HC Deb 04 March 1994 vol 238 cc1180-238

Order for Second Reading read.

9.36 am
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

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

As you will appreciate, Madam Speaker, I am something of a novice in the matter of private Members' Bills and that will doubtless become apparent during the morning. When I was lucky enough to draw a low number in the ballot, I was surprised at the onslaught by a posse of single-issue pressure groups and lobbyists, who pursued me for at least three weeks to persuade me to legislate against all sorts of things. The taste for legislation has obviously not diminished, which, in many respects, is a pity.

The most ambitious of them was an elderly gentleman who has borne a grudge against the Chancellor of the Exchequer for many years, since the introduction of independent taxation. He suggested that I should introduce an alternative Finance Bill. Procedurally, it might have been rather difficult, but we might have had some fun with our own version of such a Bill and, if nothing else, we could have knocked a couple of pence off the price of a bottle of claret.

On a more serious note, all the Bills urged on me were aimed at stopping people doing something or regulating them, which I found depressing. This Bill, despite its title, does not stop people doing things, although it will require a small amount of regulation. I do not know whether it is a regulating deregulatory Bill or vice versa; that is something for hon. Members to consider.

I am grateful for the support from both sides of the House for the Bill because, without it, several major sporting and cultural events that take place on the highways could be threatened.

The Bill has a dull-sounding name and has become known privately as the Tour de France Bill, which is useful shorthand, but its scope is vastly wider.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Given one of the reasons for it, perhaps it would be appropriate to call it the Tour d' Angleterre Bill.

Mr. Atkinson

I agree. In view of comments coming from across the channel recently, that would be a good idea, provided that we get the French right.

The Bill has two main objectives. One is to allow those large events to take place without challenge, and the other is to allow those events to take place only after proper consultation, and the decision has been taken by an accountable and elected authority, which is different from the situation today.

I shall explain to the House how the Bill arose. The tour de France is coming to this country for two days in July this summer, as part of the celebrations to mark the opening of the channel tunnel. It is due to spend two days in different parts of the south-east of England. It is a matter of regret for me that it did will take place in the north country, because there we have plenty of open space.

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

I appreciate that we will hear at, I suspect, considerable length from various hon. Members today where the tour de France will go and the merits of each town and village through which it will pass, but how will it get here? Will the participants cycle through the tunnel or will they come by train? If they will come by train, it seems rather to defeat the object.

Mr. Atkinson

Yes; that very question occurred to me, because I thought initially, in my innocence, that the participants would cycle through the tunnel, which would be a rather grand gesture. Unfortunately, apparently that is not possible because of security arrangements. They would probably get electrocuted on the way so, unfortunately, they are going on Le Shuttle and will arrive and decamp at Dover on an appropriate day.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

Will my hon. Friend deny or confirm the rumour that they will be serenaded by Luciano Pavarotti?

Mr. Atkinson

I know that Mr. Pavarotti is involved in the shenanigans to mark the opening of the channel tunnel, but I do not think that he will be involved in the tour de France. The convoy that comes through the tunnel will be enormous because the tour de France is not simply a cycle race. It involves about 200 riders and 1,500 other vehicles. They are the vehicles of sponsors, who design their vehicles in the most peculiar ways—appearing like profiteroles in one case, I am told—and support vehicles. A vast cavalcade of vehicles will emerge from that train.

Perhaps it would be worth while to dwell on that. The tour de France will be one of the biggest sporting occasions to be held in Britain since the world cup. I have no great knowledge of cycle racing, and I had not realised how much its popularity has increased in recent years. The television audience for the tour de France amounts to nearly 1 billion people worldwide. It is an incredible operation, therefore, and involves an incredible amount of money in television rights and organisation. It is a valuable and major event.

Mr. Butler

The number of people who watch on television has nothing to do with the way in which the tour de France takes place. It is not necessary for it to come to England for that to happen. Will my hon. Friend tell us how many people will turn up to watch it?

Mr. Atkinson

I detect a touch of chauvinism creeping into the debate at an early stage—possibly jealousy.

Many thousands of people in the south-east of England will watch the tour de France while it is over here, before it returns to France by ship and aeroplane.

The responses that I have had from local authorities and people involved in the south-east of England—there may be Members present who represent seats in the south-east —show that they are delighted that the tour de France is coming here, because it will give a great promotion to the region and help tourism and industrial development.

Mr. Butler

I dispute any suggestion of chauvinism. I was merely trying to get to the figures. Bearing in mind that the effect of this pernicious little Bill, which I have come here to support today, is that a few or many thousand people will be able to watch the tour de France, is my hon. Friend aware that the RAC rally—which will not in the least be facilitated by this—has 2 million spectators and is the largest sporting event in this country? Even the London to Brighton run is attended by up to 1 million people each November. Yet my hon. Friend is talking about a few thousand people. Why is he going to bar the Bill from enabling that type of event to take place?

Mr. Atkinson

My hon. Friend makes two important points. One is the factual accuracy of the number of people who will watch the tour de France. I do not know, because the tour has never come to this country. I expect that tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, will watch it. I will return to the reasons why it does not allow for motor sport on roads.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

On the subject of chauvinism, given the recent performance of British sporting teams, does my hon. Friend agree that in that field of sporting endeavour, if there is to be a British team—I know not whether there is—and if we are to seek its success, it is an essential precondition for that success that the team does not have a manager?

Mr. Atkinson

I sympathise with my hon. Friend on that. It is probably more a disadvantage than an advantage to have managers these days. There will be British competitors, but I am afraid that my knowledge of cycle racing does not extend to whether they will operate as a team or are managed.

I shall now describe the route of the tour de France. It will spend two days in this country. The first day will be spent in parts of Sussex on a 128-mile course, I think, and it will end on what one might call our equivalent of a mountain course, which is Wilson avenue, Brighton. I do not know whether anyone—

Mr. Fabricant

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Atkinson

My hon. Friend may know.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend knows that I am the Member for Mid-Staffordshire, but perhaps he does not know that I was born in Rottingdean, four miles to the east of Brighton, and that in my school I used to play football just by the rubbish dump, which is to the east of Wilson avenue. The participants in the tour de France will have a tremendous view of the Sheepcoate Valley rubbish dump to the right and a rather—I had better not say what I was about to say—interesting housing estate to the left.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful for that help with the geography, because I was rather surprised that the hill climb section will be Wilson avenue. It does not quite ring as well as the section in the Alps, but I am sure that it will be as testing as any alpine class.

The second day of the tour de France will be in Hampshire—including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone)—and will end at Portsmouth.

The tour will be a major sporting event. Considerable planning is necessary. The problem is that when the lawyers in East Sussex county council considered the necessary road closures to allow the tour de France to take place—roads have to be closed for a considerable period —they examined the legislation and discovered that it was flawed. That flawed legislation would affect not only the tour de France, but some of the well-known major events in this country, such as the London marathon, the Notting Hill carnival and the great north run.

The various pieces of legislation that apply to road closures and empower the police and other people to close roads are very archaic and appear to be deeply flawed. The organisers of the tour de France made it clear that they could not afford the capital investment in setting up the tour, with all the television coverage and all the support vehicles, unless they could be certain that a resident of, for example, Wilson avenue, who might feel aggrieved at the inconvenience of having the tour de France going up the road, was not able to go to the court and challenge the right to close the roads. The view of the lawyers was that if someone did challenge it, there was a chance that the challenge could succeed. So, although we are taking the Bill with some levity this morning, it is extremely important for the future of those major sporting events.

The difficulty is that we have let the genie out of the bottle. Having brought the subject to public notice, 'which we are doing today, we are alerting people who may feel that, for example, the Notting Hill carnival is something not of their taste, who would then challenge it. It is important that we enable the Bill to get a Second Reading today.

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would tell the House what his Bill will do, bearing in mind the fact that he mentioned Kent and Sussex earlier. Kent and Sussex's inclusion in the route raises the prospect of retired colonels fulminating at great length, quite incapable of getting to their golf clubs for hours on end. What will the Bill do for them?

Mr. Atkinson

I will deal with that matter later.

The purpose of the Bill is to give new powers to close roads and to regulate the traffic that is disturbed by those road closures. The police currently have some powers to close a road. However, they do not have power to divert traffic up one-way streets the other way and that type of thing, which means that it becomes difficult to manage an event such as the tour de France.

I shall briefly review the existing. rules that apply, currently, which can be used to close roads. Although section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 allows roads to be closed for cycle races, they are not the same kind of cycle races as the tour de France. They simply power through an area quickly and there is a rolling programme of road closures. Because of the vast number of spectators that we expect at the tour de France, the roads will have to be closed for much longer and that Act will not apply.

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend seems to be saying that the power to close roads for cycle races already exists. Is he now proposing to close the roads for profiteroles?

Mr. Atkinson

I would not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend's phraseology, but I agree that those are two different things. A cycle race that passes swiftly through an area where there are no spectators or vehicles dressed up as profiteroles is different from the tour de France, when the roads will be closed, huge crowds will gather and there will be much razzmatazz.

Mr. Fabricant

It may help my hon. Friend if I remind him that the milk race, which is a well-known cycle race, also starts in Brighton and attracts more than 100,000 spectators. Moreover, it brings in many millions of pounds worth of tourism to Brighton, so it is valuable and easily comparable with the RAC rally.

Mr. Atkinson

I totally agree. Interestingly, there was uncertainty about whether roads could be closed for the milk race, but, because it disappears through places quickly, it is probably covered by the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the milk race has now disappeared completely and will not take place this year. That is a great pity, because it came through Milton Keynes last year and roads were closed successfully for the purpose under existing law.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful for that information.

The major legislation that allows the police to close roads for such events goes back a long way. There are two such Acts. The first covers London and the City of London and events such as the marathon and the Notting Hill carnival, and is based the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and the City of London Police Act 1840, which was introduced by Sir Robert Peel to establish a police force in this country. It is still used in London today to close roads to allow events such as the London marathon to take place. One can see the problem with Acts of Parliament that predate the invention of the motor car.

For most of the rest of the country, the other Act that comes into play is section 21 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, which is also an arcane, ancient Act. I have done some interesting research into that Act and discovered that it would knock the current criminal justice legislation into a cocked hat. The Town Police Clauses Act stops people doing all sorts of weird and curious things in the street and gives the police an inordinate amount of power. For instance, it makes a penalty for Every person who exposes for show, hire, or sale (except in a market …) any horse or other animal, or exhibits in a caravan or otherwise any show or public entertainment, or shoes, bleeds, or farries any horse or animal … or cleans, dresses, exercises, trains, or breaks, or turns loose any horse". It goes on to deal with rabid dogs and says that it is an offence to have a dog suspected of canine madness. People were not allowed to slaughter animals, dress them in the streets or put plant pots on their window sills in case they fell off and dropped on people's heads. An abundance of people around the countryside today could be prosecuted under that weird and wonderful Act. It is also makes it an offence to knock on people's doors and run away. In their youth, one or two hon. Members may have done something similar from time to time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Mr. Hendry.

Mr. Matthew Banks

In my maiden speech to the House some time ago, I pointed out that I had a problem putting my constituency on the map. With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I should have put myself on the map first. I am still trying to do so.

My hon. Friend referred to the 1847 Act. I do not recall whether he referred to the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. Will he spare a moment to share my concern that our elders and betters in those days did not have the foresight to empower the police to close down parking bays and pay-and-display systems? The police, therefore, do not have the appropriate power to do that now, yet they have been doing it for some time.

Mr. Atkinson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly the problem. They can close the roads, but they cannot close the parking bays, remove left and right turns, reverse somebody down a one-way street, or put an event through a town centre's pedestrian-only area.

The cyclists in the tour de France go considerably faster than 30 mph. While that is not an offence because no speed limit applies to cyclists, speed limits do apply to their motor cycle escorts, who happen to be a contingent of the Gendarmerie Nationale. Although they do not act as policemen when in this country, it would be embarrassing for Anglo-French relations if the Gendarmerie Nationale were nicked by the British police force while escorting the tour de France. So I take my hon. Friend's point about the difficulty with such an old, but nevertheless illustrious, Act.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

The hon. Gentleman will agree that this small Bill attracts widespread support throughout the House. Has anyone told him of his or her intention to oppose the Bill? Is it, therefore, necessary to take the large number of interventions that the hon. Member has already taken within the first half an hour of this debate to try to explore every detail of the Bill? Would not some of those points be better made in Committee?

Mr. Atkinson

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We should debate the Bill fully because some people outside have raised objections to it and I am still not clear whether my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) will object to it. He feels that it is inadequate for his interest, which is racing vintage Bentleys up the M1. He wants the Bill to include a power to hold a special vintage rally up the M1. So we are not all in harmony about the Bill, although I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support.

Mr. Spring

I was disturbed by my hon. Friend's remark that the French police would be here. Will they operate under the supervision of our police force? Residents of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire might be concerned about that. I understand that French police carry arms. I hope that they will not be permitted to do so in this country. I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton ) would wish to have that clarified.

Mr. Atkinson

I am pleased to do so. The Gendarmerie Nationale, which is the traditional escort that surrounds the tour de France wherever it goes, will have the rank of officer constable and will not be able to carry guns because they will be exactly the same as us, except dressed in a funnier uniform. I assure my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that that matter will not cause a problem.

May I use this short debate to put in a plug for the great north run, which could be threatened if the Bill does not go through? It is a substantial half marathon which is run in the north-east; many of my constituents take part. It is Europe's largest road race, with more than 30,000 competitors, and is an amazing occasion which requires a substantial number of road closures to deal with the large number of runners and the crowds. This year, it is sponsored by BUPA and my local paper, the Newcastle Journal. It would be greatly missed if it were affected by an objection to the Bill.

To get on to the meat of the Bill—I am sure that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill is waiting for the facts—the purpose of the Bill is to put beyond doubt the powers to close roads. I should also stress that the powers that now reside with the police will be given to what has been deemed a local traffic authority. In many cases, that will be the local authority or the county council, or its successor.

For trunk roads, the position will be slightly different because the Secretary of State will have powers. However, as a matter of practice, he will devolve the powers to the local traffic authority. That means that in order to implement a road closure of the scale referred to in the Bill, a large consultation process will be necessary to convince the local traffic authority that it should agree to close the road. One of the conditions in the Bill is that the road can be closed for only three days every year. The events normally happen only once a year; to hold an event twice in a calendar year would require the permission of the Secretary of State.

We seek to balance the perfectly justifiable need to run such events, which many people enjoy, with the interests of local residents, who are obviously disturbed by them. One of the clauses of the Bill makes it clear that the closure of roads must not prevent pedestrian access to any premises. In other words, no one should be shut out of their home because of such an event.

I regret, for the sake of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, that the Bill disallows closure of roads for motor races and non-authorised cycle races. That was a matter of concern to us. We considered it hard. The difficulty is that motor racing on public highways is a much more complicated business. My hon. Friend will be aware of the race in Birmingham, which is established by its own Act of Parliament. I believe that it involves only formula 3000 cars and drivers. The difficulty with road racing is that many road races involve saloon cars.

One of the lessons that we have sadly learnt in Britain, particularly from the motor cycle race in the Isle of Man, is that although races involve professional or semiprofessional drivers in saloon car or on motor bikes, after the race, amateurs will race each other around the circuit when it is open to traffic again. They may try to emulate the speeds achieved by the professional racers. Last year at the Isle of Man TT races, six people were killed in accidents after hours. We reluctantly decided that we would have to exclude motor racing from the Bill.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

My hon. Friend has obviously made a great study of the matter. Has he established an example from abroad where motor races are held over public highways? One thinks of the Monte Carlo rally. The result is an increase in road traffic deaths on those highways in the days following the race. My hon. Friend has clearly made an important exclusion in his Bill. The House should be told the statistical basis on which he has decided not to allow road closures for such events in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Atkinson

I cannot give the statistical basis for the aftermath of the Monte Carlo rally or other such events. All I can say is that Britain's experience from the Isle of Man is that such accidents happen. The Bill is a private Member's Bill. Like all such Bills, it is a delicate flower. It seeks to put right something that could cause enormous damage to some well-respected, well-liked institutions such as the London marathon.

If we embarked on allowing road racing in this country, we would meet much more considerable opposition from environmental groups and so on. It is likely that a Bill of this nature would run on to the rocks as a consequence. I am afraid that a combination of funk and practicality made us take road racing out.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I think that my hon. Friend is being unduly modest. He has produced a most original and fascinating Bill. That is why there is such a large turnout this morning to consider it in some detail. Will my hon. Friend give further consideration to the analogy that I put to him of the Monte Carlo rally? It is my impression that the towns and villages in France on the circuit of the Monte Carlo rally appreciate being part of it. They are flattered by it. It increases their tourist appeal, gives them publicity, and so on. My hon. Friend may be unduly cautious in assuming that there would be opposition to his Bill if it made it possible to hold races on public roads in the United Kingdom on the right sort of occasions.

