HC Deb 08 July 2003 vol 408 cc1103-15

Lords amendment: No. 1, to insert a new clause— Exercise of powers by civilians.

9.18 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 and 10, and the Government motion to disagree thereto, and Government amendment (a) in lieu thereof, and Lords amendments Nos. 11 and 12.

Mr. McNulty

The amendments are the result of productive and substantive debate in the other place—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I ask hon. Members who are not staying in the Chamber for the debate to leave quickly and quietly?

Mr. McNulty

It might be useful if I go through the amendments in some detail, although not necessarily at length.

Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 3 will essentially give the British Transport police the powers to deploy community support officers and investigation, detention and escort officers. The provisions will bring the British Transport police fully in line with Home Office police regarding such civilian officers.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 8 were tabled in response to recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in another place. They will provide that any changes to the upper and lower limits on the number of people on the British Transport Police authority would be subject to the negative procedure, and that the affirmative procedure would be used the first time that the Health and Safety Executive rail levy was introduced.

Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 12 add to existing police powers to test for alcohol use on the roads by allowing them to administer a test for impairment and for the presence of drugs by means of a sample of saliva or sweat. Amendments Nos. 4 to 7 introduce equivalent police powers for the aviation and maritime sector. That is all that the amendments do, and I commend them to the House. They were discussed, to varying degrees, in the other place, and the Government made the commitment to table amendments in lieu of those suggested by the Lords if necessary.

The only difficulty we have is with Lords amendment No. 10 and the Government offer a replacement in lieu. When the issue was discussed in another place, we made it clear that we could not accept Lords amendment No. 10, for a variety of reasons. In essence, it deals with the regulation of motor vehicles on the Ridgeway. Many local Members and some local authorities have tried to get some order in the use of motor vehicles on the Ridgeway. I want to say, apropos of nothing at all, that I had great fun when I was about 16, spending a week walking from one end of the Ridgeway to the other, eating horrible powdered meals in the evening—I was too young for the pub—and putting up tents.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I am sure that entire House is delighted to know that the Minister experienced the great delights of the nearly 1,000-year-old Ridgeway. One hopes he is about to say that he, too, is disturbed by the large number of motorised vehicles that now use it. However, will he acknowledge that Government amendment (a) uses the word "may" instead of "shall"? The House will worry whether the Government have a clear intention to act on the problem, or whether their amendment is merely a sop to another place. Will the Minister assure us that they intend to take action?

Mr. McNulty

I would never appear at the Dispatch Box and offer sops to anyone—the official Opposition, the minor Opposition or Members of the other place. We intend to take action, save for two features. We want to discover whether the Countryside Agency's management plan produces results within the next 12 months. Over that time, we want to work far more closely with local authorities, which are at various stages of their management schemes, while working with the Countryside Agency. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if the Countryside Agency's management plan and the work of local authorities do not produce results within 12 months, the Government are committed to consider promoting such a ban along the length of the Ridgeway.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will my hon. Friend remind the House how long the Countryside Agency has been dealing with the problem? It has been pretty pathetic.

Mr. McNulty

It is not for me to comment on the efficacy or otherwise of particular agencies. The Department for Transport is working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will say as starkly as I can that the Countryside Agency is on notice for 12 months. The matter is of serious concern to many local authorities up and down the Ridgeway and to many hon. Members who represent parts of the Ridgeway or who believe it to be a splendid element of our heritage. If the agency does not deliver, the Government are committed to consider promoting a ban along the length of the Ridgeway rather than relying on the partial local traffic regulation orders.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Let me first offer the Minister my congratulations on his recent promotion.

On the difference between Lords amendment No. 10 and the alternative that the Minister proposes, in addition to the significant alteration mentioned by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the wording has also been changed. Rather than specifying national trails, the amendment in lieu specifies long distance routes. The Minister has related his remarks to the Ridgeway, which is at the heart of the matter, but it is not the only area affected by either of those amendments. Will he clarify the difference between national trails and long distance routes?

