§ [Relevant documents: Fifth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2002–03, on Local Roads and Pathways, HC 407-I, and the Government response thereto, Cm 6007; First Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2003–04, on the Traffic Management Bill, HC 144; and Evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 12 and 19 December, relating to Traffic Law and its Enforcement, HC 105-i and -ii.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)
I beg to move, that the Bill be read a Second time.
The Bill will allow us to put in place measures to make road travel more reliable and will help to reduce congestion. It has three main objectives. First, it will allow better management of the motorway network, including the introduction of a new traffic officer service, which will also free up police time for other duties. Secondly, it will provide for more effective management of the local road network. Thirdly, it will introduce new measures better to control roadworks, including the introduction of a new permit scheme. The Bill also contains new measures better to co-ordinate traffic management in London in part 5, as well as powers for local authorities to enforce traffic contraventions in part 6.
I should like to deal with each part of the Bill in turn, and I come first to the proposals in part 1 better to manage the motorway network. The pressures on the motorway network are well known. We are dealing with the consequences of decades of underinvestment, coupled with the pressures of rising prosperity. We are one of the largest economies of the world and people are better off and they are travelling more on our roads and elsewhere.
There are three steps necessary to reduce congestion and make journeys more reliable. First, we are investing in new capacity where it is needed to tackle congestion and improve safety, including proposals to widen roads and to improve various pinch-points in the system. In the past two years, 17 trunk road schemes have been completed, and we announced last year that we would take forward proposals to widen key strategic arteries, such as the M1, M6 and M25. Secondly, we are improving rail and other public transport so that it provides a better choice, and we are doubling rail spending over five years. Thirdly, we need to make better use of existing infrastructure, improving the way that it is managed, and that is where part 1 of the Bill will help.
On trunk roads, 25 per cent. of congestion is caused by traffic incidents and accidents, which is why central to this strategy is the recognition that by managing our road space properly we can get more out of it, and that is why the Highways Agency is being given new powers 36 and duties in the Bill to manage the road network more effectively to ensure that when there are incidents or accidents on the roads they are cleared up quickly and responded to promptly.
Part of what is needed is better information. Already the Highways Agency's national traffic control centre in the west midlands is being brought into use, and once it is fully operational this summer it will monitor traffic conditions and be able to provide up-to-date information for the whole of the trunk network, something that I think that most people will value.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
I appreciate that from the point of view of road users results of incidents need to be cleared up quickly, but can my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be no relaxation of the need where appropriate to treat the site of an incident as a crime scene?
§ Mr. Darling
My hon. Friend is quite right. Under the Bill, the Highways Agency and the police will work together. If there is an accident, the police will be on duty and they will need to take steps to find out whether there has been any criminal activity. But the big difference in future will be that the Highways Agency traffic officers will have the sole duty of getting traffic moving as quickly as possible.
At the moment, if there is a major accident, it can sometimes take hours before the road is cleared and traffic can move freely. Once the police are satisfied that all their work is done in relation to any criminal activity or assisting with the removal of casualties, it is not their job to make sure that the traffic is moving again, debris is cleared up and lorries or cars that need to be moved are dealt with quickly. In the proposals we recognise what the police do best and, at the same time, recognise the need to manage our motorways far better than we do at present. That is the answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller).
§ Mr. Darling
I cannot promise to give way to everybody, but I shall give way to as many Members as possible.
§ Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con)
The documents issued by the right hon. Gentleman say that the police will be in charge of the new officers. However, can he assure the House that if those traffic officers get to the scene first they will have to wait for the police to arrive, rather than act in their absence?
§ Mr. Darling
The police are not in charge of those officers, who are employed by the Highways Agency. However, there will be a clear distinction between police duties to investigate any crime when they arrive to help with the removal of any casualties and the job of traffic officers on the highway, which is not to do police work but to get the traffic moving as quickly as possible. Most people, when they see an accident or incident on the road, are anxious that, as soon as the injured are taken to hospital, the road should be cleared as quickly as possible, and that is what the traffic officers will do.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
Can my right hon. Friend therefore tell us who 37 will decide what is adequate evidence when there is a road accident—the traffic officer who arrives first to clear the way or the police officer who arrives subsequently and will have to gather evidence, possibly for a criminal case?
§ Mr. Darling
The people who decide what evidence is to be gathered and make such an assessment are the police. The arrangements have been worked up in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers, which fully supports the idea that its officers' time should be freed up so that they can get on with other duties once they have dealt with the immediate aftermath of an accident. Protocols will also be put in place to ensure that it is clear who does what. The main problem that we are trying to deal with is all too common—after the police have finished at the site, nothing happens for a long time while somebody works out whose job it is to get the traffic going. Many hon. Members have probably sat in their car on the motorway facing precisely that problem and experienced the inevitable frustration that it brings.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)
May I give credit where credit is due, as there is a great deal in the Bill that deserves commendation, although it also includes some slightly strange ideas?
A decade ago, when I was Minister for Roads and Traffic, we had a go at this problem, and tried hard to find a way to clear up accidents after the injured had been taken away and so on. The stumbling block was not the police or the collection of evidence but the coroner's instructions. County coroners put a stop to efforts to clear things up quickly. They would not, for example, allow videotaped evidence, and insisted that policemen measure things with tape measures and chalk on the road. Has the Secretary of State managed to get over that particular roadblock?
§ Mr. Darling
I certainly hope we have. The problem is not just how much evidence needs to be obtained, which is obviously kept under review. I was talking about the delay that arises when all the evidence, on any view, has been collected, but before the traffic is moving again. The primary duty of traffic officers is to help, not just in accidents but in other incidents on the road, to get traffic moving. As I said, 25 per cent. of congestion on trunk roads is caused by incidents and accidents. If we could reduce that figure substantially, that would give us an awful lot more capacity on existing roads. There is common ground between Members on both sides of the House about the fact that we do not have enough road capacity at present.
§ Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab)
My right hon. Friend referred to the increased investment that the Government are putting into the railways. Of course, it is necessary to ensure that that increased investment results in better services for the public. What changes is he contemplating making to hold train operating companies, as well as infrastructure renewal and track maintenance companies, more responsible so that we get a good benefit for the passenger in return for the investment?
§ Mr. Darling
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, which is of continuing concern. I do not want to 38 go into too much detail about it, not least because the Bill is more about roads than railways. As one can traditionally wander slightly widely on Second Reading, however, I can say that I agree with the thrust of what he says. If we are doubling rail spending, as is the case, we are entitled to ensure that we get a pound's worth of benefit for every pound that we spend. That is why we have been concentrating over the past few years on driving down costs and improving reliability, but we still have a long way to go, as everybody would agree.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose—
§ Mr. Darling
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then press on, if I may, as we seem to be in something of a traffic jam at the moment.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. One of the problems when an accident takes place and a fatality occurs is that the family of the deceased person will rightly want to know that every course of inquiry has been pursued. Will he give an assurance that that process is still in the proper control of the police officers investigating the accident and that nothing will be done to prevent them from carrying out necessary inquiries? At the time of an accident, inquiries may not automatically show that a major incident or crime has occurred, as that can be established only by proper investigation. Will he give that assurance today?
§ Mr. Darling
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are not proposing anything that would curtail the powers and duties of the police to investigate an accident, report any criminal activity that they feel has occurred and otherwise ensure that everything else is attended to in the way that he described. What we are concerned about is ensuring that, once the police have completed their duty as quickly as possible, any vehicles involved are removed so that the traffic can flow as quickly as possible.
The first phase of what we propose will be introduced on the M42 in the west midlands later this year, with powers—if the House grants them—enabling traffic officers increasingly to take on the duties that I have described. Part 1 allows the traffic officer service, which will be uniformed, to take over the duties that I have set out so as to help keep traffic moving and speed up response times to incidents. Traffic officers will be able to deal with all the problems that we have discussed so that they can get the traffic moving as soon as possible.
I should like to deal now with one point that I dare say will arise later in the debate. In relation to the removal of vehicles, the Royal Automobile Club and others have asked whether it is the Government's intention to usurp their functions; the answer is no, it is not. People who are members of the RAC, the Automobile Association and other organisations join them partly so that they can be taken off the motorway if they need assistance. We have no problem with that, but we are concerned that several hours should not elapse between an accident occurring and the removal of a vehicle simply because nobody is 39 on hand to remove it. I believe that the measure will help to improve things and, as I said, the first phase will be introduced in the west midlands later this year.
Clause 6 sets out specific powers enabling traffic officers to stop and direct traffic similar to those used by the police, so they will be able to divert traffic away from problems and manage traffic flow. The police will remain responsible for investigating serious accidents and other incidents, as we have described, but the two organisations will be working together. The new traffic officer service will also enable us to manage the motorway network better, making better use of road space, because the officers will be on hand quickly to deal with any source of delay, which, it is to be hoped, will avoid delay for road users.
We are putting in place measures to transform the way in which traffic is managed on the trunk road network, making journeys safer and more reliable, but more effective management of the local road network is also essential. It is worth bearing in mind that more than half the journeys made in this country are local trips of less than five miles. Part 2 provides for more effective management of local road networks. We are already giving councils more money to tackle the backlog in investment and maintenance on roads by providing some £30 billion over 10 years; indeed, the local transport plan settlement that was announced last December gave local authorities £1.6 billion. But money is only part of the solution. We also need a change in culture and approach to ensure that the road network locally is managed in the interests of road users.
§ Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)
Part 2 gives central Government the power to replace traffic authorities and give them general directions. How can my right hon. Friend assure the House that that is not a centralising measure, given that the regulatory impact assessment gives no figures for costs or benefits? I would expect the Government to show the House that the Bill will have a genuine, measurable benefit.
§ Mr. Darling
The main thrust of this part of the Bill is the requirement on local authorities to appoint traffic managers. That is not a centralising measure: the best people to manage a local road network are those who know it and can see what happens from day to day. The Bill is intended to deal with a situation that arises in every town and city from time to time: roadworks that cause great congestion because the knock-on effects of digging up or blocking off a road are not properly thought through. Roadworks start, the contractors go away, and nothing happens; or the roadworks are not properly laid out. That can lead to many difficulties, sometimes to chaos and gridlock. Hon. Members will be familiar with what happened in London at the end of 2002, when large areas of the city ground to a halt because of the volume of roadworks, the consequences of which had not been fully thought out.
Central Government are not very good at sorting such problems out—it can be done only by local authorities. We want them to appoint a traffic manager with the statutory duty set out in clause 16 and subsequent clauses and then to ensure that that person has the responsibility of planning matters so that traffic 40 is kept moving. I should have thought that most people would agree that it makes sense to change the focus and culture of councils to ensure that they concentrate on getting traffic moving. Unfortunately, roadworks are a fact of life, but we can manage them much better. The Bill is not centralising; it tells councils that they have a duty to get on with it, because large numbers of them could do better.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab)
I speak as a cyclist, as well as an occasional motorist. Will my right hon. Friend consider additional clauses to give the new traffic managers powers to move on people who are inappropriately parked? That not only causes congestion for motorists but can create huge dangers for cyclists—for example, if someone is parked across a cycle way.
§ Mr. Darling
The duty to deal with people who park in the wrong place lies with traffic wardens or, in some cases, policemen. The job of the traffic manager, who is an official of the council—not necessarily a new person, but someone specially designated—is to ensure that the council organises matters so as to give priority to keeping traffic moving. Too often, that does not happen. I agree that many other things need to be done and that councils should pay attention to the way in which people park, which can cause great difficulty not only to cyclists but to pedestrians and others.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC)
We support the Bill because it is a devolutionary measure. The National Assembly, with local authorities, will decide what happens in Wales. However, does the Secretary of State share the concern of many people that the traffic management duty in clause 16 may be too narrowly focused in terms of taking into account wider community concerns? Two of the purposes of traffic management should be safety on the roads and, ultimately, wherever possible, traffic reduction that integrates with other schemes such as increased cycle access or pedestrianisation. Would not the Bill be improved if it addressed those wider sustainable developments, as well as safety issues?
§ Mr. Darling
Strangely enough, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to make sure that the wider implications are taken into account, but I do not agree that we should extend the duties of the traffic manager. If we add more and more duties and take more and more matters into account, the whole exercise becomes pointless. We are making sure that someone has a statutory duty to do everything possible to keep traffic moving. That is new and provides a single point of accountability and responsibility. In time, it will change the culture and approach of councils. Unfortunately, there are councils that have not paid enough attention to that, and it is one of the main causes of congestion in our streets.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD)
Like many others, I broadly welcome the Bill, but can the Secretary of State explain the criteria for intervention that would allow him, for example, to replace the Mayor of London as the person looking 41 after London transport, or to replace the traffic manager in any London borough so that they would not have to heed what the Mayor of London was doing? The Government took powers to intervene in local education authorities and appointed private contractors in Southwark. They were hopeless and withdrew because they were not making enough money, and the whole thing fell apart. Have we learned the lessons of that?
§ Mr. Darling
I cannot imagine why the hon. Gentleman should be worried about the Bill taking powers away from the Mayor of London. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends unkindly remark that that is unlikely to trouble him in future, either. I am glad that he mentioned London, because the situation there is slightly different. Not only is there Transport for London, but there are 33 boroughs. He will have seen that there are powers in the Bill to ensure greater co-ordination across the boroughs without work in one borough disrupting transport for a large chunk of London.
As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, if the local authority is judged to be failing, there are powers that can be used to order the appointment of a traffic director. That is appropriate if the local authority refuses to do anything about the matter. In London there has been a history of people not working as closely as they should. Interestingly, the evidence so far is that TfL, the police and the boroughs have been working a lot more closely over the past few months. One example is the work done to the Hammersmith flyover last August. All the usual predictions of chaos and confusion were made but, if I remember rightly, work was completed early and the project was well managed.
There are other examples, too. Towards the end of 2002, once people began to focus on the problems being caused by the work at Vauxhall cross, Trafalgar square, round Westminster and so on, it was amazing how the flow of traffic could be improved. The powers in the Bill allow that to happen. Yes, there are reserve powers that would allow us to step in if that was thought necessary.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's broad welcome. It is unfortunate that most of the Conservative party have taken a slightly different view. One wonders what their solution to the problems might be. Since the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has been in charge of both transport and the environment, the only thing that is clear is that she does not have a policy on anything. Perhaps we will find out more this afternoon.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
I strongly welcome the requirement on local authorities to secure the expeditious movement of traffic. That is an extremely good idea. I understand how it applies to temporary street works and obstacles, but does it also apply to permanent obstacles imposed by local authorities? Would the traffic manager be required to review the phasing of traffic lights and junction design, which are often the main obstacles to the flow of traffic? That would make me welcome the Bill even more.
§ Mr. Darling
Yes, he would. The right hon. Gentleman is right—sometimes road layout and design are fundamental. For example, when the new bus ways 42 were introduced in Leeds, the road layout had to be changed radically to make the whole system work. That is an important point.
Mr. Speaker has selected the reasoned amendment for debate, and I would like to say a word about that before I turn to the third part of the Bill, which relates to street works and permit schemes. The amendment states:street works…cause only 10 per cent. of delays".I wonder where the hon. Member for Maidenhead and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) got that statistic from—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman mutters sotto voce that it was from the Transport Research Laboratory. That is indeed where the figure comes from, but it refers to a study of the amount of delays on trunk roads. One does not have to be an expert to have noticed that the utility companies tend not to dig up motorways to put in cables.
Most of us are aware that roadworks are an increasing source of disruption for road users. In 1985, for example, utility company street works caused about £35 million worth of disruption to road users. It is thought that that figure had risen to more than £2.5 billion by 1992, and I believe that the most recent estimate, which is still being evaluated, will show a further increase. The majority of people who have commented on the Bill have said—and I am in no doubt—that street works are a cause of major concern. We need to recognise that, move on and introduce a new system for regulating them.
In 1991, which was the last time that the Government looked into these issues, there were far fewer utilities digging up roads and providing services. There is now an increasing number of them, which is something that we want to encourage. The utilities and providers of services are an essential part of this country, but we need to provide a far better system for regulating the way in which roads are dug up and the number of times that that can happen. Part 3 will enable us to do just that.
§ Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD)
On that point, does the Secretary of State recognise the public interest that is served by the continuing development of telecommunications networks, as exemplified by the Government's own broadband Britain strategy? Will he assure the House that any regulations introduced under this part of the Bill will not add unnecessary burdens or costs to that essential part of the UK economy?
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Gentleman is right that that is an essential part of the United Kingdom economy and we want to encourage it. However, it should be possible for us better to organise the way in which cables are put under ground and the number of times that a road needs to be dug up during a particular period.
The permit system that we propose is modelled on one in use in New York, where permits specify when work can be carried out. For example, it can be specified that some work can be done only in the evening when it would cause less disruption, rather than during the rush hour, depending on what is being done and where. Provision can also be made there to ensure that the time taken to do the work is divided up so that roads are not blocked for weeks on end without anything actually happening. It can also be a requirement that only one 43 lane of a road can be dealt with at a time. In other words, a permit can set out all kinds of terms and conditions to ensure that the work is done properly.
I am sure that the utilities, local authorities and the traffic manager who will have to regulate these things will be able to put in place a system that is fair to the people who put in the services, to those who want to use them and to road users who often face a great deal of disruption. In most cases, the work could be better organised than it is at present, and the permit system is designed to achieve that. Our intention is not to prevent such work from being carried out—far from it. It is to ensure that it is done more efficiently and better co-ordinated.
The Bill includes a number of other measures. It will, for example, enable local authorities to direct utilities to resurface the full width of a road if it is so badly damaged that that is justified. Part 6 will extend the scope for local authorities to take over the enforcement of certain traffic offences from the police. I would like to say a word about that, as it has been the subject of some comment in the press and other media. Indeed, the hon. Member for Ashford has been quite active on this issue over the weekend. The Bill proposes, in certain cases, to transfer to the local authority the enforcement power in relation to parking offences or offences such as driving in a bus lane or waiting on a box junction. I cannot see anything philosophically wrong with that. The first time that such a transfer happened was in 1991, when powers relating to the enforcement of parking penalties were transferred to local authorities.
When I was listening to the hon. Member for Ashford on the "Today" programme shortly before I went on, it occurred to me that in 1991 someone other than us must have been in government and that someone must have thought this a jolly good idea. I asked someone to peruse the Conservative central office website, as one does, and we happened on the entry for the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who is in the Chamber. Under the heading, "Christopher's Experience", apart from finding out that Christopher was Member of Parliament for Southampton, Itchen from 1983 until, sadly, just 1992, when circumstances intervened, we discover that between 1990 and 1992, which is the material time, he was Minister for Roads and Traffic.
As one does, I then turned to Hansard for 5 February 1991, because I was anxious to find out why the Conservative Government thought it might be a jolly good idea to transfer enforcement powers from the police to local authorities. The hon. Gentleman saidBut the police have only finite resources, and they have a responsibility to ensure that they are allocated on a proper priority basis."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 5 February 1991; c. 324.]He is quite right.
Curiosity considerably aroused because of the vehemence of the attack levelled against us, I looked to see what else the Conservative party is producing. What better could I find than a policy statement from Steven Norris, whom we understand is to be the Conservative party candidate in the mayoral elections? It is very interesting. This, we must assume, is Conservative party 44 policy. Under the heading, "Enforce road regulations to ensure traffic flow", he says:The Mayor should use existing camera technology as well as the transport police and traffic wardens to enforce road regulations and penalty notices.So it would appear that at some time the idea that local authorities could enforce such things was Conservative policy, and we find that the Conservatives' mayoral candidate seems to think it a good idea.
When the police face so many other pressures and have so many other priorities, surely it makes sense that things such as keeping bus lanes clear and trying to dissuade people from going through an amber light, stopping in the middle of a box junction or stopping traffic moving could be left to those who are responsible to a local authority. I would have thought that quite reasonable. Having looked at what the Conservatives did and having listened to what the hon. Member for Ashford has said, he is guilty of indulging in a little humbug over the past few days.
For the sake of completeness, my researches revealed a further aspect to which we shall no doubt return, although perhaps not today. The hon. Member for Christchurch has recently been vocal on the subject of speed cameras, as have others. I was therefore intrigued to find that section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 1991, for which he was responsible, made speed cameras possible. We have in the Chamber the father of the speed camera, sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Darling
I am going to give the hon. Member for Christchurch the credit that he deserves. On 10 December 1990, he said:Our estimate is that, when clause 19"—the one that made speed cameras possible—is fully implemented, some 2 million extra offences will be detected and subject to prosecution on fixed penalty tickets, which will mean the certainty of detection will be much greater. That is the greatest deterrent. In turn, it will lead to a dramatic improvement in road safety."—[Official Report, 10 December 1990; Vol. 182, c. 789.]He will be no doubt interested to know that his prediction of all those years ago is not far off the mark in respect of the number of offences and he is absolutely right that it makes a contribution to road safety. When we next hear him complaining about speed cameras, perhaps he will have the humility to confess that, if it had not been for him, there would be no speed cameras in this country.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con)
The Secretary of State is being fairly amusing, but may I take him back to the serious point about local authority representatives essentially being the witnesses to and the prosecutors for road traffic offences? Parking is clear—one is parked either illegally or legally—but things are more difficult when the vehicle is moving. What training will those individuals have before they are used to prosecute people?
§ Mr. Darling
There are a couple of points there. First, I agree that people must be trained properly. I agree that there is a world of difference between looking at a meter to see whether it has expired and looking at somebody who might be going into a bus lane. In the case of bus 45 lanes in London, that system is in place now. To a large extent, bus lanes in London are policed through remote cameras, and it is on the basis of such cameras that a penalty can be imposed.
