HC Deb 03 May 1991 vol 190 cc580-91

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered. Order for Third Reading read.

1.19 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I place on record my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) because the Bill is based closely upon the Bill that he promoted last year. Indeed, it is just one year less one day since he moved the Third Reading of that Bill.

The speed with which this Bill has made progress is a fair reflection of its acceptance by the House. The merits of my hon. Friend's Bill last Session were well perceived.

As she darted in and out of the Chamber, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), the Opposition spokesman on the Bill in Committee and on Report. I half hoped that she might be here, because she was extremely helpful last year during the proceedings on the previous Bill and I thought that it would be in order to congratulate her on the fact she had taken such a sensible stand on this Bill. It is important to pay tribute to the Opposition, except when they raise spurious and unreasonable points or order.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) was here. Due to a misunderstanding between Whips and the usual channels, she was misinformed as to the time that the hon. Gentleman was likely to rise to his feet to speak, and she will be back as I know that she is keen to hear his comments and especially his praises for her co-operation.

Mr. Cash

It is always such a pleasure to see the hon. Lady, as she always adds to the graciousness of the House.

It is important to point out that the Bill offers a most useful and welcome improvement to the powers available to traffic authorities to impose temporary restrictions. It introduces a new code of powers to replace sections 14 to 16 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The changes will enable procedures to be streamlined, swifter action to be taken when required and unnecessary bureaucracy to be reduced in respect of matters that are of primary concern.

I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford has now come into the Chamber. I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), who is sitting at her side, will pass on the remarks that I made a few moments ago.

Where temporary restrictions are required, for example during major works, the normal safeguards for pedestrian access are retained, as is the requirement to have regard to alternative routes. In addition, the provisions for traffic signs are strengthened and the powers of authorities to make suitable provision on alternative roads while works are in progress are enhanced.

Time limits for temporary restrictions are relaxed, but only by an additional three months in the case of orders affecting footpaths, bridleways, cycle tracks and byways open to all traffic.

As I am in an expansive mood, I shall also congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) on the fact that, in conjunction with, and perhaps on behalf of, the Ramblers Association, he took such a close interest in the original Bill, which ensured that we had complete co-operation from the Opposition last year. In these days of consensus, it is helpful to know that even last year, that degree of co-operation was possible.

Time limits for temporary restrictions are relaxed, and the provisions in question represent an accommodation which was reached in consultation with representative organisations, including the Ramblers Association, during the passage of the original Bill last Session.

Hon. Members have had many opportunities to debate wider highways and road traffic issues which have arisen from Government Bills. By contrast, my Bill works on a narrow set of powers and will make a series of improvements that are minor but none the less welcome. If they will do something to assist traffic authorities in the demanding task of controlling and managing traffic during building works or other highway works, and if they will minimise the delays which would otherwise be caused, they will be well worth while. In these days of extreme traffic congestion, anything that can be done to help to relieve the frustration of drivers and pedestrians is bound to be welcome.

It might be helpful to go through a few questions and answers, aimed not at you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but at helping to bring out some of the importance and value of the Bill. First, why is such an elaborate process required for dealing with temporary restrictions? The answer is that the law provides highway users with a right of free passage. Proper safeguards are needed to ensure that the limitations on that right cannot be unreasonably imposed, even where there is a legitimate reason. The Bill strikes an appropriate balance between greater freedom for highway authorities and sufficient protection for road users, including adequate notification and signing.

Secondly, why should not the role of the Secretary of State be removed entirely from the procedure? The answer is that the Bill will retain a minor role for the Secretary of State. He will have the power to prolong a temporary order while procedures for a replacement permanent order run their course. That mirrors an equivalent power in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 on experimental traffic orders. The Bill will remove the involvement of the Department in the merits of individual cases, leaving that for local authority decision, except where the Secretary of State is required to approve an extended period in respect of orders which affect footpaths, bridleways and so on.