Mr. Atkinson

I hear precisely what my hon. Friend says. He makes an extremely good point. In many respects, people might welcome road racing in the sense that towns and villages in France enjoy it. The difficulty is that in Britain it would spark controversy to establish such road races. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would object and oppose the Bill on those grounds. So, taken together, it was a wiser course to leave road races out, although I did so with some regret.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree, in view of the intervention of the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), that the reason why there are so many Conservative Members present is that they wish to delay proceedings to such an extent that the Bill, which does not appear to be opposed, prevents a later debate about the role of women in our society in advance of International Women's Day on Sunday?

Mr. Atkinson

The hon. Lady is accusing me of filibustering. I take great exception to that. The Bill deals with a matter of importance to thousands and thousands, and hundreds of thousands and millions of people who take part in such events. It is right that the matter should be properly explored and not simply nodded through, as the hon. Lady appears to want. It should be debated properly.

Ms Walley

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the matter should be debated properly; indeed, I agree with the Minister for Roads and Traffic that it should be debated properly. I was referring to the unnecessary filibustering, rather than debate on the real issues that the hon. Gentleman seeks to raise.

Mr. Atkinson

That is most unfair. My hon. Friends are here on a Friday to support the Bill—

Mr. Butler


Mr. Atkinson

Perhaps to support the Bill—but also to raise points that they find of interest. On a more relaxed day, which Friday is, it is right that hon. Members have a chance to intervene and an opportunity to take part in a fairly simple debate.

Mr. Clappison

There are several important issues that I want to deal with in respect of this legislation. My hon. Friend has just come to one of them. While I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) said about allowing motor racing to take place, I have genuine fears about safety. I welcome what my hon. Friend said earlier and the approach that he took to safety, and the caution which was inherent in his approach. That is one of the things that I want to hear about in the debate.

Mr. Atkinson

My hon. Friend is right. One of the key factors is public safety. One of the reasons why it is necessary to close a road for an event such as the tour de France for such a length of time is that although the cavalcade may pass within an hour, the crowds gather much earlier. As the race passes through towns and built-up areas in the south-east in July, there will be many people on the roadside and crossing the road.

In those circumstances, it is essential that, from an early hour of the day, alternative traffic plans are put into effect so that spectators can stand in safety by the roadside or sit in the stands built for them, knowing that they will not become victims of a traffic accident. One of the factors at the heart of the Bill is the proper management of traffic to allow for safety.

I mentioned that there had been one objection from an outside body. The Ramblers Association considers that the Bill may be misused to prevent people from using legitimate rights of way. I can assure the Ramblers association that that is not the case. In its letter and its complaints, it has missed the point. It was worried that owners of grouse moors would use the proposed legislation to stop people using footpaths across the grouse moors. As much as some people who run grouse moors would dearly like to do that from time to time, it is completely wrong that the Bill should be used in that way.

Hon. Members may recall that I said that one of the conditions in the Bill stipulates that roads could be closed on a maximum of three days of year, with the approval of the local authority. I believe that a grouse moor owner who sought to shoot on three days a year would not be wise to close a footpath and I am positive that a local traffic authority would not allow him to do that.

The Ramblers Association might bear in mind a further point; it is, of course, illegal to discharge a firearm within 15 yards of a footpath. It is completely wrong on that matter.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that local authorities, which will be given power to make decisions if his Bill proceeds, would be acting in a manner that was ultra vires and beyond their powers if they were to seek to prevent road traffic on grouse moors?

Mr. Atkinson

Pass. I cannot give an honest answer to that, but I know a man who can. Perhaps later on I will be able to answer my hon. Friend. I think that they would be. Clearly we are talking about footpaths across grouse moors, but I do not know whether vehicles can use them. I have to take his point away with me for further consideration.

The Ramblers Association has no justification for its fears. It gets slightly hysterical when anybody puts any obstruction in the way of a footpath or pedestrian. No doubt, such a road closure will cause some inconvenience to a walker who, for example, is walking down to a road that has been closed, wishes to cross it and continue on a footpath up the other way. But the fact that roads are closed to traffic does not mean that they are closed to pedestrians.

I must admit, however, that that rambler might have to wait at the roadside and watch the tour de France and the profiterole vans go past, and then cross the road. That is an inconvenience to that rambler, but one must balance that inconvenience with the enjoyment of the tens or hundreds of thousands of people watching the tour de France.

That is why, in my view, the traffic authority is a far better organisation to make that decision than the police. The police do not wish to make that decision. They do not want to have to balance the overall good of the public with the inconvenience to individuals. That is a job for an elected accountable body—in this case, a local council.

I must make the point that the police are very much in favour of the Bill. Indeed, I have received a large number of letters from Winchester city council, Hampshire county council, East Hampshire district council—all the local county council and district authorities in the area—in support of the Bill. In particular, I have received a letter from the assistant chief constable of Sussex police, who is in charge of co-ordinating the tour de France in July. Speaking on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, he warmly welcomes the Bill and hopes that it will become law, simply for the reason that the police do not see why they should have the task of deciding whether a marathon should take place.

Mr. Quentin Davies

My hon. Friend's Bill makes provision to protect the right of individuals to walk to and from their properties and go about their business, so that pedestrians will not be interrupted. That is quite clear throughout the Bill. However, under clause 1(8), he allows the authority that is giving consent for an event to take place to restrict the riding of horses. Does that mean that an individual whose normal form of transport is to ride—who, reasonably and rightly, has abjured the motor car, which, after all, as we all know, is a dangerous and unpleasant form of transport, and prefers to use a horse to get about —and who wishes to come and go on horseback, can be prevented from doing so by the authority, in the context of the authority licensing an event within the meaning of my hon. Friend's Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That was a mini-speech, not an intervention.

Mr. Atkinson

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Curiously, a few individuals still go to and from work on horseback. Many years ago, I used to know one. He was a district reporter of a newspaper in Sussex, who used to cover his district on horseback, taking with him a large, old-fashioned, heavy, iron Imperial typewriter, which he used to keep in a special saddle bag. He was a well-known character because he had done the job for so long. He used to set up the typewriter in parish council meetings and, as the councillor or politician spoke, would type away, which drowned out what was being said. That used to make for rather interesting meetings. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I digress.

We cannot allow horse traffic through the crowds of people who are waiting for an event, unless we can be certain that they are police horses, and of a sufficiently docile and disciplined nature not to be frightened or cause injury or damage if the crowd went out of control. I have to say that, under the Bill, the person who still goes to and from work on horseback or, indeed, in a pony and trap, will probably be inconvenienced and have to take the diversion route, not their normal route.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's explanation, but am disappointed that the interests of those who go to and from their residence or place of work on horseback are not protected in his Bill. What is the position for bicyclists, because I cannot find any reference to them in the Bill? Is it his intention to prevent someone from coming or going to or from his residence or place of work by bicycle?

Mr. Atkinson

Such a person would, under the Bill, be prevented from cycling down the road. He would not be prevented from wheeling his bicycle from his house, through the closed-off stretch of the road and mounting his bicycle when he reached a diversion, or a road that was not affected by the closure. Again, he would be inconveni-enced—I hope only marginally—but he would be able to transport his bicycle as a pedestrian to the place where he could start riding it. That might be slightly inconvenient for him, but. when balanced with the good of all those enjoying and watching the event, it is a small inconvenience for a limited time, and for a maximum of once a year.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I am sorry to keep interrupting my hon. Friend, but another provision in the Bill, in clause 1(8)(c)(ii), concerns me. I must declare an interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it refers to the leading or driving of horses, cattle, sheep or other animals. I have a flock of sheep, as the House may know, and I speak for all those who have sheep and may need to move them from time to time from one field to another. That sometimes means crossing the public highway. Does that mean that when an event—as foreseen in the Bill—occurs, it will be impossible for those with livestock to move them across the public highway?

Mr. Atkinson

I am afraid that I must pile disappointment on disappointment on my hon. Friend. I regret that, in the same way that he will not be able to ride his horse or bicycle down these roads, he will have to restrain his sheep for a period until the cavalcade has passed by. I am sure, because the police are remarkably flexible on those matters, that, should he tap the officer on the shoulder and say, "Will you mind if I just move my flock of sheep across the road?" he would no doubt facilitate that at the earliest possible opportunitity. If one can imagine 1,500 vehicles, 200 bicyclists, French gendarmes and a flock of my hon. Friend's sheep, I suspect that we could end up with a great muddle of mutton and profiteroles and Gallic oaths. I regret to say that this prohibition will have to stay in the Bill.

Mr. Butler

I am increasingly concerned by my hon. Friend's repeated references to French gendarmes. Any hon. Member who has been to Paris will know the success of the French gendarmes in controlling traffic, keeping it moving, preventing collisions and so on. Will they be assisted by some English policemen, or will we have to put up with French gendarmes on their own?

Mr. Atkinson

In these enlightened times, my hon. Friend is being much too chauvinistic about the matter. The fact that the gendarmes are prepared to send a contingent to this country is a great compliment. We may beat the French at rugby—we possibly do—but we would certainly welcome them over here. As I said, the French police will be here only in the role of ordinary visitors. They will have no more rights than any other citizens in this country; they will be here simply as visitors. The actual job of controlling the police and riding with the tour de France will be the responsibility of the local constabulary, which obviously has the locus to deal with the crowds and matters that may occur.

Mr. Fabricant

Can my hon. Friend confirm that either there will be the expense of having to put up signs "tenez à gauche" or road traffic regulations will be suspended and people will have to drive on the right of the roads that are closed?

Mr. Atkinson

That was a matter of great concern to us when we considered the Bill, because we thought that there might be pressure from French cyclists to cycle on their traditional side of the road. We then took the view that there would be some British cyclists and we felt that if the French came to Britain, they should conform to our regulations. Therefore, we have specifically excluded any change from left to right.

Mr. Spring

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the French police will be mindful that French farmers have shown a terrible disposition towards British sheep, and if French police come over here they must keep a sharp eye on our sheep flocks in the verdant counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire? The last thing that we want to do is destroy Anglo-French relations after a successful tour de France has taken place, and further deprive our farmers of an export market which has been closed to them because of the inability of the French police to control their farmers in some instances.

Mr. Atkinson

That raises another serious issue which, regrettably, we did not fully consider in our discussions on the Bill. We dealt with the question of moving sheep flocks, but we did not think that our indigenous flocks would be too much at risk from those who came here. Some farmers may come over in the cavalcade, and local sheep farmers may have to bear that in mind in the security precautions that they take.

I think that most of the people will be here to enjoy the tour de France and hand out profiteroles. I do not think that they will pose a great threat to the sheep in the south-east. Coming from the borders and the north of the country, I never think that the sheep in the south-east have as much class anyway. The French, who buy 40 per cent. of the lambs produced in Cumberland, prefer north country lamb, so I am sure that the sheep in Sussex, Kent and Hampshire will be safe from the depredations of any stray French farmers who tag on the back of the tour de France.

We have given the Bill careful thought in order to balance the needs of the people who will inevitably be inconvenienced by these events, and the needs of the organisers who run such popular events. It is important for, and incumbent on, the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. Now that we have discussed the measure, it will become public knowledge that people will be able to mount a legal objection to any one of these events; it would be a great pity if they did so. Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

In conclusion, I thank the staff of the Department of Transport and express my appreciation to them. They helped me considerably in the preparation of the Bill and discovered most of the loopholes and the likely questions that I could be asked. The only question on which we were probably foxed was that of sheep. We had not discussed attacks on sheep perhaps as much as we should have done. However, I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me for that and give the Bill a Second Reading.

10.24 am
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) on bringing forward the Bill and explaining it so coherently and persuasively. The objective is clear. As my hon. Friend said, it will give traffic authorities—usually local authorities—the right to restrict or prohibit traffic in the case of a major sporting event, social event or entertainment.

My hon. Friends will know that my constituency of Bury St. Edmunds has had a long-standing connection with the state of California. I mention that because what happens in California tends eventually to spread to the United Kingdom. I raise that point because I shall examine in some detail the whole matter of health and exercise, which will be given a considerable boost by the tour de France.

In the past few years in California, people took to exercise and healthy living in a way that many of us would feel was perhaps somewhat excessive. What concerns me is that there is a new trend in California of going back to high-cholesterol living—that appears to have happened literally in the past few months. Restaurants that previously sold salads and other low-calorie foods are now offering indulgent, high-calorie items, including foie gras in the more expensive ones. I mention that because if there is a reversion to more unhealthy living in California, inevitably it will spread to the United Kingdom, as so many social trends have done in the past. The state of health of our nation is poor, compared with some of our European neighbours.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

All that is irrelevant.

Mr. Spring

The Bill is important because flowing from it will be a renewed interest in cycling and environmentally friendly activities, which will be wholly welcome and desirable. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said that all that is irrelevant, but the tour de France will have an important exemplary effect on the health of the nation and demonstrate the need to increase exercise and improve health.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valuable point in the context of the debate. Is he aware that the Sports Council has made cycling a focused sport in the south-east and is gearing up for a major increase in participation in cycling as a result of the tour de France and its associated benefits? Does he agree that that will be, as he rightly said, a major boost to health promotion in this country?

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is an important aspect in terms not only of health but of tourism. Although there is an important, narrow definition to the Bill, which was so ably put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, the broad issues that relate to it are also important.

I come back to the health of the nation because, after all, there has been considerable controversy about our national health. There are clear, specific targets, for both men and women, to reduce high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and to encourage physical activity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said, cycling is part and parcel of that process.

I applaud the measure because it is important to encourage participation in sports, especially by our young people. People will be encouraged to do that, especially if they have the assurance of safety that the Bill brings forward so competently.

I think that it was the Duke of Wellington who said that the battle of Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton, but the sad truth is that 600 sports sites in England, no fewer than 200 of which are school pitches, are under threat from planning applications or appeals. For many people, especially young people, sport increasingly means watching television or video games. The number of physical education teachers has fallen by one eighth in the past decade and the number of schools without umpires and referees has increased.

It is interesting and important to note that it is not only "The Health of the Nation", which was published nearly two years ago, that alludes to the need for exercise. The national curriculum also refers to the need for two hours of physical education a week. I was brought up in a rather harder school and remember doing at least two hours a day. However, only one third of our schools meet the undemanding target that has been set, so the example of the tour de France will be important in encouraging young people to take up cycling and physical exercise in general.

Standards of exercise and good health tend to be higher in many other European countries. There is a danger that we could be regarded not as a nation of shopkeepers but, regrettably, as a nation of lounge lizards. I hope that by securing the tour de France this summer, we shall provoke more interest in cycling and health. The Bill would also enable important international events such as the London marathon to take place in greater safety.

I cannot stress sufficiently how strongly I feel about good exercise, especially for young people. Young people need role models, but, sadly, today's sportsmen, whether in cricket, rugby or ice-skating, are not doing especially well. It was sad that we failed to qualify for the world cup final in America in the summer and it was of course a tragedy that Manchester failed to win the Olympic bid.

Mr. Butler

My hon. Friend said that our ice-skaters had not done very well. Following their regular daily training at the Milton Keynes Bladerunners' ice-rink, Torvill and Dean did reasonably well in coming third. My hon. Friend is perhaps being too disparaging.

Mr. Spring

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observation. I was going to mention Torvill and Dean. The Bill would enhance—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman, rather than mentioning Torvill and Dean, should stick to the Bill.

Mr. Spring

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was going to say that the Bill would enhance our ability to host important sporting events and would perhaps encourage better sporting performances. I hope that I shall be allowed to observe that I was in Sarajevo 10 years ago when Torvill and Dean triumphed. However, I pass quickly on.

As the Sports Council said, cycling is excellent exercise. For many years, I cycled from my flat in Pimlico along the Embankment to work. It was good for my health, as it was for all those who did likewise, but, sadly, my cycling is now confined to the House of Commons' gym. If cycling increases its hold on the popular imagination, it will bring other considerable benefits. I am thinking especially of the county of Suffolk, part of which I represent.

My county has more churches per person than any other part of the United Kingdom and one of the most important by-products of seeking to preserve the unique beauty of our churches has been a great cycling event that occurs once a year. I believe that the tour de France will boost charities in the county of Suffolk and elsewhere because of the increased interest in cycling that it will generate.