I want to make one further serious point, which bears on the speed camera question and on what we are proposing—I have said this outside the House and I should say it inside the House. It is important that we remember that there is a fine line between maintaining public support for things such as speed cameras—which have shown that they can reduce casualties and serious injuries—and keeping bus lanes and junctions clear, and individuals overstepping the mark. The public will stay with us if they believe that such measures are there to help them by reducing accidents and congestion, but they will not put up with it if they feel that people have gone beyond that point and are picking on them. They do not want that.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the people about whom we are talking must be trained properly and know what their responsibilities are. It is important that people have confidence in them, because the object of these measures is to get traffic flowing more efficiently. We have all had experience of sitting in a bus that cannot go up the bus lane because someone is parked in the middle of it, or of being stuck at a junction that is blocked because people are ignoring the box markings and so on. If those problems can be sorted out, that will contribute to making traffic less congested.
§ Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab)
One of the problems that many disabled people must put up with is disregard for the blue badge scheme. Part 6 seems to me ideal for dealing with its proper enforcement. It has been subject to a review, and the Government have broadly accepted the recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity that the Bill offers to address the scheme's proper enforcement?
§ Mr. Darling
I am not sure that the Bill is the right place to do it. As my hon. Friend will know, we conducted a review after consultation with a wide variety of organisations. We may return to the matter in Committee but I cannot promise to include it in the Bill. If he is lucky enough to secure a place on the Committee that scrutinises the Bill—the Whip has already made a note of his name, which will teach him to intervene—the issue can no doubt be debated for many hours Upstairs.
§ John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)
The Secretary of State makes a powerful case for the use of public servants in some of these functions. One legacy of previous Governments, in 1991 and 1984, was the ability of local authorities to privatise such services. How does he square the lack of a provision in the Bill to tidy up that anomaly—for example, the ability to privatise local authority duties in relation to car parking—with the need, in his words, to take the public with us in these changes?
§ Mr. Darling
I am not sure whether the fact that the people who enforce parking regulations work not for a council but a private company is the concern. The question is how they conduct themselves and enforce the rules and regulations. I have long taken the philosophic view that what matters is what works best—it does not 46 matter whether they are in the public or private sector. What does matter is that they know the rules, enforce them fairly and act reasonably. Problems have arisen when someone does not act reasonably, gets the back up of a member of the public unnecessarily, and moves from a situation in which they might have had tacit support to one in which they face outright opposition. That is what ought to be avoided.
§ John Mann
What if a private operator employs car parking attendants who are on performance-related pay and, under the contracts, the local authority receives a set percentage of car parking charges while the contractor receives 100 per cent. of the fines? Might that not skew the actions of attendants and operators, and thus remove the public confidence in fairness and equity that is so crucial?
§ Mr. Darling
It is for the local authority, whether it does the work itself or has decided to give it to someone else, to ensure that it strikes the right balance, applies the right rules and takes the right approach to enforcement. We have all come across people employed by councils, as well as people employed by private companies, whose attitude could do with some refinement; but, equally, we have come across people working for private companies and people working for councils whose manner as they issue a ticket is a sheer delight—they could not be nicer about it. If my hon. Friend is saying that the work should not be done in the private sector, I disagree with him, but he has probably just talked his way on to the Standing Committee, where he will be able to discuss the matter further.
§ Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that spending of the fines income from this civil enforcement will be restricted to traffic management schemes and local environmental schemes? That would make the proposals more acceptable to the public.
§ Mr. Darling
None of these arrangements is there to raise revenue, any more than speed cameras are. The purpose of speed cameras is to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries, which they have done by about 35 per cent.
Just before the new year, I heard my hon. Friend on the radio arguing for tougher penalties and lower speed limits. He does not always give that impression when speaking to some newspapers, but he is right to suggest that it would be wrong of us to get rid of speed cameras, because there is evidence that they have indeed reduced the number of deaths and serious injuries. The Bill is designed primarily to ensure that traffic flows more smoothly than it does now, rather than to raise revenue. If revenue raising were our objective, we would bear it in mind that there are better ways of doing it.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I shall resist the temptation to join in the private grief between the Secretary of State and his Back Benchers. May I return him to training, and his point about putting people's backs up? Can he assure us that training will include the use of common sense and discretion; otherwise, there will be a risk that the more enforcing officers there are, the more people will be alienated from authority? That could easily make 47 matters worse. I am with the Secretary of State in principle, but it would help enormously if training included such measures.
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that common sense is essential in all policing, whether enforcement is carried out by police officers, traffic wardens or people whose job is dedicated to enforcing traffic regulations of this kind. Most people recognise that traffic rules and regulations are ignored too often at present, and that the result is traffic jams and frustration. People get very annoyed. As I have said, it is necessary to strike the right balance to maintain public support. People need to see that the measures are improving safety and reliability, and getting rid of traffic jams. They want to see that there is a greater good, and I am confident that that can happen.
We are committed to sustaining high levels of investment in transport. That is why we are tackling the backlog of maintenance, and investing in major improvements in the network. The Bill will allow us also to manage our roads more effectively, and to make better use of the road space that we have. I am grateful for the broad support that it has received so far, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)
I beg to move,That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Traffic Management Bill because it fails to address the most serious reasons for congestion, concentrating instead on street works, which cause only 10 per cent. of delays; diminishes local authority autonomy by giving the Secretary of State reserve powers over local traffic issues; and imposes an over-bureaucratic traffic management system.Few of the many Bills produced for this Session will have a more favourable background than this, because there is widespread agreement that we need to ensure that some of the frustrations involved in being a driver in Britain today are tackled. Motorists in Britain are now over-taxed, harassed and too often abused. It is hardly surprising that they feel persecuted by the Government—they are persecuted by the Government.
By 2000, the amount of revenue raised from motorists rose to £45 billion but this country spends the lowest proportion of motoring taxes on transport of any advanced country. One effect of that is the rise in congestion that the Bill is supposed to tackle. It is at record levels, which is hardly surprising given that the first transport decision taken by the incoming Government in 1997 was to scrap the bulk of the road-building programme. I am pleased that that disastrous decision has been partially reversed in recent years but the effects live on in the clogged streets and trunk roads.
At the outset of the debate it is important to tackle the thesis that new roads simply fill up and therefore lead to more congestion. The concept that a road that is full of vehicles is symptomatic of a failure in the system is never applied to schools or hospitals. In addition, an underlying point is too often ignored by those who subscribe to the easy thesis that more roads mean more traffic and more traffic inevitably means more congestion. Car travel has increased in recent years not because of any sudden desire among the population to 48 make unnecessary journeys but because of an increase in the numbers holding driving licences. In 1976—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. The Secretary of State was listened to with great care by the House and the same politeness should be extended to the hon. Member who is now addressing the House.
§ Mr. Green
In 1976, fewer than 20 million people held a driving licence, compared to 32 million in 2000. The Secretary of State made the point that that increase may be a sign of underlying economic success. I agree—the underlying economic success in the 1980s and 1990s led to a rise in prosperity. The growth in the number of people holding driving licences has been greatest among women and older people, so those who sneer about the growth in car use are attacking the growth in access to its use among groups who in previous generations did not enjoy that facility. That extension of choice from the few to the many should be welcomed and should not be used as an excuse to make the lives of all motorists a misery.
It is understandable that Ministers should seek to solve some of the problems caused by inadequate traffic management. No one could object to the principles behind the Bill. On motorways, on trunk roads and on roads in towns and cities, frustrations build up and occasionally boil over because of unnecessary obstruction. We would have welcomed a Bill that introduced practical and sensible measures to keep traffic flowing smoothly. Sadly, this Bill is not it. Instead, it is a wasted opportunity promising more bureaucracy, more confusion and more anger among motorists as they realise the full extent of the disappointment they face. That is why we tabled an amendment designed to encourage the Government to go away and think again. Others agree that this is a rushed and therefore imperfect Bill.
The Secretary of State covered a number of issues in his wide-ranging introduction. He made interesting points on the successful transport Bills introduced by Conservative Governments, particularly under the aegis of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), but one of the more extraordinary things he said was how widespread the welcome for the Bill had been. I think that he has been reading only the old cuttings rather than the recent ones. From his speech, it appears that he spent a large amount of the Christmas and new year period either listening to me on the radio or reading newspaper articles in which I was quoted, but he needs to look at what other people have said since they have looked at the detail of the Bill. Of course, everyone welcomed the principle of the Bill but recently many people have agreed that its preparation has been rushed and that therefore it is deeply imperfect.
The Transport Select Committee rightly describes as "absurd" the Government's decision to allow only four sitting days between the Bill's publication and this Second Reading debate. The Government have also ignored the fact that the Committee is currently inquiring into one of the Bill's key policies. The AA, moreover, says that it welcomes the Bill in principle, but complains that there has been a paucity of consultation and discussion. It says:There is much that is unsettling, unclear, ambiguous and risky.49 Another affected group is the telecommunications company Thus. Initially, it was "encouraged" by the Government's promises, but it now says the following:Having now seen the Traffic Management Bill we are concerned that these promises amount to little more than rhetoric, and that an opportunity to reform the conduct of all forms of works in the street may be missed.The House knows that this Bill was launched on a wave of good will. For Ministers to have assembled such a wide coalition of well-informed grumblers and opponents in such a short time is some achievement. Given that the Minister with responsibility for roads was generous last week in saying that he will look seriously at our proposals to improve the use of speed cameras, I shall reciprocate by maintaining our characteristic stance of being constructive and helpful at all times. However, the Secretary of State was uncharacteristically churlish when he complained that since my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) took over the environment and transport brief, she has not produced any policies. As I said, last week the Secretary of State's junior Minister welcomed our comments about speed cameras. I hope that that Minister meant what he said, and that he will look constructively at our suggestions. Ministers should adopt the same approach to the Bill: for their own sake—and, more importantly, for the sake of Britain's motorists, cyclists and pedestrians—they should radically change this Bill in several respects; otherwise, they will be seen to have failed, and to have missed their best opportunity to achieve something constructive for Britain's motorists.
Let me address the individual aspects of the Bill that cause most concern, and which the Secretary of State dealt with. The first is the replacement of traffic police with the Highways Agency's new traffic officers. We all want the police to concentrate on fighting crime—neither side of the House regards that as a controversial issue. It is also true that the police have steadily withdrawn from traffic duties. Between 1997 and 2001, there was a 12 per cent. rise in the volume of traffic and a 12 per cent. decline in the number of police officers assigned to traffic duties, but there are legitimate reasons for thinking that the Bill's proposals go too far. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) pointed out, the new traffic officers will have responsibility for clearing wreckage and obstructions, rather than for ensuring that offences have not been committed. That will have severe practical effects. Often, when a car is pulled over by the police for dangerous driving, further checks are made that reveal wider criminal activity. That option simply will not be available to civilian traffic officers, so we will be making the police less effective than they currently are in their wider crime-fighting duties.
In response to an intervention, the Secretary of State said that the police would be in charge at all times, but which police? In the Bill's supporting papers, the Government admit—indeed, they boast—that there will be 550 fewer traffic police as a result of these measures. If there are 550 fewer traffic police, they will not be available to perform the duties that the Secretary of State says that such police will still perform. So in his own terms, his attitude to this part of the Bill is, I am afraid, completely incoherent.
50 The AA is right to warn about the need for clear lines of accountability in respect of traffic officers. It says:There must be transparency, and clear lines of reporting".It then makes another vital point:There must be correct separation of powers so that consumer protection (e.g. setting fees) is not done by the same body as that which makes and enforces the rules. No sweeping, blanket powers should be given to anyone other than an accountable…authority. The motorist must be a beneficiary; there must be no 'back door' charges or restrictions".I hope that the Secretary of State will take that warning into account. If not, he will reinforce the cynicism that many motorists feel about the Government's attitude towards them.
There is also the practical issue of giving the Highways Agency the powers and the duty to clear away broken-down vehicles and charge drivers for doing so. The Secretary of State rather cavalierly said that the RAC and the AA were needlessly worried, because their fears were not consonant with the Government's purpose. Charging drivers may not be the purpose of the Bill, but it will be the effect, and it is perverse to deny people the opportunity to take out a sensible insurance policy so that expert bodies can remove their cars quickly from the roads for repairs.
The Secretary of State—unlike many Government Members sitting behind him—is on the wing of the Labour party that purports to believe in the efficiency of markets, so he may agree with me. He will observe that, since the proliferation of breakdown services and therefore greater competition, the efficiency of those services has improved markedly. It is now much rarer than it was 20 or 30 years ago for people to be left for hours by the side of the road: the standard has improved.
The RAC observes that the Bill will lead to a needless doubling up of resources. Up to 70 or 80 per cent. of its customers call from a mobile phone when they have broken down on the motorway, and a patrol vehicle is dispatched in response. The same applies, of course, to all the other breakdown services. If the Highways Agency is to devote itself to doing the same thing in all circumstances, it will lead to the ludicrous situation of having competing breakdown vans racing along the motorway in an attempt to solve the same problem.
The problems will be even worse, because the Highways Agency will charge for carrying out its duty. The current charge is £105, so if the Highways Agency gets there first, that is presumably what motorists will have to pay, even if they have already called for their own breakdown service to assist them. It will lead, in the first case, to unfair charging and, as an obvious second-order effect that seems to have been ignored, to a reduction in the number of people signing up for various insurance breakdown services. That will be an inevitable consequence of the Bill. It is surely absurd that the effect of a Bill that is designed to make it easier to remove broken-down vehicles from motorways will actually reduce the number of people offering services to do so.
§ Mr. Miller
If I am not a member of a breakdown agency, who should be responsible for removing my vehicle from the road?
§ Mr. Green
The Highways Agency, but we want to encourage as many people as possible to take the 51 responsibility. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) does not want to be responsible and fails to take out the policies that millions of other motorists do, I am afraid that he will have to accept the consequences. What he is doing by going through the Lobby later this evening is supporting a system that will encourage fewer people to take responsibility for breakdowns. He should further reflect on the responsibility of his own actions in supporting the Government on this perverse aspect of the Bill.
§ Mr. Kidney
The Secretary of State has already given an assurance that the Highways Agency is not seeking to replace the existing market in the recovery of broken-down vehicles, so will the hon. Gentleman join me in a constructive suggestion? The Highways Agency has already taken part in a working party with the police to sort out a protocol about where their boundaries lie. Would it not be helpful if it did the same with the breakdown and recovery services to sort out their boundaries?
§ Mr. Green
That would have been sensible and the Government should have arranged for it to happen—the Highways Agency is, after all, an agency of the Department for Transport—before bringing the Bill before the House. I have already mentioned that various bodies, including the organisations that provide rescue services and distinguished groups such as the Transport Committee, have objected to the lack of consultation over the Bill. Indeed, the Select Committee wanted a draft Bill. Where there is a huge interaction between existing private sector and voluntary bodies and the state, consultation over a draft Bill would have been an extremely sensible way to proceed. It might have resulted in a less contentious, less badly drafted and less inadequate Bill. Sadly, that did not happen. I entirely agree that it would be sensible, but I wish that Ministers had thought of it some months ago before putting the Bill before the House.
I believe, as I suspect the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) does, that the RAC's concerns are valid, and there are others that Ministers should have considered before introducing this part of the Bill. In particular, the Secretary of State failed to explain what is meant by the further special powers in the Bill, which may be given to traffic officers and enforced through summary offences. He is asking the House to legislate in the dark. The Transport Committee drew attention to those important powers, and the Secretary of State is being slightly insulting to the House in introducing legislation with wide potential implications without a word of explanation during his Second Reading speech.
The second key section of the Bill deals with the powers of local authorities. Many submissions have been made suggesting that those powers, combined with the paramount duty imposed on local authorities to keep traffic flowing, will have implications for both road safety and the environment. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will wish to pick up on that, and it will be interesting to hear how the roads Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. 52 Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)—responds. A number of other important issues affect this part of the Bill and part 6, which deals with the civil enforcement of traffic offences. One of the more fascinatingly risible parts of the Secretary of State's speech came when he denied that this is in any way a centralising measure. After all, he plans to tell local authorities in great detail how they should run their traffic management, and he is going to insist that they employ a traffic officer. If that traffic manager does not then do what the Secretary of State wants, the Government will have the power to sack him or her and take over all power themselves. If that is not a centralising measure, I do not know what is. For the right hon. Gentleman to claim that it is not shows admirable chutzpah but a complete departure from common sense.
I want to deal with the problem of using a combination of cameras and traffic wardens to enforce increasing amounts of traffic law. The Minister made the perfectly true and very sensible point that it was a previous Conservative Government and an extremely successful roads Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—who introduced speed cameras. I was fascinated to hear that my hon. Friend's prediction that 2 million extra offences would eventually be caught by speed cameras has finally been proved correct after 12 years. What is interesting, however, is that following that increase of 2 million over 12 years, the Government predict an increase over one year from 2 million to 3 million. The Minister may try to maintain that all speed cameras are in the right place and are all about safety and have nothing to do with raising revenue for the Government. Frankly, that will not wash.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with the criteria used for the placing of speed cameras, which are set up only where there have been at least four injuries within a one-year period? Does he think that they are not acceptable?
§ Mr. Green
The criteria are sensible, but there is a lot of evidence that the cameras are not in the right place. [Interruption.] The roads Minister is saying that there is no evidence, but I refer him to a written answer that he gave me. I asked him about the siting of cameras on the five most dangerous roads in this country, and his answer showed that there were no speed cameras on three of them. There is certainly a large amount of prima facie evidence that cameras are not in the right place. We are saying that we need a proper national audit of how many cameras there are and where they are. One of the most extraordinary written answers that the roads Minister has been forced to give me over the past couple of weeks is that the Government do not know how many cameras there are. Presumably he does not know where they are either, so when the Government claim that every camera is in the right place and that their siting is all about road safety rather than about raising revenue for the Chancellor, they simply cannot be telling the truth.
§ Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)
Does that mean that the Opposition accept the present criteria for placing cameras?
§ Mr. Redwood
My hon. Friend has given good examples of dangerous roads where cameras should be placed, and I could take the Secretary of State to many roads that are relatively safe but which have cameras to collect money from people who judge that they can go faster than the recommended or compulsory speed limit. Examples include the A316 and M4 into London, which have money-raising cameras on straight stretches of dual or treble carriageway, where there is little danger and no accidents.
§ Mr. Green
My right hon. Friend is right, and I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have similar examples. Since I have started raising the issue of speed cameras, where they are sited and whether we need a national audit of them, my e-mail has rarely stopped pinging with further examples.
§ Mr. Miller
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for cameras on the dangerous roads that he mentions, but will he now give the House an example of a camera that is wrongly sited?
§ Mr. Green
We have just been offered three examples. Increasing numbers of respectable citizens reckon that cameras are not used for the proper purpose of making our roads safer and less congested, but are designed to take more and more money out of the pockets of motorists and put it into the pockets of the Chancellor. The problem with the Bill, and the increasing reliance on cameras to police the new range of offences that will result, is that it will reinforce that cynicism.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas
The hon. Gentleman is giving the most explicit explanation that I have heard from the Conservatives of their opposition to the current use of speed cameras. Does he agree that speed cameras are placed on roads with a combination of a history of serious accidents and evidence of motorists speeding—I think that the figure is 25 per cent.—according to the 54 decision of a local speed camera partnership? He mentioned the five most dangerous roads in the United Kingdom, one of which runs through my constituency. However, the A44 from Llangurig to Aberystwyth is dangerous because of its tortuous, stagecoach nature, not because of speed. It is wrong to mix up the two. We should consider speed cameras in terms of how they control speed, and we should consider dangerous roads in terms of a range of other factors.
§ Mr. Green
That is right. My objection to the proliferation of speed cameras in some areas is the suggestion that speed is the only danger. Roads that may be dangerous for other reasons do not receive the requisite degree of traffic policing. One of the effects of the obsession with cameras is a reduction in the number of traffic police, who are the only people who will be effective on roads such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. If we are obsessed with cameras to the exclusion of all other enforcement methods for safer driving, we will make some roads more dangerous than they need to be. The hon. Gentleman's example illustrates perfectly what is wrong with an over-reliance on cameras.
The central problem with the Bill is that the increasing reliance on cameras will remove the element of common sense. Of course, the vast majority of people who park in bus lanes or obstruct traffic in yellow boxes are behaving illegally and should be punished. However, there are exceptions and special circumstances that a trained police officer would recognise and be able to exercise judgment about, which a camera cannot do. In those cases, a real sense of grievance would be created that would further damage relations between the motorist and law enforcement agencies.
§ John Mann
I represent a Nottingham constituency that would be the hon. Gentleman's ideal as until last month there were no speed cameras in the jurisdiction of Nottinghamshire county council. There have been no fatal accidents on the A638 at Scrooby in my constituency, so does he agree that the best way to control speed at Scrooby and the neighbouring village of Barnby Moor is through the occasional use of a speed camera operated by a police officer—the situation that has prevailed for the past 20 years—or does he agree with me and about 90 per cent. of the residents of those villages that the best way to control speed there would be for the county council to put in a speed camera?
§ Mr. Green
If the system has worked successfully for 20 years, there is clearly a sensible debate to be held about whether it is effective. The hon. Gentleman fails to address the central point, however. We all agree that speed cameras are useful and necessary in some areas, but an increasing number of people do not agree that the current use of such cameras is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. One reason for people's cynicism is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer creams off about £17 million a year—I think that was the figure given by the Government last week. That amount goes straight to the coffers of the Exchequer. That is why people are cynical.
For the Secretary of State to stand at the Dispatch Box and tell us that the measure has nothing to do with raising money is absurd. It is to do with raising money. 55 Money is raised and passed over to the Exchequer; it is not spent on road safety or road improvements, for example on roads that may be unsafe even though they are not especially subject to high speeds. Such measures would be a much better use of the money and would reduce the cynicism that over-reliance on cameras has induced among many motorists.
The problem is that the Government propose to increase their reliance on cameras and on automatic penalties. I am astonished that they are doing that rather than rowing back in the face of the overwhelming public view that speed cameras have been over-used.
Another point to be considered is the Government's desire to remove the police as much as possible from dealing with traffic offences. Everyone wants the police to spend their time fighting crime, but the way to do that is to get them out of the stations, away from filling out forms in triplicate to prove that they are hitting the latest centrally imposed targets. That would allow them to fight crime. In terms of traffic duties, a police officer who pulls over a dangerous driver often exposes other crimes. The Government's proposals would remove the ability of the police to do that, which would be a seriously dangerous development.