Mr. McNulty

As I understand it—and if the position is other than this, I will get back to the hon. Gentleman—long distance means national trails of significant length, such as the Ridgeway. Unless I am mistaken, I do not think that there is much else in the country that would be captured by that definition, but I will check that.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)

Can the Minister say whether the measure, which seems sensible, is compatible with the general drift of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, in particular the creation of "byways open to all traffic"? It seems that the general thrust of the Bill is rather different from that of the Act.

Mr. McNulty

That is the sort of issue that we want to explore further with the Countryside Agency in the context of its management plan, rather than going from the present position, which everyone accepts is less than satisfactory, to a position where all sorts of legalistic difficulties arise, not least for the reason suggested by the hon. Gentleman. We believe it is worth taking some time to see whether the Countryside Agency plan beds in, but hon. Members should be assured that if it does not, we will address the matter.

Mr. Don Foster

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. It may save debate later. I, for one, am grateful for the assurance that he has given, but may I suggest that he needs to go a little further? He said that if the Countryside Agency did not deliver, the Government would commit to consider a ban. The House would be grateful if the Minister could give a slightly stronger assurance that, provided things do not go wrong, there is a clear commitment to introduce a ban if the Countryside Agency does not get its act together in the 12-month period.

Mr. McNulty

That is what I am doing. I chose my words carefully, in lieu of the hon. Gentleman's proviso about things going wrong. If there is no satisfactory resolution of the matter within 12 months of the Countryside Agency's plan bedding in, and working with local authorities, some of which are far more advanced than others in taking these matters seriously, the Government will consider acting in the way that I suggested. Of course that is conditional. I have learned in this trade, for want of a better phrase, as from others, that I am not a mind-reader or a futurologist, and we need to attach some conditions.

I take seriously the concerns suggested by the movers in the other place and have taken to heart much of what they said. If the agency and local authorities can deal with the matter, it is right and proper that they should do so, but the Government will take a strong interest in their ability and their actions, and will act in the fullness of time, if necessary. In that context, rather than accept Lords amendment No. 10, we offer the Government amendment in lieu. In the spirit of good will and consensus—

Mr. Collins

I sensed that the Minister was bringing his remarks to a conclusion. I hope he will forgive me if I take him back briefly to the group of amendments that he touched on earlier, relating to the new provisions enabling the police to try to assess whether drivers and others are impaired by the use of drugs. He will know that one of the keys to that is the extent to which police officers are trained in sufficient numbers to conduct the high quality impairment tests that have been learned by a number of police officers from overseas experience.

Can the hon. Gentleman say a word or two about the extent to which the Government are committed to expanding the pool of police officers who have that training, and whether the Government may consider introducing targets for chief constables to increase the number of their officers who have passed those tests?

Mr. McNulty

With the smooth passage of the Bill, as we hope it will be, it follows that the amendments to which the hon. Gentleman refers—Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 12 in part or in whole—require greater training and a widening of the pool of officers, otherwise those powers are not helpful. Whether targets are associated with them, with or without the endorsement of the chief constable, is a matter for others far better placed to deal with that than I. On the resource and training issue, those matters should follow. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point.

I commend the new clause that we propose in lieu of Lords amendment No. 10, which is the only minor matter on which we disagree. I have given the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) the assurances that he sought. I also commend to the House amendments Nos. 1 through 9, to use a crude Americanism, and amendments Nos. 11 and 12.

9.30 pm

Mr. Collins

I should like to begin by congratulating the Minister once again on his recent promotion.