The event takes place every September. Hundreds of people get on their bicycles and cycle around some of Suffolk's 450 churches, which are open. It is not a competition—one can visit as many or as few as one wishes—but one can obtain sponsorship from companies or individuals. Since its inception in 1982, about £1.2 million have been raised for the magnificent wool churches. It has encouraged young people in my constituency to become interested in cycling and has got them out into the fresh air. The arrival of the tour de France, whose success would be helped by the Bill, will thus help to increase interest in charitable giving via such sponsored cycle races. I hasten to add that the Suffolk constabulary plays an important part in ensuring the road safety of the many young people involved.

The Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who not only cycles regularly but who undertook a grand cycling tour of his diocese, taking in the parish churches on the diocesan perimeter, sets a marvellous example not only to his clergy but to everyone in the county.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said, the Sports Council is extremely anxious to promote cycling. The Cyclists Touring Club gave me some fascinating statistics, which I am sure that the House will wish to hear. There are 15 million cycle owners in this country, 2 per cent. of all journeys are made by bicycle and—believe it or not—more journeys are made by bicycle than by rail, although I am confident that, once British Rail is privatised, that will change. The club also said that I million bicycles are used daily. Cycling provides exercise which is useful in promoting good health, it is environmentally friendly and it may also have benefits in terms of charitable giving as I described.

From a cycling point of view, the growth of tourism has been a tremendous phenomenon in many parts of England. That is so not only of the areas that may be covered by the tour de France but in areas such as East Anglia, which produces specific maps on which routes are set out for cyclists from all over the world, especially from Holland, whose topography is similar to ours.

We have heard about the French visitors who will come to witness the great sight of the tour de France and we understand that the French police are coming to keep an eye on them, but cycling encourages tourism on many levels, especially in the rather flat part of the world—Suffolk—that I represent. The cycling leaflets that are being produced by tourist offices all over England will meet the inevitable increase of interest in cycling caused by the tour de France in the summer. The Bill sets out the parameters for safety and organisation by the local authorities, which will significantly boost the tour de France.

My own county council decided to appoint a cycling officer, who is encouraging cycling even at the primary school level. Young people have heroes in many different sports and they will take to cycling when they see the massive coverage on television. When I was a schoolboy, there were two varieties of bicycle. One was the drop-handled, racing variety and the other was the sit-up-and-beg variety. With the high-fashion consumer trends among young people today, there is a much greater variety. There are multi-coloured bicycles with matching gear. That is useful in making people feel that cycling is not only healthy exercise but that it is fun to get togged up in such gear, which is good for business as well.

Suffolk county council spends £50,000 on cycling generally, including improving cycle lanes and access for cyclists in particular to areas of the county. The figure has increased four times in the past year, reflecting the great interest in cycling, which will certainly increase after the tour de France this summer. The effect is also being felt more closely. In my constituency, St. Edmundsbury borough council has set out a strategy for cycling in Bury St. Edmunds, again in conjunction with the Cyclists Touring Club, to ensure that cycling is done in safety and is attractive to do.

The World Tourism Organisation has said that by 2000, tourism will be the world's biggest industry. It is sad that France and Spain receive more tourism revenue from us than we do from them. I note that many hon. Members go to France on holiday. I believe that when the French, who take such an enormous interest in the tour de France, see the verdant beauty of the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, they will be persuaded to come to England. I lived in Paris as a student. When I talked to people about the beauty of England, many had the impression that England was fog-bound and rainy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tourism potential of the tour de France will be significant and the Bill will certainly help that process.

Hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, have touched on the tour de France. There have been allusions to other cycling events and to marathons. We are seeing a huge increase in cultural activities as well. We had Pavarotti in the park, for example, and yesterday, Pavarotti—almost—in the tunnel, which was a great media event. People increasingly like to go to such events, whether at Wembley or Hyde park, where they have a spectacular time. The Bill will give local authorities the ability to control such events more admirably.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill. It includes coherent provisions not only for the tour de France, but for a whole variety of other events. The spill-over in terms of benefits to the health and welfare of young people especially, to tourism and to our cultural life will be immense. I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham for introducing the Bill.

10.43 am
Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester)

I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and to make a number of constituency points. My hon. Friend mentioned the tour de France, which will be known here as the tour en Angleterre—not the tour d' Angleterre as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) wrongly said. It will go through my city of Winchester where it is considered to be extremely important. The Bill has the backing of Winchester city council and Hampshire county council. It also has the backing of Winchester chamber of commerce, which has asked me to mention a number of points.

The Bill is important because it involves what is not only a sporting event, but an important commercial event for Hampshire. It builds on a series of initiatives that have taken place in Hampshire, such as twinning with towns in France, especially northern France. It builds on the efforts of Winchester chamber of commerce to form an alliance with specific chambers of commerce, especially in Normandy. Every year, a joint event is held in Winchester High street in which a town in Normandy is invited to sell its merchandise in the city. In return, Winchester chamber of commerce sells goods at a similar event in France. The Bill is necessary and will build not on one isolated aspect of commercial activity, but on something that has been happening in Hampshire generally and in my constituency in particular for some time.

I have one slight concern about the Bill. We talked about the rights of access for pedestrians. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will refer later to what will happen to emergency services. I hope that he can assure us that the controls will not affect access for the emergency services, whether the fire service, the ambulance service or the police, and that that point is covered by the Bill.

I also reinforce the point that it will be important for commerce that while the streets in any town or city are closed access to and from the shops is not impeded. It is important that when thousands of people are in cities and villages they should have access to shops. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can give a view on that. Although the Bill is an enabling measure to allow proper policing of events, it must not be over-restrictive and it must not prevent commerce from going on. Those in the Winchester chamber of commerce who welcome the Bill might then say that it was not a good thing. Perhaps it is envisaged that when local authorities decide to invoke the measure, they will have some control over access to commercial premises. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would address that point.

Having the tour en Angleterre is a great initiative. Those who suggested that le tour should come to the south of England are to be congratulated. It is estimated by the tourist boards in the south that those who come to visit from France, along with all the cyclists and accompanying paraphernalia, will increase the demand for overnight accommodation in the area by 5 to 10 per cent.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that the tour will not be a three-day wonder. Local authorities throughout the south are building on the initiative and will make the most of it over several months. This week a briefing meeting was held by Winchester chamber of commerce in the city—appropriately, at the Café Monet which I had not come across but which I shall now find.

The meeting illustrated to people in the city and those interested in commerce precisely what advantage they could take of the tour.

Winchester chamber of commerce and Winchester city council have set out a series of activities from next month, through July and into the autumn. There will be a variety of activities. Some are purely commercial and will highlight twinning arrangements that we already have with other cities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) dwelt on the health and fitness aspect of cycling. Local authorities in Hampshire will build on that as well. There will be a series of events and programmes in schools throughout the county to encourage children to take up cycling or, if they already cycle, to do so more safely and to take a general interest in the sport. I very much welcome that.

I have not been able to discover whether there is an initiative for those in my constituency, including myself, who are of a somewhat more sedentary nature. I raise that in the hope that the event's organisers will cater for those who will certainly not be able to participate in the race. Will my hon. Friend the Minister, who might have a common interest with me in the matter, see whether such an initiative, of which he and I could take advantage, could be encouraged? He is almost a parliamentary neighbour and I invite him to attend on the day to see how the event goes. Perhaps he and I could get on a tandem and go around the streets of Winchester to amaze the public. Perhaps he will respond to that when he speaks.

The serious argument that I want to advance is that every effort is being made to use the Bill to promote an event that will have a wide appeal to members of the public of all ages and interests.

The Bill is also welcomed by Hampshire constabulary, who should not be responsible for closing roads and should not take on the burdensome bureaucratic work involved with events of this sort. Local authorities should take on those responsibilities, because they have a wider view of the public interest. The police welcome the lifting of that burden and the introduction of proper regulation to ensure that such events take place in a better ordered way.

I did not intend to detain the House for long. I merely wanted to raise those constituency points to highlight to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham why his Bill is important and why it should not go through on the nod. I am sure that many hon. Members will want to raise specific constituency points. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to raise mine. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reply to the arguments that I have advanced. I do not oppose the Bill, but further enlightenment would be extremely welcome.

10.52 am
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

As other hon. Members have said, there is great urgency to give the Bill a Second Reading today. The Bill is important for tourism, for Britain and, from what we have heard, for the profiterole industry.

I am grateful for the correction from my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) that the tour should be called the tour en Angleterre and not the tour d' Angleterre. My confusion arose because of the name tour de France as opposed to the tour en France.

The Bill is being debated at an important time because it is the 50th anniversary of the D-day landing, which no hon. Member has mentioned today. The event will command huge media coverage, which will not only benefit tourism and sport but will remind people of the sacrifice that people made 50 years ago in the liberation of France. Millions of pounds are at stake and the Bill should be passed without delay.

The Bill is not only important for the tour de France —or the tour en Angleterre; it will have enduring uses. Not long ago, the formula 3000 grand prix was held in Birmingham. I recall former Team Lotus cars screaming around spaghetti junction. I drive around that junction in my little red Lotus Elan, which I believe is well known to West Midlands police. I should like to put it on the record for the benefit of the police that I do not scream around spaghetti junction but drive sedately, and well within the speed limit.

Mr. Butler


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Phil Butler.

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He spoke of commemorating the D-day landings. Is he aware that they were in the other direction? On the question of his Lotus kit car, those of us who intend to speak about using motor vehicles in road events would not include kit cars but only professionally produced vehicles.

Mr. Fabricant

I am horrified by my hon. Friend's latter point—I almost hesitate to use the word friend. I remind him that the Lotus Elan is manufactured in Norfolk; it is not a kit car and it has huge export potential. He will be aware that Lotus has recently been taken over by Bugatti.

Mr. Butler

With respect to my hon. Friend, there is no export potential for the Lotus Elan because it has been discontinued.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend claims to be an expert on car manufacture. Since its acquisition by Bugatti, the Elan has been reinstated and is available for export. I greatly regret that no Norfolk Members are present. I hope that my hon. Friend's argument will not damage Lotus's export potential.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am anxious that the debate should return to the subject of the Bill.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing my attention back to the Bill.

Birmingham became the Monte Carlo of Britain after the super prix was held there. It brought valuable revenue into the city. It is up to Birmingham whether to hold such an event again, but the Bill will make it easier for it to do so.

The Bill will encourage the tourist industry, which is in much need of a boost. We cannot and should not ignore an industry that is not only the second largest in the United Kingdom but employs 1.5 million people. As tourism amounts to 4 per cent. of our gross domestic product, and as £25 billion is spent on tourism every year, any measure that makes it easier for special events to be held by easing road traffic regulations and thus encouraging more visitors to attend events should be heartily welcomed. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) on introducing the Bill.

The Bill's motives are admirable and practical. I welcome the support that it has been given by the police and local authorities, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned, and by the Department of Transport. The Bill aims to boost the cultural and social life of this country by making it easier for local authorities to control the flow of traffic around special events such as those that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned—marathons and bicycle races.

Having said that, however, I believe that a balance must be struck between enabling highway authorities to carry out their duties more effectively and ensuring that the rights of motorists and other road users rights are protected. Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), have mentioned that aspect. We shall need adequate advance notices and clear signposting of diversions. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to reassure me on that.

I want to focus my remarks on maintaining that balance. The hard-pressed motorist is public enemy No. 1, but he or she also has rights. The famous novelist L.P. Hartley— not to be confused with J. R. Hartley, who wrote the respected treatise on fly fishing— complained that Motorists are irresponsible in their dealings with each other and with the pedestrian public; for their benefit homicide was legalised. The basic principles of equality were flouted, while the opposing principle of envy was disastrously encouraged.

Mr. Butler


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Bill Butler.

Mr. Butler

I am grateful for my ever-changing name, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I look forward to your alighting on a suitable one in due course. Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, about clause 1(1) of the Bill, which would insert proposed new section 16A in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984? It purports to make motoring events possible other than those involving a race or trial of speed—rallies, driving tests, and so on— but not unless the competition or trial is authorised by or under regulations in that section. It is exactly the same wording as that which makes possible the regulation of cycle racing, where, again, there is the requirement that that is not possible unless it is authorised by or under regulations made under the relevant section of the 1988 Act. Therefore, is it my hon. Friend's concern that in due course, when appropriate regulations are made—I am sure he shares my hope that it will not take too long —they will apply to motoring events as well, hence his interest in that subject in the debate?

Mr. Fabricant

I agree with my hon. Friend whole-heartedly. As I said earlier, Birmingham set a precedent some years ago—and with some difficulty—by organising the Formula 3000 grand prix. Clearly, if the great city of Birmingham decides to do that again, it will be far easier once the Bill is enacted.

It must be remembered that if there is a special event many motorists passing through the area need rights of access and proper traffic control, especially if other routes are not readily available. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has also suggested, it will undoubtedly have a number of revitalising effects on our social and cultural life. Moreover, the Bill will encourage sporting events and I suspect that if the Bill is passed a number of sporting events will flourish, and tourism will flourish with them. Clearly, at a time when Britain is having a little trouble attracting major sporting events into the country—the European football championship excepted—anything that goes some way to encourage and enable major sporting events to be held must be commended. If the Bill is passed, we shall have gone some way to convincing those abroad, yet again, that they will not face red tape and bureaucratic wrangling.

While I support the Bill in principle, I wonder how we can ensure that, while enabling authorities to restrict and regulate traffic temporarily, motorists' needs and rights will not be ridden over roughshod by local authorities. After all, do not motorists suffer enough traffic congestion? We have enough motorway cones on our roads to build a mountain that would be the envy of the common agricultural policy. However, I note that the Department of Transport's lane rental initiatives and cone phone lines are reducing that mountain to a mere foothill.

The previous Bill on temporary restrictions on road traffic was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and by Lord Brougham and Vaux in the other place in 1991. While the purpose of their Bill, like the one before us today, was to ensure that traffic authorities could respond quickly and effectively to short term needs for traffic restriction by reducing the number of occasions when local authorities have to seek consent for temporary traffic orders, clear mention was made of the need to strike an appropriate balance between greater freedom for highway authorities and sufficient protection for road users. I maintain that that balance is a difficult one. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would give assurances that his Bill will have proper safeguards to ensure that, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford in May 1991: Limitations on the rights of free passage for road users cannot be unreasonably imposed.

Mr. Malone

My hon. Friend is making an important point. Does he agree that it may be sensible to try to incorporate some provision in the Bill, perhaps in Committee, allowing local people at some point to make reasonable representations to the local authorities before the regulations are framed? Would he care to comment on that suggestion?

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes a worthwhile point. Again, a difficult balance has to be struck, in that if local people are allowed to object or provide an input—and it is important that they be able to do so—this does not outweigh the effects of the Bill in slicing through red tape and enabling events to happen easily. It is important that the procedures are not long winded.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has said, there must be a clear need for local authorities to provide adequate warning to road users in advance of special regulations to provide adequate signposting, although I hope that that will not impose a great cost on local taxpayers. It is important to give clear guidance on alternative routes. There must be an obligation on the local authorities, with the organisers of the special events, to provide adequate information to road users. Perhaps that, too, may be discussed in Committee. Again, I seek reassurance from the Minister on that point.

Perhaps I may be especially helpful, given my background before I came to the House. I suggest that one way in which to keep motorists and the public informed of diversions and so on would be for the organisers of special and major events to set up temporary radio stations which could broadcast information while a special event was being held. Those radios stations could provide relevant traffic information and police notices to passing motorists, who would be able to tune in on their car radios. Not only would the motorist be made well aware of the new road restrictions, but the organisers would be able to promote their events. The radio stations would also be able to give specialised information about ticket availability, where to queue, and so on. I am sure that the House would agree that "London Marathon 99.1 FM" or "Tour de France 102 FM stereo" have a resounding ring. It would be a great success for event organisers and motorists, and it would not need legislation.

Mr. Mackinlay

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been studying the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire for some time and it is quite clear that he is reading his speech continuously; indeed, he would be incapable of stringing words together without it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not take that view at all.

Mr. Fabricant

As I said, those radio stations would not need legislation. While the Luddite party opposite—I am thinking of one Member especially—opposed the introduction of ITV, Channel 4, independent television, independent radio and satellite television, we have been the deregulator of the airwaves. More recently, the Broadcasting Act 1990 has been a boon to restricted service broadcasting for special events—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already asked the hon. Gentleman to return to the subject of the Bill. He is straying from it.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the main point of the debate. It is important that where there are special events, road signs should be made available and that there is adequate communication to road users. By road users, I include not only people who travel from A to B, where that route takes them through the special event, but road users who wish to attend the event, which is tremendously important. Those licences are readily available. The Radio Authority says: Restricted service licences are generally issued on demand"— that is important— subject only to frequency availability and adherence to various specified technical criteria". In 1992, 241 such licences were issued and some were for such special events. It would improve traffic flow in the area of special events and would promote those events as well.