§ Simon Hughes
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many additional police officers he believes should be designated as traffic police and what the costs will be?
§ Mr. Green
No, I cannot. It would be absurd for me to attempt to do so in terms of the detailed policies on law and order that we shall adopt in our manifesto for the next general election. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree that if the trend towards the removal of traffic police continues, there will be no traffic police, we shall no longer rely on the police for such duties and that will be a damaging development both for law and order in general and for traffic management. He said that he welcomed the Bill, but as it will bring about a reduction of 550 in the number of police officers I hope that he will join us in the Lobby and vote for our amendment. If he wants traffic police, he needs to vote for the amendment to translate his words into parliamentary action so I shall be interested to see what he does at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Darling
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me whether Mr. Steve Norris is wrong when he says thatexisting camera technology and traffic wardensshouldenforce road regulations and penalty notices"?
§ Mr. Green
That arrangement was introduced for existing static offences by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. That seems perfectly sensible, but the Secretary of State refuses to accept that ever-increasing extension of the powers of those non-police people and their reliance on camera technology has now hit the buffers. Steve Norris did not say that, but the Secretary of State apparently believes that he did.
This is a very serious issue, but the Government do not seem to think that it is. They seem to think that they can take away all traffic police and that no damage will 56 be done to traffic policing or to policing generally. That is the Bill's effect. It is clear that Labour Back Benchers have not bothered to read the background papers. The Government do not just admit that there will be 550 fewer traffic police officers dealing with traffic; they boast about that fact. That reduction may well prove to be damaging.
The final big area for the Bill is the vexed subject of street works. Of all the issues covered, that should have been the one about which it was easiest to build a consensus. Everyone who drives or travels on public transport has a tale of roads being dug up, repaired and dug up again the following week. So it is particularly frustrating that the opportunity to promote a complete solution to that problem has been missed.
The proposals in the Bill concentrate purely on the utilities, although the Secretary of State will know that the most important thing is to ensure not just that all the utilities are co-ordinated but that they are co-ordinated with all the public sector works as well. That is not impossible. He has mentioned New York, but he need not go that far; such things are done in Scotland. Everyone who I have spoken to commends the Susiephone system and says that it works extremely well in Scotland. It seems absurd that he has not tried to import that system from Scotland and that, instead, he has chosen to go down a different route that will be less effective.
In the run-up to the Bill, the Secretary of State talked rather grandly about the holistic approach to street works. Unfortunately, he has failed his own test: the Bill does not represent a holistic approach, so it misses its biggest target. It also seems to be fairly cavalier about relying on evidence. The new permit scheme that he wants to introduce is effectively a lane-rental scheme, and that idea has its attractions—I dare say that he has some Steve Norris quotes about the attractions of lane rental—but surely a sensible Government would wait to see the impact of their own pilot scheme before introducing country-wide legislation. The Government have appointed consultants to look at their pilot scheme, and the results are, surprisingly, not very encouraging. The Halcrow report says:There is little evidence that adoption of lane rental has effected much further improvement in the average duration of works.
The major utilities operating in Camden and Middlesbrough"— where those pilots schemes operate—confirm that they have not altered their practices as a result of the introduction of the pilot schemes. The statutory undertakers have indicated to us that they do not intend to introduce any changes to working practices as a result of the introduction of the Lane Rental pilot schemes".As I say, I was surprised when I read that and I dare say that the Secretary of State was surprised when he read that that was a result of the pilot schemes, but it seems particularly extraordinary to set up a couple of pilot schemes, ask people to investigate them and go ahead regardless of the evidence.
Again, I wish that the Secretary of State had carried out more consultation and thought more carefully about the proposals before introducing them. That thread runs through the Bill. Despite the length of time that the Government have spent preparing the Bill, it has ended up being a rushed, imperfect job, on which 57 they have not done enough consultation. At best, that part of the Bill is premature; at worst, it will commit local authorities to a line of action that will not solve the underlying problems.
Large parts of a Bill that ought to be uncontroversial are desperately deficient. Those who should have been properly consulted have not been properly consulted: the Transport Committee, the motoring organisations and the utilities have all been ignored. The Bill is made worse by the Government's refusal to listen to any view but their own. Motorists in this country deserve a break. The Bill was supposed to lead to traffic flowing more smoothly to the benefit of the motorist and the environment. It fails in that central and vital purpose, which is why I commend our amendment to the House.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)
Four times more people are killed on the roads in this country every year than are victims of murder. I should have thought that that fact would make the House of Commons think quite seriously about any legislation that affects either road policing or the control of our traffic, yet we do not include the policing of roads in our strategic objectives for the police. There has been a consistent decline in the number of specialist police who are either trained to understand the problems of traffic or who are consistently given that role. As chief constables do not have a specific responsibility to maintain traffic police, they do not do so. The evidence of Her Majesty's inspector was that forces clearly regarded both the commitment of men and vehicles to road policing as being a peripheral duty from which people could be readily reallocated—a startling fact of which we should take note.
At the risk of upsetting those on the Government Front Bench, I must say that I believe that when we discuss an important change in the legislation that affects roads and traffic we should take account of certain things. We must be sure in our own minds what we want to do. If we want the highways authority to be the Highways Agency and to have the core task of ensuring that traffic moves more readily, let us say so and make that clear, but when we are introducing new powers let us also consider the implications of what we are doing.
The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on only Thursday 11 December and printed the day after, and it should be borne in mind that the House rose on 18 December. The Government know that my Committee is looking at traffic enforcement and that we have done some work on it, but this is an ideal subject for pre-legislative scrutiny, not simply because it is a complex subject but because it is one on which people will want to give evidence. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have clearly demonstrated the prejudices that people have about traffic. We would like a little detailed information that is based on fact. If we cannot even agree on whether speed cameras are being placed according to the criteria set down, how can we possibly have a sensible debate in the Chamber about the legislation that we are framing?
I have the greatest regard for the Secretary of State, but I regret that the Bill has been introduced so rapidly. Unlike some members of my own party, I do not have 58 this great commitment and warmth towards ideas that were introduced by previous Conservative Governments. I know that that shows a want of something on my part, but it is why I am sitting on the Government Benches, not on the Opposition Benches.
The Bill has all sorts of implications far beyond simply organising the speedy movement of cars along a motorway. First, has the House considered the status of this new group of people, the traffic officers? Will they be trained in the same way as we train police officers, and, if not, at what point will they decide, when an accident or an incident has occurred, that the movement of various bits of evidence from the carriageway or the permission to resume the movement of cars will not have a deleterious effect on the collection of evidence?
We are told that the police will retain final responsibility, but can we be sure that traffic officers will get to the scene first? If so, what will the traffic officers do that police officers do not already do? The police ensure that the carriageway is reopened once it is safe to do so and proper action has been taken in relation to the incident.
It is terribly important that we know what extra powers can be given by order to the traffic police. It is obvious, because it is in the Bill, that if the Secretary of State decides in future that those responsibilities should be devolved to a private contractor, there is nothing to stop the contractor controlling and instructing the traffic police, which will have great implications for people involved in traffic incidents. It is clear from the evidence that the Select Committee on Transport took from families who had suffered bereavements as a result of traffic accidents that the police officer's initial decision at the scene can determine the conduct of a case—not just whether the motorist should be prosecuted, but the way in which the prosecution is conducted and its implications for the victim's family. That is an important responsibility, and it should not be taken lightly.
It is important that we know what the relationship between traffic managers and traffic officers will be. Traffic managers can be appointed by local authorities, but can also be imposed by the Department for Transport, so it would be helpful to know their direct responsibilities, to whom they are answerable, the terms under which they operate and the way in which they intend to proceed. Special powers in clause 5 allow traffic officers to maintain or improve the movement of traffic and prevent or reducethe effect of anything causing (or which has the potential to cause) congestion".They can also be used to avoid danger to persons—that is well down the list of duties—and prevent damage to anything on or near a roadfor a purpose incidental to any of those purposes.Those powers are so general as to be worrying, and I would like more precision.
The Secretary of State will know that in the Session 2002–03 my Committee undertook a great deal of work on a related subject. During that period, the Government announced that they intended to appoint traffic tsars and make provision for further controls over street works. However, we have been told today that only a quarter of incidents cause congestion. In other words, three quarters of the problems that we encounter 59 do not arise from circumstances that the Bill is supposed to address. It would therefore be helpful if the Bill's intentions were spelt out in more detail and its implications made clearer. Why does the Secretary of State not have a responsibility to ensure completely safe conduct? Why can there not be a commitment in the Bill saying that his first responsibility is the safety of people travelling on our roads. It is a simple commitment, but it would reassure people. In this country, we do a great deal to try to cut the number of deaths and injuries, but the reality is that we still kill thousands of people every year. Although the figures are dropping, they are not dropping nearly far enough, and they represent something that destroys people who are involved in such incidents.
I am concerned about the fact that we are creating a structure with a narrow base. Everybody would cheerfully accept the theory that the work of traffic wardens in towns should be expanded. No one can object to the principle—[Interruption.] I detect a certain note of dissent, but I think that most people would accept that view—
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Luckily, I cannot always say that I have had a Manchester experience.
Most people would accept that the work of traffic wardens is meant to improve quality of life and the movement of traffic in towns, but we are not doing something as simple as giving extra powers to an existing work force; we are looking to create an entirely new group with very narrow terms of reference.
I know that many people will highlight aspects of the Bill that concern them, but I want to ask one or two questions before I sit down. If a considerable number of police officers are to be released by the creation of traffic officers, will those policemen retain their expertise? Will they still have a responsibility for traffic and be able to fulfil the task that they currently fulfil in preparing for prosecutions where there has been a criminal act or an incident of some importance? If not, will they be absorbed by the police force and will that work be left almost entirely to people who are not trained police officers? Will the police forces themselves suffer loss of revenue from the arrangements that are going to be made? If so, how will it be replaced?
Will the public as a whole find that people whom they do not recognise as trained police officers are taking decisions that can have an immediate effect, perhaps on their full licence or livelihood? How long do we imagine that that will be acceptable? We have only to see what has happened in relation to speed cameras and to consider the artificial and frighteningly unbalanced campaign that has been built up by some tabloids about the use of cameras to realise that, in a very short time, people would be rampaging through the pages of our newspapers complaining bitterly that those administering traffic law were neither police officers nor properly trained. That is what the Bill proposes.
On the whole, the House of Commons makes a fool of itself when it rushes things, does not take time, programmes every Bill and pushes legislation through 60 irrespective of the amount of consideration that it has given to the measure's wording. This matter cannot be dealt with lightly. The Bill introduces a major change; we are creating for the first time almost since the time of Robert Peel a new group of officers who are not police officers, town beadles or collectors of little bits of paper to stick on to parked motor cars, but a group of people who will have the power to take major decisions that could enable those who have been involved in serious accidents to escape prosecution or large numbers of people who consider that they have been hard done by to find that they have no recourse to any sort of appeal. Above all, we could see a situation in which the general public begin to question the common sense of the House of Commons. When that happens, frankly, we are all at risk.
§ John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
I wonder whether I might ask your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in respect of a procedural point before I come to my comments on the Bill. I raise this point having listened to the very powerful contribution of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and to other contributions, and having received last-minute advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). I understand that there exists a Special Standing Committee that could consider the Bill and take evidence. May I ask you, therefore, to reflect on whether at this late stage you might accept or consider accepting a manuscript amendment for the committal of the Bill to a Special Standing Committee, given that the period between publication and Second Reading has been so short? I shall leave that thought with you.
There is much in the Bill to commend. In giving it a broad welcome, however, I have to say that at first sight it is a rather modest measure on a very important subject, and that it is perhaps more noteworthy for what is left out than for what it includes. Although its central thrust of tackling congestion on our roads cannot be argued with, and many of its objectives are perfectly acceptable—even laudable—it has serious omissions, of which I should like to mention two. First, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, there is no mention of road safety in relation to the duties of traffic officers or the network management of local traffic authorities. When that was raised with the Secretary of State, he replied that the Government did not want to put too many duties on to traffic officers; yet clause 1(2) stipulates precisely one duty, and it would be very simple to add after paragraphs (a) and (b) a paragraph (c) stating that they should have regard to road safety in performing their duties.
Secondly, the Bill omits any mention of the environmental impact of what traffic managers may or may not do and the way in which the networks are managed. Again, it would be simple to put that duty into the Bill to enable them to take account of that important aspect.
Notwithstanding those clear defects, which my hon. Friends and I will seek to amend, and our considerable concern about many details that I shall touch on later, which we shall also seek to amend, we will, in the light of the Bill's basic objectives, support it on Second Reading.
61 I want to make two general criticisms of the Bill. First, it is riddled with clauses that permit future actions and decisions—I believe they are called Henry VIII Clauses—and much of it can be wholly changed by subsequent regulations. That desire to leave alternate options open in every part suggests either that the Government have not actively thought through in sufficient depth what they wish to achieve or that they do not have sufficient confidence in the proposals as currently drafted. Moreover, there is much reference to the guidance notes that are to be issued at a later stage in relation to several clauses. That makes it difficult to know exactly what will be put into practice. Will the Government consider publishing those guidance notes in draft before the detailed consideration of the Bill is complete in order to give the House some idea of their impact and the way in which the Government's thinking is going?
Secondly, many of the clauses are drafted in such a way that they are open to a variety of interpretations. Indeed, without the explanatory notes—I was grateful to have the notes so that I could understand what the Government were driving at—it would be difficult to know precisely what the Government intend to achieve. One example is clause 2(6), which appears to suggest that if an individual who has been specified in subsection (1)(b) as an authoriser of traffic officers were to move on or to lose his or her job, the traffic officer who has been authorised would automatically lose their job, too. Perhaps that is what the Government intend, but it seems perverse, to say the least. There are many other such examples.
The creation of a special force of traffic officers to deal with general traffic issues that occupy considerable amounts of police time is a sensible concept that we support. However, that must lead not to a reduction in the policing of our roads, but rather to more effective policing by allowing the road traffic police who are liberated from more mundane duties to concentrate on those who are involved in serious road crime or serious road traffic accidents. The reduction of police numbers has direct consequences for road safety. According to the Government's own figures, in the three years from 1999 there were 8 per cent. fewer police patrolling our roads in England as a whole, while the figure for London, so I have been told, is nearer to 25 per cent. in the same period. In that same period, road deaths increased. It is therefore essential that officers who are freed from routine duties that are to be covered by traffic officers can concentrate on serious road crime. The Bill's only reference to road safety in respect of traffic officers is in clause 5(3); and it is very small. Given the cost of road traffic accidents in lives and money, such officers should have a general duty to have regard to road safety.
The Bill is very vague about how traffic officers will operate. For example, what training will they have? Will they be appointed, given a day's induction, and let loose on a "fire and forget" basis; or will they have some proper formal training? If they are to have such training, why cannot that be specified in order to give us some assurance on how they will perform their duties?
Clause 8, which deals with further special powers, is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Surely the Government should decide what they want in the way of powers and include them in the Bill instead of inserting a clause that permits any changes at a later date.
62 The principle of network management by local traffic authorities is perfectly sound, as is the appointment of traffic managers; but, again, the network management duty makes no mention of road safety. Moreover, clause 16(2) could be interpreted in the opposite direction as requiring the removal of, or prohibition of the introduction of, such things as home zones and traffic calming measures. I cannot believe that that is what the Government actually intend.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman is inadvertently misleading us. The Bill makes it very clear that it is a duty of a traffic officer to avoiddanger to persons or other traffic using such a roadand there are similar caveats in the local authority provisions. He should read the Bill before commenting on it.
§ John Thurso
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I have read the Bill, as he will see from my reference to the clause. My point is that the Bill does not include a general duty for traffic managers to undertake such action.
It would be helpful if the guidance notes that are mentioned in clause 18 were available in draft, which would give us some idea of what the Government have in mind.
I now come to the provisions dealing with interventions and the appointment of road traffic directors—or tsars. Not content with tsars, we now seem to have super-tsars. It says something about the Bill when this part of it says more about defining how interventions will be dealt with than about the general duties of network managers. The fact that there are whole clauses on interventions confirms the Government's desire to dictate from the centre. There is no need for traffic directors, and we should strangle them immediately by deleting those clauses.
Under the pernicious clause 30, every time central Government choose to interfere by installing a super-tsar, the poor local authority—and even poorer local taxpayer—has to pick up the financial burden. I see no merit whatsoever in traffic directors, and I should like that part of the Bill to be removed.
Parts 3 and 4 touch on permit schemes and street works. It is obvious that good co-ordination of street and roadworks is a major factor in reducing congestion. The question therefore is whether the permit scheme envisaged in the Bill and the amendments to the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 will achieve that objective. Permit schemes can work. They do in other countries. They work in Scotland, as has been pointed out, and they work in New York, as the Secretary of State mentioned. Any fair scheme should work in this country.
I remain to be convinced that, as currently envisaged, the scheme in the Bill would not simply increase costs and bureaucracy without tangible result. In particular, the Government must make it clear that any fees charged should be fair and designed only to recoup reasonable costs. Fees must not become another backdoor tax.
I do not see that the changes envisaged in part 4 add much to the 1991 Act, which it amends. That will need careful consideration in Committee. I am particularly 63 concerned about the resurfacing provisions and the ability to charge retrospectively for resurfacing. That has the potential to create a nightmare of contingent liabilities on utility company balance sheets. The temptation to use clause 54, which becomes new section 73D of the 1991 Act, as a revenue-raiser for authorities may prove overwhelming. That could add considerably to costs for utilities, for little or no real gain. Indeed, much of the resurfacing provisions is so worded as to give rise to the suspicion that they are inspired by the desire to raise revenue, more than anything else.
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
The Bill has much to commend it, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to emphasise road safety. As someone who cycles regularly, including this morning at 7.15, I know that it is a major problem for cyclists when a road surface has deteriorated and a trench has been put along it. It is frustrating to know that nobody will do anything about that under current legislation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill at least offers the possibility that where the standard of work has deteriorated, something will be done about it by the local authority, either by carrying out the work itself or by drawing the money back from the original undertaker?
§ John Thurso
As an occasional cyclist, I concur with the hon. Gentleman that holes in the road and troughs that have been badly filled are a nuisance. The point that I am addressing is not that the road should be resurfaced, but the way in which the Bill sets out to charge utilities or others that have dug up the road in the past, rather than at the time. In terms of balance sheet accounting, the utility will have to try to guesstimate the liability it may be asked to pay in the future, and carry that through its balance sheet year. That is an immensely complicated way of dealing with charging for the problem.
I am addressing not the need to resurface, but the manner in which authorities may retrospectively charge, and the fact that there is no straightforward fee. There is a provision in the Bill that would allow the utility to buy its way out by making an upfront payment. My suspicion is that that may well be the option that the utility chooses, in order to have a clean balance sheet at the year-end. That will then become the norm and it will become revenue-raising in excess of what is required, rather than raising the revenue necessary to resurface the road.
§ Mr. Drew
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Is not the problem that too often the answer is to backfill—to put a trench in—rather than to resurface the road? That is a false economy. We all accept that those trenches will result in the road quality deteriorating much more quickly than if it had been resurfaced. I hope the Bill will make resurfacing the first response, not the last one.
§ John Thurso
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but I do not believe it is correct that installing a trench may later result in the utility incurring a cost that is unquantified and that it does not know about for some time into the future. I am 64 speaking of the mechanics of how that could be done. It is evidence that the Bill could usefully have undergone pre-legislative scrutiny—a point well made by other hon. Members. That is the sort of technical detail that requires to be fleshed out, which is why a Special Standing Committee might be the way forward.
I understand that approximately half of all roadworks are attributable to utility companies, but the other half are attributable to road authorities. Would it not be more appropriate that there should be similar policing of road authorities as is proposed for the utility companies? It seems rather unfair that the entire burden should be imposed on the utility companies, and not on all the others that may be digging up the road.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) pointed out, IT companies need a different type of access to roads from that required by traditional utilities. I hope the Government will consider those genuine differences and make sure that they are provided for as the Bill goes along.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)
My hon. Friend touches on a sore subject as far as Cornwall is concerned. IT contractors were allowed, one after another, as the Minister knows, to dig up major roads, with no attempt at co-ordination or liaison between them. They have all admitted to me and to other hon. Members that had the Government of the day persuaded them to do so, they would all have taken the same trench and the same channelling.
§ John Thurso
My hon. Friend makes a valid point.
Broadly, the provisions in part 5 for better strategic roads in London are extremely sensible. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is attempting to catch Madam Deputy Speaker's eye, so I shall leave it to him to comment on that, for whatever reason he may have for doing that. The one point that I will make is that for London particularly, traffic directors make no sense whatever.
In part 6, there are some sensible provisions regarding the change to civil penalties, but one extremely worrying concept, which has already been raised—The requirement on traffic wardens and others to police moving offences, especially in respect of box junction offences. I have no problem with the use of cameras to police box junctions, bus lanes and so on. At least the camera provides pretty clear and incontrovertible evidence that can be examined and challenged. Those are important offences and, as we all know from driving around in London, unclogging box junctions will make a tremendous difference. However, to ask one single traffic warden to make a snap judgment, possibly, on what may be a borderline infringement, is surely a recipe for disaster. It does nothing for congestion, motorists, pedestrians or traffic wardens, and in all probability it will prove unworkable. I hope very much that the Government will look again at that idea.
As I said at the beginning, there is much that the Bill seeks to achieve that is laudable, hence our support on Second Reading. Equally, there is much in the detail, some of which I have outlined, that not only can be criticised, but that requires careful scrutiny. I hope the Government will listen to the constructive suggestions 65 that we will put forward, but ultimately this is a short-term Bill that deals only with the symptoms of congestion, not the causes. Until we have a safe, reliable, affordable public transport system and an effective road-charging scheme, we will still only be tinkering at the margins. This is a modest little Bill that has shown, on examination, that it has much to be modest about.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Lab)
May I say how pleased I am to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whose experience in the House and whose knowledge as Chairman of the Transport Committee were so evident in her speech? Were it not for the fact that debates in this place are planned according to time, I would be satisfied that all the relevant questions had been covered, at least in part, in her speech.