Thirdly, how will the Bill improve the present position? It will provide uniform powers across England and Wales. That is most important. So far, we have operated on the basis of a patchwork or kaleidescope of powers. The Bill will allow authorities to act more promptly and comprehensively. It will also relax the current unduly restrictive time limits on notices and orders.

Fourthly, why should a distinction be made between notices and orders? The main procedural difference is that orders require local publicity in advance of the introduction of restrictions, whereas notices can introduce restrictions with immediate effect. The more summary notice procedure is therefore strictly time limited—five days for a works notice and 21 days for other notices. The Bill clarifies the need in both instances to have regard to the existence of alternative routes and will allow the prescribing of procedures to ensure adequate signing.

Fifthly, what will be prescribed in the procedure regulations? Probably not much that is different from what is set out in schedule 3 to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Provision will need to be made for appropriate local publicity, street notices and traffic signs. In the case of longer works orders, further procedural steps could be introduced, including a public inquiry procedure. The final detail will have to be determined in the light of public consultation on the draft regulations.

Sixthly, should there be incentives for speedy completion? Authorities are already 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 the highway and prevent as far as possible the stopping up and obstruction of the highway. Therefore, authorities are obliged to have regard to that when satisfying themselves on the need for a temporary restriction. Indeed, the New Roads and Street Works Bill going through Parliament will reinforce those duties and provide added incentives for the speedy completion of works by public utilities. It is possible that I have got that slightly wrong and that the Bill has already been enacted. Undoubtedly, my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to inform me. [Interruption.] He informs me that the Bill has not been enacted, so the important comment that I made remains valid.

Seventhly, the Bill confirms the need to have regard to the existence of suitable alternatives or diversionary routes before proceeding with the restriction. The procedures for temporary restrictions will be prescribed by regulations. It is most likely that they will impose requirements to indicate alternative routes, as schedule 3 to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 requires.

The eighth question is about the length of permitted closures. There was previously a three-month limit which applied only outside London and was regarded as an artificial constraint. The 18-month period proposed in the Bill is a sensible period, taking into account, first, consents previously given by the Secretary of State; secondly, similar provisions for experimental traffic orders under section 9 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984; and thirdly, the general response to the consultation exercise in 1987. Exception is made for orders affecting non-motorised traffic on footpaths, bridleways, cycle tracks and byways open to all traffic, where the limit is six months with provision for the Secretary of State to approve extensions.

Ninthly, what scope is there for cost savings? It is difficult to quantify with any certainty what they will be. Clearly, the benefits will affect different authorities differently. Each year, about 15,000 orders are made by local authorities alone. The main advantage of the Bill will be to reduce bureaucracy by the removal of the consent provision and a more comprehensive set of orders.

Last year, the precursor Bill was considered in both Houses of Parliament. For some extraordinary reason, it ran into fairly stormy weather when we considered Lords amendments to it. Nobody who has heard the almost mind-blowing tedium of the bureaucratic arrangements proposed in the Bill could possibly think that it should be subject to a filibuster, yet that is apparently what happened.

This is a useful Bill and we are making sensible improvements to road traffic procedures. Of all the Bills in which I have ever had the pleasure to be involved, in terms of technicality, this one takes the biscuit. None the less, such matters must be dealt with. Many of our deliberations go unnoticed and are without glamour.

Today we are fortunate to have the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford to add a little sparkle to this occasion.

Clause 1 and the schedule to the Bill embody the Bill's substance by making new provisions for the temporary regulation of traffic by means of orders and notices. That is the main thrust of the exercise. In 1984 we passed the Road Traffic Regulation Act. As time has progressed, sections 14 and 15 have given rise to second thoughts. This Bill substitutes for section 14 a new section which is described as: Temporary prohibition or restriction on roads. Subsection (1) re-enacts the substance of section 14(1) of the 1984 Act. It provides for a traffic authority to restrict or prohibit temporarily by order the use of a road in cases where the authority is satisfied of the necessity of doing so because of works or proposed works on or near the road, because of the likelihood of danger to the public or of serious damage to the road unconnected with such works, or to allow an authority to discharge its duties under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for litter clearing or street cleaning. That is extremely valuable.