Mr. Malone

The point that my hon. Friend is making about how the regulations will apply is important, especially in my constituency of Winchester where the Minister knows that we have traffic problems aplenty. Will my hon. Friend consider the point—I am not saying that it should be in the body of the legislation, but perhaps in some of the regulations—that there could be some sort of telephone freephone number to call giving information about all such arrangements so that the wider public, and not only those in the locality, may avoid the area and be made aware of what roads would be closed? Would he consider that, rather than simply having a separate radio station for each event?

Mr. Fabricant

I am again grateful to my hon. Friend for his good suggestion. People may be deterred by the cost of using a phone line—unless it is an 0800 number—but they can tune in to a radio station free of charge. I am sure that I do not have to remind my hon. Friend that many of his constituents work for National Transcommunications Ltd., now known as NTL, which is the former engineering division of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. It has played an active role in helping to set up special event radio licences for events such as those that the Bill will allow to be held.

While I hope that the Bill will be passed, I trust that some of my concerns will be taken into account. I hope that we can look forward to special sporting and cultural events and that we can also make sure that the needs and freedoms of road users are not ignored or neglected. To paraphrase a recent editorial in The Daily Telegraph, motorists must not become a populace more ruled against than ruling. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.10 am
Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this time, because I have to return to my constituency. It is unusual for me to be here on a Friday, but this is an important Bill in which I have a particular interest.

It appeared to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) that some brief points raised by some of my hon. Friends were not directly related to the Bill. I hope to relate my speech directly to the Bill and hope that it will not sound too much like an impassioned speech by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan).

The House should thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who spoke so eloquently. It is no coincidence that he, of all my hon. Friends and other hon. Members who were fortunate to obtain a high place in the ballot, has presented a Bill that does not seek to introduce new, burdensome legislation, but seeks to regularise an important aspect of road traffic regulations. It seeks to put it beyond doubt that local traffic authorities will have powers to restrict or regulate traffic to allow major sporting or social events or entertainments to take place on public roads.

The Bill will be necessary to allow the staging here of the tour de France, but it is not just a question of that event. I note that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic agrees. I hope that he will take on board my concern that, all too often, the Department of Transport uses examples of events in southern England or in London, such as the Notting Hill carnival or the London marathon, to highlight why regulations or, in this instance, a Bill should become law.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham rightly said when he used the example of the great north run, many events—probably more events—take place outside London and the south-east. I represent a north-west constituency, a seaside resort at that, and I should like to highlight those events, which are extremely relevant. In my constituency, there are events such as the Southport flower show, which is second only to the one in London, and the major air show, which has taken place annually in recent years. Last year, some 350,000 people came to my constituency for that show.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham knows perfectly well that my constituency is not very big. There is congestion now and when 350,000 extra people arrive for an event such as the air show it causes considerable traffic difficulties. It is right and proper that the Department should come up with examples other than the Notting Hill carnival and the London marathon. As I have said, the Bill will address many other appropriate events.

At the moment, the police and local authorities have various powers to deal with the difficulties about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has spoken. He mentioned the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and I referred him to the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. It was patently obvious that, in the 1830s and 1840s, our predecessors addressed matters relating to public health. They had not envisaged the scourge of the wheel clamp and did not have the forethought or wit to believe that local authorities would introduce measures such as pay and display or create other problems.

I hope that I am allowed to mention the problems caused by my own local authority in Sefton where the Liberal Democrats ganged together with the Labour party in Southport to introduce a system of parking controls that are hampering traders and putting people out of work. I shall return to that, because it is directly relevant to consideration of the Bill.

In London, the police are not certain that legislation that is currently on the statute book can be used to override the parking bays and traffic regulation orders to which I referred my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. Given the fact that the police are not certain whether they already have the powers to suspend parking bays and so on when special events take place, it is surprising that it has taken so long to produce a Bill such as that of my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to him.

The police probably feel that decisions are not necessarily a matter for them but for local authorities. I take the view that local authorities should be accountable to their electorates. The necessity to close roads or to divert traffic the wrong way down a one-way street are matters for local authorities, which are responsible for their areas. The police are more concerned with breaches of law and order that may occur as a result of special entertainment or sporting events and high concentrations of visitors. The police would probably feel far happier if the House legislated to put the matter right.

There is other legislation to cover specific events. My hon. Friends the Members for Hexham and for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) referred to the Road Traffic Act 1988. That Act bans bicycle racing, but allows it if special arrangements are made. However, it does not cover some of the events to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham referred.

When plans were being drawn up for the tour de France, it was realised that it could be better described as an event rather than as a bicycle race, as there is so much accompanying transport and festivity. While the tour de France will probably bring far more people to the south-east and southern England than perhaps some of the single events in my constituency to which I have referred, it is important for the Bill to proceed with all haste. I hope that none of my hon. Friends and no Opposition Members—not that I see many Opposition Members in the House—have great objections in principle to the Bill.

The Bill updates the powers to close roads temporarily for major events and transfers them to local authorities. As I have said, no existing powers are being repealed. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that his Bill does not seek to create burdensome regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) drew attention to a matter that I wish to discuss. I refer to the process whereby local traders, business people and residents, as well as those who are to participate in an event, consider the proposals for road closures and traffic regulations. I trust that they will have an opportunity to comment, whether by a telephone hotline or in writing to the local authority. I hope also that when a decision is reached, those affected—particularly business men and women—will have an opportunity to appeal.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be detrimental if that mechanism took the form of something like a public inquiry`? That might draw out the whole process, with the result that the special event could not go ahead—with all the disadvantages to the local economy that that would entail.

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent and important point, which I hope to address in the few minutes available to me. He knows me well enough to be reassured that I shall not deal with that aspect hastily or seek to brush it aside.

No existing powers are being repealed, and the Bill does not provide for new, burdensome regulations.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that regulations would follow the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister will want to cover aspects such as proper consultation—so that the public will have an opportunity to make their views known about a particular decision. I support my hon. Friend's remarks concerning Sefton borough council. I frequently stay in Lord street in Southport. Almost two times out of three, I receive a parking ticket. Hotel guests and the business community are harassed by Southport's new traffic regulations.

Mr. Banks

I know of the event that my hon. Friend attends. Although it takes place just outside my constituency, it is important and popular with local hoteliers. When it is held, it is difficult to book a hotel room in Southport. I accept that not every right hon. and hon. Member agrees with the Waterloo cup, but it is popular with many, and valuable in attracting trade to Southport. Some of the events that I shall give as examples are similar to that to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Malone

It is envisaged that le tour en Angleterre will not be limited to the passage of the cyclists but will extend two to three hours before and after. Does not my hon. Friend agree that that reinforces the need for consultation? That event will set aside almost a whole day of the city's commerce, so it is important that it is properly organised.

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend makes a particularly important point, which touches on one of my greatest concerns. It is entirely right that we should legislate, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) pointed out, it is not just a question of closing roads for a short period. Planning some events takes considerable time. The traffic division of Merseyside constabulary, which so ably looks after my constituency, has police officers working almost exclusively on matters associated with planning special events.

When hundreds of thousands of people visit one small geographical area, which is a good description of my constituency—where as soon as the houses stop, the fields begin and there is a high concentration of small roads that a high volume of vehicles would find difficult to use—roads will be closed some time before the event begins, during the event and afterwards. There will be consequences for businesses that abut the road and for their customers, or for businesses reached by the road in question. It is vital that proper consultation occurs before decisions are made and that those affected have an opportunity to appeal against any conclusion that the local traffic authority reaches.

Mr. Butler


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Peter Butler.

Mr. Butler

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Southport is the venue for famous motor cycle sand dune races that are held annually—although I have never participated in or spectated at them. How will they, and the road traffic preparations made for them, be affected by the Bill?

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend is right. I am pleased that Mr. Phil King, my local authority's director of tourism and attractions, whose office is in Southport, is doing an excellent job—in so far as my hon. Friend is aware of many events held in Southport. The popular motor cycle endurance race is held on Southport beach and is attended by people from not just the north-west but the whole of the United Kingdom. Motor cycle enthusiasts travel to it by not only motor bike but car. That is why it is vital that those who are affected by road closures should have an opportunity to comment. I refer not just to residents but to those who attend events.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) is a keen triathlon participant—or used to be. That is another example. Triathlon participants do not just run to Southport, or whatever may be the location, but travel by car. In many parts of the United Kingdom, not least Southport, that creates a serious parking problem.

The more events we stage, the better it is for my constituents and the local economy. The way we are heading, tourism is not just in the top 10 of economic activity and employment in Britain but is fast approaching the number one spot.

Mr. Butler

I am not sure what is involved in a triathlon, but, to preserve my reputation, I invite my hon. Friend to repeat that outside the House, without the benefit of privilege.

Mr. Banks

Perhaps I should explain. A triathlon is a three-part event, in which an athlete swims, rides a bicycle and runs.

Mr. Butler

I cannot swim.

Mr. Banks

Perhaps my hon. Friend could manage one or two. I hope that that is sufficient explanation and now perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can make progress.

The Bill will not repeal any powers. Present legislation is considered adequate for small events and will continue to be used. The new powers contained in the Bill are for regulating major events, which will involve the closure of main routes and are likely to generate much traffic. More specific orders will, therefore, be required to cover surrounding streets; that was the heart of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. It will not merely be a case of closing streets before, during or after an event. Obviously, I hope that the police will be able to open roads fairly quickly after an event.

As I said in an earlier intervention, certain roads in Kent and Sussex will have to be closed for several hours to allow cyclists to pass through. If those roads have to be closed for several hours, how long will roads in rural areas have to be closed—perhaps a large stretch of road, where the traffic cannot simply be stopped at both ends because of the many side roads? That will take a long time. It takes several hours to close roads for the tour de France and to open them again afterwards.

Mr. Malone

Substantial costs will be incurred when major events of that type take place and there have to be closures of that magnitude. Might it not be sensible for the people who benefit economically from such events to be obliged to contribute towards their cost? I know that there is likely to be a profiterole millionaire at the end of "le tour" and that sponsorship and merchandising contracts are involved. The new and complicated arrangements will cost money and those who benefit should contribute, so that that money does not have to come out of the public purse.

Mr. Banks

That is a valuable argument.

Town and county councils in the south of England will spend at least £500,000 for the two-day tour de France event in July, which is an awful lot of money. Let us not forget that the events will not be confined to the tour de France. As I said, the local authority spends money to promote some events in my constituency. It is important that local authorities in the south of England affected by the tour recognise the enormous economic benefits of special events, and their sheer attraction. The fact that local authorities want to promote them shows what they can do for the local economy. Those areas are also affected by tourism and, as each day passes, there are more and more tourists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is right to say that those who benefit should also contribute. However, although that is an important matter, I must make progress.

The Bill will. insert section 16A in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to allow traffic authorities—usually the local authority—to restrict or prohibit traffic for a major sporting event, social event or entertainment", but not for motor racing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East referred to, albeit obliquely. I think that another hon. Member mentioned the TT races in the Isle of Man.

What is most important is that the powers will facilitate the holding of a "relevant event", will enable members of the public to watch and will reduce the disruption to traffic that is likely to be caused. I am especially concerned about the latter, as road closures can cause widespread disruption in my constituency.

Section 16B allows an order under section 16A to be in force for only three days in one year, but the Secretary of State can extend that time by another three days. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham for mentioning that fact. I do not think that he would want major disruption for too long, and three days is a long time for roads to be closed.

As a result of the privatisation of the water companies, the necessary £85 million has finally been found—as it could not have been when North West Water was in the public sector—to build a new sewage treatment system in my constituency. The system will ensure that beaches pass European Community tests for bathing water standards. Ainsdale and Formby pass the tests, but Southport does not and Blackpool has some way to go. Major engineering work is required in a considerable part of my constituency and is already causing widespread disruption to road traffic. Some of the main streets in Southport have had to be closed and will continue to be closed for some time. Lord street is the Mecca for shoppers in the north-west of England and the closure will significantly affect the local economy.

Although there has been a steady decline in the number of people out of work in my constituency during recent months, between 100 and 200 people are now out of work in Southport because of the nonsensical pay-and-display parking system that has been imposed on us by the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties. If one starts messing around with traffic regulations and does not properly consult—as my local authority did not consult before it imposed the system—one ends up getting into difficulties. That is why it is important that we ensure that there is adequate consultation before we start closing roads.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

As I said earlier, I sympathise with my hon. Friend over the imposition of Sefton borough council's new parking regulations. They have been a complete disaster. When the sand races take place in Southport, I believe that the Bill, if it passes into law, will be a considerable help. As I recall, the sand races also affect the promenade; the shrimp fishermen therefore have enormous difficulty in crossing the promenade and getting down on to the sands to catch shrimps—Southport shrimps, of course, being famous. The Bill would enable the shrimp fishermen's needs and requirements to be properly taken into consideration.

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend demonstrates considerable knowledge of my constituency and I am grateful to him for drawing attention to the difficulties of the shrimp industry in Southport.

The event to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has just referred is one example of many. I have mentioned the air show and I shall mention others before I have finished. Those events often take place on the coast road and the specific event to which my hon. Friend refers directly impinges on more than the promenade. If my hon. Friend recalls, the promenade is inland from the coast road and there is a large marine lake between the promenade and the coast road.

If one starts messing about with traffic regulations and does not adequately consult, one botches things up, as sometimes happens in my local authority, when the Liberal Democrats and the Labour members of the council get together and do not listen to what the Conservatives are saying. The Labour party of course does not have any councillors in Southport, yet it will insist on making a mess of our traffic regulation. That is why, as my hon. Friend rightly mentions, we get into problems.

If the traffic builds up in an area along the coast road, it makes access difficult for people going about their lawful business, whether it be shrimpers or people who want simply to go for a walk, or to attend the event that my hon. Friend mentioned or any other similar event. Difficulties are caused and they need to be tackled. The Bill goes to the heart of that problem.

I referred some moments ago to section 16A. I shall now discuss section 16C. Section 16C will allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning those powers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will give some more detail, when he replies to the debate, of what the regulations will contain, and say whether he might publish the regulations, if he can, at an appropriate stage, for consultation.

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


Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can hear him answering me positively in that respect.

Consultation and local accountability are the keys to the Bill and I hope that the procedure that will be set out will be used by the traffic authorities—usually the local authorities, as I have mentioned—when making an order. I also hope that the traffic authorities will try to include a specific period of notice prior to the event during which consultation must take place. It might be eight or 12 weeks —I would not want to set a hard and fast number of weeks —prior to the making of an order, in which consultation can take place. However, it is important, as we proceed, that local authorities consider representations.

I know that most, if not all, local authorities, would want to consult, although, as I mentioned in answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham a moment ago, I should have thought that most local authorities would want to consult before they started changing a system of traffic regulation or imposing car parking charges; but, apparently, the Labour and Liberal Democrat members of Sefton borough council wanted to impose those regulations on my constituency last year. Frankly, the local economy of the town has not recovered yet.

Perhaps after May, when—contrary to what some Opposition Members might think—there are some Conservative gains in Southport at the forthcoming local elections, the scheme will be abandoned. Councillor Leslie Byrom, the leader of the Conservative group on the council, has said that if the Conservatives once again control the council they will scrap that scheme.

Mr. Butler

I have a worry, and I would appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. He has spoken about a number of events and activities that take place in what he loosely terms "the resort of Southport", and he refers to the ways in which they can be affected by the Bill.

The traffic authority under the Bill has to be satisfied that the traffic should he restricted or prohibited, but that can arise only if the relevant event is any sporting event, social event or entertainment that is held on a road. In other words, that does not permit traffic control regulation to be discarded or changed for an event held adjacent to, near to, or somewhere near a road, but only if the event is actually held on a road.

I am not a shrimper, but I find it hard to believe that they thrive in puddles, even on roads badly maintained by Sefton, in view of its political climate; nor can I believe that the sand dune racing to which I referred earlier takes place on roads, even after storms. I wonder whether my hon. Friend would tell us whether any of the events to which he refers—the flower show, for example—are held on a road.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Before I answer his question, I must take issue with his suggestion that there is anything wrong in describing my constituency as a resort. "Loosely" was the term that my hon. Friend used. It is not a question of loosely. My constituency is a delightful Victorian seaside resort. It is a great honour to represent it in this place. I know that some of my colleagues further up the coast in Blackpool think that Blackpool is rather good. It may well be the premier resort to them, but Southport has attractions of its own. I would not—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is all very interesting. I know Southport and Blackpool very well so the hon. Gentleman has no reason whatsoever to continue plying the virtues of both of those two towns. Will he stick rigidly to the Bill?

Mr. Banks

I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could see you moving in your seat. Indeed, I was just about to say that, before I trespassed any further on your goodwill, I would return to the particular and specific points with which I have been dealing and which directly relate to the Bill.