In principle, there is much to be welcomed in the Bill. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) has left the Chamber. I am pleased that the proposals cover both England and Wales, because transport, like pollution, does not respect boundaries, and an event or problem can have an impact on areas a great distance away. As a Welsh MP who travels 250 miles to Westminster every week, I can testify to that personally.
The declared aim of the Bill is to reduce congestion on Britain's roads, and that is vital for economic reasons. Like other speakers, I have some questions about road safety issues. I caught the train to get here this morning, and the Minister will be pleased to hear that it was on time. My journey bore no resemblance to those described in today's Evening Standard. I sometimes drive here, and the main part of my route is on the M4. Congestion along the eastern part of the motorway often affects the length and nature of my journey between here and Wales—particularly congestion between Heathrow airport and Reading and in central London. Such congestion can add between an hour and a half and two hours to an already lengthy journey. The Severn bridge is halfway between London and my constituency, but the area that has the greatest impact on the overall length of my journey is inevitably the busy section between Swindon and London. I am tempted to say that that demonstrates the need to rise above the parochial view that Welsh transport problems can be solved entirely in Wales, but I shall avoid doing so.
I welcome the Government's moves to regulate road works and create a mechanism whereby traffic can be kept flowing as freely as possible, but I am curious that clause 20 raises the prospect of failing traffic authorities facing an intervention notice. That point has not been mentioned in detail. The Bill contains no definition of what would constitute failure, and I would add that to the list of points that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich.
Tackling congestion and keeping traffic moving is important to individuals such as myself who frequently face long journeys. However, it is even more important for UK business and productivity generally. The Freight Transport Association estimates that road congestion costs the UK economy more than £20 billion a year, which is the equivalent of £450 for every man, woman and child in this country. Like many statistics, that 66 might not mean much to the ordinary listener until put into context. For example, one of the major employers in my constituency—if not the single largest direct employer in our county—is a haulage company called Mansell Davies. It employs more than 200 local people in an area in which companies of such size are rare. It is a general haulier, but it does a great deal of transportation work for the local agricultural industry. In west Wales, agriculture and tourism form a major part of the economy.
It is not difficult to see why tackling congestion on the UK's roads is so important to companies such as Mansell Davies. It is already a considerable distance from markets, and controls on drivers' hours and unexpected delays as a result of congestion can have a big effect on its ability to transport perishable goods and on its running costs. I spoke today to the company's managing director, who raised the issue of the criminal element of road traffic accidents, and the fact that motorway accidents are increasingly causing delays of four or five hours, which can knock the company's schedule out completely and considerably increase its running costs. Pembrokeshire values that company as one of its major employers, and we need to act to keep it competitive.
Tourism also forms a major element of our economy. The Bill will enable local authorities in areas such as mine to plan roadworks so that they do not have the adverse impact on our tourism industry that we so often see at the moment. Unfortunately, this country does not have good weather for the majority of the year, and in Pembrokeshire, all the utility companies dig up the roads during the summer months, which hinders free movement and can put many tourists off.
Work on the M4 should be co-ordinated with work in the Severn rail tunnel. Such work projects have conflicted on days on which rugby matches have been held, which has made getting in and out of Wales extremely difficult at peak times. I hope that the Minister will take on board the need not only to consider the strategic managing of roadworks but to link it to major rail works in Wales.
§ Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty on major match days—whether that involves FA cup finals or rugby matches—has been that the rail service has sometimes not been running into Cardiff? That has caused problems getting in and out on the M4.
§ Mrs. Lawrence
My hon. Friend is correct. The extra pressures placed on the Millennium stadium caused by Wembley being non-operational have created further problems. His question endorses my point that we need to co-ordinate strategic work on roads and rail to ensure a means of getting traffic through, one way or another.
I recently saw an example of co-ordination and licensing in Copenhagen, where tram lines run through the centre of the city. The tram system is very efficient and serves the city well. Work on the tram lines and the roads is carried out overnight. It starts after dark and is finished, or at least put into abeyance, by 7 am to allow normal daytime traffic to proceed.
Inward investment is also important to Pembrokeshire, and traffic congestion is a major block to encouraging such investment west of the M4 corridor. 67 It is an acknowledged fact that roads in Wales are generally much clearer than those in England, but what happens in England has a direct impact on our ability to attract companies into our region and to keep our industry competitive. Research by the Welsh Development Agency has shown that companies locating in Wales generally require a journey time of not more than two hours from their point of arrival in the UK. For example, an American company whose senior staff fly into Heathrow will not wish them to travel for more than two hours to reach their UK base. The increasing role and reputation of Cardiff international airport is tackling that issue to some degree, but this demonstrates how important it is that we tackle road congestion if we are to continue to disperse jobs throughout the UK as a whole. The Bill's measures to take a strategic look at the road network and manage programmed highway events is therefore very welcome.
As well as the strategic highway considerations, there are other important measures in the Bill that I believe need further explanation. One that has already been mentioned is the role of the new uniformed on-road traffic officers. These officers will be given powers to stop or direct traffic, and to place temporary road signs. However, clause 8 refers to the granting of further special powers to them. It would be beneficial to the debate if the Minister would expand on those special powers now, rather than waiting until the Bill is in Committee.
The Secretary of State mentioned the ability for local authorities to handle offences such as blocking box junctions. Does that mean that local authorities will be given the power to prevent the blocking of dropped kerbs, which are used by wheelchairs? That is a tremendous problem. Are other things involved, such as allowing powered two-wheel vehicles to use bus lanes in towns or other areas under local authority jurisdiction? When bicycle riders became permitted to use bus lanes there was, I believe, a drop of about 28 per cent. in accidents involving cyclists. I hope that a similar move for powered two-wheelers would have a similar road safety impact.
The question marks over the uniformed on-road traffic officers relate to whether they will take on some duties that are undertaken by police in tackling dangerous driving. if they are to do so, what precise powers does the Minister envisage them having, and does he accept that there will need to be clear lines of demarcation between their duties and police duties? Those question marks are perhaps best outlined in the document published by the Select Committee on 17 December, immediately before the recess.
I am not one of those who decry the increasing use of speed cameras on UK roads—nor do I think that enforcement means either police or cameras, because the two should complement each other. Figures that I have obtained from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety show clearly that speed cameras have proved to be an extremely successful road safety tool. Those figures demolish the myths put out by certain elements of the press recently, and show that deaths and serious injuries have been reduced by over one third at speed camera sites.
68 Among the myths is the claim by Autocar magazine that speed cameras are not sited on the most dangerous roads, and also that they are not popular. The hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned the need to consider other factors in judging which are the most dangerous roads, and criteria for placement have to be based on accident figures plus figures demonstrating that surveys have shown that 20 per cent. of drivers on the stretch of road in question are exceeding the speed limit. I know that to be a fact because Pembrokeshire county council has been assiduous about it. Some communities are frustrated that this should be so.
I would like to tell Autocar magazine and anyone else who doubts the effectiveness of speed cameras that communities in my constituency would be very grateful to have speed cameras in their midst. It is perhaps more accurate to say that, in general, speed cameras are unpopular among those who have little regard for the rule of law and the welfare of people living in communities affected by busy roads.
There is one more myth from Autocar—the claim thatCameras have contributed to a fall in traffic policing".That is a serious issue and it has been raised.
Regrettably, Home Office figures show that there has been an overall UK-wide reduction in the number of designated traffic police. Looking back to 1966, traffic-trained officers made up 15 to 20 per cent. of constable strength, but in 1998 that figure was 7 per cent. of force strength. PACT's view is that there are two contributory factors to that. One is that fixed speed cameras reduce the speed limit enforcement burden on officers with the result that reduced officer time is spent on dealing with collisions and their aftermath. The second is the finding of the report "Road Policing and Traffic 1998", produced by the inspectorate of constabulary, that the fall in the number of designated traffic officers is due partly to the increasing demands of more high-profile policing and partly to a failure to include road traffic enforcement as a "key priority" for policing. Perhaps we should take that up with the Home Office, although again the matter was covered adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. There should be a link between traffic policing and the Department for Transport: it should not be left entirely with the Home Office.
§ Mr. Drew
Obviously this is a crucial part of the legislation, but does my hon. Friend agree that, in a sense, the debate runs parallel to what the public want, which is visible policing? However, we all know—I am sure that we all go out with our police from time to time—that visible policing conflicts with effective policing. The reality of the modern world is that the most effective policing is based on intelligence. In considering such an example, should we not acknowledge that the most effective policing involves looking out for those motorists who are the most dangerous? That could involve staking out their homes and looking out for whether they are drinking and driving. So we are not going to get a real picture here. These things are much more complex than just looking at certain numbers. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?
§ Mrs. Lawrence
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, and I think he is absolutely right. 69 Interestingly, a look at the figures for those committing traffic offences who are implicated in other serious crime bears out what he is saying.
Traffic policing and camera enforcement should not be mutually exclusive, and that leads me back to question the role of the uniformed on-road officers that will be created by the Bill. While cameras can register and enforce speed violations of vehicles exceeding standard limits, there are speeding offences they cannot deal with. For example, they will not detect the speeding of the 4x4 vehicle towing a boat on a trailer that overtook me via the outside lane of the M4 at well over 70 mph recently, breaking three rules of the road in doing so. Neither will they detect the 60 mph restricted solo vehicle speeding in any lane, whether that is a lorry or any vehicle towing a trailer. They cannot detect the boy or girl racer who weaves from lane to lane, both overtaking and undertaking and causing a danger to all road users. They cannot detect the vehicle "tailgating" the one in front—an all too prevalent practice, it seems. All those activities are liable to cause accidents and subsequent congestion.
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest frustrations is someone doing 40 or 50 mph in the middle lane, which causes a lot of problems? People going slowly and not at the appropriate speed, as well as people going over the speed limit, cause many accidents.
§ Mrs. Lawrence
I agree entirely. Also involved is the current practice of drivers feeling that they can drive continuously in the middle or the outside lane, turning a three-lane motorway into a one-lane motorway. That needs a human presence on the motorway to deal with it. All those offences are dangerous. They cause congestion and are potentially causes of accidents, but they require a human presence on the roads to identify them. More officers present in unmarked cars, plus traffic policing being restored as a key priority at some level, would achieve that.
I am interested to hear from the Minister whether those are the further powers referred to in clause 8. In the meantime, I urge the Government to ignore the idea of populist support for ending speed camera enforcement. That populist support does not come from people living in communities severed by busy roads. They are aware of the value and worth of speed cameras in protecting local residents and children in particular. I would suggest that that populist support comes only from those who are prepared selfishly to ignore speed limits and break rules that are there quite simply to save lives. Speed cameras have been shown to be effective in doing so. In fact, if we are serious about road safety we probably need more, as well as more enforcement support for those offences that the cameras cannot detect. I would welcome the Minister's comments as to whether the proposed uniformed officers will have any role in doing just that.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
I have declared my interests in the register. I welcome the general thrust of the Government's intentions, as the official Opposition did through the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). There is a 70 big congestion problem and there are things that can be done to manage the existing road network more successfully to reduce some congestion pressures, so I hope that the House gets to work on the Bill in a spirit of co-operation.
There are possibilities for building alliances from Members of all parties, because we all face the problem of congested roads and frustrated journeys. We all have many constituents who find it increasingly difficult to get to work, to the shops or to the leisure facilities that they wish to visit, but they have to go by car because there is no viable public transport alternative for many of those journeys.
I therefore have a list of some 10 proposals, which could be accommodated within the legislation or be added as a strength by developing other policies outside it that might go further than the Bill in dealing with congestion. My first proposal is connected to car parking. My observation is that, in many busy urban environments, a lot of the traffic circulating is traffic that is frustrated at not being able to find an easy parking place near the station, bus stop or shops that the person wishes ultimately to use. All too many car parks at public transport interchanges are full after about 8 or 8.30 am because their size is not adequate for the number of people wishing to change mode of travel.
Town centre car parking is often not adequate for the binge shopping that now characterises our retail experience: everybody wishes to go on the same two or three days after Christmas or new year to do all their shopping for the year for many items in the sales, and there simply is not enough car parking space. More and more traffic therefore circulates and chases fewer and fewer spaces in car parks and on the street. We should therefore look at the adequacy of parking, particularly for transport interchanges, and those same transport interchange car parks could be a useful adjunct to shopping car parks at the weekend, when fewer people would want to use them for their main purpose: transport interchange. In my area, we face totally inadequate car parking at main railway stations and adjacent to main shopping areas. A more realistic parking policy would reduce much unnecessary circulation.
The second item on my list could be arranged by the Department for Transport in conjunction with colleagues responsible for planning: parking of vehicles at or near people's homes. Present planning guidance seems to encourage fewer garages and fewer off-street car parking places for people's vehicles. Much of the guidance assumes that the typical family has only one and a half cars. I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have never met any families with one and a half cars. In my area, the increasing trend is for all families to have two cars, because both the wife and the husband wish to go to work or to separate leisure or retail facilities. That requires two cars, and places are therefore needed to garage or park those cars off-street. If many of the cars were taken off-street when stationary, that would make a big impact on the available road space for cars, lorries, vans, emergency vehicles and buses to circulate, and the place would be improved aesthetically if people put cars in their garages and closed their garage doors. My observation is that, 71 when people own their cars, they tend to put them in their garages and lock the doors, whereas if their cars are provided by a company, they often put about £300 of junk in the garage, close the door, and leave the £15,000 motor outside. Life is not perfect, but it would be good to change planning guidance so that more off-street parking places are provided in residential areas to free road space for circulation.
The third issue, which is already covered by this Bill, is roadworks. I welcome the Government's moves to try to expedite roadworks and clarify the duties of the private sector contractors and businesses that need access to the highway to dig it up in order to repair or expand facilities. I am glad that the Government welcome competition and choice, which means more such organisations having the right or need to enter the highway for those purposes. I hope that when scrutiny has finished in Committee, sense will have been made of the powers that local and national Government require to control or discipline that work.
The Minister should also ensure that the Bill acts against traffic management authorities—highways authorities—themselves. My observation is that local and national highways authorities are as guilty as private sector utilities of digging up roads at inappropriate times of day, of coning off too much road space or large chunks of it when people are not working on the site, and of not removing the cones where possible to facilitate traffic flows. It is possible in some cases for local and national highways authorities to insist on overnight or weekend working, or working at periods of the day and year when the roads are less busy. That is not universal practice, however. Given how our main routes are overtaxed and overstressed, it should become common practice to undertake disruptive works overnight or at less busy times of the day and year to improve flows at peak periods when congestion is usually at its worst. I hope that the Minister will consider amending the Bill to place strong duties of care on highways authorities to ensure that they, too, behave themselves when entering our streets and deciding to close down lanes or whole roads.
§ Mr. Drew
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one thing that makes that so much more difficult is contractualisation? I have some sympathy with his point, but surely with predictable work—this would not necessarily apply to emergency work, although even that could be covered—a work team should be on call to complete it in the shortest period. That is much more difficult when contractual arrangements are in place.
§ Mr. Redwood
I do not think that that is true at all. The highways authority employs the contractor, and it can specify in the contract not only the works that need to be done, which it must specify anyway, but the hours of working. When granting planning permissions for major developments, particularly in busy areas such as London, it is normal for the local authority to lay down conditions on when and how the building contractors can get access to the site, the hours of working, the hours at which they can use noisy implements and so on. Those of us who are residents in the centre of London welcome such restrictions for our protection. Similar 72 restrictions can be placed on contractors working directly for the highways authority. That does not mean that all work must be done in-house but merely that some foresight and proper management of the contract is needed so that the highway is not abused and congested unnecessarily by the actions of the highways authority—often the worst culprit in this connection.
My fourth point is a similar one in relation to the Highways Agency acting on the motorways and main national trunk routes. I read in my papers recently that the M25 will be widened on its western section close to my constituency. I welcome that because it is necessary progress. It is a very successful road, and without it the economy of Britain would scarcely function at modern levels—it takes so many of the goods and passengers that need to move around London and across the country. Of course more capacity is needed. I find it extraordinary that it will take two years to add a couple of lanes to a rather short section of the motorway, and that much of the work will take place during busy hours of the day.
I cannot imagine that the authorities would decide to do that to one of the two principal runways at Heathrow. They would not say that they will take a couple of years to improve the runway and make sure that it is closed down or has speed restrictions on it at busy times when all the jets are stacked up to leave or come in from America and elsewhere. That would make no commercial sense. Of course, work is done very quickly at Heathrow and it is done overnight and at times when the runway can be shut.
The same should apply to the M25, which is probably the most vital transport investment made in this country in the last 100 years and the crucial central link of our whole transport system. Given that more than 80 per cent. of all goods and passengers go by road, and given that the M25 is the main link for the whole national network, taking huge flows of traffic, surely it is possible to do that work in less than two years and to avoid doing it at busy times of the day. I hope that the Highways Agency will be re-instructed, certainly on future contracts if not on those, so that we can have a better performance in future.
My fifth proposition is that much of the congestion in urban and developed areas comes from stops made by buses and delivery vehicles without proper pull-ins or access to the facilities to which they wish to get access. In the case of new bus stops, it would be wise for local authorities to require pull-ins or for the bus stop to be sited on a section of the highway on which traffic can get past the bus safely, without having to queue behind it while people get on and off the bus and, sometimes, pay their fares.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I can cite a case in which a bus service was withdrawn simply because it was impossible to take a single-decker bus down a road in which people parked their cars. When I suggested that there should be nice yellow lines, the residents of the road were singularly unhappy.
§ Mr. Redwood
That is a perfectly good point, although it is different from the one that I was making. I am all in favour of better bus services. I am also well aware, as is the hon. Lady, as a constituency Member, 73 that people who have lobbied for a bus service normally object strongly when it is suggested that the route should run along their own road. Buses are noisy, cause a lot of vibration and can be intimidating for those in houses close to the street. The providers of bus services, the planners and—sometimes—Members of Parliament must pick their way through such problems.
My point is that when introducing new bus stops, local authorities should at the very least have a duty to use their best endeavours to find places on the highway where it is possible to pass a bus that is stationary or collecting passengers and, ideally, that would be an absolute requirement. Indeed, in the case of new estates, commercial developments and retail areas, it should be possible to incorporate lay-bys and pull-ins in the road structure so that buses can pull off the highway safely without impeding traffic flow, and people can get on and off the buses free of the pressures of traffic whistling close to them as it does when buses are allowed to stop in the middle of the carriageway in narrow streets, as they often are now.
Of course it will not be possible to move all the existing bus stops. That would be too disruptive. Nevertheless, local authorities should be required to apply those measures to the siting of new stops, and also to the design and development of retail and industrial facilities. All those, surely, should be required to provide proper back access, proper parking and proper entry and exit points for heavy commercial vehicles. That would end many of the problems in busy town centres where vans and lorries must stop outside the front doors of shops, disrupting the traffic pattern. I am glad that the Bill contains provisions relating to double parking, but it could go further by proposing at least a duty for future developments to provide proper access for deliveries and the collection of goods in the case of retail outlets.
My sixth point concerns junction design. Here the road safety problems that worry us all meet the problem of congestion. I do not think that enforcing better road safety need conflict with the solving of congestion problems, although many Members seemed to take that for granted today. A great many accidents occur at junctions, because it is at junctions that a damaging conflict between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles all travelling in different directions, and all taking up less usual positions on the highway as they jostle to turn right or left, intersect or move from lane to lane, is most likely. There is a lot of fairly unpredictable movement, and too much movement causing conflict between the vulnerable—the pedestrian and the cyclist—the less vulnerable—the car—and the largely invulnerable heavy lorry and bus.
I want the Government to encourage better design at junctions. That is not possible in every case, as some of our beautiful towns and cities contain narrow mediaeval street patterns; but in many instances, even given the existing width of the highway, it would be possible to segregate right-turning traffic from traffic going straight ahead. That would lessen congestion and introduce more discipline and order at junctions, reducing the potential for dangerous conflict. It would be a good idea to design a decent long right-turning lane in every new highway and road that will be heavily used—not just in trunk roads, but in busy interconnecting roads between towns and villages and different parts of a large city—so that right-turning traffic can be segregated, and straight- 74 on traffic can make reasonable progress across the junction when it is free to do so, given the traffic controls that will undoubtedly be necessary.
My seventh suggestion is that we should allow traffic to turn left at red lights, while treating a red light as a stop sign. Traffic should of course be required to halt so that it can make sure that the situation is safe, and anyone crossing the road should have priority, but in many instances vehicles could easily turn left while posing no danger. That would free junctions more quickly, increase flows and reduce the pollution caused by those sitting at junctions—as they nearly always do—with their engines running and stuff belching out of the back.
This is my eighth point. We should think again about traffic light phasing in many towns and cities. There is a new tendency, especially in London, towards all-red phases that seem to go on for a very long time, regardless of whether there are people wishing to cross the road. That is causing a good deal of pollution, congestion and frustration. It is normally sufficient for pedestrians to be able to cross one road at a time. It is therefore possible to synchronise light controls for pedestrians with those for vehicles. There should always be a green phase for vehicles at busy junctions, along with a guarantee of safety for pedestrians in the form of a green phase for them as well. All-red light junctions are causing an awful burden of extra pollution in the centre of London.
In my area, where we do not yet experience that problem to any great extent—although I fear it is coming our way—we need a system allowing people to decide on the priority route. Traffic light junctions would be much better if the lights always reverted to green on main roads unless they sensed traffic on the lesser roads coming into the junction. After the busy periods, traffic often sits at red lights for no good reason at night, again polluting the environment and frustrating the driver, when there is obviously nothing coming in the other directions. Traffic sensors, and a presumption that the lights would always be green for the main route unless traffic was present, would greatly reduce the congestion and frustration for which there is no need, given the small volume of traffic.