Recently, the Minister for the Environment and Countryside visited the Stafford borough area because it had taken an initiative which, I think, we can fairly claim predated the Government's initiative for comprehensively cleaning up all litter. He obviously enjoyed himself, and we went around the town. We now have a task force in Stafford, which will reassure my constituents that litter will be blitzed. Such measures enable cleaning-up operations to be carried out more expeditiously. At least this aspect of the Bill has special relevance to my constituency, and I should like to believe that it will be advantageous not only to those in my area but to others throughout England and Wales. The Bill is not specific to my constituency; it has a general application and also has the advantage of removing the complicated patchwork of powers that has accumulated over the years.

New section 14(2) is similar to the 1984 Act by providing the power to restrict or prohibit temporarily the use of the road by a notice in cases requiring urgent action. Restrictions or prohibitions by means of a notice as opposed to an order—for those who can understand the difference between them—are severely limited in duration. However, there is one significant change. The notice procedure is extended to cases involving works, to which it did not previously apply. In such cases, whether by notice or by order, an authority may, in future, resort to the use of temporary restriction or prohibition when it considers that necessary or expedient.

The notice procedure also extends to traffic restrictions that are necessary or expedient for the purpose of street cleaning. Under subsection (3), authorities are required to have regard to the existence of suitable alternative routes when considering making a temporary restriction or prohibition, whether by means of an order or by means of a notice.

New section 14 (4) defines the scope of the provisions that can be made by temporary order or notice, including the power to impose speed limits. I think that that could be important. That follows section 14 of the 1984 Act, with the additional inclusion of the power—under section 4(1) of that Act—in respect of traffic signs to identify the parts of a road to which the order or notice applies. Safeguards preserving pedestrian access to premises are retained. That is very important, because, when engaging in bureaucratic manoeuvrings, it is easy to forget that under these arrangements we must be sure that the public are safe, that shopkeepers do not have their premises obstructed and that those wishing to get to their homes can do so in safety and with reasonable facility.

Subparagraph (5) deals with alternative roads and follows the general trend of section 14(5) of the 1984 Act, but with two main changes. First, it will allow temporary restrictions on alternative roads by notice as well as by order. Secondly, it will allow local authorities to introduce temporary restrictions on alternative roads where they are trunk roads, with the consent of the Secretary of State, as the highway authority for that purpose. Previously, the Secretary of State would have had to make a separate order for trunk roads. In other cases, where the initiating local authority is not the responsible authority for the alternative road, prior consent must similarly be sought.

I hope that those responsible for sorting out such matters—the county council, agencies for the district council or, indeed, the Department of the Environment—will find the procedure as easy to follow as I have found this extremely helpful description of the Bill. We often take such matters too much for granted, but we owe much to those behind the scenes in the Department of Transport, not to mention the Minister. They have performed a helpful service.

I mentioned that in Committee and I repeat it because while hon. Members are also called on to deal with broader matters, including EC issues, in the end matters such as that before the House today help the man in the street to have better safety and help to improve road traffic. I owe much to the civil servants in the Minister's Department for the great efficiency they have shown in assisting me with the Bill. Indeed, there have been times in recent weeks when my attention has been diverted from this important measure, but they have always been there, anticipating my requirements. I have found their efforts extremely helpful, as I said in Committee.

We added a new clause—15—dealing with the duration of orders and notices made under clause 14. Subsection (1) provides a general time limit of 18 months for orders under clause 14. That replaces the three-month limit that currently applies outside Greater London, but that has proved unduly restrictive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is no longer in his place. In my previous incarnation, before coming to this place, there was a knock on my office door one day, in about 1973 and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East asked whether I would help draft a measure that later became the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973, otherwise known as the Dykes Act, or perhaps I should refer to it as the Act of the hon. Member for Harrow, East. That Act deals with matters relating to the movement of heavy commercial vehicles in and around towns.