Before I go further, I should answer the pertinent argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. The Bill will relate to special events. That is why the term "special events" is in its title. It is not a question whether the event takes place only on the main road or off the road. The Bill seeks to deal with traffic regulations that need to be made for a short period to prevent vehicular access along a particular route.

However, my hon. Friend's argument is important, because, even though an event may not necessarily take place on a given stretch of road, with major events such as the tour de France, road closures often have to take place to effect what is necessary for that event to occur.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Bill covers many events such as air shows. For heaven's sake, Harrier jump jets do not come down on the marine road in Southport, but it is necessary to consider where visitors who wish to observe the event should park. Public safety is of paramount importance in considering the Bill. I mentioned earlier that 350,000 people came to my town to see the air show. At such an event, people concentrate not on how much traffic may go from A to B but on what is happening in the skies. That is yet another reason why it is important to regularise those powers and ensure that the police do not stamp around in the dark. It is, therefore, appropriate to seek to legislate to allow road closures to take place.

I have, rather unwillingly, been diverted from my speech in answering my hon. Friends' specific questions, although some of them have been directly related to the Bill. Section 16C is particularly important. I shall not press my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham too hard today, but will he try to ensure that the Bill includes an appropriate period for planning and consultation, perhaps eight to 12 weeks? Those who will participate in, observe or be affected by an event should have an opportunity to have a say during an appropriate period of consultation which roads will be closed or cease to be one-way.

The Bill is, I think, intended to make it easier to take the necessary steps to enable special events to take place. Nevertheless, those powers should be used only in exceptional circumstances. That issue goes to the heart of my concern, given that I represent a seaside resort. Many of my hon. Friends have the same concern. If roads are closed, trade and business will be affected, so I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham to assure us that those powers will be used only in exceptional circumstances.

One can almost set one's calendar by some events in the tourist industry. For example, the Chelsea flower show takes place on a particular weekend and we know well in advance when that will be. Given the average speed of traffic in London, which drops yearly, it is difficult to move about at the best of times. As there are no tube stations near the Chelsea flower show, the only means of public transport is the bus. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many gentlemen and ladies who regularly attend the event, as well as casual visitors, often try to go by car and must fight to find an available parking meter. If everybody tried to park as close to the Chelsea flower show as he or she would like, there would be chaos in and around the Royal hospital. That is just another example of where chaos can ensue.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

May I reassure my hon. Friend that the Bill will be used sparingly, but will have considerable advantage in certain difficult situations? He may not know Lewes, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) will know of the Lewes bonfire. It is a major celebration which has been growing in size in recent years, to the point where the police are considering stopping the whole event because of the danger of managing the traffic and crowds. If the Bill is passed, that event could continue because it would enable the police to divert the traffic and manage the crowds properly. But those are exceptional circumstances, whereas the majority of the events in Southport will continue to be dealt with under existing regulations.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reassurance. Those are important points.

I do not wish to detain the House for too long. Although I am only a tiny fraction of the way through the points that I had hoped to make, I realise that the House wants to make progress and other hon. Friends wish to speak, so I shall shortly draw my remarks to a close. In so doing, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that I welcome the Bill, which provides an enormous boost to tourism and the local economy. I hope that it commands the total support of local authorities and the police, as well as local traders who will be directly affected.

It would be misleading to suggest that the tour de France will be the only event to gain from the Bill. It will not. My constituency will benefit considerably and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and the Minister will take on board what I hope have been my pertinent points. I have no hesitation in congratulating my hon. Friend and wishing the Bill best speed.

11.56 am
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

This is my first attendance on a Friday and I have been enlivened by the quality and brevity of interventions and speeches made by my hon. Friends.

I welcome this pernicious little Bill, which is clearly drafted along lines that demonstrate a belief in original sin because it shows that it is capable of redemption. In due course, I shall table one or two appropriate, helpful and modest amendments to assist in that redemption. Like many Bills nowadays, it is almost enabling in that, until we see the regulations, we shall not know how effective or otherwise it may be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) declared a number of constituency interests before, no doubt, going off to find the Café Monet. I, too, have a number of constituency interests connected with the Bill—not with the tour en Angleterre because those taking part in it cannot get as far as Milton Keynes by bicycle —but with regard to cycling in general.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend, who has attended the whole debate assiduously, will know that earlier we discussed how small flocks of sheep, which are covered by the Bill, will be restricted in crossing the road. As the hon. Member representing Milton Keynes, does he know whether the concrete cows will suffer from the: same difficulty?

Mr. Butler

I am unique among Members of this House in that I always take my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) seriously. However, that stand is challenged this morning. I shall simply pass on, except to say that the politics of envy from those who do not represent constituencies with decent, environmentally-friendly cows is sad to behold.

The only connection with cows that we would claim is the milk race. Although it is not assisted by those cows, it has often come through the centre of Milton Keynes swiftly and successfully because the number of roundabouts and the absence of traffic lights mean that we never have traffic jams. So I am extremely sorry that the Milk Marketing Board—"Milk Co" or "Milk Crate", whatever it is now to be called—has decided not to continue to sponsor that event.

The other Milton Keynes interest is a general interest in cycling. I am sure that all of us here were impressed by the figures that were given earlier. If I remember correctly, there are about 15 million bicycles in Britain, of which 1 million are used every day. One can only contemplate whether it is the same million or a different million each day. Bicycles are a little like Bullworkers and exercise machines. They are purchased to be kept rather than to be used.

I own a bicycle. Part of my election material featured me and the whole family on a number of bicycles—the same number as there are members of the family. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) referred to drop-handlebar racing machines and sit-up-andbeg bicycles. I have what those with an interest in machinery call a safety bicycle, off which I have fallen on several occasions.

Originally, cycle racing took place on what were known as ordinary bicycles. They are now known in the quaint old English custom as penny-farthings. They followed the hobby horse, which was a bicycle without chain or other means of propulsion. I am not aware of what type of bicycle is used in the tour en Angleterre. I have always hankered after a Dursley-Pederson bicycle. You may have shared that desire in your not-so-distant youth, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will recall, it is the type of bicycle that has the saddle mounted on a cord or chain slung between the front and the rear on the top, on which one sits in great comfort. One cannot sit in great comfort on my safety bicycle, which appears to have a saddle designed by Wilkinson Sword.

In addition to owning bicycles, I occasionally use a bicycle. Sometimes I use it to stand on to reach a high shelf in the garage, but occasionally I go out on a bicycle for exercise and fun. That brings me on to Milton Keynes's main claim to fame connected with bicycles. We have what are called the red ways. That is not a political comment, before my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) leaps to his feet.

Milton Keynes has more cycle paths and bridleways than any town or city in the kingdom can boast. It is possible, and frequently done, to get from one side of Milton Keynes to the other on the red way without having to cross a public highway. We do not have to leap across. We do not have to avoid flocks of sheep, hooligan shrimpers or any of the other obstacles that my hon. Friends seem to suffer in their resorts. We can cycle from one side of the city to the other in comfort—depending on the saddle—in safety and healthily.

Milton Keynes has always been proud of its involvement with cycling and its encouragement of bicycles. It is not the sort of encouragement that we see in Cambridge, where bicycles are given away free by the Labour city council, painted in a particularly garish colour, as one might expect from that institution.

Mr. Quentin Davies

My hon. Friend has touched on what I hope that he will agree is an important part of the Bill—the power that will be given to local councils. Unfortunately, some councils are Labour controlled. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no abuse of local authority power of which the Labour party is not capable? We have had systematic corruption, nepotism, job-rigging in Monklands and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. What has corruption in Monklands or anywhere else to do with the Bill? I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman did not reply to that intervention.

Mr. Davies

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise if I have misread the Bill. As I see it, it places considerable responsibility on local authorities, defined in the Bill as traffic authorities, to decide when roads should be closed for the purpose of an event within the meaning of the Bill. That means that crucial consideration—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Bill does not refer to the constitution of local authorities.

Mr. Butler

Turning from Milton Keynes's proud boast—

Mr. Clappison

Will my hon. Friend give way on the point about local authorities exercising their power?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to conclude my proud boast. I remind the House again—one has to remind again because otherwise it is not a reminder —that Milton Keynes has more cycle paths than any other city or town. If only, as they say in the slogan, all towns were like Milton Keynes.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend has touched on an important point which relates to the scheme of the Bill and the policy with regard to decisions by local authorities. As my hon. Friend will know, much of the Bill is based on the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The Bill follows closely the scheme of that Act. Unlike the Act, which is fairly clear about the tests that local authorities must apply in deciding whether roads are to be closed, the Bill does not set out any test. Can my hon. Friend assist me by giving some thoughts about consistency between decisions taken by different local authorities about what constitutes a special event and about when a road should be closed for such an event? That is an important point, which needs some explanation.

Mr. Butler

It is traditional to say that I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I am not sure that I am grateful on this occasion. I am not answering for the Bill. I am merely here to welcome this pernicious little thing.

The test is that the traffic authority has to be satisfied. My hon. Friend is a lawyer. Indeed, he is more than a lawyer. He is a barrister. Therefore, he will know the test that is to be discharged on being satisfied. Whether consultation is required has already been debated. I share the concern that has been expressed that one should not get into anything analogous to a public inquiry on each occasion on which the French want to come over with bicycles.

Mr. Quentin Davies

As my hon. Friend says, the traffic authority has to be satisfied in accordance with the Bill. Does he agree that some of the more irresponsible Labour authorities will be satisfied that a purely political event should displace the normal traffic from the roads? Will not we have all sorts of exotic forms of humanity —socialist revolutionaries, militants, militant hom-osexuals—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is testing my patience and overcooking the argument altogether. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor did not answer that intervention.

Mr. Butler

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Matthew Banks

I have the advantage that, unlike my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler), I am not a lawyer. Surely my hon. Friend must be worried that there could be some inconsistency of approach from one local authority to another.

Mr. Butler

Yes, of course one is concerned about inconsistency between local authorities. My hon. Friends will have to concede that that is not such a great concern to me because I have the great fortune not only to represent but to live in my constituency, which happens to be within the county of Buckinghamshire, which remains uniquely under Conservative control. Therefore, the traffic authority for my home village and constituency would be a Conservative authority.

Inconsistency is not the monopoly of the Opposition parties. It is possible to have inconsistency between decisions made by Conservative councils or between views held within them. However, if I may answer the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), despite your suggestion to the contrary, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the relevant event has to be —according to the new section 16A(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, with which I am sure that hon. Members will be familiar—any sporting event, social event or entertainment.

Although hon. Members may sometimes find political activity entertaining, it is doubtful whether many of our citizens would agree with us. It is doubtful whether the description of an event as "entertainment" could be used to permit a political rally of the sort that hon. Members are worried about. Whether a political event can ever be a social event is debatable, as we all know from our experience. It certainly cannot be described as a sporting event. So the particular anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is outwith the Bill.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Does my hon. Friend agree that a demonstration by Greenham Common women would probably be very entertaining?

Mr. Butler


Perhaps I might now deal with the Bill in more detail. I am attending this morning, not just through natural enthusiasm and at the suggestion of a senior colleague, but because it seems to me that the Bill appears to offer the opportunity for motor sport to be authorised on closed roads. Indeed, specifically in the Bill, new section 16A (3)(b) envisages that motor events other than road racing or, A race or trial of speed to use the words of the 1988 Act, could be permitted under regulation. Therefore, the whole question of the use of roads for motorised sporting events is relevant to the debate.

In Britain, we live with an archaic system of obtaining road closure orders, which is why I welcome the Bill. The system is archaic in that it is inefficient and largely ineffectual in comparison with those of all our European Community partners, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, which have different regulations. To obtain a road closure for motor sport entails the suspension of the Road Traffic Act. That is the important part of Bill. What is important is not the closing of the road for the purpose of public order, or any other purpose, but the subsequent suspension of the effect of the Road Traffic Acts. Very few motorised road races would be much use if they were subject to a speed limit of 30 mph.

Currently, to suspend the Road Traffic Act requires a separate Bill on each occasion. I believe that my hon. Friend's Bill provides an opportunity for us to come into line with legislation that will have more than adequate local control and safeguards, which was the subject of comments from my hon. Friends. It will substantially reduce the cost of applying for such events and put the decision making where it should be, with local authorities and the local police, particularly after the changes in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill on the control of police and the effectiveness of a local plan for the police go through.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that, under clause 1(3)(a) motor racing on public ways is specifically excluded from the Bill? Will he —as I will if I have the privilege of serving on the Committee that will consider the Bill—aim to have that subsection deleted so that the formula 3000 road race in Birmingham could more easily be possible under the terms of the Bill?

Mr. Butler

I share many of my hon. Friend's disappointments in life. That is one of them. I shall not address myself too strongly to that point, because I am eager that it be picked up along the way. I am grateful, and I am sure that the authorities will be, for my hon. Friend's offer to serve on that Committee. I wish that I were not already serving on another Committee.

I shall make the case, if I may, for motor sport events being held on closed roads in Britain. The present situation is that local authorities and the police working together enjoy the right to close roads for fetes, parades, road works and other entertainments when they feel it appropriate. Those closure orders, however, do not necessitate suspending the Road Traffic Act, which, as I have said, is the crux of the matter. To allow a motor sport event to take place on closed roads in Britain, private Members' Bills sometimes come before the House on a case-by-case basis.

I shall give some examples of that—regrettably, briefly. The Birmingham super prix required the Birmingham City Council Act 1985, which was fought and dragged screaming through this place against great resistance just to enable Birmingham to do what Monaco does most successfully every year at great benefit to that city, its local traders and the local economy. Before this speech, I had not been invited there—I might now be.

Strathclyde regional council had to secure authority in November 1988 for the tour of Mull rally. The Borders regional council—I think that they are both in Scotland —had to obtain approval in November 1993 for the Jim Clark memorial rally. Hon. Members will recall that he was the greatest British racing driver that we have produced so far. Sadly, he is dead. I can find no detail on the Hull city kart race of 1990, but it is a well-established rumour. The north-eastern consortium race is under consideration.

Bringing those applications before Parliament one by one imposes a huge burden of costs on the instigators of such events—usually local authorities backed by local business people. Exceptionally, however, there are no restrictions on the Isle of Man, and in Northern Ireland, 10 road closure orders per year are allowed for motor sports events. None is allowed in Wales, Scotland and, worst of all, England. That is a most peculiar quirk of our law.

Under the terms of those closures, the Road Traffic Act is suspended. In Northern Ireland, on 10 events per year, one can secure an order to achieve precisely for motor race events what the Bill suggests should be allowed for the tour en Angleterre. Additionally in Northern Ireland, unlimited road closures are available, with the Road Traffic Act suspension attached, for kart racing. As it is in Northern Ireland, I should be more specific. The definition of a kart in Northern Ireland—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire, who has a Lotus Elan, might like to consider this—for the purpose of those closure orders is a vehicle of less than 4 ft 6 in. wheel base and less than 5 cwt in total weight. I own an Austin 7 trials car which comes within that definition, and I am tempted to take it to Northern Ireland to try it.

The Road Traffic Act 1991 allows for temporary venues such as supermarket car parks, which would otherwise be a public place, although not a highway, to be used for motor sport by being designated public places under regulations for the purpose. Such events must then be authorised by one of a limited list of bodies maintained by the Department of Transport.

That authorisation is allowed under the Motor Vehicles (Off Road Events) Regulations 1992, which came into force on 1 July 1992. They say: The following bodies are authorising bodies under these Regulations". The list then given is of interest not just in the present situation but because we are told that regulations will need to be made under the Bill once it has gone through. That list includes the Amateur Motor Cycle Association, something quaintly called the Association of Rover Clubs Ltd., which I assume will shortly have to change its name, the Auto-Club Union, British Schoolboy Motorcycle Association, the International Organisation of Professional Drivers Ltd., the National Autograss Sport Association Ltd., NORA 92 Ltd., the National Traction Engine Trust, the Royal Automobile Club—naturally—the Scottish Auto Cycle Union Ltd. and the Youth Motorcycle Sport Association Ltd. Even when we have inserted a new section 13A in the Road Traffic Act of 1988, under which the regulations will be made, only a restricted and limited number of bodies has any power or authority whatever. We are not seeking here, nor is the Bill, so far as it goes—which is just off the start line of what is needed—to achieve an open house.