My ninth point is this. We should reduce the number of pinch points and humps on well-used roads, which are themselves becoming a danger. A few years ago, a strange safety fad began: that of taking a perfectly two-lane road, deciding that all other speed-control methods would not work, and putting bumps and other obstacles in the way so that the two-lane road became a one-lane road. Unwise drivers would then play a game of chicken with each other, coming in different directions. It would be a case of who would reach the pinch point first and get through. I do not consider that a safe way of behaving, or a sensible way of reducing congestion and encouraging flow. If there is a speed problem on the road, by all means solve it in other ways.
§ John Mann
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the changes in the Department for Transport traffic guidance in the last year are a significant improvement on the guidance of 1990, 1991 and 1992, which 75 introduced the absurd system of road humps that were essentially intended not to stop speeding but to discourage any kind of motoring?
§ Mr. Redwood
I am not sure that the latest guidance helps as much as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Many of the measures to which I object have been introduced in the last six years. Perhaps councils are finding it difficult to catch up with more sensible and rational thinking. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to that.
§ John Mann
I have spent a lot of time looking at this. I should be interested to know which departmental guidance, since 1997, has altered the position in relation to pinch points and road humps—apart from the guidance of approximately three years ago that created the concept of home zones. Those that have caused trouble in my area date from 1990, 1994 and the earlier years, particularly 1991 and 1992. If there are specific examples of guidance that has changed the position, I have obviously missed them. I should be most interested to know of them, as this is of great consequence to my constituents.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am talking about the reality on the ground. Many of these things were introduced under a Labour Government and often under Labour and Lib Dem councils. It is a great pity. I look forward to better guidance and support from the Department to get rid of some of the obvious follies.
Another absurdity is the double cushion—a cushion on each of the lanes of a two-lane highway. Some people think that the way to avoid the cushion is to drive straight down the middle of the highway, where they do not bump as much as when they go over the cushion. That is extremely dangerous but it does not stop a lot of people doing it.
§ John Mann
I believe that it was the 1994 guidelines that did not incorporate the ambulance service, which was not consulted and would have objected to many of the double cushions. Ambulances could not traverse them. As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, they were created on the basis that they would allow emergency service vehicles, particularly fire engines, to traverse them. Does he welcome the fact that in the past year the ambulance service has been automatically statutorily incorporated in any guidance on traffic calming, which means such problems can be avoided in his area and mine in future?
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman is unwise to try to make a party political point because I cannot avoid a party political point in response. What I had in mind were road cushions introduced by a Labour council in Reading right outside Royal Berkshire hospital, which is about the most inappropriate place one could imagine given that, when we go there, we do not want to be shaken up too much if we have broken something or have something a little tender. It is not at all helpful to have those cushions right outside the hospital. Ambulance drivers do not like them either.
My tenth point is that the best answer for safety as well as freeing congestion is, wherever possible, to segregate users who do not get on very well. It is not easy 76 to combine pedestrians, bicycles, cars and vans on the same road space. Where we have the luxury of new design, or where we have enough width already in the route corridor, it is much better to have decent pavements, if necessary protecting the pavement from the road by suitable railings. It is useful to have footbridges, underpasses and other things so that pedestrians do not have to wait to cross the road but can get straight on with getting across. It is a good idea to have sensible cycle lanes that can be properly maintained, avoiding lumps and bumps on the side of the road, potholes, drain covers and all the other things that cause trouble to those of us who occasionally brave a bicycle and discover how difficult it is on narrow, mixed-mode roads to cycle successfully and pleasantly. That is a much better answer. Again, it is not always possible, given restricted streets and the inherited asset, but it is possible in some places where there is sufficient width on the route corridor.
We are invited by the Bill to consider speed cameras. We have had an unsatisfactory debate so far. There is a role for speed cameras in locations where speed could be, or has been proven to be, the cause of accidents. I suspect that the guidance on the location of speed cameras is broadly correct. I would want to look at it again but I can see the logic of it. I just do not believe that quite a lot of speed cameras that I have seen and sought to obey successfully are there for the reasons set out in the guidance.
There is another problem. While there are still some places where the maximum speed limit is inappropriately high for the conditions, there are many places where the maximum speed limit for the road is thought inappropriately low by most of the road users. That is where those cameras become ways of taxing or frustrating the motorist.
I often seek to come to London by car because I normally stay several nights in London and my local train station will not allow me to park my car for longer than a day. Therefore, I cannot come by train— [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) wish to intervene? No, he does not.
I get a lot of experience of using the M4-A4, the M3-A316 and the M40-A40, the three principal western radial routes into our capital city. In recent years, there has been a progressive reduction in the 70 mph speed limit on motorway sections closest to London and on the dual carriageway with grade separated interchanges on the trunk road system to the east of the motorway. Most motorists do not think that those speed limits are appropriate. There are now speed limits of 40, 50 and 60 mph, depending on where one is, on what are very big roads with no pedestrians and no conflict of traffic across them.
As a law-abiding law maker, I do not like that law but I know that I have to obey it. I dutifully come in at 40, 50 or 60 mph. I am always in the slow lane. Most people are overtaking me at 10 or 20 mph faster than I am travelling. I do not think that they are doing anything unsafe but they are clearly doing something illegal. As soon as they reach the cameras, all the sensible ones who know those roads very well stick on their brakes. They bunch around the cameras—something that the Government have now told the press, but not Parliament, they may want to tackle—to try to get their 77 speed down and as soon as they are through the area with the camera they think, "This is a perfectly safe road. It should be 60 or 70 mph." They put their feet down and away they go again.
That is making idiots of the law makers. It is doing great harm because, as soon as people get the idea that it is perfectly safe to do 60 mph on a grade separated dual or treble carriageway into London, they may think, "It makes sense to do 40 on a 30 mph road or perhaps I can do 28 on a 20 mph road. Perhaps the speed limit there is ill judged, too." However, the speed element in this case may have been better judged because there could be a conflict with vulnerable users of the highway.
The Government need to look again both at speed limits and where they wish to place their main enforcement activities. The cameras are in much greater profusion on those large roads where there is no great danger from speeds higher than the speed limit and there are still quite a lot of very bad roads, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford as some of the worst in Britain, where, for good reason or bad, it has been decided not to place speed cameras, perhaps because someone has decided that speed is not the major cause of accidents on them.
In considering the Bill, we must tackle that general question: is speed the main or primary cause of accidents? The Transport Research Laboratory and others have concluded that speed is only the primary cause of accidents in between 7 and 15 per cent. of all accidents. That is serious but by no means the main cause. The main causes of accidents are bad driving, pedestrians and cyclists behaving rashly on busy roads, or bad junction construction allied to misjudgments by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. That is where an awful lot of the accidents occur and where my suggestions on junction design and segregation would make quite a lot of impact on road safety. Our safest roads are our motorways, which happen to be our fastest roads. Even this Government are not going to suggest that we should all go at 30 mph on the motorway to avoid some of the accidents that unfortunately occur, because they realise that we have to have reasonable speeds on the main trunk motorway routes around the country to keep things moving.
To say that speed is the cause of accidents is about as helpful as saying that travel is the cause of accidents. It is self-evident that if we banned everyone from travelling other than by foot we would avoid a lot of casualties and deaths but few people would want to live in such a society. It would be much poorer and the range of things that we could do would be gravely reduced by such huge restrictions on our movement. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford made the powerful point that one reason for congestion is the big surge in people gaining access to driving licences. Twenty or 30 years ago, they would not have been able to, owing to the fact that motoring was much more a luxury for the rich and less a necessity of the many. We should welcome that and try to accommodate it.
The answer is not to say that speed is the main problem. It is not to say that limiting speed is the way to deal with safety and/or congestion. Nor should we be trying to drive all those people off the roads all the time. We should be trying to make good transport choices available for them, including getting them to proper 78 transport interchanges, so that they can use public transport, where that is available and appropriate, much more easily.
I hope that, during the progress of the Bill, the Government's laudable aim of reducing congestion will remain the principal aim of the legislation. I have tried to show that that is not necessarily in conflict with having safer roads, but could in many cases be allied to better road safety if we have a proper understanding of the causes of accidents, deaths and injuries. I have offered 10 practical suggestions—some could be included in the Bill, and others could be dealt with by other Government action—that would give much more bang for our buck, and much more scope for cutting the congestion that is now a grave threat to our economic recovery and to our quality of life.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)
Please allow me to wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the rest of Mr. Speaker's team and the staff of the House a happy new year. I should declare a non-pecuniary interest of some relevance, in that I co-chair the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which has been mentioned; however, everything that I will say in this debate constitutes my own views. Like many Members who have spoken, I am a some-time motorist, a sometime cyclist, and a some-time pedestrian, so of course, I have an interest in the Bill.
I should like to declare my sympathy for and solidarity with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), in that her Committee was deprived of the opportunity of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I am an enthusiast of draft Bills and pre-legislative scrutiny, which improve the quality of legislation passed by this House. It also gives the outside world the opportunity to comment before the House begins the formal stages of debate and scrutiny, rather than learning about such legislation afterwards and complaining to us.
I agree with those Members who expressed regret at the absence of a more explicit commitment in the Bill to the objective of road safety itself. I should certainly like closer reference to be made in Committee to strategies such as the Government's road safety strategy, and to the aim of reducing casualties on roads. However, the official Opposition's spokesman was well wide of the mark when he described the Bill as an anti-motorist measure. Perhaps that is a predictable and well-worn Opposition response to any Government proposal relating to our roads. I would argue that in fact, the Bill is unambiguously pro-motorist, and answers many of the loudest and most frequent complaints made to me and to other law makers by motorists themselves. Indeed, the more proactive management of the road network of England and Wales is surely a desirable aim that has long been neglected by this House and Parliament. However, it is important to put this proposal in the context of the rest of the Government's road transport proposals. Substantial investment is being made in trains and buses, and in local road safety measures through local transport plans. The building of some new roads has been proposed, along with the widening of certain major roads. Together, that amounts to a package to aid motoring, not to obstruct it.
79 During my contribution, I propose to imagine myself in the driving seat of my car, and to consider the differences that I will see as a driver if the Bill becomes law in its current form. It is important to make a distinction that some Members have not quite made. There are clear differences of approach in terms of trunk roads, including motorways, which are managed by the Highways Agency, and the networks of local roads that are managed by local authorities. When I drive along motorways and trunk roads in future, I can expect to see the Highways Agency's new uniformed traffic officers on patrol in their marked patrol vehicles. However, they will be in addition to, not in place of, police officers. Indeed, the spokesman for the official Opposition did the House a gross disservice by suggesting that when the Highways Agency's traffic officers are introduced, the police will withdraw from the highways that the agency manages. In fact, the excellent research paper on the Bill, prepared by the House of Commons Library, provides a very good description of the history of the collaboration between the Highways Agency and chief police officers in attaining their respective roles and responsibilities in the future policing and management of trunk roads and motorways. That passage of the research paper is very helpful, and is reassuring for those who have any doubts about the future presence of the police on our roads.
§ Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con)
While the hon. Gentleman is travelling along these motorways, does he perceive the role of these individuals as ever involving measuring traffic speed?
§ Mr. Kidney
[Interruption.] No, and the Bill's proposals are clear enough in that regard. I hesitated because I remembered my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich asking what was meant by the reference to an ability to increase traffic officers' powers at a later stage. We should certainly pursue that matter in Committee, but here we are talking about the police's role in enforcing the law, and the traffic officers' role in managing the network and keeping traffic flowing.
However, the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) makes a good point about the powers of traffic officers. What will I need to know about their powers as I drive along the motorway? First, I will need to know that they are there as part of the Highways Agency's new role as the network manager. They will be proactive in trying to reduce congestion, especially after the breakdowns and crashes that occur on motorways and trunk roads. Among their powers will be the power to order me to stop, or to use, or not to use, a particular motorway lane. If I resist or obstruct them in carrying out those duties, I face a fine of up to £1,000 and a month in prison. Under the terms of the new criminal justice legislation, that will change to a maximum of 51 weeks in prison, to take account of the custody plus powers that will eventually apply. Of course, traffic officers may also place signs on the motorway that give those instructions to me, and which I must obey. Importantly, as clause 4 tells us, those officers must defer to police officers.
When I drive along and reach the scene of a breakdown or a crash, I will expect to see these traffic officers in attendance. How will they know that there has 80 been such an incident? They will be directed by regional control centres, and will receive information from the emergency phone system alongside the motorway, from CCTV cameras, from police reports and from telephone calls from the public. If I break down or crash, how will my vehicle be removed? If I subscribe to a recovery service such as the AA, Green Flag or RAC, as many people do, I would expect to alert the organisation in question to the fact that my vehicle needs to be removed. Will the Highways Agency's traffic officers come along and tell me that they will remove my vehicle, even as I am waiting for my breakdown vehicle to arrive, at a current statutory cost of £105? I would like to insist on my own arrangements, but will I be able to do so? According to my understanding of the Secretary of State's contribution today, I will, but it is clear that if the vehicle in question is causing an obstruction, it would at some point become unreasonable to continue to wait for a service that claims to be on its way.
More importantly, if I am at the side of the motorway because of a crash, I will be confident that it will not have been my fault. I will want the police to be on the scene, carrying out their investigations to establish where the fault lies, before the traffic officers allow the traffic to drive over the scene of the crash, thereby destroying any evidence to support my contention that the crash was somebody else's fault. If there is a dispute in terms of traffic officers wanting to clear the backlog of traffic, and the police wanting to continue their investigations, it is important to come back to clause 4, which makes it clear that police officers will have the final say.
The Secretary of State has told us that we in the west midlands, where I do most of my motoring, can expect to be the first to see the new service in operation on the motorways. I can certainly vouch for the control centre at Perry Barr. Police officers and Highways Agency staff are already located there under the same roof, side by side, co-operating in the policing of the motorways of the west midlands.
If I am driving along the M42 in 2006, I will see the country's first example of more active management by the Highways Agency. I will see more frequent gantries with overhead signs, providing the ability to impose speed limits on the lanes in which I am travelling and other lane controls—for example, telling me which lanes I can or cannot use. If I look to my left across the hard shoulder, I will see additional emergency refuge areas beyond it. At times the signs will instruct me to use the hard shoulder as a running lane as well. It is another example of the Highways Agency's intention to do everything to keep the traffic moving.
All that applies to motorways and trunk roads, which are only 4 per cent. of the total road network of England and Wales. What of the local roads in towns and cities such as Stafford? Here we do not start from a base of no organisation whatever—the county council already has a traffic control centre in Staffordshire from which staff can monitor traffic flows and intervene when traffic builds up. Traffic light timings can be changed to speed the traffic through areas of congestion and the council can work co-operatively with the police to ensure intervention where it is necessary.
A briefing from Transport for London shows that similar arrangements already exist in London. I have no detailed knowledge of how it works in London, but the 81 briefing is reasonably impressive. From that briefing and on the basis of my discussions with Staffordshire county council, it is clear that both believe that they could do better if they had appropriate legal powers and effective partnerships with others such as the police. I am therefore happy to support the Bill's proposals for local authorities to have new duties to co-ordinate and manage the road networks in their areas. I am also happy that the new duties and responsibilities should be focused on a traffic manager who heads the service that each authority provides.
Furthermore, I am delighted to hear about a permit scheme to provide some control over what I find to be the motorist's most common complaint—the fact that no sooner has one utility company dug up the road and reinstated the surface than another comes along to dig up the same road all over again. Many people wonder why local authorities do not have the ability to co-ordinate such roadworks more closely. Happily and at long last, we have a Bill that answers that motorists' question and confers the power on local authorities. It restores the power to local authorities and goes further, making it a duty to co-ordinate roadworks, including those carried out by authorities themselves. That is a wholly desirable and necessary addition to existing provision.
I received a briefing from Severn Trent Water plc, which serves the residents of Stafford with water services. The company articulates its concerns about the new system. Its particular worry, outlined in the briefing, is about the proposal for local authorities to make orders that there should be no digging up of roads for a set length of time after they have been dug up and reinstated. I say to the company that we need a sensible and reasonable interpretation of what is meant by "emergencies", which allow utility companies to dig up the same stretch of road when it should be free from roadworks.
I personally welcome the idea of a street works register, which I hope will be open to the widest possible public inspection. I hope that it will allow the public to see what works are forthcoming and to comment on them. The local authority should then be encouraged to take some notice of what the public say. After all, authorities will be able to co-ordinate such matters as the dates and permitted times of day for roadworks, which routes will be affected and the diversions that they will entail. Motorists are keen on such issues and could contribute to the debate before the conditions were set.
The Bill also proposes that local authorities have improved enforcement powers. I believe that that is a positive policy, not something to worry about. As an example, Staffordshire has not proved too good at the civil enforcement of parking regulations under existing law. As a result, there are far fewer residents' parking schemes in Staffordshire than many residents would like. I look forward to authorities being able to use civil enforcement powers and, as a by-product, to create more residents' parking schemes that will be effectively enforced. If parking fines for breaches of regulations are collected effectively, I hope that authorities will use the money to keep the residents' parking scheme charges at a reasonable level and to ring-fence any excess for local environmental improvements for the same communities.
82 Many of my constituents complain that the police seem too busy to prevent everyday traffic violations, such as the abuse of disabled parking spaces, vehicles wrongly using bus lanes or parking over yellow junction boxes that should not have been entered in the first place. What we need is proper and consistent enforcement of traffic regulations. If we attain such proper enforcement in future, it would meet public expectation and help to keep traffic flowing in the future.
I see the Bill as a giant stride forward in keeping traffic moving. I hope that, as a result, the future will see less congestion, happier motorists with lower blood pressure and cleaner air. The Bill advances network management and provision of levels of customer service in a way that has not previously been attempted in England and Wales, so I welcome it and urge the House to feel that it is safe on this occasion to put the foot down on the accelerator, steer the Bill through Parliament and make for the open roads.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful and constructive speech of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). The House enjoyed being a passenger in his car as he took us on a 20-minute, action-packed drive around the Bill's various clauses.
I want to start by picking up a point that the hon. Gentleman made, which was also mentioned by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). The Leader of the House keeps reminding us that the Government are in favour, in principle, of pre-legislative scrutiny. They would have done well to test drive the Bill on a pre-legislative circuit in order to deal with the many leaks, rattles and sharp edges that the House has already discovered in just three hours of debate. The Bill's accelerated process through Standing Committee will not allow us to do justice to it.
The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) says she is pleased that the Bill applies to England and Wales. I ask rhetorically whether it is right that Scottish Members are entitled to vote on Second Reading for a Bill that applies only to England and Wales and deals with a subject that is a wholly devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament. That question is likely to be asked more frequently as the Bill passes through Parliament.
§ Sir George Young
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross was not listening to his intervention. Having said that, no Back Bencher representing a Scottish constituency is attending the debate at present.
I welcome the concept of better management of our roads. The policy of predict and provide died a long time ago and was buried by a combination of financial pressure from the Treasury and environmental pressure from a broader base. As the Secretary of State said, we 83 need a balanced, sustainable and affordable transport policy, which requires us to make the best possible use of the road space available.
The Government chose a bad day on which to introduce the Bill because today is the first time for some seven years when capped rail fares have gone up by more than the retail prices index minus one. That seriously injures the Secretary of State's advocacy of a balanced transport policy that encourages more use of public transport.
I do not claim to be the author of the policy in part 1 of allowing the Highways Agency to take from the police some responsibilities for traffic management, but the idea was certainly knocking around the Department some eight years ago and it seems to have had a long gestation period. I should like to make two points. First, on resources, the Highways Agency will spend £72 million initially and £57 million per annum once the traffic officers and the regional control centres are up and running. Has the Department been given the resources by the Treasury, or has it had to raid its road or rail budget to find the elbow room for that extra expenditure? Is any of the cash for those extra responsibilities being taken from the police, who will no longer have to perform those functions? The Bill implies that there is no transfer of resources, but it would be helpful to have the point confirmed by the Minister.
I hope that the Minister will also be able to deal with a number of important issues raised in the debate. Grey areas of demarcation have been raised between the police and the Highways Agency traffic officers. How will they inter-relate, and when will it be safe to allow the traffic to move on because no evidence is required for a criminal investigation? My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned the problem with the interest of the coroners: has that issue been satisfactorily resolved?
Clause 11 provides that traffic officers will wear a uniform. That is important, because motorists need to know whether someone is a traffic officer. Obviously, however, those officers must not be mistaken for police officers, which they are not. Is some ingenuity being applied to exactly what uniform will designate someone as of authority but not a police officer? Will the traffic officers who are to speed up motorway traffic after an accident operate on traffic going the other way? It is frequently the case that there is a corresponding traffic jam going the other way, and traffic officers will be needed to stop the rubber-necking that often takes place.
I am pleased to see that clause 9 enables the removal of certain vehicles by traffic officers. I hope that means that abandoned vehicles will be removed more quickly. It is not unusual for abandoned cars to remain on the verge of a road for some weeks, often with a sign on the windscreen saying that the police are aware of the vehicle. In those weeks, the windscreen is broken, the tyres are removed and the vehicle becomes even more of an eyesore and a hazard. I hope that clause 9 will enable that to be dealt with more quickly.
I will need some persuasion that the principle of part 2, providing reserve powers to intervene when local authorities fail in their duties, is absolutely necessary. 84 The Government have such powers in, for example, education, where they have been used not wholly successfully. I recall suspending, some 20 or 25 years ago, a housing authority that refused to implement the right to buy. However, the House can ask the Government what evidence there is that local authorities are so negligent in their network management responsibilities that primary legislation is justified in this field of local authority activity. How do we know whether a local authority is failing. We can refer to standards of measurement for schools to judge whether an education authority is failing, but so far as I am aware there are no agreed measurements for whether a local authority is failing in this area. This part of the Bill sits uneasily with the rhetoric from the Deputy Prime Minister about wanting to decentralise and intervene less. Nor is it absolutely clear that the Highways Agency, which presumably would intervene if a local authority failed, is always on top of the job on its own roads.