I reiterate that the Bill remains largely uncontroversial. It left this House as a very good Bill and it is coming back from the other place as an even better one. As the Minister perfectly reasonably pointed out, the vast majority of the amendments that we are considering have been tabled by the Government in response to representations made in the other place by members of other parties. In particular, I hope that he will join me in paying tribute to Lord Dixon-Smith, whose wish to improve the law in relation to drug-impaired people in charge of vehicles took shape in a private Member's Bill and then in amendments to this Bill. I am glad to say that the Government took away those amendments, improved them and made them technically feasible, and have now tabled them in a form that I suspect will command the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House.

The Minister was good enough to tell me in response to an intervention that the Government recognise the need to step up the training of police officers who will be expected to implement the new provisions inserted into the Road Traffic Act 1988. As he will know, if the amendments are agreed to, they will affect the entirety of that Act, so it will be necessary for the police to undertake a considerable amount of training. He may be amused to know that, following my recent visit to Kendall police station in my constituency, there is in the archives of the esteemed journal, the Westmorland Gazette, a photograph of yours truly performing some of the impairment tests. I was able to demonstrate to the satisfaction at least of myself, the photographer and the police officer who were present that I was able to place my finger on my nose while standing on one foot without toppling over. That seemed to reassure at least some of those present that I was not, at least at that moment, impaired by the use of drugs, illegal or otherwise.

I hope that the Minister will take away from our proceedings a strong indication that, as in the other place, there is a clear understanding in this House of the fact that drug-driving is as dangerous as drink-driving. Regrettably, it is a rapidly growing phenomenon in our society. Just as it is welcome that the incidence of drink-driving is falling, it is deeply worry that drug-driving is increasing.

In addition to ensuring that the police are adequately trained in respect of the high-quality impairment tests that I believe have been pioneered in the United States, which no doubt could be improved in this country, I hope that the Minister will also take away from this debate the very strong wish—this is certainly the feeling on the Opposition Benches, but I am sure that it is shared much more widely—that the Government should, as a matter of priority, continue to press ahead with research to see whether it is possible to produce a machine that can provide as quick and clear an indication of whether someone is under the influence of drugs as the breathalyser does in respect of alcohol. For some time, that idea has been something of a holy grail for law enforcement agencies around the world. It is extremely difficult to produce technology that can provide an absolutely clear result, even in testing for a single known drug.

The concept of a broad-spectrum machine that can test for a variety of different substances is, for the moment, extremely difficult. Given technological advances, however, its development might not be so difficult for ever. It would be helpful if the Minister could take that message away and say whether the Government are committing research to such issues, perhaps not purely on a national basis, as there may be a case for such work to be done on a European basis or an even wider international one.

We welcome amendment No. 4 and associated amendments. They do not go quite as far as was originally intended in the private Member's Bill introduced by Lord Dixon-Smith, but they go a great deal further than the current law. When we initially discussed the Bill in this House, the common view among all the party spokesmen was that we should not allow the fact that we were taking forward a railway safety Bill to send out a signal that we were anything other than deeply concerned about road safety. In the light of that fact, we should commend the other place and congratulate it on the way in which the Bill has been improved there.

The other place has done its traditional job of seeking to probe the Government's intentions in a number of respects. It also succeeded in clarifying exactly what the Government mean by various provisions. In that context, I very much welcome Lords amendment No. 1, which would extend to the British Transport police the provisions in the Police Reform Act 2002 that enable the recruitment and use of community support officers and investigation, detention and escort officers. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm in writing that the amendment would make the British Transport police indistinguishable, in terms of their powers and functions, from a regular Home Office police force. One of the original purposes of the Bill was to regularise the handling of the British Transport police to ensure that they were equal to Home Office police forces in terms of status, standing, powers and resources. Will the Minister confirm that the amendment would have that effect?

As the Minister said, the only point on which there may be a difference between us—certainly, there is a difference between what the other place has added to the Bill and the alternative wording that he is commending to the Commons—relates to his proposal to replace what could be described as new clause 108, inserted by the other place, with Government amendment (a). The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) rightly pointed out that the most significant change relates to replacing the word "shall" with the word "may". The Minister was able to give us some assurances on that. His comments were extremely welcome and were phrased with his characteristic candour and openness; they were a pleasure to hear.

