anyone who has worked in local government, as I have, will know that local authorities take their highways responsibilities seriously. Their aim is to minimise disruption from roadworks and maintenance and to manage traffic efficiently in the public interest. The Department's objectives in that respect are no different. My hon. Friend's Bill, and the amendments that were tabled in the Lords, are not designed simply to save my officials' time. He would be the first to admit that.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

My hon. Friend has done a remarkably good job in trying to co-ordinate the speed and pace at which road repairs are going ahead, but is he aware that in my constituency there is a positively third-world problem?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should obtain a copy of the Lords amendments before he intervenes again.

Mr. Atkins

Perhaps my hon. Friend ought to come to see me on another occasions, when we might discuss the third-world effects of road congestion in Crawley.

On Report, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish suggested that the sole aim of the Bill was to help bureaucrats. However, it is aimed at streamlining the process and cutting out wasteful and unnecessary bureaucracy at the centre. I am confident that the aims of the Bill and the amendments that were tabled in the Lords, at my hon. Friend's suggestion, will commend themselves to the whole House.

On Report, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—who, I regret to say, is not, unusually, in his place—took us on a brief visit to Swallow Falls. It reminds me that the Bill, and the amendments that were tabled in the Lords, relate to Wales as well as to England and Scotland, as does the 1984 Act that the Bill seeks to amend.

On a number of occasions, our debates have also touched on green lanes, the colloquial expression for byways open to all traffic, otherwise known as BOATs. The amendments that we are considering would introduce the shorter six-month time limit for temporary orders affecting byways, which Lords amendment No. 8 defines more prosaically as a highway over which the public have a right of way for vehicular and all other kinds of traffic but which is used by the public mainly for the purpose for which footpaths and bridleways are used. That definition already appears in section 127 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

In view of your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not linger on byways, a subject that properly deserves separate attention. Suffice it to say that I share the desire to preserve historic routes and that I am concerned at instances where there appears to be inappropriate or over-intensive use by vehicular traffic.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been requested by the Countryside Commission to initiate traffic regulation powers on part of the Ridgeway national trail. Preparations are in hand for draft orders that would impose a ban on recreational vehicle use on Sundays throughout the year. The aim is to reduce the scope for conflict between vehicular users and those on foot or horseback. Draft orders will be published in due course. There will be an opportunity for public comment and representation.

Mr. Soames

Is my hon. Friend aware of the strong feeling that the orders go far too far as it is, and that the conflict between users of vehicles and pedestrians and horses has not been satisfactorily resolved by the Government? Further consideration must be given to the extreme selfishness of those who drive motor bikes and motor cars over those roads, resulting in such dreadful effects for horse riders and walkers.

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. I know that he feels deeply about the matter and that he speaks about it with considerable knowledge. I am sure that he will pursue it. If I dealt with it now, you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps, therefore, my hon. Friend will write to me, when I shall be more than happy to pursue the matter.

10.45 am
Mr. Michael Brown

If the Lords amendments were passed, I understand that the highway authority could ask the Minister to extend the period beyond six months, but that the Minister could refuse the request. After such a refusal, highway authorities could not make another application for at least another three months. My hon. Friend would have an absolute power in respect of highway authorities if the Lords amendments were passed. In what circumstances would he use his absolute power to refuse a highway authority permission for an extension beyond the original six-month period?

Mr. Atkins

I am cautious about suggesting that I have absolute power over anything. I should not wish to exercise absolute power. However, as usual, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head and in his question has also defined the answer.

The aim of the draft orders would be to reduce the scope for conflict between vehicular users and those on foot or horseback. Draft orders will be published in due course. There will be an opportunity for public comment and representation before the matter is taken further. I am reminded that at one of my earlier meetings with my departmental officials the topics included green lanes, orange badges and red routes. I do not intend to be drawn on matters that are outside the terms of the Lords amendments.

Traffic signals are an essential component of many temporary traffic schemes. I am very nearly at the close of my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which, as the House will recall, were the result of a commitment that I made at an earlier stage when I was pressed, not least by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, to establish the procedure for tabling the Lords amendments. I am grateful that the House recognises that it is important for me to expand on the amendments.

Traffic signals are an essential component of many temporary traffic schemes, the subject of the Bill and the Lords amendments. They can make the difference between an orderly queue at roadworks, and chaos as alternating traffic competes for priority. It is sometimes sensible to phase roadworks along a stretch of road so that the minimum length of road is out of commission at any one time. In such cases, the temporary restriction need apply only where appropriate traffic signs are in place.

However, when the temporary order is first made it may not be known what the contractor's sequence of work will be. There is a need for flexibility to cope with that. One of the less conspicuous items in the Bill, clause 14(4), provides the necessary freedom to organise these matters in the most effective manner by reference to section 4(1) of the 1984 Act, which allows a traffic regulation order to have effect only where the relevant traffic signs are in place.