Cycle racing traditionally enjoys a special freedom to use closed roads. Notwithstanding the fact that the accompanying entourage of support vehicles and, we are told today, the French desserts that will be following—I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister will reassure us that the traditional chocolate sauce will not be poured over the top of the profiteroles before they travel along Brighton seafront or wherever it was—are often required to be driven in a manner that would be considered in contravention of the Road Traffic Act. I have never watched a cycle race, but the glimpses that I see on television before the excellent Anglia local news comes on suggest that they have vans following within a matter of a few inches—I suppose that they would say a few centimetres—of the back of the racing bikes. One sees motor cycle outriders, presumably gendarmerie, weaving in and out around traffic bollards and so on.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Butler

I should be pleased to give way.

Mr. Atkinson

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns about road racing—I thought that I explained this earlier. I ask my hon. Friend not to continue with this sort of chauvinistic attack on the French. By coming here and allowing us two days of the tour de France, the French are doing this country a considerable favour and sniping about profiteroles and the gendarmes is totally out of place.

Mr. Butler

I have changed my mind; I said that I was pleased to give way. That is an outrageous attack. I have never sniped at a profiterole, I have never insulted one and I have never even stamped on one.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Has my hon. Friend eaten one?

Mr. Butler

Unlike the Minister, who may express a different view, I rarely eat profiteroles. I resent the use of the word "chauvinist", especially in this context because it suggests a dislike of the French. The reason that I particularly object to it is that it is a French word. Indeed, it is named after Nicolas Chauvin who was a Napoleonic veteran. Professionally, he was used to losing battles with the British and was celebrated by the freres Cogniard. I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if my French accent is not as good as yours. Therefore I especially resent the suggestion that I dislike the French who, given any opportunity, I would embrace wholeheartedly. I especially resent having a French word used to insult me in that context.

I know why the tour de France is coming here next year. Every year for many years, the Vintage Sports Car Club has taken a bicycle rally to Boulogne. Several hundred people go over by ferry with their bicycles. They have no other transport. They are not required to take fish and chips or anything like that, or vehicles dressed up as such. They take over several hundred bicycles and cycle on one of two routes. They cycle either around the old Boulogne motor race circuit or as far as the first French inn, depending on their enthusiasm and the comfort of their bicycles. I believe that the French intend to come here this year in retaliation for that.

Closed road motor sport events, by agreement with local authorities and the police—that is built into the Bill —are permitted in the following European countries: France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Belgium, Eire, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg. My memory of geography suggests that only the United Kingdom in the European Community, or the European Union as it is quaintly termed, remains the odd man out.

Of the French closed road events, the Le Mans 24-hour event is the predominant one. No one suggests that the Le Mans race should be cancelled because it substantially uses public roads. Indeed, many of us have driven the public road section of the race. In doing so in a vintage Bentley a few years ago, I managed to try the catch area with the loose gravel, and it took seven very amused Frenchmen to lift me out of it afterwards.

The Le Mans race is a closed road race. No one objects to it. There is no public order dissatisfaction in France because of it. There are no deaths because of it. People do not storm off after it in their cars, crash into each other or kill each other, as has been suggested might be the case. No such problems occur. That race takes place every year. We should be inordinately grateful to Le Mans because it was there that the great W.O. Bentley cars came to their pre-eminent position in the history of motor racing on the road—exactly the sort of event that the Bill would permit.

It was not only Bentley motor cars. The Austin 7 also has a valuable history at Le Mans. Indeed, I am fortunate enough to own the one which finished 27th in 1935.

Mr. Fabricant

Was my hon. Friend in it?

Mr. Butler

Certainly not. I shall give way to my hon. Friend after reminding him that the first Lotus was built by Colin Chapman. It was an Austin 7 special.

Mr. Fabricant

Was my hon. Friend driving this car at the time?

Mr. Butler

It was not just an Austin 7 special—it was considerably better structured than my hon. Friend's motor car. We are talking about not only the first Lotus but the first BMW—perhaps that is ironic in view of recent events regarding what used to be called Austin Rover—and the first Datsun, but we will not go into that.

For many years, motor racing on the road has taken place in other parts of the world and, indeed, in our partner nations. It is a great pity that it does not take place in this country. The first competition on public roads was held in Wisconsin in July 1878 with six entries from various steam-propelled vehicles, of which only two started, and was won at 6 mph for a prize of $5,000.

The first road competition held in Europe, again apparently without any problems, was in 1887. It was sponsored by Velocipede and organised by the editor. It was held over a short course near Paris. To great surprise, it received only one entry—of a steam quadracycle driven by the Comte de Dion. Not surprisingly, he won. Shortly after that, road events were held in this country. Indeed, they are still held in this country.

Reference has been made to the possibility of a few dozen people watching this race. I hope that many thousands of people will watch it. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that the number of people who watch existing events is enormous. Indeed, compared to the number of people who watch minor interest sports such as football, it is staggering. The RAC rally attracts 2 million spectators each year—I do not mean sitting at home and watching on television, I mean present. Up to 1 million people attend to watch the London to Brighton run. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister has had the good fortune to do so. I hope that he is there regularly and has, as most of us have, a treasured copy of the film "Genevieve" featuring prominently the mother of one of his ministerial colleagues.

The case for bringing Great Britain into line—we seek no more than that—with other countries is that, first, motor sport has been governed by the Royal Automobile Club since 1897. Under the Bill, closed road events would remain subject to the tight controls and associated safety standards of that body. This is not about authority to go racing past people's front doors but about allowing controlled use where infrastructure routes exist. Frequently, that is industrial areas or unpopulated locations.

Secondly, motor clubs throughout Britain continue to report a loss of venues in traditional areas as a result of the introduction of sites of special scientific interest and more managed recreational access to forest national parks and other traditional venues. Motor racing is a vast sport. It is not the hobby of a few people at the weekend. Many thousands of people compete every weekend. Thirdly, as host to a round of the world rally championship, the RAC is under pressure to produce routes that compare in competition terms with our European partners, as well as non-European world rally nations such as Australia, Argentina and New Zealand where closed road events are permitted.

Fourthly, the proposed legislation change envisages authorisation of events by local authorities with the agreement of the police. All events would be under the auspices of responsible governing bodies such as the RAC and the question of how those decisions should be made has already been raised by my hon. Friends.

Fifthly, Britain is currently the world leader in the motor sport industry. We are at the forefront of any motor sport that one can name. The industry provides 50,000 full-time jobs and 75 per cent. of the world's rally teams are based in Britain. If we are to retain that position, it is vital that we retain our breadth and depth of experience in motor sport—we cannot do so without access to venues and there will no access to suitable venues without the Bill and some amendment to it.

I shall outline briefly what type of events would be run on closed roads. Some sections of stage rallies would be run on them and, in that context, I should like to mention that Milton Keynes was going to hold a stages rally in October last year. The RAC Motor Sports Association, the local police, the local authority and the local highway authority all approved and wished the rally to proceed. It would have been held in a part of central Milton Keynes called Campbell park where the roads have been laid out and dedicated as public highways but around which nothing has yet been built. I hasten to reassure the House that it is only a small section of Milton Keynes. It has superb quality roads and would have been eminently suitable for the rally, but we could not go ahead because of the archaic laws, which put us out of step with our European partners and which should be changed by the Bill.

Secondly, a limited number of motor races would be held on closed roads, generally in city centres, such as happened in Birmingham. There would not be a large demand for such races, but there are some suitable sites.

The third type of event would be hill climbs and sprints, which require a very limited amount of road. A closed road possibility would allow Britain to participate in the European hill climb championship which, astonishingly, we are not able to do at present because of the limitation of private venues. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds spoke of leisure, sport and recreation. An enormous proportion of such activities is done by arid with motor vehicles, including vintage vehicles. I am thinking specially of the little French town of Angouleme and its annual rallye des ramparts. It is a splendid event for which the roads—indeed, almost the whole town centre—are closed. People race around wildly in old motor cars; no one is killed or injured and they all have a tremendous time and the local economy is boosted by tourists. It is an extremely important event for the town and is enjoyed by many British people who, unfortunately, cannot enjoy such events in England.

The question of safety is sometimes raised in the context of motor sport because people consider motor cars to be dangerous. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys fatality statistics for 1992 show that in the league table of dangerous sports—I am not sure how they are rated, but the most dangerous rating is 26—cycling is rated as being more dangerous than motor racing. I think that I have that the right way round. They are very close together, but cycling is more dangerous than motor racing. Analysis of RAC Motor Sports Association organised events for the past 32 years reveal a death toll of nil in rallying for the past five years and an average of less than 0.5 per year overall. The figure for racing is slightly higher at 1.5 per year. In other words, we are not talking about wildly dangerous events.

I shall now deal with some of the regulations that may be made under the Bill, and especially to the Motor Vehicles (Competition and Trials) Regulations 1960 made under section 260(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1960. Those regulations give a taste of the control that is imposed, and would be imposed under the Bill, on closed road events. Some have a political ring in the context of present difficulties. For example, a 'performance test' means a test in which merit is attached to a competitor's skill in manoeuvring or controlling the vehicle" — we now come to the political point— including maintaining the forward motion of the vehicle in adverse conditions". In this Parliament, we have what might be described as a "problem-solving event", which is an event in which the competitors are required by the rules of the event to travel the route by a fixed time"— the next election— and are given before that time the task of setting and solving a number of set problems. I am pleased to say that we are approaching what could be described as a "rest halt" which is a place specified in the rules of the event as a place where competitors are required to stop during the course of the event"— or debate— or may stop … without incurring a penalty". Also in a political context, I found a definition of "night event" which means an event part or whole of which is intended to take place between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. A brief glimpse at one of the many statutory instruments shows, conclusively I hope, that the regulation of motor events on closed roads to produce safe, enjoyable and economically productive activity is possible. I welcome the Bill and subsection (3)(b) of the proposed section 16A and look forward to new regulations. I see the Bill as being enabling rather than preventive legislation, in the spirit of this Government. I look forward to it enabling trials, driving tests and other such events.

I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to consider, either today or on a subsequent occasion during the passage of the Bill, whether the wording of subsection (3)(a) might not be amended to add the words, "unless the motor race is authorised by or under regulations under that section", which would bring it into line with subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c). On that point, with the greatest possible relief, I conclude my comments.

12.34 pm
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who is not in his place at the moment; I am sure that he has some business to attend to. Getting a private Member's Bill through is one of the few really important things that any hon. Member can do. Bearing that in mind, it is unfortunate that we had some filibustering earlier in the debate—[Hors. MEMBERS: "No we did not."] I think that we did—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. The hon. Lady will know that if there had been filibustering, Mr. Deputy Speaker would have immediately brought the House to order. There may have been some extensive speeches, but they were not filibustering.

Ms Walley

In view of the comments that we have heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), including his comments about various aspects of radio licences, I wonder whether he was speaking with a constituency interest or with interests from other parts of the country.

I am sure that the Minister will be enormously grateful to his hon. Friend the Member for Hexham for the Bill because the tour de France will arrive in this country just as the channel tunnel and the services through the tunnel are intended to arrive. We may not have the services, legislation or regulations in place to enable a smooth handover, so it is important that the Bill gets on to the statute book. I should have thought that the Government would not want any wasteful interventions which could prejudice the Bill.

We have already heard a lot about the importance of the Bill. Let us consider why we need it. The tour de France took place in this country some years ago to publicise the new Plymouth-Roscoff ferry service. The event was badly received in 1974 because it had to be staged on one piece of road. It did not have the impact on tourism that the Bill intends to have and, as a result—and not least because of the rain—it was not a success.

The organisers hope that the much-heralded channel tunnel will be an opportunity to bring the tour de France back to this country. The promoters and everyone else involved, not least hon. Members who have a constituency interest in the route that the race will take, want to ensure that the event will be successful. The Bill is, therefore, required. I hope that the endless delays in the opening of the channel tunnel will not jeopardise the event as it was jeopardised in 1974 when it was intended to promote the Plymouth-Roscoff ferry service.

The Opposition are concerned that transport proposals are repeatedly being introduced through private Members' Bills. Although we welcome the Bill, it is not a substitute for the transport policy that we want. We want a policy that would give all hon. Members who have spoken about the importance of cycling, for example, an opportunity to integrate cycling into transport policy.

Such a policy would provide an opportunity to deal with British Rail's transport arrangements, which are unsatisfactory and will lead to a ludicrous spectacle when many people come to this country to take part in cycle races. Let us suppose that they want to travel further afield than Dover or Portsmouth to visit tourist regions in the rest of the country. How will they reach them with their bicycles? What sort of an obstacle race will they face if the policies of British Rail and regional railways make it impossible for them to take their bikes to places as far afield as Aberdeen, Edinburgh or anywhere else in the British Isles? How will they find out whether the service will allow them to take their cycles by train? How will they find out, following the privatisation of British Rail, whether they will be able to use the through-ticketing procedure whereby bikes can be taken to wherever people wish? I see that the Minister is becoming slightly irritated, but it is high time that cycling was at the heart of transport policy.

The promotion of the health interests that will arise from such a cycling event should be extended to the local level as well as to towns on the route of the event.

It is interesting that we are debating the Bill because of the inadequacy of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which have been mentioned by hon. Members. They were passed at a time when cars, let alone parking arrangements, had not been thought of and were not on our streets. That archaic legislation is supposed to deal with the organised events.

The legislation is no more archaic than our rail infrastructure, which will transport cyclists who arrive from France. The highly technical railway channel tunnel service from Lille has already been built and is up and ready to run. We have heard so many times in this place what will happen when trains reach the United Kingdom. They will limp along at perhaps 49 or 53 mph. Our railway service has the same Victorian infrastructure as the legislation that the Bill seeks to update.

Our transport policy is driven not by the Secretary of State for Transport and other transport Ministers and not even by people responsible for tourism, but by the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill is being considered in Committee. It has been introduced not to help our transport infrastructure but because the President of the Board of Trade and the Department of Trade and Industry wish to repeal regulations in order to save industry money. It lifts the lorry ban in London, and deregulates provisions on heavy goods vehicle operator licences and public service vehicle operator licences. There are a whole four pages in the DTI working party review that promise all kinds of other deregulation of which we have not yet dreamt. That has nothing to do with transport policy.

If only the Government and the Secretary of State for Transport could take a leaf out of this private Member's Bill. If only the Minister could give an undertaking to the House that he would be prepared to promote an integrated transport system which we are all crying out for and that, at the same time, he could recognise that the right sort of balance is one between central Government and local authorities. Perhaps he could use more discretion and take the opportunities presented in the Bill to hand over some powers from the police to local authorities better to enable the assessment of local situations and to deal with traffic measures accordingly. If only we had had that kind of Bill and the Government had used the opportunity to give an off-the-peg Bill to someone fortunate who finished high in the ballot for a private Member's Bill, we could have brought forward a much more coherent transport Bill which we would have been happier to support.

It is important to comment on the regulations. Local authorities across the country, not only in the areas where we have heard that the tour de France will be staged, welcome the Bill, want to see it on the statute book and, as we have heard, have made widespread representations.

I heard what was said about the Ramblers Association and I hope that the Minister will give those comments due consideration, because, contrary to what was said earlier, my experience has always been that the Ramblers Association always speaks with genuine concern for its members. I hope that the Minister will give attention in his winding-up speech to the safeguards and assurances that it seeks.

The Bill is a wasted opportunity because it could go much further in bringing up to date the two pieces of legislation of 1847 and 1839 to which I referred earlier. Although there is much to be said for arrangements for special events, such as Remembrance day services, which we know take place annually, we should take account of what local authorities say and consider the many requests that they receive about which they wish to be able to use discretion. Local authorities and the police feel that it is often not a matter for the police to decide whether a particular local event should go ahead, but that local authorities, in consultation with the police, should decide whether to allow closure of roads for events such as carnivals, street parties and perhaps filming.

The Bill covers only special events; the same powers are not given to deal with more local events. That issue should be addressed by the Minister in the regulations, which I understand will be issued hand in hand with the Bill, assuming that it passes all its stages.

The Bill concerns other issues in relation to the role of local authorities. As I always expect, we heard a lot of abuse of local authorities from Conservative Members. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Conservative party controls so few county councils, highways authorities and people with responsibility for transport and it is still shellshocked by what happened at the last local council county elections. Local authorities have paid officers, they have the advice and they know what is needed locally. Repeatedly, local authorities ask why a whole stream of other issues that relate to traffic regulations cannot be handed to them in the way in which we are handing over responsibility in the Bill.

There are many issues relating, for example, to approval for traffic-calming schemes. I do not know about the postbags of Conservative Members, but I am always inundated with requests from constituents for more money to be spent on such schemes. However, it is a question not just of money but of local authorities having the discretion within a national regulatory framework to know what kind of traffic-calming schemes are needed.

It is also of concern that there is a requirement to seek Department of Transport approval for 20 mph zones. I do not see why we could not legislate or introduce regulations that would make it easier for local authorities to take that kind of decision.