The Minister talked about the Bill's phraseology in relation to national trails and long-distance routes. I hope that he will forgive me if I press him a little further on that. There is no doubt, as he said, and as became clear in the deliberations in the other place, that the principal concern stems from those who are keen to preserve the Ridgeway, which is a very beautiful and important part of the English countryside. Many hon. Members represent, to a greater or lesser extent, beautiful parts of the English countryside. Some of those areas are already part of the national trails network. The area of the Yorkshire dales that forms part of Cumbria and is in my constituency is due to become part of the national trails network in the next couple of years. So far, that has not been proposed for the Lake District, which is also largely in my constituency.

I hope that the Minister recognises that concern about the use of what the Lords amendment describes as non-essential mechanically propelled vehicles is not confined to those people who enjoy or live near to the Ridgeway, nor is it confined purely to people who use national trails or long-distance routes. I hope that the Minister will take away from our deliberations a clear message that, although the Government have made a welcome concession to those who are worried about the use of inappropriate mechanically propelled vehicles in some contexts, there would be an even wider welcome were they to indicate that that is part of a process of reviewing the entirety of the appropriateness of access of certain vehicles to certain parts of the countryside. In many parts of the countryside, routes that were designed only for pedestrians, or, at most, horses, and often involve ecologically fragile and valuable areas, are regularly churned up, not only by four-wheel-drive vehicles but by motorbikes and other inappropriate vehicles. I hope that the Government's amendment will send a signal not only to those who are worried about the Ridgeway but others that they intend to revert to the issue and perhaps devise a national framework for potential legislation. The matter was considered during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. It was not possible to legislate on it then, but I hope that the Government will examine the matter in detail.

Mr. McNulty

I am told that "long-distance route" is the legal definition of national trails, which clearly include the Ridgeway. As I intended to make clear, the Ridgeway is the only long-distance route with significant rights of way for motorised vehicles. The assurance that I gave earlier would therefore cover specific anxieties about the Ridgeway. However, I believe that the same law would prevail if greater rights of way and greater access by motorised vehicles impinged on any other national trail or long-distance route.

Mr. Collins

That is an exceptionally helpful clarification, which those who study our proceedings will read with interest. However, the Minister will acknowledge that his point simply reinforces mine: national trails are enormously significant routes but they are not the only important routes in the countryside. It would be helpful if the Government undertook to consider, in the context of national parks, whether some of the restrictions that they will examine—the Minister suggested earlier that they would seriously consider restrictions for national trails—should apply elsewhere.

There is another difference between the wording of the Lords amendment and that of the Government amendment in lieu. The original amendment refers to a permanent order, and states: The Secretary of State shall within one year from the coming into force of this enactment make a permanent Traffic Regulation Order". However, Government amendment (a) contains no reference to permanence. It provides for what the Secretary of State might do, but does not refer to permanence. I should be grateful for an explanation of why it is not necessary to retain the word "permanent".

Will the Minister also consider whether it is wholly appropriate for such matters to be left purely to the Secretary of State's discretion? The amendment provides that the new clause will apply when the Secretary of State thinks that members of the public cannot safely and conveniently enjoy the amenities because of use of a long-distance route by vehicular traffic. When the matter was considered in the other place, Lord McIntosh, who spoke on behalf of the Government, suggested that the wording, for which another place subsequently voted and which has effectively become new clause 108, was defective. He believed that it might fall foul of the provisions of the European convention on human rights, because the wording made no provision for a right of appeal.

That is an interesting and possibly valid point. However, if it is valid, its logic should apply to amendment (a). If the Bill needs to refer to appeal rights to ensure that it is covered by the constraints of the European convention on human rights, it would be helpful if the Minister could seek some guidance and offer an explanation. Clearly, we want to ensure that the final form of the Bill fully complies with our international obligations and that parts of it will not become subject to court action.