I drafted that measure, but I cannot claim to have drafted the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill. I understand—I hope that I am not giving away official secrets—that my measure, for reasons that are obscure to me, was drafted by the most eminent parliamentary counsel in the land. Hence I was surprised when, in Committee, a few amendments had to be made. I suppose that the first parliamentary counsel, like all parliamentary lawyers, is occasionally in need of a little second thought. I believe that the Bill is one of the best examples of its kind, so my congratulations are due to him for the way in which he, too, has conducted the Bill.

New section 15(1) replaces that three-month limit, but an exception is made for orders in respect of footpaths, bridleways, cycle tracks or byways open to all traffic, for more than six months duration. There follow a number of other provisions dealing with works order, and subsection (2) provides that a works order under the new clause 14(1)(a) can last longer than 18 months if necessary, so long as that is made clear in the order and the order is revoked as soon as the works are completed.

Subsection (3) makes similar provision to that in section 9 of the 1984 Act in respect of experimental orders, namely, giving a power to the Secretary of State, where a follow-on permanent order is proposed, to approve the extension of a temporary order for a further limited period to avoid any hiatus while the necessary procedural steps are taken to bring the permanent order into effect.

Subsection (4) provides that the Secretary of State can exercise his powers under subsection (3) only at the request of the authority which made the temporary order.

Subsection (5) provides for six months' time limit for orders in respect of footpaths, bridleways, cycle tracks or byways open to all traffic and reflects the view that reinstatement of the status quo ante should generally be possible within a shorter period than may be practicable elsewhere. However, the subsection preserves the powers of the Secretary of State, under section 15(2) of the 1984 Act, to authorise the continuation of restrictions for a further period at the request of the order-making authority.

I see that my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford are exchanging ideas on this spellbinding occasion. They are no doubt working out how long they will speak—or perhaps how quickly. I trust that the circumstances that arose last year, when the Opposition gave the Bill an undiluted and enthusiastic welcome, will be repeated on this occasion. I sense from the expression on the face of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford that she is enthusiastic about the Bill and happy to co-operate with its passage.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If he were to speed up, I should be even more grateful and more Likely to support the Bill.

Mr. Cash

That is encouraging because I was coming to the same conclusion. I should be delighted to bring my contribution to as speedy an end as possible because everything that I needed to say is now on the record. Indeed, some things that I did not need to say and some that I did not want to have to say are also on the record. I am now glad to be able to sit down so that the Minister can pick up the threads of this convoluted, technical, procedural Bill which, none the less, I hope will prove to be a useful adjunct to the statute book.

1.46 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take up the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). The Bill is important and my hon. Friend does himself a disservice in suggesting that it is unglamourous. The presence of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) shows the importance that she attaches to the Bill. Ministers and Opposition spokesmen are not often here on a Friday to discuss such important business.

One of the principal reasons why the Government welcome the Bill is that it will usefully strengthen the powers of traffic authorities in dealing with the temporary regulation of traffic.

Authorities face a growing challenge to manage traffic effectively, particularly as car ownership levels increase and traffic on our roads continues to grow. We should, perhaps, remember that during the 1950s, motor vehicle traffic in Britain doubled. It doubled again in the 1960s and during the 1970s and '80s it doubled yet again. At the end of the last decade the total figure for road traffic was 400 billion vehicle kilometres per annum. National road traffic forecasts suggest that it will continue to increase. Car ownership could increase by between 30 and 50 per cent. by the year 2005.

Until cars are used much less than at present, there will be more traffic on our roads. To put that in context, Britain currently has significantly fewer cars on its roads than do many of our European partners. For example, 1988 figures show that, in terms of cars and taxis per thousand population, the United Kingdom came seventh highest among the 12 member states of the European Community and was also behind Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Therefore, contrary to some people's suggestions, Britain does not have more cars on its roads per head of population than any other country in Europe. Indeed, we are well down the league table.