Clause 16, on which there have been some exchanges, places a duty to manage the network to securethe expeditious movement of traffic on the authority's road network.Does that mean that the clause has priority over other objectives? It is well known to every motorist or cyclist in London over the past 18 months that the phasing of traffic lights has been changed so that they are red for longer. On my journey here from Dolphin square, at Vauxhall Bridge road I now—unlike, I must say, a lot of other cyclists—spend more time waiting for the lights to turn green. I ask myself whether the Mayor is in breach of clause 16. If he is, what is the Minister going to do about it? Will the guidance referred to in clauses 18 and 19 cover some of the issues raised in this debate about road safety and the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in order to qualify the rather stark obligation in clause 16(1)?
Part 3 is wonderful in theory, but I doubt whether it will work in practice. I fear that it will be very bureaucratic. Why do we need the bit in clause 33 that says that once a council has prepared a permit scheme in accordance with the legislation, it must submit it to the Secretary of State? Why cannot councils just get on with it? I am intrigued by the exemption in clause 37, which I assume applies only to public highways. What public highways is Her Majesty going to dig up "in her private capacity"? One has a vivid image of the regal piledriver being set to work on some aspect of the road network and then exemption being pleaded under clause 37.
There has been a bit of special pleading from the utilities. I have seen it argued that since the principal cause of traffic congestion is volume, the Bill is built on a false premise. I do not accept that; if one wants to make the most of the existing resource, one must clearly minimise the down time. Where I do have a lot of sympathy with the utilities is when they say that 50 per cent. of highway works are carried out not by them but by the Highways Agency, who appear to be exempt from the Bill. I do not see how there will be a level playing field between the authority and the utility companies. The agency digs up the streets a lot and appears to be judge and jury in parts 3 and 4 of the Bill. Even if it did fine itself, the net effect would be neutral. The notes tell us that the works covered in part 3 could include Highways Agency works. That is rather important. Are they covered, or are they totally exempt? 85 The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) mentioned the roll out of broadband. I have campaigned in the House with colleagues on both sides to have broadband extended to rural areas. The economics of roll out are fairly marginal, and some telephone exchanges may never be enabled. I hope that the Minister has been in touch with his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry and has been able to reassure them that no measure in the Bill will either delay the delivery of broadband or so drive up the costs that it becomes uneconomic. Joined-up government is trying to pool demand for broadband among health and education providers, and that process would be stopped in its tracks if measures in the Bill made the roll out of broadband more difficult. A lot of the work that is covered is demand led. For example, when a customer wants broadband, someone may have to dig up the street to connect him. I do not see how that can be phased into the obligations in clause 49 and 50 that stop anyone digging up a road if the local authority has resurfaced it during the previous 12 months.
Clause 41 places a duty on the street authority to co-ordinate its own roadworks and those of statutory undertakers. That is a perfectly sensible concept. The difficulty is that it is the street authority that will do the co-ordinating, and I fear that it may give preference to its own requirements over those of everybody else.
This is more a matter for Committee, but clauses 56 and 57 seem to sit rather uneasily together. Clause 56 enables the Secretary of State to designate additional roads as strategic roads in London. Clause 57 enables the Greater London Authority to direct that a road may cease to be a strategic road. One can visualise an endless series of orders as particular roads are designated by the Secretary of State and then undesignated by the Mayor. It is not clear from a first reading of the Bill how that might be resolved.
I am not going to enter the debate on speed cameras: there are no fixed speed cameras in North-West Hampshire, so I see no need to involve myself in that debate.
On part 6, I support taking enforcement from the police and giving it to civil authorities as a principle. I am spending part of this year taking part in the police parliamentary scheme and that proposal will allow the police to focus on the real priorities for law and order. If it also takes pressure off the courts, that is an additional bonus.
Clause 89 deserves a final passing comment. According to the title of the clause, it would give local authorities the power to use the surplus income from parking places more flexibly. However, according to the notes, that power will also extend to penalty charges. If the clause is to apply to all the income from all the new offences in the Bill, local authorities will have a considerable incentive to maximise income from that source. We all know the pressure that local authorities are under from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. If they cannot quite afford to pay for a new leisure centre out of the council tax, clause 89 would offer a convenient escape route. Councils could hit the penalty charges hard, hope that the victims do not live in the borough and, hey presto, they would have a new and buoyant source of income.
86 I suspect that the Bill is not quite as good as the Secretary of State told us, nor quite as bad as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) suggested. My interest in the Second Reading should not be construed as an enthusiasm for the Committee stage, but I am sure that the Bill can be knocked into shape and all the questions answered. I believe that it will play a useful if unglamorous part in future transport policy.
§ Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), although he has obviously read my speech as it covers some of the same territory as his. I welcome the Government's aim of reducing delays on the roads and ensuring that the Highways Agency and local authorities tackle congestion better. The Bill contains several welcome common-sense proposals, including the transfer of powers from the police to traffic officers. That will free up police time, and I welcome it.
Forty years ago today, London Underground introduced the first automatic ticket barrier, which was regarded as innovative new technology, although nobody would think it odd today. One of my concerns about the Bill is whether it will be flexible enough to accommodate new technology. If not, it could go out of date very quickly.
Regional control offices will provide a useful forum, and it makes sense that traffic should be managed at a local level. There are different problems in different areas and the Bill will grant local authorities more effective powers to make improvements on the roads. It is important to note the criteria on which the Department will judge success and how much it will take local factors into account. We must also see the Bill in the context of other initiatives from the Government, including their plans to increase road capacity in the medium to long term. That is not necessarily a good idea in all circumstances. I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) about the widening of the M1 between Luton and Milton Keynes. It is a waste of money and will not solve the problem. It will mean years of uncertainty, more road works and misery, and after six months—if that—of easier driving conditions, we will be back where we started. The money would be better spent on redesigning road junctions, especially motorway junctions, dualling the A41 between Bedford and Milton Keynes, and other environmental improvements.
My constituents in Worcester close, Newport Pagnell, have had their Christmas break ruined by lorries parked at the Newport Pagnell service station leaving their engines running overnight to fuel their refrigerated units. Despite complaints to the service station and the Highways Agency, nothing has been done. That is the result of ineffective enforcement and is the sort of issue that the Bill should tackle, through sound barriers, redesign of parking areas and other initiatives that the Highways Agency should progress. The Bill could thus have a real impact on the lives of our constituents. As the agency moves from being primarily a road-building body to managing the road network, it should manage traffic flows on trunk roads and motorways and alleviate some of the worst consequences of the way in which we run our road network.
87 For once in my life, I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). He was right to say that the design of new roads can alleviate many of the problems. I also agree that one of the best ways to tackle traffic flow problems is to separate cycle ways from roads. As a former environment Minister, he will appreciate the problem with red ways—or cycle ways—that we have in Milton Keynes. They are separate from main roads but they do not fit into the square boxes of the Department's funding formula, so the Government provide no money for their maintenance. We have hundreds of kilometres of red ways in Milton Keynes, but the Government give us no money for them. Why should other areas introduce separate cycle ways when they know that they will receive no extra money for them? It is important that any new proposals are taken into account in the funding formula for local authorities.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) mentioned broadband. The Bill will undoubtedly help British industry by alleviating congestion, but it must not have adverse effects on the longer term aims of the UK economy and other parts of industry. The need for IT companies to take up streets has been mentioned. I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister before Christmas to highlight the issue and I am pleased to say that I received a response this morning. It says that the Department has set up a working group with the DTI to consider the issues to ensure that any adverse effects on the industry are minimised. It also states thatit is vital that the new legislative regime is effective without placing excessive regulatory burdens on those who carry out works in the street. This means getting the detailed arrangements right.That is the fundamental issue. We must get the details right and, if I am lucky enough to serve on the Standing Committee, I will come back to that issue.
Street works can cause a nuisance. Existing legislation applies to utility companies, and the Transport Committee found it to be effective but badly implemented. I want some assurances from the Minister that the Bill will not repeat the history of the Department over the past 30 years, of proposing legislation but not knowing how to implement it. In 1991, those of us in local government warned the Conservative Government that the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 would not deliver what it promised. We were assured that there would be no problem, so I am concerned to ensure that the Bill, which attempts to tackle some of the defects of that Act, will not repeat some of its mistakes. I urge the Government to consider fully the contribution that telecoms companies make to the UK economy and ensure that the legislation does not adversely affect them. If we impose embargoes we simply protect the incumbent companies and do not allow new companies to start up. Such details must be taken on board.
The regulatory impact assessment takes little account of the cost to businesses and consumers of being denied access to new services. It is important for the Department to look into the commercial pressures that provide real incentives for such companies. If we get the legislation right and have the right type of 88 communication between the Department for Transport and other Departments, that will be a boon to British industry. If we get things wrong, there will be barriers and the normally hollow charges made about bureaucracy and red tape that we hear from the Opposition could turn out for once to be valid. The Minister should take that point on board.
I had intended to raise the importance of the concerns of disabled road users, but my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) beat me to it by talking about the blue badge scheme. The Government have consulted widely about a number of changes. Those of us who regularly attend business questions are told that there is a premium on time for dealing with primary legislation. The Bill offers us an opportunity to make proposals and I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns that have been expressed about the desirability of tackling the problems of the blue badge scheme, and deal with them in Committee.
Permit schemes work in many parts of the world and we should support them. However, the RIA states that in theory permits could be required by all and that it would be open to the Highways Agency to exempt itself, which would seem to dilute the scheme. I was always strongly opposed to third-party right of appeal in the planning system, but there was one exception to my opposition: where a council gave itself planning permission. Similar situations could arise under the Bill, so I welcome the Government's commitment that a further RIA will be made whenever regulations are introduced. The Government should ensure that all parties are involved in consultation on such regulations, but there could be real problems so I urge them in Committee to look again at the appeals mechanism for the permit scheme, to avoid repeating the problems that have arisen in the planning system.
Under the current street works regulations, companies have to agree with the local authority a time for carrying out works on roads. The Halcrow group report shows how things have changed; companies dig smaller trenches rather than one large one so that they can backfill quickly if time is running out. The report highlighted the fact that most local authorities are unable to monitor, challenge or co-ordinate schemes owing to limited resources, low priorities and bad management. Whatever the increase in fines under clause 39, it will not achieve our objectives unless we put resources into enforcement, and the monitoring and control of the way in which local authorities work. The report of the Select Committee on Transport provides useful evidence on that point.
The key to the success of the Bill is good communication within Departments, between Departments and between the various agencies, the police, the highways authorities and so on. The right hon. Member for Wokingham made several interesting suggestions.
The local authority has just refurbished the bus stops in the road outside my office. A team went along putting in new bus shelters and resurfacing the road. However, the traffic management people, at the next desk at the local authority, had been planning to remove the traffic congestion barriers—the pinch points—for about a year. Despite sitting at adjoining desks, neither of those teams actually talked to the other, so the bus lane 89 scheme has compromised the removal of traffic congestion. That is an example of bad communication and we must ensure that lines of communication are recognised as a key part of the Bill.
Despite my concerns, I fully support the Government in introducing the measure. There are difficult issues to tackle. The Bill would have benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny, but it will set up useful powers to help to ameliorate traffic management and tackle congestion. It is easy for Opposition Members to huff and puff, to throw together a few "anti" statements, with something about stealth tax, to criticise speed cameras and to try to get some cheap publicity. However, I did not actually hear many concrete suggestions to replace the Government's proposals.
The Bill is a useful step forward. It can be improved in Committee, but if we are to tackle our congestion problems and the wider issues relating to the management of our road network, it offers a good starting point.
§ Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD)
I am happy to have this opportunity to speak on an important Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) said earlier, I shall—unsurprisingly—concentrate on matters to do with London—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The Bill includes a lot about London so it is appropriate that there should be at least one London-centred speech.
I want to endorse three points that have received wide support from both sides of the House. First, there should have been a draft Bill. We now have a good system for pre-legislative scrutiny and if it had been applied to the Bill we should have avoided some of the problems that we have already run into.
Secondly, it is imperative that the Bill sets out responsibility for safety, especially in relation to the duties of those responsible for network management. To be fair, I think that there was a misunderstanding between my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). In part 1, under the duties of the traffic officers appointed to work for the Highways Agency, there is, correctly, a reference to activities that assist in avoiding danger on the roads. However, there is no provision to make it the responsibility of a local traffic authority to improve safety. Such a provision could easily be added to clause 16 and it is important that it should be.
Like many colleagues, I have stood alongside constituents who have lost relatives because of bad driving and because of deaths resulting from road collisions. I think particularly of the Bradfords, a couple who lost their only son, aged 14. They have since become active in RoadPeace, as have many others. Sadly, RoadPeace receives no Government support or funding—I stand to be corrected by Ministers—even though it is probably the best recognised of the groups that campaign on behalf of the victims of accidents and collisions on our roads. We have a duty to people such as Brigitte Chaudhry and many others who have fought 90 to put on the agenda the fact that speed and bad driving continue to kill and injure many, many people—as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) pointed out. Everyone involved in improving traffic management should have a safety responsibility.
Thirdly, there should be a duty to ensure that we manage our traffic so as to improve the environment and not to harm it further. That should also be included in the Bill.
Road users have a long list of current problems. We could all compile such lists. Mine includes 10 bugbears about London traffic that people have raised with me or that I have experienced myself. The first, which is addressed in the Bill, as legislation has sought to address it before, consists of the unnecessary roadworks, the repeated roadworks, the long-drawn-out roadworks, the roadworks that are happening in theory but people never see anyone on the job and the roadworks that are not completed properly and cause not only for cyclists but for others the problems that we all know about.
The second is people who jump traffic lights, which happens increasingly frequently in London as a result of the slowing of traffic light changes, and those who block box junctions. I see more and more people in cars and vans, as well as cyclists, jumping traffic lights, regularly causing danger to themselves and others, and I shall return to why we need to deal with that increasingly dangerous problem.
§ Mr. Redwood
I agree that that is dangerous, but is not one of the reasons for it the all-red phases and the fact that vehicle drivers have therefore learned that there is not so much danger as they originally thought? That is very dangerous in itself. I do not commend that behaviour, but that is why it is happening.
§ Simon Hughes
I accept that, and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made a thoughtful and considered speech. I agree with many of the specific points that he made, and I shall return to some of those proposals.
The third bugbear is inconsiderate parking, often of single vehicles. As I was coming from Bermondsey this morning, a vehicle was parked just after 7 o'clock in the inner of two lanes, so everyone had to go from two lanes to one for about 200 yards. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) says that I could have gone by bus. I do so often, but I was going on other journeys today, so I did not do so on that occasion. I have been by bus—and by tube today, too. It is very frustrating when a whole lane of traffic is lost because one person parks inconsiderately, often on a double-yellow or red lines, reducing three lanes to two, or two lanes to one.
The fourth bugbear is the failure to know what parking rules apply. We arrive in a place, we want to do the right thing and we look for a sign, but there is none. Once in Camden, near the British Museum, I remember looking along the whole length of the street to discover what the rules were—not a sign to be seen. People cannot be expected to comply with the law if they cannot find the signs. In London, where borough boundaries are often difficult to determine, people do not necessarily know which borough they are in and therefore cannot know which rules apply. That is clearly nonsense.
91 The fifth bugbear is indeed the rephased traffic light that holds us on red when nothing is coming in any direction and makes people increasingly angry and impetuous. Indeed, that is another reason why people shoot red lights when they have just turned red; they know that they will be held back for a very long time if they do not.
The next is the over-zealous parking warden. A television series featured Southwark parking wardens, and one in particular who delighted in his work. The over-zealous parking warden may be fine, but the over-zealous parking warden who clearly does a bit more than is objectively justified is less fine, and the over-zealous parking warden who does that when everyone thinks that there is a clearly an incentive or commission for the number of catches made in a day is less fine still. There is a serious issue about commissions for trying to catch people out. A friend of mine was caught the other day, although he was sure, as were his family whom I trust as well as anyone, that he had not parked on a yellow line. He had parked just the other side of the yellow line, but a ticket was put on the car before it was picked up.
The next bugbear is fewer traffic police. There are fewer people around to do the policing and the monitoring, and so on.
The next is unnecessary empty bus lanes. We are trying to get one changed on Jamaica road in Bermondsey. It is justifiable at rush hour, but there is almost nothing in it during the middle of the day.
The ninth is that sometimes the bus lanes are not unnecessary; it is just that they have unnecessary buses in them with no one on board. In the middle of day, there are often buses back to back along Oxford street with no one, or just a few people, on board. It is wonderful to have more buses, but not at times of day when people do not need them.
The last bugbear—this was raised quite properly by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White)—is the inconsistent application of the badge for disabled drivers. People do not have the freedom that they are intended to have because of that lack of consistency. We need to answer those frustrations, and we should seek to do so in the Bill if they are matters for national legislation.
On the London agenda, London has led the way in doing many good things in transport, and the Bill seeks to provide other local authorities and areas throughout the country with the opportunity to do them too. I commend those actions. The old Greater London Council proposed the lorry ban—something that I supported—and it still remains in a residual form. The current Mayor introduced the congestion charge—something that I supported when the legislation went through the House and the Greater London Authority was set up, and in respect of which I made submissions to the present Mayor and the GLA appropriately. The congestion charge is not perfect—changes need to be made—but the principle is good, and I would wish it to continue.
Powers under the London Local Authorities 1996 and the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 enable some of the things that the 92 Government now argue for to be done, particularly those that allow civil enforcement, rather than impose criminal penalty, for traffic offences. I shall return to that, because I support some of those measures but am wary of others.
There are two specific London parts of the Bill—parts 5 and 2. Part 5 is welcome and gives the Mayor the power to specify new strategic roads. Many roads in London are not currently trunk roads, but they are clearly main roads by any definition. Technically, 16 per cent. of London's roads fall into that category, but they carry 75 per cent. of the traffic, and the logic is that they should be brought within the strategic network for common management and therefore that the Mayor and the London boroughs should co-operate in that. That would also have a beneficial side effect, to which the right hon. Member for Wokingham alluded: there would be no road humps on those roads. Sometimes there are road humps on roads that are clearly main roads, which causes inconvenience not just to the London Ambulance Service, which does indeed protest about that in London, but to others, as well as additional wear and tear to many vehicles, which adds to maintenance costs. So clauses 57 and 58 are welcome, including the power to stop other boroughs messing up the strategic plans. It cannot be right that they should be allowed to do that.
There is, however, an unnecessary provision that relates to London in part 2. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and other hon. Members have referred to the proposal that the Government can intervene if local authorities do not do their jobs properly. As other colleagues have pointed out, the powers contained in clause 20 to provide for intervention notices have no objective implementation criteria at all. The clause reads:If the appropriate national authority"—the Secretary of State in England, or the National Assembly for Walesconsiders that a local traffic authority may be failing properly to perform any of their duties under sections 16 and 17 it may give a notice. So a prior notice can be given on the basis of a subjective judgment, and it can be implemented when there has been a chance to make a response under clause 21, which states:If the appropriate national authority is satisfied…it may, by order," make an intervention order. That is absolutely inconsistent with devolution to local councils or with devolution to the London Assembly. We debated this power two or three years ago, and one of the few substantial powers given to the London Mayor and the London Assembly is to deal with traffic in London, but it is suggested that, on the basis of no objective criteria, the Government can intervene and take back such powers.
Ministers in all Departments would do well to consider the relatively unhappy litany of occasions when the Government wrote such powers into legislation and implemented them. As Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills know, the first Administration of the Labour Government intervened in Southwark to 93 take over its education authority from a Labour local council. In the end, the appointed private sector contractor—WS Atkins—ran away because it was not making enough money and left everyone in the lurch, and many people now realise that it might have been better to leave things with the local authority after all.
I hope that part 2 will go, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, not least since it also provides for one borough to be able to undermine the Transport for London traffic director as well. That is further nonsense. It also implies, although it does not say, that the Government could appoint a private sector body as the director. That strikes me as being unsatisfactory, as the evidence adduces.
So what could be done? Like other hon. Members, I shall make some suggestions. First, I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham that, if we are to encourage people to use public transport more and to drive less, there should be park and ride facilities at railheads, the ends of tube lines and the rail termini on the edge of London that are big enough to take the traffic. Amsterdam does it very well. Oxford does it well and Cambridge is doing it. It is possible to do it, although people require an incentive to use public transport systems. The only effective scheme on the edge of London is near Uxbridge, and that is a pretty half-hearted attempt.
Secondly, I was surprised that the Secretary of State did not say a word about the use of satellite technology—the global positioning system—which could enable traffic management and road pricing throughout the country. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the Government support that and may wish to use it. Some more mischievous people suggest that one reason why they may want the power of intervention is to stop others using it rather than waiting for it to be applied nationally.
Thirdly, we must insist that local authorities provide adequate signs. People should not be penalised if there is no sign within a reasonable distance informing them of the rules. The duty to explain the rules rests with the local transport authority.
Fourthly, the cameras, or fictitious cameras, that are overly used for speeding—although perfectly properly in their rightful place—should be used for dealing with the jumping of traffic lights, the blocked box junction and the bus lane infractions. Cameras used for such purposes are much more reliable and effective than an individual person appointed to give a subjective view. Like my hon. Friend, I am unhappy about the idea that a single official can give evidence about a moving traffic offence that may be disputed and contested.
Fifthly, there is the general matter of principle regarding who has authority to give a ticket or take action as a law enforcement agency which would result in someone committing an offence and having a criminal record. I take the simple view that such people should always be employees of the state or of the local authority. Contractors working for private companies on a profit-making basis should not be able to enforce the criminal law. I have a clear view about that and it should apply on motorways as well as on trunk roads and London roads. If I am responsible for such matters next year there will be no such private contractors. 94 [Interruption.] The Labour party does not even have a candidate. It is casting around for someone whom it threw out only a few years ago, so it cannot sing too much about this.