It was curious that a Minister in another place believed it necessary to include a specific right of appeal in the Bill, given that the principle was not applied throughout the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Perhaps the Government have revised their view, but clarification would be helpful.

9.45 pm

Andrew Bennett

It seems that this can be enforced by a traffic order. Is it not possible to appeal against a traffic order?

Mr. Collins

The hon. Gentleman is right, but, as he will know, the original wording of the amendment—which was then new clause 108—also referred to a traffic regulation order, as defined in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. My point is this: if a Minister in another place said that that was defective because it did not refer specifically to a right of appeal, how can the present wording be more satisfactory, given that it does not do so either?

The new schedule consequent on the Government amendments includes an interesting reference, which has been mentioned to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). Incidentally, my hon. Friend apologises for not leading for the Opposition tonight, as she did with admirable aplomb in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading. That is because she was attending the Yorkshire Show, which for a Member representing a rural seat in the fine county of Yorkshire was a huge priority today. She did, however, do me a great service today by pointing out that there was considerable debate in Committee about the wording imported into the Government's new schedule. New section 6 (7) says: A constable may administer a preliminary test"— that is, a preliminary test relating to drink and drugs— only if he is in uniform. I can see that the Minister is thinking back to happy times in Committee.

Mr. Don Foster

The hon. Gentleman certainly missed out on the delights of the Committee's deliberations on this matter. As he was not present then, perhaps he will tell us now whether he thinks a policeman in uniform would be required to wear a helmet. I assure him that that was the subject of much debate in Committee.

Mr. Collins

I am advised by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York, who had the enormous pleasure of attending every Committee sitting and hearing every speech made by the hon. Gentleman, that he was responsible for considerable debate about the presence or otherwise of a helmet. I am also advised by her not to allow myself to be—in her immortal words—"sucked into" that particular issue. I gather that it was a subject of some interest in Committee, and I look forward to rereading those sections of the debate.

The issue in regard to the new schedule is whether the words A constable may administer a preliminary test by virtue of any of subsections (2) to (4) only if he is in uniform continue to make sense. We all understand that it is desirable for a police officer performing a test of this nature to be in uniform; the question is why it should be a prerequisite. Surely there may be circumstances in which it is not possible for a police officer to change out of plain clothes into a uniform, and he may not want the current physical condition of a suspect to alter during the time that it will take him to go back to the police station to change.

Although the Minister was no more present in Committee than I was, I am sure that he has been briefed thoroughly by his officials. He will no doubt know that a number of outside organisations have expressed interest in the possibility of new tests involving mouth swabs. It might be established, through the application of various scientific techniques to samples of saliva, whether someone was over the drink or drugs limit. Perhaps, either later tonight or in correspondence, the Minister could clarify whether new section 6C in the new schedule indicates that the Government have revised the view that they expressed in Committee on the practicality and early availability of mouth swab tests on which criminal proceedings could satisfactorily rely.

The amendments before us today are in large part the product of a Government who have for once listened. It is incumbent on Opposition Members to place on the record those unusual but none the less welcome occasions when the Government listen to representations. We should congratulate them and point out that in doing so, they have improved what was already good legislation. Although we continue to have some slight feeling that the original wording relating to national trails had much to commend it, we recognise that even on that matter, the Government have sought to address some important concerns. So I hope that before long, this Bill will become an Act—having at all stages enjoyed clear cross-party support—and that we in this House can together express the hope that those who will subsequently enforce its provisions can do so in the knowledge that they have the full support of all of the parties.

Mr. Don Foster

I begin by congratulating the Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) on his new post, and on the excellent way in which he introduced what is almost the final stage of our deliberations. I agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) that this is a very important Bill, the vast majority of whose measures have fortunately enjoyed cross-party support. The Minister was absolutely right to refer to the important role played by the other place, and to the productive and substantive debate that took place there. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is absolutely right to say that although the Bill was extremely good when it left this place, it has been improved even further as a result of those deliberations.