The Minister shakes his head, but these issues relate to road safety, and local authorities request more discretion over them. An example is a requirement under section 23 of the Road Traffic Act 1984 to inform the Secretary of State of an authority's proposal for pedestrian crossings. The Minister may say that that has nothing to do with the Bill, but if there were a coherent approach to transport policy we would not treat one aspect of transport in isolation from another. We would have a Government Bill and would not need to rely on a private Member's Bill to bring up to date this archaic legislation which local authorities and the police currently have to use to deal with all the requests that come to them. These are important issues.

We wish the Bill good progress. Sunday is International Women's Day and an important debate will follow this one. I hope that it will help to balance the chauvinism and all the comments to which we have had to listen in this debate. We support the Bill and ask the Minister to pay particular attention to the matters relating to regulations which he could introduce and which could extend the principle of the Bill to major events and more localised events, if the Government chose to do so.

12.51 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) on his Bill, which the Government support. It seeks to clarify the circumstances in which highways can be closed to allow sporting and social events and other entertainments. It meets a need that has developed over recent years and is particularly timely in the light of the proposed visit by the tour de France to Kent, Sussex and Hampshire in July.

About this time last year while I had the honour to serve in the Department of National Heritage, I hosted the launch in Trafalgar square of the tour de France en Angleterre. I was always enthusiastic about it, but, within a few weeks, I had been shuffled and was Minister for Roads and Traffic. Already, we had decided that we would need to ensure that there were appropriate and adequate powers to enable the tour and similar events to take place around the country.

The Bill has all-party support. It is significant that hon. Members supporting it come not only from all parties but from the length and breadth of the land. The Bill was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and is supported by, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Falmouth and Cambourne (Mr. Coe). The Cornish, as ever, know a good thing when they see it. We are grateful to the Societe de tour de France and to the British company Sport for Television which has been co-ordinating the event in this country.

A number of my hon. Friends have made supportive and helpful speeches and probed in some depth—perhaps to an unusual depth for a Second Reading—the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) was right to speak about the importance of cycling to the health of the nation. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) spoke about the importance of emergency vehicles having access even when roads are closed to normal use, and he also spoke about the importance to retailers of any restrictions. I shall seek to answer those points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) stressed the importance of balance, and my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) was right to draw attention to the fact that London is but a region of the United Kingdom, as is the south east, and that much goes on elsewhere. He mentioned his local air show and flower show, and the importance of tourism to Southport. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) made a telling contribution, and I shall reply to many of his points later.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) made a forthright speech, in which she addressed a number of issues that she would prefer us to be debating instead of the Bill. That will prolong my response, as I must pay her the courtesy of answering. I welcome the hon. Lady's constructive approach and I am glad that she and her hon. Friends will support the Bill today.

The hon. Lady was right to draw attention to the importance of an integrated transport policy, which we seek to achieve. It is true that the Department of Transport is not the Ministry for Roads—which is why, although 90 per cent. of journeys are by road, 40 per cent. of the money goes on public transport subsidy. And quite right, too. The development of the package approach gives local authorities the discretion that they seek to spend money on pedestrianisation and cycling projects, as well as on road schemes and subsidising public transport.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) would have something to say about bicycles, through tickets and trains. In fact, he is often heard saying it. The hon. Lady will have to wait a little while to see what emerges, but I have no doubt that privatisation of the rail network will prove a boon in encouraging the public to use trains. That is the whole purpose. It is odd for the Labour party to argue that because a service is bad at present, it will get worse if one changes the system. It will not—it will get better. I am sure of that.

I hope that the trains in service at the French end of the channel tunnel whose virtues the hon. Lady trumpeted so loudly will not continue to come off the rails as frequently as they appear to do now. I am sure that they will not. When those trains come to this country, and despite the fact that they will have to wend their way slowly and carefully through the suburbs of London, the journey from the tunnel to central London will be achieved at an average 80 mph, which is not too bad.

The Department of Trade and Industry has an extremely important part to play in ensuring an adequate transport policy. A prime motive for a road and rail system is to support the prosperity of British industry. If the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North had her way, industry would be inconvenienced and disadvantaged vis-à-vis industry throughout the rest of Europe. The deregulation initiative is excellent. It is not about saving money but stopping money being wasted on bureaucracy and paper being shuffled about. That is something that Labour will never learn.

The regulations mentioned by the hon. Lady, such as traffic calming, exist to ensure that local and highway authorities have discretion. Many regulations are laid for an experimental period, and when it ends and if it proved a success, the requirement to return the scheme to the Department of Transport is waived. That happens regularly, as with the majority of traffic-calming schemes —which were relaxed last August. I am sure that the 20 mph zone experiment has been a huge success. There have been masses of applications, and I hope that that scheme. too, can be relaxed.

Although the hon. Lady's remarks about the film industry were a little wide of the mark, I am happy to respond because I was the Minister with responsibility for that industry last year. She is right to stress the need to give film companies access to our roads. The problems created for the industry in this country prompted a number of film makers to go abroad—for example, to Paris. It is comparatively easy to shut off large areas of central Paris, whereas London takes a different view. However, great progress has been made with the London Film Commission and in many other cities throughout the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is untiring in his desire to ensure that the film industry remains as good as it is and becomes better.

Conservative Members often mention local authorities because they have intimate knowledge of them, as I do. I maintain direct and regular contact with a wide range of other local authorities because of my ministerial responsibilities, including Manchester and Salford and, because of my city challenge responsibilities, with Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton. Scarcely a week goes by without my talking to local authorities and political parties of all shapes, sizes and persuasions.

Although highways are primarily used to get from one place to another, there are long-standing rights to use them for pleasure. It is difficult to know how those rights arose or where to start, but I suspect that they can be traced back to Chaucer's time. I shall not entertain the House with a travelogue or a Chaucer's tale, but we know from the "Canterbury Tales", written more than 500 years ago, that pilgrimages were made as much for the pleasure of the journey as for the spiritual benefits of achieving the goal. One might even view them as early outward-bound courses, especially if one had to read them at school, as I did—albeit in translation, which the purists might think a weak and wimpish thing to do.

For many years, social events have been held on highways. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned a good example—the Lewes bonfire party, where each year thousands of people celebrate Guy Fawkes' failure to blow up this House. Originally, it was a small local occasion, but as individual mobility has increased so has the number of people attending. Nowadays, there are approximately 80,000 spectators. The large volume of cars means that extensive traffic management measures need to be taken to minimise the danger and inconvenience that would otherwise result. Other long-standing events could also benefit from the proposed provisions. Many of them are a long way from London and the south-east, which may reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Southport.

One cannot, however, ignore the London to Brighton veteran car run or the many road races and marathons which are held throughout the country. At present, they do not cause too many difficulties, but if the number of participants or spectators increased, as it has done for some other events, considerable disruption would result. The Bill ensures that those events can continue.

World-famous events such as the London marathon depend on the good will of the various authorities and the tolerance of the people of London. The marathon is a good example of the fact that one must provide not merely for the participants, but for the support teams and spectators.

As long ago as 1839, the House recognised that special measures were needed when it gave the Metropolitan police Commissioner powers to help control events in London. In 1956, it was agreed that events such as cycle races need to be controlled and in the Road Traffic Act 1956, cycle racing was made illegal unless held in accordance with regulations. That Act also gave chief constables powers to close roads for authorised cycle races. Those powers were perfectly adequate then and remain adequate for the overwhelming majority of cycle races, but they are not sufficient for the really big events, such as the tour de France or the Kellogg's tour of Britain. Those and other events need powers that will make it possible to control the huge number of spectators, so as to minimise the disruption to local communities.

The razzmatazz of the supporting cavalcades is integral to many of those spectacles. If we are to allow events of that scale—I am sure that we all want to—some people will inevitably be inconvenienced. For example, parking may have to be banned in some residential streets, vehicular access to some properties will not be possible, some footpaths may be severed for the duration of the event and, in the case of very large events, considerable disruption to traffic can be expected.

That inconvenience to some people for a short time must be measured against the great pleasure that such events give to so many millions of people and against the economic benefits that they bring. Regulations will impose requirements that adequate notice is given to people and businesses who might be affected so that they can make plans to minimise the effects. I shall return to that subject.

The present powers are old and in some cases are given to the police. They, understandably, would prefer the decisions to be taken by democratically elected councils, who will consider the benefits to their constituents and the costs.

I should like to put on the record my thanks to the police forces, the county constabularies, who have worked so hard on the tour de France, and to the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has been so supportive and helpful to us and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham.

I should also like to put on record my admiration for the Gendarmerie Nationale. I have never known them to be anything but courteous and efficient whenever I have travelled in France, and the speed and effectiveness with which they unclog traffic is exemplary. We look forward to seeing them here and I am sure that they will be an important part of the tour de France en Angleterre and that they will be welcome.

Several powers exist to control road traffic on special occasions, but none is quite suitable for large-scale events on the highway. Some were made many years ago—most before the invention of the motor car or even the pedal cycless. When they came into force, no one could have envisaged the type of events that take place today. Especially, it could not be foreseen that huge numbers of spectators would be able to attend the events or that they would be travelling by motor car.

In general, the existing powers allow only a limited closure and do not provide for associated traffic management. For example, it may be necessary to introduce temporary one-way systems or to allow traffic movements, such as right turns, that are normally banned.

The oldest power that is still in use is, as has been mentioned, section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which allows the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to make regulations for the route to be observed by all Carts, Carriages, Horses and persons, and for preventing the obstruction of the streets and thoroughfares … in all times of public processions, public rejoicings or illuminations … It is doubtful whether that power can override existing traffic regulation orders—for example, to allow an event to go the wrong way down a one-way street or to allow an event involving vehicles to pass through a pedestrianised area. It is that doubt which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham seeks to remove.

Section 21 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 grants similar powers outside London to "the commisioners"— nowadays their successors, the district councils. That power has the same difficulties as the Metropolitan Police Act. The Town Police Clauses Act: among other things prohibits one from wantonly disturbing any inhabitant by pulling or ringing on a doorbell" as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham pointed out, and Beating or shaking any carpet rug or mat in the street (except doormats beaten or shaken before the hour of eight in the morning); and keeping any swine in or near any street so as to be a common nuisance". Section 31 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, first introduced in the Road Traffic Act 1956, gives chief constables powers to close roads to allow an authorised cycle race to take place. Cycle races are authorised under the Cycle Racing on the Highways Regulations 1960. The regulations impose conditions as to the number of participants, the length of any race through a built-up area and the length of route that must be covered before a race repasses a point. That power may be adequate to deal with the tour de France itself. However, it suffers the same defects as the Metropolitan Police Act and the Town Police Clauses Act in respect of existing traffic regulation orders, and will almost certainly not cover the advertising caravan of about 1,500 vehicles that precedes the race.

When the legislation was passed in 1956, there was considerable cross-party concern that it gave the Government far too much power and was a precursor to banning cycle racing altogether. It was, according to Mr. Charles Pannell, the Member for Leeds, West, a vicious form of Clause designed to strike against the handsomest vehicle on the road".—[Official Report, 30 July 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1039.] Mr. W.R. Rees-Davies, the Member for the Isle of Wight, said The fact of the matter is that one day we might reach the horror of the Labour Party being returned to power. If that terrible day comes … what a situation we should find then as regards cycle racing on the roads."—[Official Report, 30 July 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1040–41.] I am delighted that we have all-party support for the Bill now, even if it was feared that we did not then. The fears of both the hon. Members that I have quoted have proved unfounded. I have a great deal more sympathy with the comments of Sir Frank Medlicott, the Member for Norfolk, Central, who said that the tour de France is a wonderful event, and … we should be proud if we should achieve something like it in this country." —[Official Report, 30 July 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1037.] The most modern legislation is section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, amended in 1991, which allows a traffic authority—a county, a metropolitan district or the Secretary of State to make an order restricting or prohibiting the use of a road in certain circumstances. Those powers were designed to be used where, for example, maintenance is to take place or where there is an immediate danger—such as a bridge falling down. Those are circumstances in which an authority has little choice but to close a road if the road network is to be restored to good condition. Closures for sporting or social events are different. No authority is obliged to close a road or redirect traffic to allow an event to happen. There is some doubt, therefore, about whether this power is appropriate.

For all those reasons, new primary legislation is needed to allow proper traffic regulation for such events and thus ensure that people's rights to enjoy the highway are not jeopardised. I was, therefore, delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham approached the Government when he won his position in the ballot and that we had that measure available. I am grateful to him for carrying it forward.

There is a long-standing right to use highways for pleasure. The Highways Act 1980 refers to the duty of a highway authority to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which they are the highway authority". That can be traced back in previous legislation to the Highways Act 1835, but there is considerable evidence that the right is much older than that. Legislation such as the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which this Bill is seeks to amend, aims to ensure that lawful use of the highway does not create an unsafe environment and that nuisance is minimised. A balance must be drawn between the conflicting interests of different road users.

Mr. Fabricant

I have listened with great interest to the long catalogue of Acts that apply, some of which contain sections that are wildly out of date. Once the Bill becomes law, will it not be high time to introduce a consolidating Bill to take account of all the Acts that apply to road traffic and at the same time to knife the many sections that are irrelevant in this day and age?

Mr. Key

What an excellent idea. I shall consider that, although it will not be for me but for the Government as a whole. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

I am second to none in my admiration for British motor sport and I therefore listened with great attention to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. He and I know that not one decent formula 1 car in the world is not British. What may not be appreciated more widely is the fact that the technological research and development that go into sports cars have a direct spin-off to the sort of cars that we drive, although my hon. Friend seems to have rather more exotic taste. He is right to draw attention to road racing and I shall seek to deal with it. I have not been to the rallye des ramparts in Angouléme, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) is a great lover of that city and probably has been, so perhaps I should ask him about it.

Motor races and trials of speed may not be held on public ways unless specifically allowed for in private legislation. In principle, I agree with that policy. One example of the latter is the Birmingham super prix, which is permitted under the Birmingham City Council Act of 1985. I well remember the debates that we had when that legislation was going through. It is good to see the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) here this morning. I am sure that she remembers it well.

The organisation of such a race may be appropriate in these limited and closely specified circumstances, but few hon. Members would wish to see widespread racing on the roads with the attendant danger that it will lead to imitative behaviour, such as has been referred to on the Isle of Man.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

For the information of the House, the Birmingham super prix was unprofitable and wasted money. It was enormously unpopular with my constituents who lived in houses that were being whizzed around. And it is no more.

Mr. Key

But did they want it at the time and did not the House respond and give it to them? Should another city seek to hold such an event, it would approach the House, and we would debate the matter and perhaps pass the necessary legislation.

Imitative behaviour is a problem and a danger to passengers or innocent bystanders. Nothing in the Bill permits motor racing and new section 16A(3)(c) specifically excludes the possibility.

An entirely different issue is that of navigational rallies and treasure hunts on the public highway, which are legal if they are authorised under the Motor Vehicles (Competitions and Trials) Regulations 1969. Those regulations require that any such event involving more than 12 vehicles must be authorised. The RAC Motor Sports Association issues those authorisations and endeavours to ensure that inconvenience and noise are minimised. Participants must abide by road traffic law at all times. The Act provides that no traffic regulation orders may be made to facilitate the holding of such an event unless it has been properly organised.

Cycle races or time trials on the public highway are illegal unless they have been authorised by the Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations 1960, as amended. I propose to consult on an amendment to those regulations which would make the tour de France an authorised event.

The tour de France is the largest sporting event in the world in terms of spectators. It will attract considerable public support in Britain. The organisers consider that there will be up to 1 million spectators over the two days in England and the television pictures of the event will be transmitted to about 1 billion people throughout the world. It will be a major opportunity for international publicity for the United Kingdom and should provide a massive boost to tourism. It is strongly supported by the local authorities concerned.

It is particularly apposite that the tour de France will come to England this year. It will be run within a few weeks of the official opening of the channel tunnel and close to the 50th anniversary of D-day. It will go through many of the areas where the troops who took part in that assault were encamped in the run-up to the landings. The participants will come through the tunnel, by train of course, to start the event below Dover castle. I am sure that we shall all be grateful to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who, as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, is also governor of Dover castle. I think that Her Majesty will find the event not only great fun but highly symbolic. Frenchmen are always finding new ways of exploring Britain and this peaceful invasion is in stark contrast to previous attempts by certain others in the second world war.

The cavalcade will ride through Kent, Sussex and Hampshire on 6 and 7 July 1994 to end on the seafront at Portsmouth, having passed Nelson's flagship HMS Victory en route. On the first day, the tour will cover 128 miles from Dover, through Folkestone to Canterbury and thence to Ashford. From there, it will cross the Weald of Kent to Tunbridge Wells and through East Sussex to Brighton. For that day's race it will be necessary for the A20 trunk road in Folkestone to be closed temporarily. Under the Bill, that will be possible with the consent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is the highway authority for trunk roads.