Sixthly, it is absolutely right that there should be a permit system. At page 37 of volume 1 of the Transport Committee's report there is a helpful paragraph on the New York scheme that states:any Utility wishing to dig up the road has to obtain a separate permit for each of its works…The New York City Department of Transportation issued over 172,000 permits in the financial year 2002…Fees are currently between$135 and $380 for 15 or 30 days".Those permits give all the conditions that apply. That is a proper way to regulate what has become a nonsense. There used to be a dozen utility companies about 15 years ago; there are now about 150. We need a permit system.
Seventhly, we should consider impounding vehicles more often. The regular offender should lose his vehicle. It may or may not be the white van—
§ Simon Hughes
There are not many of those. The regular offender should not simply be given a ticket—a fine that is not enforced—his vehicle should be held, not just until the fine is paid but as a punishment. That is an appropriate punishment and should be used more often.
Eighthly, road closures in the community on bank holidays and at weekends for local events should be more frequent and easier. At present people have to go through a long and complicated process and they would be grateful for temporary pedestrianisation for community activity, and I hope that that can be encouraged.
Ninthly, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East made the strong point that I had not heard before about the nonsense of having the red ways for cycles in Milton Keynes that cannot be funded. There should be, as there is in many countries, the separation of cycles and pedestrians wherever possible. That is clearly safer and should be the case much more frequently in London, but we will have to sort out the funding stream for that.
Lastly, I do not go as far as the right hon. Member for Wokingham in saying that we should allow more frequent movement through red lights for left or right turns, although I think that he specified left turns, arguing from the presumption of the United States. I am not yet persuaded about that, although it is done there. But there is certainly a case for having traffic lights that are much more sensitive to traffic flows so that when there is nothing in the other lane one is not waiting.
Some of those measures can be achieved through the Bill and some at a local authority or London-wide level; others can happen already. It is clearly a good thing that we have a Bill through which some of those changes can be achieved, but I hope that the Government remember that safer traffic and environmentally sound traffic is as important as speedier and better managed traffic, and that they will all be equally high priorities for the 95 Government nationally, as I hope they will be in London in the years ahead.
§ 8.6 pm
§ Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab)
I would not quite describe the last four or five hours as a rollercoaster, but we have certainly been on something of a journey, not least with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and his 10-point plan—I think that it was 10 points; I may have switched off after 10—including going through red lights when he is turning left, with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) and his campaign with the News of the World to scrap as many speed cameras as he can, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) as we drove around the west midlands together for 15 minutes or so.
Unfortunately, my contribution will not be as exciting. It will be short and focus on one specific area that has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), because we are anoraks to a degree when it comes to technology.
First, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. The Bill fundamentally concerns congestion on our roads, but it will affect other areas as well, one of which is the telecommunications industry. I am secretary of the all-party group on telecommunications and a member of Connect, the union for professionals in telecommunications.
The industry has some concerns about aspects of the Bill, which I am sure will be fleshed out in Committee, although I hope that the Secretary of State's remarks earlier will help the industry to realise that some of its fears are not necessarily matters for concern. Many of the powers involved have been around since the Transport Act 2000.
Before dealing with the telecommunications aspects of the Bill, it is worth highlighting the three main aspects of the debate. First, there are the principal causes of congestion. Secondly, there is the question of which of those can be addressed through legislation—many aspects of congestion cannot be so addressed, although it can help. Much of the problem concerns people's mindset and their desire to drive cars, to own more cars and to drive vehicles in which they are the only occupants. The third issue is how we can measure effectively the success of the Bill's proposals.
Let us take a closer look at the principal causes of congestion. I have received some statistics that have been widely circulated; I know that Opposition Members have also received them. The Secretary of State talked about statistics on congestion and delays on trunk roads that showed that 65 per cent. of traffic congestion is caused by traffic volume or the number of cars on the road, which is linked to people's desire to have more vehicles and use cars rather than to travel by rail, bus, bicycle or on foot. According to those Government figures, 25 per cent. of congestion is caused by accidents and incidents, and 10 per cent. by street 96 works. A figure as low as 10 per cent., even if it is relates specifically to delays on trunk roads, as he said, is not an excuse for ignoring street works. It is right for the Bill to tackle the problem, but it must take an holistic approach. It is important to remember that a single piece of legislation is not a miracle cure and will not wipe out congestion. In addition to legislating, we must change people's mindset and get them to think about the consequences of their decisions, whether the automobile is the right mode of transport and whether they can find other ways of getting to work. We must assist them in their decisions by taking action ourselves on public transport.
It is right for the Bill to focus on the management of motorway incidents, traffic management, the control of street works and the civil enforcement of measures on driving and parking offences. One problem that has not been commented on concerns the fact that many roads in our constituencies, including mine, have become a patchwork quilt of repairs after utility companies have dug up the road. I welcome the £5,000 fines that can be levied on utilities that do not repair the roads properly. That causes not just the inconvenience of congestion but discomfort from the bumpy rides that people have to endure. Barnwood avenue in my constituency is a good example of that.
We must take great care to ensure that measures intended to reduce congestion do not have negative consequences on other public services such as the telecoms industry, which other hon. Members and I have mentioned. Britain's roads provide a thoroughfare, not just for the telecoms industry but for many other essential services. The maintenance of high standards in services such as gas, electricity, water and telecommunications requires street works if their infrastructure is to be improved.
Broadband targets have been mentioned. I hope that the assurances given by the Secretary of State will make a difference to the telecommunications companies that have lobbied hon. Members, including me, but the detail of the Bill's proposals remains to be fleshed out in Committee. If there is a trade-off between regulatory measures to reduce congestion and the effective provision of services to consumers, we must strike the right balance. Problems will arise in many of our constituencies as a result of regeneration programmes, which require street works if new housing, including social housing, and retail outlets are to have enhanced communications, energy and water services. I hope that special consideration will be given in Committee to the regeneration programmes that are under way, and the intensive work that is done by the utilities.
A specific problem relating to the telecommunications industry has not yet been mentioned. We need to bear in mind the practical problems associated with completion of the network. Construction has been completed on much of the network, and work now needs to focus on connecting particular customers. Such work is inevitably conducted with little forward notice, which restricts the scope for extensive planning and co-ordination. Companies involved in such work already have a commercial imperative to carry it out as quickly as possible, but if we introduce legislation that makes that more difficult and 97 hinders their responsiveness to customers, our constituents may not thank us. We need to bear that in mind during the passage of the Bill.
After close inspection of the Bill, I believe that measures to tackle those responsible for problems arising from street works have been in place since the Transport Act was passed in 2000. The Bill will result in a single, more cohesive response to those problems. In Committee, I hope that we will look in more detail at the needs of big regeneration projects and the issues that affect the telecommunications industry, particularly as the network is close to completion. If we manage to get those provisions right, particularly given all the other measures in the Bill, we will make a significant difference to reducing congestion on all our streets.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)
In deciding whether to oppose the Bill, my tests have been quite simple. Will its provisions make a genuine difference to road safety across the country? Will they make a genuine difference to the economic performance and success of our country? Will they make a difference to the road safety figures and economic life of my constituency? Will they make a difference to the quality of life of people in Salisbury who endure daily gridlock as they try to get to work? Will they make a difference to people in the villages in my constituency who find it increasingly difficult to get into Salisbury and park there, and whose local authorities are frustrated in their pursuit of perfectly sensible plans agreed with the Government to alleviate traffic management problems and do what is required of them under clause 16? I shall return to that later.
I have come to the conclusion that I shall not oppose the Bill because, as I said to the Secretary of State earlier, it includes many commendable provisions. However, I am happy to sign up to the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others, because the Bill fails to address the most serious causes of congestion. A key problem is the fact that there is no longer enough road capacity for our level of economic activity in this country. The local transport settlement announced in a written answer on the last day on which Parliament sat before Christmas was a serious setback for effective traffic management in my Salisbury constituency, as I shall seek to explain.
I accept that the Department of Transport was born of necessity and died of exhaustion in 1997, when it became part of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Department for Transport has been born again, and I wish it well. The Bill includes some fundamental provisions that have not been properly explored, although they have been touched on, including the novel concept that someone who is not a constable may stop traffic on the public highway. That is a very important power, and the public need to understand what is about to happen. We are all familiar with the lollypop lady—an example of a civilian employed by a local education authority who has the power to stop a vehicle for a very limited and specific purpose. The Police Reform Act 2002 contained provision allowing the police to direct certain employees of local authorities to stop traffic on a public highway in certain circumstances, but the scope of that power was 98 very limited and largely related to road traffic regulations, construction and vehicle inspectorate checking and so on.
Last autumn, however, I came across the London Local Authorities Bill, which came to this House from another place, and noticed clause 9, which is entitled "Vehicle emissions testing: stopping of vehicles". I was unhappy about that provision. A decade ago, when I held the office now occupied by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), and was Minister for Roads and Traffic, there was a fierce debate in the then Department of Transport about all the issues that we are discussing tonight. That included discussion about the extent to which the police could be left to do better things and the suggestion that civilians could perfectly well take on certain functions such as stopping vehicles to check them.
At that time, on the basis of representations received from a number of different authorities and people, including the police, the Department decided not to proceed. The reasons were straightforward. We were told that the public had confidence in the police and were used to the police stopping them and instructing them to go to the side of the road, whether to direct them around an accident or whatever else. For a very long time, there has been a presumption in our country that no one except a constable has the right to stop people on the public highway. It was put to me and my Secretary of State that there were genuine fears that burglars, thieves, rapists and even terrorists would take advantage of such a power and dress up in a uniform that appeared to be a security officer's uniform, and that that possibility was very dangerous and a risk not worth taking. I find it strange that, a decade later, when the risks from terrorism are so much greater, it should be decided that the danger of abuse is not very serious after all.
On the question of uniforms, as part of the debate in the Department of Transport a decade ago, I was taken to visit the Dartford bridge, or "Le Crossing", as we now have to call it under French ownership. Those who made the visit saw the security officers employed by the bridge company, who looked just like Metropolitan police officers. They had little silver numbers on their shoulders and wore black ties and blue shirts. People driving over the bridge obviously thought that they were police officers and were inclined to do what they said. Of course, they were not police officers; they merely gave the impression that they were. I am not saying that anyone was trying to do anything illegal or underhand. Indeed, the arrangement was made with the full co-operation of the police forces either side of the bridge, who thought it a good idea that they did not have to do the job. Nevertheless, the answer at that time remained that applying that policy to the public highways was a risk not worth taking.
I pursued my concern about the provision by the simple expedient of exercising my right to object to the London Local Authorities Bill until I was satisfied that the authorities concerned, and indeed the House, had given the matter proper consideration. Of course, the Bill was considered in Committee both in another place and in this House. Some of the issues were discussed, although not in any particular detail, but I wanted to check up some points with one or two people before I withdrew my objection. I wrote to the Minister, and the 99 Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), replied in a letter dated 16 December. He was not very enthusiastic:The Department was consulted about this provision and has expressed no strong views on it…I know that there are those who are cautious about giving powers to stop to civilians—and this is why the powers that are available to our enforcement staff in the Vehicle Operator Services Agency are currently on trial.So no conclusion has yet been reached. He continued:However, I hope that we will be able to demonstrate both to the police and to the public and vehicle operators that giving powers to stop to particular civilian groups with enforcement responsibilities is a sensible use of resources. I also hope we will be able to show that, in practice, this idea carries with it no real drawbacks. I hope this is helpful.Yes, it was helpful. At least I knew that the Government had at least considered the matter and were aware of the terms of the Bill.
I also wrote to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, from whom I have yet to receive a response. If he says that the Metropolitan police are perfectly happy with the measure and see no difficulty, and if the House properly considers this particular matter on Second Reading and in Committee, where the issues can be properly looked at, I will withdraw my objections to the London Local Authorities Bill.
I am not sure that the Bill before us goes far enough to address traffic management issues, as it seems to leave out a lot. For example, it does not have anything to say about motor cycles, but the motor cycling fraternity is very important. I know that, historically, the guardians of public policy in the Department for Transport have been opposed to motor cyclists because they consider them to be dangerous. That was always the case. The Minister shakes his head, and he is right to do so. As the relevant Minister, I went for a few rides on motor bikes and saw the experience from the riders' point of view. Eventually, we came around to encouraging motor cyclists because motor cycles were environmentally friendly and took up so much less space. I am glad to say that we introduced the first experiments and trials in which motor cycles were allowed to travel along bus lanes in certain cities. That was very successful and I wish that it could happen much more; it is a very sensible idea. I would like traffic management to take greater account of motor cycles.
The same is true of cyclists. The humble bicycle is increasingly important. I endorse what has been said about cyclists in Milton Keynes and about the problem of a lack of provision for specific funding. Of course, there is now a presumption in local transport packages that an element will be spent on bicycles. I am glad to say that in Nottingham, I think in 1994 or 1993, I introduced the first ever Government cycling policy; indeed, that was an appropriate city in which to do so. Traffic management and pedestrians, taken together, are also a very important subject. Although we are assured by the road research laboratory and others that it is possible for bicycles and pedestrians to go together, such combinations have to be carefully planned in congested city centres.
I suppose that I should declare an interest at this point as president of the Salisbury plain branch of the 100 Institute of Advanced Motorists, from which I am never short of advice about the impact of traffic management—or the lack of it—on driving habits and conditions in and around Salisbury.
Clause 16 deals with network management duties. It is all very well imposing new duties on local authorities, but without adequate resources enabling them to fulfil their obligations, not a lot will happen. The big issue in clause 16 is whether traffic management plans can be properly implemented. I want to stiffen the resolve of Ministers in the Department for Transport, to strengthen their hand with the Treasury, and to encourage them like mad to stick to the agreement on the Salisbury transport package that we had reached, under the guidance of the Government office for the south-west, when the Government, sadly and misguidedly, decided in July 1997 to cancel the Salisbury bypass. Salisbury desperately needs a bypass, and we are now seeing the results of that decision. We agreed to put together a sensible, carefully phased traffic management plan, much of which would conform completely with the Bill. It was an integrated and balanced policy that included five park-and-ride sites, one of which is up and running and two of which are out to tender. Now we find that even the Government office for the south-west is embarrassed because funds have been frozen; and it looks horribly as though we are not going to make any progress and the whole thing will fall apart.
Just before Christmas, I had a word with both Under-Secretaries, who have attended assiduously throughout the debate, and I know that they are happy to look at the matter. Having been in their position, I do not believe in conspiracy theories; but I do believe in cock-ups, and I think that this is a cock-up. [Interruption.] Well, some of us have been there. Seriously, I ask the Minister to consider seeing me, perhaps with some of my councillor colleagues, to consider carefully the problem of Salisbury, because its transport settlement fits so well with what he is trying to achieve in the Bill. If we fail to deliver for the people of Salisbury, that will be a failure for the Government, for it was they who made the proposal and my councillors who courageously put party prejudice aside and said, "Yes—gulp—we'll sign up to this because it is in the interests of the whole community of Salisbury". I hope very much that we will not fail at this late stage.
Another issue is that of mobile safety camera units and the enforcement of speed limits through cameras. As an experienced motorist, I believe that one is either breaking the speed limit or one is not. It is idle to argue, "It was a perfectly clear road, officer—there was no traffic about, it was late at night, and I was sober; but, darn, the cameras were flashing." That is not a rational argument. There is a reason for speed limits and for imposing the law. In my judgment, speed cameras have undoubtedly done far more good than harm. Yes, they can be a real menace to people, but I hope that the Government will not weaken. They should be sensible, however, where it can be shown that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) explained earlier, cameras have been sited in the wrong places for the wrong reasons. We can all agree with that. If there is evidence of the indiscriminate placing of those cameras, that will break the trust between the public and the police, which is very damaging and should not happen.
101 The public often do not realise how far ahead of us the police have got in detecting and deterring crime through the use of cameras. Last summer, I spent some time with the special constabulary in my constituency, who are particularly useful in assisting the regular constabulary in traffic enforcement matters. Operating in conjunction with the Wiltshire constabulary, the specials manned a white van mobile safety unit. I was hugely impressed—not only by the technology, but by the approach and attitude of the policemen and women who carried out those duties. What is achieved by those vans would be unimaginable even a decade ago. I learned that in Northamptonshire, which has been pioneering in this respect, overall crime detection has soared to hitherto unheard of levels. The cameras in the van can identify a vehicle that is coming towards its rear, and a signal is transmitted via a satellite up-link to the police national computer. The response is either to give the all clear, so nothing happens, or to set off an alarm that immediately tells the police on the ground that the vehicle is wanted in connection with a crime, a robbery, a speeding offence, lack of insurance, lack of tax, or whatever. That has undoubtedly given a degree of security to communities around the country that was not there before the so-called dreaded speed camera was introduced. The surveillance does not stop there. It is quite noticeable around the Churchill way in Salisbury, the inner ring road—the sad temporary fix for a proper bypass that was constructed in the 1960s—where one sees the Highways Agency cameras tracking the whole of that route and able to read the vehicle number plates and more.
In the control room at the headquarters of the Wiltshire constabulary in Devizes, I have seen the CCTV cameras operated by the district council in Salisbury, Amesbury and Wilton, which can pan in and read the tax disc on a vehicle that is driving along a road, to see whether it is out of date. The technology is remarkable. There is one thing that astonishes me: if a Conservative Government had done that, we would never have got away with it, because of all the civil liberties arguments—"How dare you? Human rights!" We would not have done it. We could not have achieved it. Whether the public do not know the level of surveillance they are under, or whether Labour is no longer old Labour and is new Labour and does not mind about civil liberties, I am not sure. I leave that judgment to others. Although there is always a balance to be struck in terms of civil liberties, the use of cameras not only in traffic management, but in policing techniques and security has come on apace, to the advantage of the community as a whole.
I was delighted to hear what the Secretary of State said about road accident clearance. I hope that the point, which was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), about the role of coroners can be addressed, as that is a sticking point.
In conclusion, the way in which hazards have been engineered out of our roads is remarkable. As usual, it is a combination of common sense and good design. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and others said about that. Of course, designing roads is hugely important and has developed remarkably and must continue to do so, in conjunction with the enormous advantage that we have 102 gained from the way in which new technology can be used to help us achieve safety. That includes overhead gantries, a concept that I recall introducing on to the M25; variable speeds on motorways and trunk roads, which I was delighted to put my name to as Minister for Roads and Traffic a decade ago on the M25, and which, in a perfect world, would be the solution to many problems; and ramp metering, which has had a hugely positive impact round the midlands box, for example. Those are instances of new technology being used and improved all the time. A further example is real-time public transport information at bus shelters and so on.
Engineering out the hazards is one aspect, and the Bill should ensure that more attention is given to that, through the appointment of local authority traffic officers. Perhaps the biggest thing of all is our attitude to speed as road users. Anyone who has driven in the United States of America will know that there is a completely different and relaxed attitude to driving there. One does not bother to change lanes—what is the point with a seven-lane highway, a big car, a 55 mph speed limit and traffic cops with guns at every turn on the highway? One just does not speed or change lanes. One behaves more sensibly.
That is the sort of attitude we need to encourage in this country. It does not profit us very much if we drive at 80 mph on a motorway for a few miles. If we had kept at 70 mph, we might have got there 30 seconds later. When we come to the end of the motorway, we will have got there quicker and will have longer to wait to get through the bottleneck that was caused.
That is another point in favour of speed cameras. People wonder about the purpose of a speed camera on a straight road without any congestion. One purpose is to ensure constant traffic flows along roads, because that makes the best use of the capacity of the road. If we think differently about speed as drivers, just as we now think differently about drinking and driving, and just as we tend to think differently now about smoking, that will be the most effective way in which we can improve traffic management and road safety. It comes back to human behaviour. There will always be tearaways and boom boys. There will always be people chasing each other, as there were when I was on a road near Salisbury last Saturday evening. They were behaving in the most appallingly dangerous manner at only 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Changing human behaviour is the best way in which we can influence traffic management.
The Bill will do no harm, and it might do some good. I suspect, therefore, that although I shall vote in favour of the reasoned amendment, it will get into Committee, where a great deal of work will need to be done on it before it comes back here. I hope that it will really make a difference to my constituents and to the whole country.
§ John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who gave the best advocacy of the Government's proposals that we have heard so far in this debate. I do not know whether he has journeyed towards new Labour, or whether new Labour has journeyed towards him. In any case, the bridge across is there, should he wish to 103 continue his journey, following such an informed and articulate analysis of the use of technology. It was most apposite to the debate.
I thank the Secretary of State for his kind suggestion that I sit on the Bill Committee. Unlike some of the more reticent Members who have spoken from the Opposition Benches, I believe that it is always an honour humbly to serve, and I look forward to doing so, should the Whips have taken note of that suggestion. A puff of white smoke will emerge from Worksop town hall to signify that my name has been added to the roll-call of those putting in time working on the detail of the Bill.
The single biggest contribution that the Government have made to tackling congestion is the decision that they made about 18 months ago to get rid of the three roundabouts on the A1 in Nottinghamshire. That decision was not taken by the previous Labour Government—the Callaghan Government—or by any of the five subsequent Conservative Governments since the issue was first debated in 1970. The decision was finally taken following a visit to my constituency by the then Transport Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar). When he saw the situation, he decided to spend the necessary money. The difference that that will make to the local economy in my constituency will be worth more than £10 million a year in terms of the profitability of local businesses.
In terms of the quality of life of the people who can now journey either up and down the A1 or—in the case of many of my constituents—across it, the savings in their average journey times will be astronomical. There will also be a reduction in the pollution currently caused by cars stopping and starting at the roundabouts near the villages of Blyth, Harworth and Bircotes. For those living there, this decision represents a significant and timely change that will reduce congestion significantly.
Just this week, we are witnessing the removal of the second lot of road humps from Manton in my constituency that were unwisely put in by the county council following guidance from the early 1990s, especially the 1994 guidance. The guidance failed to take into account the presence of on-street parking. In its wisdom, the county council, like many others, stuck road humps into areas that had previously had high accident rates, including mining estates. Until the mid-to-late 1990s, those estates had had long roads with not many cars on them, because previous generations of miners had lived and worked in the village and not required cars to get to work. The local Manton pit, at which 2,500 Manton residents worked until it was arbitrarily shut down in 1992, was within walking distance of their homes. There was no car park at the pit for the locals; everyone walked to work. Of course, cars appeared as people had to find work further afield, but we found that the inflection on the road humps did not work when cars were parked each side of them.