Liberal Democrats welcome the amendments from the other place, and we are also conscious that the Bill has been improved not only by them, but by the fact that the Government have been given the opportunity to provide greater clarification of certain issues. For example, the whole House will welcome the fact that the debate in the other place clarified the question of the confidentiality of information given by witnesses to the rail accident investigation branch, about which there were some concerns. Great progress has been made as a result of those deliberations. Although the deliberations on the primacy of the rail accident investigation branch at the scene of an accident were not the subject of an amendment in the other place, they, too, were very helpful. However, further clarification is needed on that issue.

I am also grateful to Baroness Scott, who introduced amendment No. 10—on national trails, or long-distance routes, as the Minister rightly describes them—in the other place. The Minister will be well aware that she enjoyed support throughout the other place for her proposal. Even though the Government will not accept her specific wording, she will be delighted to discover that the alternative amendment and the clear assurances given by the Minister tonight address the concerns that she and many others in the other place raised.

Because I have not personally experienced walking the Ridgeway, I took the trouble to look it up on a website. It is quite interesting. It is Britain's oldest road, 137 km or 85 miles long, much of it following the ancient chalk ridge route used by prehistoric man". The website also says: The Ridgeway offers the chance to get away from the bustle of life in this busy part of England. The reality, however, emerged from the contribution to the Lords debate of Viscount Astor, a frequent walker of the Ridgeway, who said: I declare an interest as I have done previously. I walk the Ridgeway most weekends. There is a voluntary code on the Ridgeway that bans cars and motorbikes at weekends. On Sunday morning, however, I was passed by 43 motorbikes all in a row."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 July 2003; Vol. 650, c. 1034.] That is hardly an example of getting away from the bustle of life as he had hoped.

I am delighted that the Minister made it clear that the Countryside Agency is to be given a 12-month period to establish whether it can sort the matter out. In the event that it cannot—I am sure the whole House hopes that it can—it is clear, subject to the obvious caveats, that the Government intend to take action.

Mr. Collins

Since the hon. Gentleman refers to the speech of my noble Friend Viscount Astor, I also invite him to comment on the fact that not one of the riders of the 43 motor bikes had a proper licence. Does that not suggest that there is further reason for the Government to act to restrict those who, sadly, seem determined to act irresponsibly in a beautiful part of our countryside?

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If he has studied the Lords debate as assiduously as I have, he will know that the non-licensing of those vehicles was a matter of great concern, not least in respect of how they managed to get there in the first place. At some stage they would have had to travel on roads for which carrying a licence is an absolute requirement. Even if legislation is passed, we hope that, either through the Countryside Agency or in subsequent provisions, enforcement will be tackled as well.

Several other amendments tabled in another place and accepted by the Government today—some were actually introduced by them—are welcome in bringing greater clarification to the Bill. However, when the Minister delivers his winding-up speech, will he explain more fully the purpose behind proposed new section 6B, on preliminary impairment tests? There has been some speculation in the media that it will tie in not only with drugs and alcohol testing but with the Government's new thinking on the requirements for older people who want to continue to drive motor vehicles. I hope that the Minister will briefly comment on that particular point.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred to the holy grail—a test for drugs abuse equivalent to the breathalyser for alcohol abuse in driving vehicles. I draw his attention—and, more particularly, the Minister's—to the successful use in Sweden and America of the pupilometer, which might well prove to be, if not the holy grail itself, a useful precursor of a better system in due course. Have the Government given much thought to using that device?

Several of the amendments before us are about road safety issues. The whole House will be aware that many anxieties were expressed during the passage of the Bill that it was unduly concerned with the issue of safety on modes of transport other than the road. I am sure that many people are delighted that, as a result of amendments here and in the other place, the issue of road safety began to come to the fore. Some of us were disappointed that the Government were not willing to live up to the commitment that they made in 1996, before they came to power, to lower the drug and alcohol limits. Nevertheless, we have seen some improvements.