The Bill retains the present power to make temporary restrictions in the interests of protecting the public from danger. It is equally important that safety at roadworks is given due consideration. That is why I welcome clause 1(5), which ensures that temporary speed restrictions at roadworks and contraflow sections on motorways are subject to the same penalties as speeding offences elsewhere. The maximum penalty will remain at level 3 —£400, as now—but will be strengthened by the additional powers of obligatory endorsement and discretionary disqualification.

On report I made a comment about being an avid follower of grand prix and other motor sports. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish thought that I might have powers to close roads temporarily for motor racing. I have to disappoint him; I have no such powers. Racing on the public highway is an offence. Motorists who do not observe speed limits through coned-off sections of road are acting foolishly and dangerously, as well as illegally. The Bill will ensure that they face the full force of the law.

The Bill contains a collection of small but useful measures. Taken together—

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

I am not entirely sure that the Minister gave me the assurance I sought about consultation with the British Horse Society under clause 1. He referred to the consultations and the correspondence, but I am not sure that he said that he intended to consult the society under the terms of clause 1.

Mr. Atkins

I certainly intend to consult wherever necessary. That has always been the policy of the Department of Transport. Given the opportunity to consult, we always do so.

In conclusion, the Bill contains a collection of small but useful measures. Taken together, they will provide more flexibility and better powers to manage traffic for temporary periods in the interests of minimising congestion and disruption. They will reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and help authorities to respond more quickly and positively when the need arises.

In congratulating my hon. Friend on the way in which he handled the Bill, which demonstrates his skill in these matters, I give the Bill and the Lords amendments my wholehearted support.

Ms. Ruddock

I shall make the briefest of remarks, because I hope that we shall proceed to other private Members' Bills this morning.

I associate the Opposition with the Minister's remarks —of course only those which were in order—in supporting the Lords amendments. It is a considerable tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) that he so powerfully raised the interests of the Ramblers Association, walkers and riders at the start of our proceedings on the Bill, leading to the success of the Lords amendments which have enabled us to reach a happy consensus.

Perhaps I am anticipating today's conclusion, but, as one who has successfully piloted a private Member's Bill through the House, I know just how much stress is involved and how thrilling it is when one reaches the final hurdle and, one hopes, gets over it. However, I warn the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) that he will have to make sure that the Minister keeps his undertaking to make regulations. To date, the Government have failed to put the regulations to my Bill. I am sure that that comment was out of order, but I thought that I might get away with it.

I conclude on a happy note. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, South. It is indeed a Bill of small but useful measures. We support the Lords amendments and the Bill as amended.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 28, Noes 0.

Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Harry Barnes and
Mr. Dennis Skinner.

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not the loser as a result of this childish procedural nonsense; the loser is the British public. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) graciously gave the Bill the Opposition's blessing. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is the second time in the past few months that a procedural attempt has been made—by people who otherwise profess their support for the Bill—to ensure that it is blocked. Is there no way in which Back Benchers can seek some form of protection from this crazy nonsense?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's resentment, but it is not a matter for me. Nothing out of order has taken place, and I think that it would be unfruitful for us to embark on a post mortem.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that it is one.

Mr. Skinner

I think that you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be knowledgeable enough to know that what happened this morning was that the Government failed to get their required 40 hon. Members to vote. That is an indictment of Tory Members and others who were unable to be present. Let me remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—you were not in the Chair at the beginning, although you were probably present—that at the beginning we were happy to allow the Bill and the amendment to go through on the nod. It is pretty clear that Conservative Member were talking at length to stop the protection of Badger setts Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for me. It will not help the House or hon. Members who have Bills—

Several Hon Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must not seek to rise when the occupant of the Chair is on his or her feet. It only wastes time, and it is not useful. Unless hon. Members raise genuine points of order, I warn them that I shall not hesitate to interrupt them.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there no way in which you can use your influence to tell the House whether the Government are filibustering in an attempt to block all today's Bills? After all, the Minister spoke for half an hour on the last Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Point of order, Mr. Martyn Jones.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clywd, South-West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems that the Bill has merely been adjourned until the next sitting, which will comprise Government business. If the Government wish the Bill to go ahead, they can give time for it on Monday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Unlikely though it may seem, that is correct.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is it a genuine point of order?

Mr Robert G. Hughes

It is entirely genuine. I raised a point of order earlier with Mr. Speaker about the disgraceful conduct of the hon. Member for Clywd, South-West (Mr. Jones)—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I heard that exchange, and I remember that Mr. Speaker ruled on it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking a second ruling from me.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that this point of order is more genuine than the last one.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

It is genuine. It is a different point of order relating to my previous point of order. The House has already been insulted; now a filibuster is in progress, with pointless votes—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is merely a different bogus point of order.