HC Deb 10 March 1994 vol 239 cc507-12

Queen's recommendation having been signified

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Road Traffic Regulation (Special Events) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of such money under any other Act.—[Mr. Arbuthnot.]

10.25 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I do not wish to detain the House for long. I apologise for not being present for Friday's debate; I had to attend a public inquiry in my constituency.

It is clear that the Government did not consult adequately before encouraging the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) to present his Bill. The Rights Of Way Review Committee has been established for a long time—chaired originally by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr Spicer), more recently by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and now by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning).

I am sure that, if the Department of Transport had consulted that committee, the problems that have now cropped up could have been avoided; I am delighted, however, that a fairly hasty consultation has taken place today. I hope that the Minister will confirm that tomorrow he will formally accept two amendments that will be proposed, and that, when he draws up the regulations, he will meet the requirements of ramblers and others who use footpaths.

If we vote this motion down, the Government will have a fairly red face, but the taxpayer will save a small amount; however, the tour de France—which is coming to Britain in the summer—will be considerably embarrassed. The Government are trying to rush the measure through to make it possible to close the highway, enabling the event to take place.

That strikes me as admirable; the worry is that the definition of a highway covers not only tarmacked roads but footpaths. Ramblers fear that it may be used to close footpaths for up to three days, causing them considerable inconvenience. I hope that the amendments will be carried tomorrow, and that that fear will be alleviated as a result.

One or two cynics believe that the measure is much more expensive for the Government than it might have been, because the hon. Member for Hexham was persuaded to take the Bill on board in return for the provision of a bypass. No doubt the Minister will deny that. I will not say that I want a motorway in my constituency in return for my co-operation—although I would be quite pleased if the Government could speed up the Denton-Middleton part of the M66.

I would settle for something much more modest from the Minister. I think that, when the first order is declared to close a road, he should simply ride a bicycle along the road at some speed, proclaiming that the order is in place.

Seriously, I hope that the Minister will confirm that he will ensure that the amendments go through tomorrow, or, failing that, that they will be tabled in the Lords; and that the regulations will allay the fears of the ramblers and other groups.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Bill was passed on Friday, and the money is obviously needed. Let me suggest a way of dealing with the matter quite easily.

There are tentative proposals to widen the M I to God knows how many lanes between junctions 28 and 32. In Derbyshire and South Yorkshire people do not want that motorway to be widened, so I suggest that the Government could use the £200 million they would have had to spend on it to pay for the Bill, which will enable the tour de France to take place in parts of southern Britain.

Mr. Bennett

I shall leave the Minister to respond to my hon. Friend's intervention.

I want assurances from the Minister that the amendments will be made to the Bill, and I want assurances about the regulations. What is even more important from the ramblers' point of view, we need assurances that his Department will consult the Rights of Way Review Committee before it introduces highway legislation that affects footpaths. That committee has done an extremely useful job during the 10 or 12 years of its existence,

10.30 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The Bill, under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill", states: the Bill is not expected to result in any significant increase in public expenditure. However, by passing the money resolution, we shall clearly authorise and give powers to a Minister to spend public money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned the tour de France, which is just one major event. Significant costs could arise from the tour, because roads will have to be closed throughout much of our highway network. The legislation does not merely authorise that expenditure, however, as it provides for continuing powers for the Minister, and therefore potentially authorises continuing expenditure.

When Bills are introduced, it is usual for the Government to give some sign of the likely annual expenditure that will result. Will the Minister give the House that calculation? I realise that the amount might be subject to some variation, but surely his Department has made some assessment of the costs involved; otherwise, it would not need this money resolution. I hope that he will tell us what expenditure of taxpayers' money will be involved.

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

I endorse what my hon. Friends have said—especially the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). There was a fairly extensive debate on the Bill on Friday, with much filibustering aimed at preventing the debate on women that was to take place later.

During the debate on Friday, it was said that the Ramblers Association had made some out-of-place comments on the Bill. Reading Hansard will clearly show that I asked the Minister whether he would fully consider all the matters that that association brought to his attention.

The money resolution allows us the opportunity to press the Minister for a firm undertaking that the amendments tabled in our names, which will be discussed tomorrow—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. The hon. Lady must understand that we are discussing the money resolution, not other matters.

Ms Walley

You are right to draw my attention to that fact, Madam Deputy Speaker. Because of the amount of money involved, proper consultation with the local authorities and with the Ramblers Association is crucial to ensure that the provisions that result from the Bill accord with what was genuinely intended by its introduction.

No one wants to stop the tour de France passing through local authority areas in the south of England. However, we must make it clear that we should not use a private Member's Bill to introduce legislation that should properly be introduced by the Government.

I am asking for proper consultation with the Ramblers Association. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish mentioned, there is a Rights of Way Review Committee—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady is straying too far.

Ms Walley

I think that I have made my point, and I look forward to the Minister's comments, because I know that he wants the Bill to reach the statute book.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It would not be a bad idea if, at this juncture, we considered the possibility of a new Standing Order to the effect that, before a Minister rises to speak, he must utter the words, "I speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter on which I can rule tonight.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who is promoting the Bill. I shall explain why a money resolution is necessary. It might be useful to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) if I begin by setting out what the money resolution is all about.