With this growth in traffic has also come a dramatic increase in road works, not least because of the need to repair worn-out services and the burgeoning demand for cable communications. This, and the continuing requirement to maintain highways under the pressure of higher traffic volumes, makes it all the more pressing, therefore, that we find appropriate measures for managing temporary works to minimise their disruption to traffic flow. I shall be saying a few words about the Government's proposals on that later, but first I shall return to my hon. Friend's Bill.

It is based on proposals that emerged some years ago from a joint working group between the local authorities and my Department on traffic and parking matters. The Tapwork group, as it became known, produced a report in 1987 with a variety of proposals for improving the law and administrative procedures in traffic and parking. A number of its recommendations have subsequently borne fruit. For example, new procedures for local authorities' traffic orders were made in 1989. In that same year, another private Member's Bill was brought forward to extend the scope of parking equipment available for use by authorities. That passed successfully through both Houses and became the Parking Act 1989. Further recommendations have also been carried into the Road Traffic Bill this Session, which—as hon. Members know—is now in Committee in another place.

The main recommendations on temporary traffic regulation in the Tapwork report contained in B1-B12 in annex B to the report, were well received and are embodied in the measure before the House today. The Bill contains a collection of measures which, taken together, should help to streamline the current procedures and reduce bureaucracy. Of course, that means reducing the unnecessary costs which would otherwise be borne by local authorities.

A major component of the Bill is that it will largely remove the involvement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, from decisions on the merits of temporary traffic regulation. That is properly a matter for the relevant local authorities. They can be expected to act responsibly in those matters, just as in matters involving permanent traffic orders, where they have direct responsibility. There has been a progressive devolution of powers over time. It is right to take a further step in that direction.

The residual role for the Department will be, first, to provide for continuity, where the traffic authority is proposing to make a permanent traffic order and requires additional time to put the necessary arrangements in place—that is in new section 15(3)—and, secondly, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, in respect of orders affecting footpaths and bridleways where the permitted period of restriction is only six months instead of 18 months, but may be extended by the Secretary of State, on the request of the authority, if he is satisfied that the circumstances warrant it, that is in new section 15(5).

My hon. Friend has already commented on a number of the other provisions in the Bill. I welcome, for example, the provision that will allow a single order to be made covering both local authority roads and trunk roads, with the Secretary of State's consent. That is in new section 14(5). Everyone will agree that it does not make sense to have to proceed with two separate orders on trunk roads and local authority roads, as current law requires.

In the context of provision on alternative routes, the Bill also includes some helpful enhancements. More emphasis is given, in the new section 14(3), to the need to have regard to the availability of alternative routes, whether the temporary restriction is by means of an order or a notice.

New powers are also included in the new section 14(8), which will allow the traffic authority to suspend any free parking place on an alternative route. That might be necessary for a brief period to avoid congestion on that alternative route while additional traffic has been diverted on to it.

Appropriate provision is made in clause 1(3) for the erection of the necessary traffic signs in connection with temporary restrictions. It goes without saying, perhaps, that proper signing is as important for short duration traffic regulation as it is in any other case. Of equal importance is to ensure that works are properly guarded for the benefit of the road user and those working on the road.

I am sure that the House would welcome a little information on the relationship between the Bill and the Government's New Roads and Street Works Bill which is still before the House and has not yet received Royal Assent. That Bill seeks to bring about the long overdue reform of the Public Utilities Streetworks Act 1950. It aims to sort out the present confused responsibility for utility street works by making utilities fully responsible for their own works. It will allow utilities to carry out their own street works much more efficiently. It places a duty on highway authorities to co-ordinate their own and utilities' street works, so as to minimise disruption and end the frustration caused when the same stretch of road is repeatedly dug up. Undertakers will be required to co-operate with the authorities and each other in co-ordinating works.