Perhaps the Minister will also comment on the Government's intention to introduce a road safety Bill in the near future. Notwithstanding the primacy in the Bill of the need to make some improvements in rail safety, almost all hon. Members would agree that our railways are already very safe indeed. Although since 1997 there have been some 17,000 deaths on the road, there have been fewer than 150 deaths on our railway. It is important to remember the high level of safety that already exists on our railways.

We have some important amendments before us. They amend an already good Bill that has cross-party support, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said. I am sure that tonight it will continue to receive that support for the additional amendments and for the assurance that we have been given on amendment No. 10 from the other place by the Minister tonight.

10 pm

Mr. McNulty

I welcome the tone as well as the substance of the debate. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that the Bill has had cross-party support throughout, and I hope that it will reach Royal Assent with that consensus intact. I am sorry that I missed the Committee proceedings, because they sound delightful—unlike some of the Committees that I served on at the same time.

I am more than happy to associate myself with the remarks by the hon. Members for Bath and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) about the individuals who played a good game in the other place. They include our own Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Berkeley, Lord Bradshaw of the Liberal Democrats, and Lord Dixon-Smith, Baroness Scott and Viscount Astor for the Conservatives. They all had roles to play in the amendments that we have accepted fully or with modifications.

Some issues remain outstanding, but I hope that they can be dealt with via correspondence and are not deal breakers that will hold up the Bill in the other place. As Hansard records, Lord McIntosh said in the other place that the original amendment No. 10 on national trails would fall foul of the European convention on human rights, because it would mean introducing a traffic regulation order without the right to a public inquiry and the chance to lodge objections, but not necessarily for reasons to do with the right of appeal. It is the chance to lodge objections that is missing. The Government amendment would allow the normal TRO process to be followed, so that it would comply with—I should not say "get round"—the ECHR, by allowing a public inquiry if necessary. I am assured that the Government amendment would also allow a permanent traffic regulation order, because that is contained in the body of prior legislation—whereas much of the amendment passed in the other place refers to, but does not make itself part of, previous legislation. The permanent route is something that the Secretary of State can decide.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I do not think that a single person in Oxfordshire believes that the issue of the Ridgeway will be resolved by voluntary agreement. The real concern is that a year will pass, nothing will happen and the matter will be kicked into touch. May I urge the Minister to start thinking about drafting legislation to address the issue, because that would concentrate people's minds. People in Oxfordshire feel very strongly about the issue.

Mr. McNulty

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Spurred on by the amendment in the other place, we now have the legislative hook to ensure that if those who can do something about the issue—the Countryside Agency and the local authorities—do not do so in the next 12 months, we can and shall. I urge the hon. Gentleman to read the report of the assurance that I gave earlier very carefully. Nowhere does kicking into touch figure in this process. I accept the real concerns expressed in the other place.

I do not want to go over old ground in terms of areas that are outwith the amendments before us. I am sure that you would admonish me if I chose to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can reassure the hon. Member for Bath that section 6B is not against older people. Its purpose is to detect the more instantaneous impairment brought about by drink and drug abuse, rather than ailments brought on by disability or age.

I am told by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) that I should not go down the swabs route, even though that subject was terribly interesting in Committee and is sure to run and run. Much of the technology involved, including the pupilometer that was mentioned earlier, is in its early stages and will have to be looked at in the context of making the drug impairment measures work properly.

I have greatly appreciated the nature and tenor of the debate. This was a good Bill to begin with, and—as both the hon. Gentlemen have said—given our minor adjustments and the assurances made on amendment No. 10, it will leave here an even better Bill. I commend it to their lordships and hope that they will dispatch it on Thursday.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 9 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 10 disagreed to.

Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 10 agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 11 and 12 agreed to.