It is a technical resolution, because the Bill is unlikely to result in any overall increase in expenditure out of votes. It is therefore not possible to guess how much money might be involved, and I shall explain why. A money resolution is required because the Bill will in some cases allow traffic authorities to exercise order-making functions, instead of the police in London or district councils in the shires. The resolution is necessary for the potential transfer of costs rather than any net increase.

It is worth noting that we are considering whether to give traffic authorities discretion to charge commercial organisations for making orders under section 150 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, which is not possible at the moment. With the exception of the tour de France, most events covered by the Bill have been taking place for many years. I am thinking specifically of the London marathon, a number of carnivals such as that in Notting Hill, the Lewes bonfire party and other bonfire events in southern England. We are discussing transfers, not additional expenditure.

I deal now with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) did not find it necessary to make representations to us about the Bill, although we should of course have listened carefully had she done so. I understood that ramblers were consulted about the road safety aspects of the tour de France, and it was not through lack of courtesy on our part that they did not make representations earlier than they did.

However, as the hon. Gentleman said, we have indeed had constructive discussions today. It is my understanding that we are all of one mind, in the House and beyond, which is good news. I confirm that I accept the two amendments that we have discussed. I have no difficulty with that.

The regulations are a particularly important aspect of the Bill. Of course, the Bill as drafted ensures that traffic regulation for large events such as the tour de France can take place without fear of challenge. It does not seek to amend the position of smaller events, which are dealt with under other powers. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish knows, new clause 16B limits the effect of the orders to three days, and states that they cannot be used more than once in any calendar year. I hope that he is reassured.

Consultation is absolutely central to this method of legislating, not only for the tour de France but for other events. The fact that we were delighted to accept the offer of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham to promote the Bill does not mean that we are sidestepping our responsibilities. It was the quickest and surest way of getting a narrow aspect of legislation on to the statute book. I understand what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) said, but the most important issue to be covered by the Bill is consultation. As I said on Second Reading, I am minded to require a fairly lengthy period of consultation.

The Bill covers large-scale events, which will be planned well in advance, and early consultation is essential. There are a number of ways in which traffic authorities may be required to give notice of events. We should bear it in mind that it is not the traffic authorities—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but he too is going too wide of the money order.

Mr. Key

Let me accept your wise guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall simply say that of course I take the point about the importance of notification of consultation.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has kindly offered the transport supplementary grant for the county of Derbyshire, as well as the motorway widening money and the other trunk road money from his constituency and county. I shall seriously consider the offer. It would be of enormous benefit, and I am grateful to him for his offer.

Ms Walley


Mr. Key

I gladly give way.

Ms Walley

In relation to the money resolution, is the Minister not aware, as we are, from having read the annual report of the Department of Transport which has just been published, that the amount of money from central Government which is granted to local authorities such as Derbyshire will be cut substantially in future years?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind hon. Members on both Front Benches that that is beyond the scope of the money resolution?

Mr. Key

I am ever grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, it means that I am deprived of the opportunity to say how much more money I look forward to saving in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bolsover, but I shall not go into that now.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Key

I am delighted to give way.

Mr. Skinner

Just to ensure that it is correct, I am talking about money for widening the M1 between junctions 28 and 32. It has nothing to do with other moneys for trunk roads. Get it correct: Ministers should speak the truth.

Mr. Key

It is a question of clarification—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Ministers must also be relevant.

Mr. Key

I always try to be relevant, and I shall seek to reply to the hon. Gentleman in a relevant way by saying that I note his kind and generous offer of giving up motorway widening schemes in his constituency. I am sure that his constituents will be grateful to him for the effect that that will have on his local economy.

Mr. Bennett

I appreciate the Minister's assurances, but may I take him back to the issue of the Rights of Way Review Committee?

If the Department of the Environment has any proposals which deal with footpaths, it refers them to that committee at the beginning of consultation. The Department of Transport does not seem to realise that highway matters also cover footpaths.

It would be simple to stress to the officials in the Department that they will refer those matters to the Rights of Way Review Committee at the beginning, rather than when they find out that some mischief is afoot. That would save the Government considerable expenditure and time in chasing around trying to get it right at this late stage.

Mr. Key

There is absolutely no confusion. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a division of responsibility on rights of way as access to the countryside between the Departments of the Environment and of Transport. The definition of a road and of a highway, with which we are concerned, is one thing, but a byway open to all traffic or a bridleway is a different issue. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I was going to go down the path of consultation, but I was reprimanded from the Chair, so perhaps we can discuss it at another time.

I am grateful to the House for listening so carefully to the importance of the money resolution. It is a modest measure, which, as I said, is about transferring funds which may be necessary as different authorities are asked to manage traffic for events which are not sponsored by those traffic authorities but for which they nevertheless have a responsibility for the management of traffic. That is about the sum of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham did a grand job of lobbying on behalf of his constituents for the Haltwhistle bypass. However, that had nothing to do with the issue before us. That bypass was in the roads programme some 20 years ago, long before he was the Member for Hexham. I hope that, in 20 years' time, my hon. Friend will be remembered not only as the Member for the Haltwhistle bypass, but as the Member for the tour de France as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Road Traftic Regulation (Special Events) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable Out of such money under any other Act.