The Bill should help to improve the environment by reducing the amount of street works activity, with its fumes, noise and congestion and by bringing about better quality of work and surface reinstatement. It should also improve safety by means of the new provisions for signing, lighting and guarding works, with the disabled particularly in mind, and by means of requirements for the training of workmen and supervisors. We attach great importance to that. Our intention is to approve a code of practice giving practical guidance to undertakers on how best to ensure that these objectives are met. The code will be based on the revised chapter 8 of the Department's traffic signs manual.

The significant point is this: where it is necessary to restrict or prohibit road traffic for temporary periods, traffic authorities rely on the powers in sections 14 to 16 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. It is those powers which my hon. Friend's Bill will strengthen and improve. So this Bill is an important adjunct to the Government's wider measure.

As hon. Members will know, where temporary traffic regulation is introduced in connection with road works by utilities, the Government's Bill allows traffic authorities to recover costs from the utilities—both administrative costs and costs of necessary traffic signing. That is a sound principle and one which was acknowledged in the Tapwork recommendations from which this Bill has emerged.

Of course, had my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) been successful with his Bill last Session, there would have been no need for the consequential provisions which now appear in schedule 2 to the Bill. The Government's Bill could have taken everything into account. But it is a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford that he has ensured compatibility between his Bill and the New Roads and Street Works Bill. The technical amendments agreed in Committee complete that task. We anticipate that the New Roads and Street Works Bill will be brought into force first. This Bill, if agreed, will then tidy up the drafting by repealing provisions rendered redundant in schedule 8 to the New Roads and Street Works Bill.

The Bill also seeks to provide flexibility on the matter of the permitted duration of restrictions under the more rapid notice procedure. At present, a notice allows a restriction for up to 14 days. That is in the existing section 15(5) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The Bill extends this to 21 days, but provides additional circumstances in which a short five-day notice may be used. That includes temporary restrictions for street cleaning purposes and temporary restrictions connected with road works. In many cases, the need for major works in the highway is known well in advance and can be dealt with through the temporary order-making procedure, but the new short duration notice can be useful for unforeseen circumstances.

There is power in new section 15(7) for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to alter the number of days—five and 21—if experience suggests that that is needed. That gives a welcome opportunity to fine-tune the arrangements if occasion demands. It would be achieved by means of regulations, subject to the negative resolution procedure. That is in line with the philosophy reflected in the New Roads and Street Works Bill—to ensure that the Government and authorities are not hamstrung by too much detailed legislation which then becomes outmoded over time and which, because it is primary legislation, cannot be amended, even though everyone recognises the need for amendment.

The temporary restriction of traffic is never welcomed by those affected by it, but authorities are under a general duty to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of the highway and to prevent its stopping up or obstruction as far as possible. The New Roads and Street Works Bill reinforces those duties and provides added incentives for speedy completion of works by public utilities. The Bill ensures that, where the requirement for temporary regulation exists, for whatever reason, there is the necessary procedural and administrative mechanism to ensure its effective application and proper implementation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford referred to the role of the first parliamentary counsel in drafting the Bill and he drew attention to the fact that a couple of amendments were agreed in Committee. In fairness to the first parliamentary counsel, he should not be criticised. The amendments became necesary because the Bill had to be brought up to date to reflect the passage of other Bills and a new schedule was added to the Bill. Every cloud has a silver lining. The fact that last year's Bill did not reach the statute book has enabled this year's Bill to take account of other legislation before the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford has a distinguished history, not only as an hon. Member, but before he became a Member, of dealing with legislation and drafting Bills. He has demonstrated his expertise once again in the way in which he has successfully steered the Bill through Second Reading, Committee and Report to Third Reading. He hopes, no doubt, that it will receive plaudits when it goes to the other place and that it will soon be on the statute book. It is a great pleasure to know that the Opposition welcome the Bill. I hope that the House will give it a warm welcome later today. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on the way in which he has handled the Bill and I commend it to the House

2.1 pm

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) for the fact that I was not in my place when he rose to address the House. I do so only because he has drawn the attention of the House to that fact. He might have noticed that I have been in and out of the Chamber frequently and that I have been here since he start of business this morning. It is due to the ludicrous procedures of the House that I was unable to know at what point the Bill would proceed.