The participants will travel from Brighton to Portsmouth overnight for the start of day 2. The race will go from the seafront at Southsea, to Winchester, Andover and Basingstoke before returning to the finish at Portsmouth via Petersfield. That day, the race will cover 113 miles.

The tour is a unique international sporting event with 200 competitors, an entourage of 3,500 people and 1,500 vehicles. A huge advertising cavalcade precedes the race by an hour or so. Indeed, we are looking into the possibility of taking the opportunity to promote safer cycling. This will be only the second visit of the tour to Britain. As several hon. Members pointed out, there was a short visit by the tour in 1974 to celebrate the opening of the new ferry route between Plymouth and Brittany, but it was on nothing like the scale of this year's visit.

Some of the main benefits of allowing events such as the tour will be for tourism. Tourism already contributes a great deal to our national prosperity and employs 1.5 million people. "Le Tour" will make a considerable contribution to our tourism revenue. I know that many people are working hard to encourage our European neighbours to visit Britain for the race. For example, half a million leaflets called "Channel 94" are being issued abroad giving details of the route.

Ms Walley

The Minister seems more sure of the route for the tour de France than the Secretary of State is of the route from the channel tunnel to London.

Mr. Key

Very droll, I am sure.

The English tourist board has contributed £100,000 to the east Kent tourism development action plan, which focuses on sport, including the tour de France. The rewards could be high. It is estimated that there could be up to a 10 per cent. increase in short breaks alone. That means a great deal to me as a former Minister with responsibility for tourism, but for those who do not know what the phrase means, short breaks are weekends or a few days, as opposed to a long holiday.

Many British sports fans will also make a significant contribution to tourist revenues. If the organisers are correct in their estimate that up to 1 million people will watch the race over the two days, the tourism industry in the affected counties will receive a considerable boost.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire referred to local radio and restricted service radio and pointed out that 241 such licences were issued in 1992. As a former Minister in the Department for National Heritage with responsibility for broadcasting I, too, am enthusiastic about this and, as digital broadcasting becomes a reality in future years, I am sure that the service that he is requesting will expand dramatically, as will my Department's provisions for local radio information for drivers. It is already quite a sophisticated service provided at specific and local events, but no doubt it will grow. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will ensure that local radio and restricted service radio plays its full part in the tour de France.

I am also interested in the future of sport in this country. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds who pointed out that we had not done too well in some sporting events, but lately we have done brilliantly in many others, and cycling is one. In 1992, I had the honour to be Minister with responsibility for tourism, the year of the Olympics in Barcelona. The excitement when Chris Boardman won gold for Britain was tremendous. It did an enormous amount to boost the popularity of cycling in this country. In the Manchester 2000 Olympic bid, it played a central part. That is why the Government have provided the money for the velodrome, which is now—as I know from a visit only this week—taking shape in Manchester. It will become the national cycling centre. Cycling is the fastest growing sport in this country. Not only are sales of bicycles made in this country going up, but exports of bicycles are going up fast, and more and more people are taking to their cycles. One has only to look at one's own constituency —I am sure that we can all give glowing accounts of what our constituencies are up to, and my constituency of Salisbury is no exception—with racing events, leisurely holidays, cycle routes and so on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport reminded me that we should think of events outside the south-east. Manchester will be hosting the world cycle championship later this year. Each of the host towns that the tour passes through will have an opportunity to promote cycling, both as a participatory and a spectator event. To help them in that, the British Cycling Federation is arranging "come and try" sessions in conjunction with towns on the route. I hope that that will encourage people to take up cycling so that we return to the health of the nation and the importance of cycling in that.

Cycling is a sport for all ages. It is also a sport which can be properly described as an amateur as well as a professional sport. That is important, too. I know from the 16 years that I spent as a teacher—umpiring, refereeing and coaching—that sport is of crucial importance to the development of the balanced individual in our community: mens sana in corpore sano, even if it grows a little in girth with middle age.

The event will act as a tremendous catalyst for further development of the sport, involving the full range of cycling organisations and individuals. I hope that the growth of top-quality cycling events will cultivate greater awareness of cycling and cyclists. Cycling is also—this is music to the ears of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North—a useful means of public transport. I am committed to improving the safety and convenience of cycling, to create confidence in that mode of transport. It is a versatile activity, providing gentle relaxing recreation for some; for others, it is a way of keeping fit. It is a clean, quiet and inexpensive means of travel, or a vigorous competitive sport. There is huge scope therefore for increasing cycling in this country. If people rode bikes on short journeys instead of driving their cars, it would help to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

A quiet revolution has been going on. People have been rediscovering the bike. In York, as I saw for myself last year, up to 30 per cent. daily of people going to work do so on a bicycle. Substantial amounts of taxpayers' money are involved in York—some £400,000—in making that possible, because the Government believe in cycling. We believe that it is a basic and legitimate form of transport which cannot be ignored, and should he encouraged. I said that at the Velo City conference in Nottingham last autumn. I hope shortly to be able to announce that the Government have a new, if modest, cycling policy. The response of the Government and local authorities to a real demand from the electors is represented by this sea change in our attitude. We are also convinced by our constituents.

Ninety-six per cent. of cycling takes place on local roads. The provision of special facilities is the responsibility of the relevant local highway authority. My Department provides authorities with advice on the design and construction of cycle lanes on highway and cycle tracks, and altering junctions to enhance cycle safety. Employers also have a responsibility to provide proper changing facilities and safe and secure places to park bikes.

One of the reasons why people do not take up cycling is that they are concerned about their safety. I am committed to publicity campaigns that will help to make cycling safer. Over recent years, they have been run on such themes as "think bike", wear a helmet, use lights and "be seen, be safe". If cycling is widely seen to be a safe, reliable, healthy and inexpensive means of transport, I am sure that many people will take it up.

I turn now to the details of the Bill. The main purpose is to confer new powers on traffic authorities to make orders imposing temporary restrictions on traffic to allow the holding of sporting and social events and entertainments on a road. The powers are intended to deal with major events which will inevitably cause substantial disruption to traffic and, therefore, specific provision is made to limit the duration and frequency of orders made under the new powers. It follows that existing powers will continue to be used for smaller events that are unlikely to cause large traffic control problems. Therefore, the Bill will not repeal any existing provisions.

The Bill consists of three clauses and a schedule. Clause 1 inserts three new sections into the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984—sections 16A, 16B and 16C.

Section 16A(1) defines the expression "relevant event" as any sporting event, social event or entertainment which is held on a road. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East was concerned about what is meant by a road. The word "road" is defined in the 1984 Act as any length of highway or of any other road to which the public has access, and includes bridges over which a road passes". Section 16A(2) enables a traffic authority to make orders restricting or prohibiting the use of a road or any part of it by vehicles of any class or pedestrians to the extent that they consider necessary or expedient. The power to make orders arises only when authorities are satisfied that traffic should be restricted or prohibited for three specific purposes—facilitating the holding of a relevant event, enabling the public to watch a relevant event or reducing the disruption to traffic that is likely to be caused by a relevant event.

Section 16A(3) prevents the making of orders to allow motor races on the highway, which are illegal under section 12 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It also requires that other motoring events and cycle races are authorised in accordance with the 1988 Act. If they are not authorised, they are also illegal.

Section 16A(4) allows orders to be made both for the road on which the event is to take place and for any other road. This is the problem of associated traffic management.

Sections 16A(5) and (6) are designed to simplify the making of orders that affect two or more traffic authorities, for example, where an event crosses a county boundary. In such cases, one authority may make all the orders for an event with the consent of the other affected authorities. These provisions mean that a local authority can also make an order affecting a trunk road if the Secretary of State consents.

Section 16A(7) requires authorities to have regard to whether there are suitable alternative routes for traffic that is affected by such orders. Clearly, it is desirable that disruption to traffic be kept to a minimum while these events are taking place. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire.

Section 16A(8) lists the type of restrictions that can be imposed, which are essentially the same as in other parts of the Act—for example, the power to close roads, make streets one way, ban parking and impose speed limits. In addition, it adds powers to restrict the riding of horses and the leading or driving of animals on roads. That is particularly important for an event such as a cycle race on rural roads where one does not want the competitors to come face to face with a herd of cows or, indeed, a flock of sheep. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester drew my attention to the importance that his shopkeepers attach to this measure. The subsection also prohibits the making of any order preventing pedestrian access at any time to premises situated on or adjacent to a road affected by an order or to premises which are accessible only to pedestrians from an affected road.

Sections 16A(9) and (10) enable orders to suspend existing orders so, for example, it will be possible to allow an event go the wrong way down a one-way street or to go through a pedestrianised area.

New section 16B limits the frequency with which traffic regulation orders can be made and the length of time that they may be in effect. They may not last more than three days, and they can affect a stretch of road only once in any calendar year, thus striving to reach the balance that my hon. Friend the Mid-Staffordshire sought. There are provisions allowing these restrictions to be overridden with the consent of the Secretary of State. For example, the Secretary of State can extend an order for more than three days, but only at the request of the local authority. That might be necessary if, owing to an unexpected event such as freak weather conditions, an event does not finish when originally planned.

New section 16C contains supplementary provisions dealing with contraventions of orders made under section 16A and the making of regulations. Subsection (1) makes it an offence to contravene an order, with a maximum penalty set at level 3 on the standard scale—currently £1,000. Subsection (2) empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations covering the procedures for making orders. I shall deal with matters to be considered under regulations shortly.

Clause 2 is the standard financial clause which is present in this case for largely technical reasons. Although the Bill is unlikely to result in any overall increase in public expenditure, it will result in local authorities incurring charges that were in the past incurred by the police. Clause 3 covers the consequential amendments arising from the Bill in a schedule, the short title, and the extent of the Bill, which will apply to England, Wales and Scotland. As there is no provision to the contrary, the Act will come into force immediately on the Royal Assent being given, so that the provisions may be available for the tour de France in July.

The schedule makes several consequential changes to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Paragraph 1 empowers local authorities to set up traffic signs in connection with orders made under section 16A. Paragraph 2 provides that orders made by the Secretary of State must be made by statutory instrument. Paragraph 3 applies the provisions in sections 16A to 16C to vehicles and persons in the public service of the Crown as they apply to anyone else. Paragraph 4 allows the Secretary of State to amend, by regulation, the provisions of the Act as they apply to tramcars or trolley vehicles. Paragraph 5 applies other provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act to these orders. They relate to the variation and modification of orders and the right of challenge to the High Court. Paragraph 6 amends the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.

As I said, the Bill includes a provision that gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations on the procedure to be followed in making orders. The requirements for notification and consultation must be looked at carefully. A number of my hon. Friends said that it was extremely important that we get the consultation right. All the events that have been described today may be desirable, but they are discretionary. We must allow proper representation by those who may be adversely affected by an event. We shall, of course, consult widely on the contents of the regulations, but, as they will be of considerable importance in controlling the way that local authorities exercise the powers, I have already considered some of the possibilities.

The main aspect to be covered in the regulations will be indeed be consultation, which will be fairly lengthy. As we are concerned with large-scale events, which will be planned well in advance, early consultation seems appropriate.

There are a number of ways in which traffic authorities may be required to give notice of events including publication in the London Gazette; publication in local papers; the posting of notices, and, possibly, individual notices to affected properties. There may, however, be legal difficulties in proving that notification had been properly made if an aggrieved resident claimed not to have received a notice. I therefore need to take local authorities' views on the practicalities of the suggestion. Traffic authorities will have to consider representations and they may then wish to amend the orders or not allow the event to go ahead.

It is possible that the traffic authority will be required to select an alternative route that has been suggested in representations. However, there may be good reasons for maintaining the original choice.

The general public must be notified. Where roads are to be closed and parking suspended, notices will have to be displayed along the affected road not less than 14 days before the order comes into effect. Where vehicular access to properties will be limited, there may be a requirement to deliver notices to all such properties. As I said before, the Bill will not permit orders preventing pedestrian access to properties. In addition to warning the public that parking is to be suspended, it is important that they know that if they disobey the order, vehicles will be removed. Advance notices will be required to give clear warning of the intention to remove parked vehicles and other obstructions while events are in force, and to state where the vehicles will be removed to.

As the tour de France is due to take place this July, it is unlikely that there will be sufficient time for the local authorities to take all the formal steps that might be required in regulations. However, I assure the House that the authorities concerned are already taking measures to inform the public what will happen. Their programme of consultation and dissemination of information is well in excess of anything that might be required in regulations. In Hampshire, for example, several districts have already published leaflets that are to be delivered to all affected residents and a series of meetings have been held with the emergency services and hospital managers. All schools have been told about the event. In Portsmouth, businesses have been told about the event through the chamber of commerce seminars and through meetings with traders' associations.

It is most important that no authority will be able to make any order that stops the emergency services or statutory undertakers using any road in the event of an emergency. There are powers for the removal of vehicles and for charging for making the orders. The police, in carrying out their duties on the highway, do not charge. That is different from any action that they may take on private land.

In conclusion, we are proposing to grant local authorities the powers to take such measures as may be necessary to ensure safety and to minimise inconvenience when large events take place on the highway. The Bill does not permit events to take place; it provides the traffic authority with the proper powers, after due consultation, to take the steps necessary to regulate traffic so as to minimise danger and inconvenience.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has done the nation a service. Any hon. Member who has the good fortune to draw a high position in the ballot for private Members' Bills is inundated with good causes seeking special legislation. Cyclists everywhere, and for a very long time to come, will have good cause to be thankful for what I hope will soon become the Atkinson Act. My hon. Friend's constituents will benefit because they will be able to see live coverage on television of the tour de France this summer. I hope that we may see a tour de Tyne Valley or a Hadrian's wall challenge as a result of the boost to cycling given by this popular Bill. I thank my hon. Friend and I commend his Bill to the House.

1.37 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. Despite its modest-sounding title, this is a welcome and extremely important Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson). I add my congratulations to those that have already been given to him. My hon. Friend is now back in his seat, but he may not be aware that he was congratulated fulsomely by our hon. Friend the Minister, who has been in the Chamber for most of the debate. I add my congratulations to his.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham deserves congratulations on three grounds. First, he has introduced a Bill which has many worthy objectives; we have touched on many of those this morning. Secondly, he has introduced a Bill which is enabling rather than regulatory. I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members do not go a little too far in introducing legislation that reflects their personal views, beliefs or even prejudices and does not sufficiently permit our fellow citizens to do what they want to do. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has introduced a Bill which is in the spirit of enabling legislation. Thirdly, I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill so cogently and comprehensively.

We have had a debate which has gone down a number of roads. I should like to take the House briefly down a few more that are of particular interest to my constituents. I have many constituents who are interested in cycling. The debate went down one or two roads that I did not entirely foresee when it began which are of great interest to my constituents. One of those was the complaint about the lack of an integrated transport policy made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley). That would come as a great surprise to many of my constituents who have seen a considerable improvement in the integrated transport system over the past 15 years. That includes improvements to the Thameslink line, the major line running through my constituency which has replaced the notorious bedpan line and has improved commuting into London. The great northern line and three motorway routes run through my constituency: the A 1M, the M25 and the M1.

I did not expect the debate to address the film industry. That subject is of particular interest to my constituents in Elstree and Borehamwood, who are concerned about the future of the famous Elstree studios. The present owners say that the studios do not have a viable future in British film making. One of them said that Elstree suffers from the lack of an integrated transport policy. That is palpable nonsense in view of the many great advantages that the transport structure which I have described offers Elstree.

I join hon. Members in unreservedly welcoming the objectives of the Bill. Those objectives are more wide ranging than one would have thought from listening to the debate, much of which has dealt with cycling. As my hon. Friend the Minister rightly said, the Bill deals not only with cycling; it covers a wide range of relevant social, entertainment and sporting events.

Cycling, however, has taken centre stage in the debate. I join other hon. Members in welcoming the admission of the tour de France to this country and the fact that the Bill will play a major part in facilitating that event.

The Bill is necessary because it improves current legislation. I do not want to repeat the cogent analysis of the Minister, but it is doubtful whether the existing regulatory framework would cover an event on the scale and of the nature of the tour de France. That is another reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham should be congratulated on introducing the Bill. Hon. Members' comments about the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 were correct. That legislation is too old. It has played an important role in, and has had many desirable consequences for, transport, not least in its regulation of taxis. Section 21 of the Act, which is based on the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, is out of date, as is the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The Bill is necessary. I welcome it, as do many of my constituents who are interested in cycling and the promotion of tourism, sport, good health and other worthy objectives.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Peter Atkinson.]

Committee on Friday 11 March.