I do not intend to speak for long because I am very much aware that hon. Members who spoke for some hours before the hon. Member for Stafford rose were doing so in an effort to take the maximum time for two Bills to prevent the Pig Husbandry Bill from reaching the Chamber for debate. I regret that very much. I regret, as the hon. Member for Stafford does, the filibustering that ca used problems for the precursor to this Bill. I regret that that has happened again this morning and that another worthy measure will not receive proper time and attention in the House.

As the hon. Member for Stafford and the Minister said, the Bill is important. It contains measures that, although small in themselves, will have considerable consequences. As the hon. Member for Stafford said, it seems that the Department of Transport wished the Bill to be introduced and that, behind the scenes, it has done the work and provided considerable assistance to the hon. Gentleman.

It may sometimes be justifiable to produce such measures and to make them available to those who are successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills. However, I am not sure that the Bill needed to come to the House in its present form. Perhaps it could simply have been subsumed in the procedures on two important transport Bills. The Minister has referred to the Road Traffic Bill and to the New Roads and Street Works Bill. I have been the lead member of the Front-Bench team for the Opposition during the procedures on both Bills. I am glad to tell the hon. Member for Stafford that we have been able to proceed with reasonable consensus on the major provisions in those Bills and that this Bill is complementary to them.

Mr. Cash

Can the hon. Lady tell the House which Opposition spokesman will be handling the Bill in the House of Lords? Lord Brougham and Vaux has kindly agreed to take on the Bill when it arrives in the House of Lords and to put forward our arguments. I hope that there will be no argument at all, but I should like to know whether we shall be able to maintain the same comity and co-operation and that the person who takes the Bill through the Lords is the same as the one who took it through previously, as that will maintain the splendid continuity.

Ms. Ruddock

I undertake to speak to my colleagues in another place to signal our attitude and to say that I hope that the same attitude will be demonstrated there.

The Bill is complementary to other Bills on which we have been prepared to co-operate. Indeed, I hope that we have added to and improved those measures. As the hon. Member for Stafford and the Minister said, it is important to restrict traffic temporarily because of the increasing number of necessary road works. That is why we support the Bill. We supported a similar Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and we regret that that Bill fell in the way that it did, making it necessary to use the valuable time of the House again. The filibustering was unnecessary. We welcome the Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford on his success in bringing the Bill thus far.

Mr. Cash

We very much appreciate the attendance of the chief Opposition spokesman on transport on this important occasion. He pays considerable attention to these matters. Furthermore, when one sees him on television——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not see that that has anything to do with Third Reading.

Ms. Ruddock

I fear that the hon. Member for Stafford is getting anxious because we might finish consideration of the Bill rather early and the Pig Husbandry Bill may receive another hearing. The hon. Gentleman should not try to help his hon. Friends who wish to frustrate that measure by adding to the time taken for debate on his Bill. If he presses me, he might find that I am not so keen on his Bill. I was about to conclude.

Mr. Chope

Does the hon. Lady accept that the Government are not against the Pig Husbandry Bill and also that the Government closely considered the options for incorporating the provisions of the Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill into another Bill? Obviously, if that had been done, we should have saved time. Will the hon. Lady accept that it was because we were unable to do that that we decided to support this private Member's Bill?

Ms. Ruddock

I am happy to accept the second statement that the Minister made. Whether or not the Government are for the Pig Husbandry Bill, on occasions like this, there seems to be an understanding with the Government which is demonstrated by the length of the Minister's speeches—not the Minister present now, however. I shall not allow that to happen any more by allowing further interventions. I shall sit down after congratulating the hon. Member for Stafford on his success thus far. I hope that, with our support, his Bill will reach the statute book.