There are no garages or drives at most houses in most mining villages, so the presence of the cars, which were newly acquired to allow people to work further afield, meant that the road humps lined the middle of the street. That meant that emergency service vehicles—as I said 104 earlier, the ambulance service was not consulted on this—could not traverse the humps in the way that they were designed to do and the humps were a total disaster.
I am pleased to say, however, that that guidance has changed and that, wisely, the vast majority of the road humps, including the second lot, have been dug out this very week, much to the delight of local residents. That is not an anti-road safety issue, but one of pedestrians, residents and motorists coming together to produce a coherent and sensible road management policy. My question to the Minister is this: where in the Bill does it say who will take responsibility locally for the outcome in relation to edicts that come in guidance notes from the Department for Transport, which in this case were implemented wrongly and absurdly and were applied by the county council in circumstances in which they would not work, although I commend the Department and the Government for their well meaning attempt to achieve road safety? If that is not clear, an amendment is required to ensure that someone locally takes precise responsibility.
On speed cameras, although I will not repeat anything from the excellent contribution of the hon. Member for Salisbury, there is an additional point. We in Nottinghamshire have had to wait, but my constituency, following a vigorous campaign, now has speed cameras, although that required seven deaths over about 18 months on the A631 and there was tremendous all-party resistance to it in the county council. One wonders whether declarations of interest should have been made and why some of those people opposed their introduction.
In that context, who should be responsible for saying, "Here is a road that clearly meets the criteria but has no speed cameras"? Having such a person would ensure that my local residents could get what they are crying out for—safer roads. Some contributions on speed cameras sounded rather dated, because the new cameras that we have are digital. Digital cameras do not result in people being fined just because they went 2 mph over the limit when passing a particular camera, although people who brake to slow down and then speed up will get a fine, because the cameras can monitor cars over the length of a road. Also, the stretch of road being monitored between various cameras can be varied so that people do not know they are being filmed.
What is happening has been widely publicised among local residents and we have found that all the locals are going below the speed limit, which has been rightly reduced to 50 mph. We have safer roads. That is popular with the local community and we are making good use of the technology. Who will be responsible for ensuring that no county council can fail fulfil its responsibilities for introducing such speed cameras?
On the A638 at Scrooby and Barnby Moor, the local residents are demanding speed cameras. It seems to me that the right for the local community to say, "We are the ones who are living with the speed, so we should determine what we have outside our front door," is missing from the Bill. If the Minister requires a further example, I invite him to visit me at home. On the A620, my local road in the constituency, there have been four deaths in three separate accidents in the past six months, but because none of the deaths occurred at precisely the same point it would be excluded in terms of the specific requirement that gives the county council a get out—it 105 can say, "We'll not be having speed cameras or even a speed camera on this road." However, local residents would rather have safer roads for us to drive on.
Of course, many of those victims were children, who were in the back of cars that cut into large roads as people went about their everyday business. They are all too often the victims of our failure to take appropriate action. I hope that the Minister will provide clarification on that.
Australia was cited as an example. When I was there in the summer, I asked Australian parliamentary colleagues why everyone drove so slowly. The answer was clear: they drive slowly because they do not want to get the very large fines that come automatically when excess speed is recorded. Everybody therefore drives slowly, safely and more sensibly.
I am keen to hear from the Minister about the issue of gas. I fully support many of the details in the Bill relating to an efficient road management system, but there is a dilemma. The Bracebridge estate in my constituency consists of 90 pensioner bungalows. In mining villages, pensioners have tended to stay with solid fuel for two reasons: first, empathy for the product that they mined in their lifetime; and, secondly, the concessionary fuel allowance from the National Coal Board. Therefore, while everyone else has tended to convert to gas, pockets exist—in this case, 90 pensioner properties—that are without gas. It will be necessary to dig under the main road to connect to the gas main. Transco and its competitors may use that as an excuse to charge an exorbitant additional price to connect those pensioners' homes to gas supplies. That is one of the smaller ambiguities that are present in any legislation, but discussions should take place with the Department of Trade and Industry about how we overcome that ambiguity.
On the issue of road surfacing, one of my suggestions, which no doubt is uncontroversial, relates to the adoption of roads. There are several new estates in my constituency. I am always delighted to welcome new residents, and I am obliged to keep doing so because so many problems exist in completing the contracts to get the roads made-up. In the context of re-surfacing, it seems to me that the adoption of roads, and how that ties in with utilities and house builders, could be worked into this Bill. That seems both logical and sensible—it fits with the sprit of the Bill—and it will solve what seems to be an increasing problem, whereby builders, who are making so much money on house sales, are prepared to delay for significant periods the small deposits that they pay to the highway authorities to guarantee the completion of made-up roads.
Similarly, to give a smaller example, Mill street in Worksop has not been adopted in 80 years—the street is shorter in length than this Chamber, yet it has not been made up—which causes tremendous problems for local residents. The county council has repeatedly been unwilling, for no good reason, to make it up. Including in the Bill an obligation for the adoption of such roads, which have existed for a significant period but, for whatever anomalous reason, do not have the tarmac and the service that goes with it, would be a tiny expenditure for local authorities. In terms of equity and quality of life for those in the small pockets concerned, 106 however—again, an undue number of them are in mining constituencies—that would be a useful amendment.
§ Mr. Drew
One of the main problems with the adoption of roads occurs when builders go bankrupt. Usually, insufficient money has been held back, and the local authority sees no obligation to adopt the road. That problem bedevils parts of my constituency, and I am sure it occurs in all constituencies.
§ John Mann
Absolutely. There are bankruptcies, and also protracted arguments about who is responsible. We now see a greater opportunity to solve a problem that blights parts of our constituencies and causes us unnecessary work. It is not that we are unwilling to do the work, but such problems ought to be resolved by those who are making large amounts of money out of new building.
Scaffolding and skips are a problem on mining estates and properties. It is all very well when a nice semi-detached house has a drive, or a tower block—like the one where I live, just across the river, when I am in London—has some land at the front. Scaffolding and skips can be placed a good distance from the road. Indeed, there is a skip in front of my flat at the moment. A property in a mining village, however, may have no drive, and it may have no garden if it is in a terrace. The price may be high in such cases. We must ensure that in a terraced cul-de-sac, for instance, no exploitation takes place, not least on the part of local authorities who might see this as a potential cash cow—a way of filling their coffers that could work unduly against the interests of people living in what are generally much cheaper properties.
The concept of a parking attendant becoming a civil enforcement officer is, I feel, a major issue. I have no intrinsic problem with it, but the loophole in the current law could be replicated many times, and I do have a problem with that. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 makes no provision for the agents of a local authority to act on behalf of the authority. Although section 33(7) refers to the use of agents to manage car parking facilities, the Act does not authorise a third party to pursue action through the criminal justice system. The Road Traffic Act 1991 decriminalised parking offences and brought them within the scope of civil enforcement, which I think was sensible. I commend those responsible for the move.
I have raised a good deal of local publicity over a problem in my constituency, which is clearly a problem throughout the country. It relates to private operators of local authority car parks. A dispute over a fine—over whether someone has or has not paid or whether he has a ticket, for instance—is a civil dispute in the case of a private car park. If a car park is run by a local authority, it is possible to consult and put pressure on democratically accountable representatives to ensure that it is run properly, but there is a problem if the car park is run privately on behalf of a local authority. Woe betide anyone who chooses to park in the Bawtry car park, which is run not by a district or county council but by a town council. Well meaning as it is, bless its cotton socks, the council—advised by its part-time clerk—has signed an agreement with a private contractor in Bawtry for its new pay-and-display car park, which is causing a few problems.
107 In a written answer given on 16 December, the Under-Secretary of State told me:It is an established legal principle that a power delegated to one body may not be further delegated in the absence of express provision or necessary implication."—[Official Report, 16 December 2003; Vol. 415, c. 794W.]There is a loophole in the law and it may be worsened unless it is closed by the Bill. The private operator is using the threat of criminal, not civil, action to intimidate people into paying car park fines.
Thirty-six cases were taken to court. I made four representations to the court. Fortunately for the 36 people, my first representation—that the tickets issued were invalid—was accepted by the judge, so all 36 did not have to pay their fines. Unfortunately for everyone else, that meant that the judge did not need to issue any edict in relation to the other cases.
My second representation concerned the fact that there is no provision allowing a private operator to take people to the criminal courts on behalf of a local authority. I would go further. Nothing in existing legislation allows private operators to go to civil courts where they are running a local authority car park. That is solely the local authority's prerogative and responsibility.
This is fundamental. Parking attendants, who could be renamed and re-empowered as civil enforcement officers, employed by a private company and paid by results, may be rather exuberant. When all the money from fines goes to the private operator, there is an incentive for fines to be levied. Letters saying that people will be criminally liable and will be taken to the criminal courts, despite the fact that operators have never won in any court with any case, mean that people tend to pay. The £20 or £30 fine becomes a £75 or £100 fine. People are paying £100 routinely in order to avoid what they fear will be a criminal record.
It is no good me saying to them that I do not think that the private operators have the powers to do that because most people are fearful of the consequences of going to court. That is not equitable. That is not a good way of getting public support. There is a loophole in the law that will be worsened by these people becoming civil enforcement officers. That loophole needs to be tightened.
A letter from the solicitors of a private company talks of "criminal liability" and commencing "criminal proceedings". That is the language that solicitors are using. The Bill should deal with that because it is totally inequitable. Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate the problem. We need to keep the public on our side. There are two types of ticket machine in essence. One type has an internal heater: the tickets come out dry. The other type, which is cheaper, does not. Therefore, the ticket comes out damp. People stick a ticket on their windscreen and it falls off. Surprise, surprise, the vast majority of cases that I have come across are of people who bought tickets, were not over their time but whose tickets fell off because they were wet—it was raining when they bought them. When they show the ticket to the private operator, he still attempts to fine them and threatens them with criminal litigation in the magistrates court. People are terrified into paying, 108 despite the fact that they owe not a penny because the fault is in the machine. I am sure that it is purely accidental that the machines do not have the internal heater, despite the fact that they are outdoor machines. If we are going to have public support, we cannot afford to allow such things to happen.
Nor can we afford to allow a disabled woman with cystic fibrosis, who is carrying an oxygen machine in a car park with a slope and who has parked where she can get out of the car without the wheel chair rolling away, to be given a parking ticket while carrying the oxygen machine. I am more than happy for her to go—I will represent her if necessary—to the civil courts and to argue her case but it is wholly wrong and improper for criminal proceedings to be threatened. The concept of having a civil enforcement officer in uniform who threatens criminal proceedings is even more damaging. There is an important loophole in the law, which does not apply just to my constituents. It is a scandal, and it needs to be addressed in the Bill.
There is also the question of the parking adjudicator. The adjudicator can be approached if the car park in question is a local authority car park, but not if it is run by a private operator. That is absolute nonsense; the parking adjudicator needs to have a proper remit. The Bill needs to close that loophole in the law.
My final concern relates to drug testing. Drug testing at the roadside where accidents have occurred is important, and will be increasingly necessary in future. Such testing must not be impaired by any changes introduced by the Bill. That would be very detrimental, and the Minister will doubtless be able to reassure me on that point. It is important to raise that issue at this stage, and with that thought in mind, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
One advantage of speaking at the end of a very long Second Reading debate is that one can sweep up most of the ideas that have been expressed. One can dispose of much of one's own speech because it has already been dealt with, and concentrate on a small number of issues that, hopefully, can be covered under the principles of the legislation, even if they cannot be included in the detailed discussions in Committee. I am not necessarily putting myself forward for membership of that Committee, but given the number of Labour Members who have spoken today, there will be considerable competition to get on to it. Indeed, this is an important Bill that deals with an issue on which many of us can wax lyrical. That could be because some of us were councillors in previous incarnations, or because, as all our postbags show, the Bill deals with a subject of great concern to our constituents.
My own constituency of Stroud is an interesting case in point, in that we have achieved some notoriety of late. It was said at the Christmas brass band concert a couple of years ago that we had become the roadworks capital of the United Kingdom. It was virtually impossible to move in Stroud without hitting a set of traffic lights or some other barrier to getting around. In preparing for today's debate, I asked the county council to give me some figures on what it considers an appropriate number of road openings. It said that some 4,000 road 109 openings a year would be appropriate for an area the size of Stroud, but that in 2002–03, we achieved the grand total of 6,595. So if nothing else, we are way above our average. Perhaps people will look back on that claim in due course and think about it.
I know the reason for such figures. A great deal of infrastructure redevelopment needs to take place, and I welcome such redevelopment. I am not here to attack the utilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) received the same letter that I received from Severn Trent Water, which takes a slightly different view of the importance of this legislation and the need to introduce it now. However, we will enter into discussions with the utilities, because if Stroud is anything to go by, they are getting a bad press. They are seen to be responsible for a great many road openings, and not just those relating to emergencies. Of course, we accept that emergencies occur over time, but I am talking about everyday repair and maintenance, which has a major impact. We do not in any way regard the public authorities as immune in this regard, and one good thing that this legislation will hopefully lead to is greater co-ordination.
I know that there have been criticisms from both sides about the timidity of the legislation. The problem of litigious excess has focused the mind of my own local authority, and we need to be aware of the possible ramifications of the Leicestershire county council v. Transco case. Neither the Minister nor I can comment on it, but the history of that case shows that previous attempts to legislate for street works or road management have not always proved their worth when tested in the courts. We have to hope that this time the legislation will work and conflicts will be amicably resolved. Ultimately, we are here to try to secure the best way of moving cars forward as easily and expeditiously as possible.
I shall not speak for long because I know that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) wants to contribute to the debate. However, I want to take a slightly different angle from others who have provided a mixed reception to the Bill on Second Reading. I shall refer to a numerous group who are profoundly affected by what happens on our roads. I refer, of course, to pedestrians and cyclists.
We sometimes think of roads as the preserve of motorists alone, and forget that some people, because they are too young or too old, cannot drive. Those people are none the less greatly affected by roadworks and our management of our road space, so I make a plea for them. I want to take up their position because we too often ignore them. We have already debated speed cameras, but we need to understand that the majority of the lobbying in favour of having speed cameras on our roads is not from motorists, but from pedestrians living alongside roads. Motorists have views about what speed is appropriate, whether cameras should be installed and whether they have been fairly nicked, but if we are to represent the majority of our constituents, some of whom cannot vote, we must understand that speed causes considerable unpleasantness in some people's lives. Sometimes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who I am pleased to see again in her place, said at the outset, speed can kill people.
110 We should regard anything that kills people as an appropriate subject for debate, and not just talk about speed as a minor inconvenience. I was pleased to hear what the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) had to say—that people can be delayed in their journeys by 30 seconds or a minute, but if something goes wrong, speed can profoundly affect someone's family for the rest of their lives. It is an important issue that we should not talk glibly about as though it is a case of our being for or against the motorist: it is far more serious than that.
Another general point is that we have glossed over the differences between more urbanised road space and rural roads. We talk a lot about congestion and the need to move people more quickly around our urban areas, but the reverse is true in rural Britain where people feel that they are the make-waits. When people have suffered from congestion, they often take out their frustration by speeding along country lanes, and we all know that it is impossible to impose general limits other than the national speed limit. Sadly, we have witnessed an increased incidence of death and serious injuries on country roads, which we ignore at our peril. Many constituents in rural areas lobby us continually on that. I accept that some people lobby us one way and those who wear a different hat lobby us another way, but we must try to make a judgment.
I hope that I did not delay the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) when I talked about resurfacing rather than the normal way in which we repair roads. I do not want to labour the point, but we too often take a short-term view on the basis that that is how contracts can best be delivered. In the longer term, however, we have terrible road surfaces. Gloucestershire is always asked to estimate the true cost of under-repair on the roads and produces figures such as £140 million. That is pretty meaningless because its measurement is subject to all sorts of questions. However, we all know our roads are in a poor state because we have too often taken a short-term way out that fails to complete the repair once the road has been opened up. If we only thought a bit more about doing repairs properly, perhaps they would not be as expensive as they are thought to be because our roads would not deteriorate at the rate at which they do. I have seen figures in Select Committee reports and from the Government in which lovely graph lines go up and down, but much depends on the grant settlement and the decay of individual roads. I hope that we will look at forcing those who open up roads, whether they come from the public or private sector, to be far clearer about the fact that if they are asked to contribute, they may really have to improve the quality of a road by resurfacing rather than just putting a nice trench down that will last for a year or two and then deteriorate.
I agree with all who say that the Bill should have been subject to proper scrutiny. Perhaps it is just the time of year, or it may be that the Government felt that they wanted the Bill on the statute book and that there are reasons why that should be done sooner rather than later. As ever, however, we could benefit from trying to tease out some of the problems.
Hon. Friends and Opposition Members have mentioned the point about empowering people other than police officers to investigate road traffic accidents. saying that we could redeploy those officers to other things. I wish that such matters were so earnestly 111 attended to by police officers that we were actually losing them to them. Sadly, though, we all know of cases in which greater investigation and a will actually to bring offenders to book would have brought at least some satisfaction to those who believe that their loved ones have been sacrificed in vain. Because of a lack of evidence being accrued, people have had paltry sentences and, more often than not, have gone out and offended again. That is unacceptable. Anything that we can do to take these matters more seriously should be done. That is not just a question of formal legal authorities doing more; all hon. Members will have experience of the game that insurance companies play as they try to delay judgment so that they do not have to pay out on behalf of their clients.
I may be getting away from the Bill itself in saying that, but it is connected to the question whether road safety should be included in the Bill and the way in which we should give people satisfaction if there has, unfortunately, been an accident and, most sadly of all, a fatality. We should give justice. That is the whole basis on which organisations such as RoadPeace work: they feel that justice is not done or seen to be done. We should do anything we can to tighten up.
As a keen cyclist, I feel that the vast majority of motorists understand their obligations. Cars are dangerous weapons and, if misused, can cause all sorts of problems. A rogue element perpetrates the worst offences and we must do what we can, through this legislation, to combat it.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) for allowing me to make one or two points in the remaining time available. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests—as a member of the RAC Foundation, I sit on the RAC public policy committee. I have also driven six hours from north Yorkshire to take part in the debate.
I greatly agree with what has been said about traffic officers on both sides of the House and I do not wish to repeat those remarks. My experience over Christmas was that traffic wardens are like London buses—one never sees them or they come in threes. When my husband's vehicle was rammed at high speed on Thirsk market square by another vehicle that disappeared without leaving the customary courtesy note with insurance details, there was no traffic warden in sight. However, on Christmas eve in Thirsk, three traffic wardens were handing out parking fines like sweeties.
I wish to echo the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) about uniforms for traffic officers and I am sure that the Minister will wish to address that issue. I am delighted to see him in his place, because we spent many a happy hour together on the Committee considering the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 a year ago.
The Secretary of State for Transport will decide the traffic officers' uniform for England and Wales, and it will be important to ensure that they will be easily 112 identifiable and distinct from their counterparts in Scotland. Many people from the Vale of York, including me, use the A1 as the main artery to access our vacations in Scotland and it will be a problem if no clear distinction can be made between traffic officers in England and those in Scotland. It will also be necessary to distinguish traffic officers from traffic wardens and police officers.
Clause 13 will provide an extensive power to acquire land. Should there be a major accident or incident on the A1 at the border, it will be important to know if that power extends only to England and Wales or if it includes Scotland, and in what specific circumstances that power would be exercised and to what extent. Like the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I think that too many questions remain unanswered by the Bill in its present form.
The Secretary of State for Scotland will recall from his experience at the Scottish Bar that road traffic incidents are some of the most difficult to deal with. I hope that the Minister will consider an amendment in Committee to ensure that witnesses of a crime on a road that they do not usually frequent are tracked down, even though they do not see signs placed on the road inviting witnesses to come forward. I hope that we can use the Bill to fill that gap in the law.
I was shocked—as I am sure other members of the Transport Committee were—to learn that the police have only recently drawn up a full handbook on how to deal with road accidents, like their handbook for murder cases. That is a welcome development, although it is long overdue.
I hope that it will remain the responsibility of uniformed police officers to inform family members that they have lost a loved one or that a loved one has been seriously injured in an accident. Uniformed police officers should exercise that duty. The highways authority should not be allowed to clear the road or take away evidence that could be used in the case.
Before my recent return to the Transport Committee, it issued an excellent report that drew attention to the fact that tensions could be created between the police officers who currently have responsibility in traffic accident cases and the new traffic officers. I hope that the Minister will explain how his Government imagine that such tensions will be eased.
Other tensions could arise between the existing breakdown services, which are operated by private firms, and any new procedures that the Government envisage under the provisions of clauses 5 and 9. The Minister shakes his head, but it is not good enough simply to empower the Secretary of State to introduce at a later date draft orders that can be approved by affirmative resolution of the House under clause 8(4). I entirely endorse the Select Committee's conclusions on that point.
The provisions are not good enough. On Second Reading and in the subsequent detailed scrutiny in Committee, it is the purpose of the House to tease out such details. In that regard, I should be most grateful if the Minister would lend us his ear and confirm the role of the national breakdown services. When the honest motorist has legally licensed and taxed his car, has fully comprehensive insurance and has subscribed at vast 113 expense—normally well over £100—for a full motoring recovery service, will he have the option to call the motorway breakdown service of his choice? From the concerns expressed on both sides of the House, the Minister will realise that there is real anxiety that the new highways authority procedures would enable a traffic officer to nominate for such a motorist any national breakdown service, or even an authority's competing service, and charge the motorist for that facility. That could greatly undermine the excellent services that have been provided by well-established national breakdown services—for well over 100 years in the case of the RAC and the AA. Will the Minister tell us how he expects to ease the apparent tensions both between the new traffic officers and the existing traffic police and, more especially, between the new traffic officers and the national breakdown services? I hope, too, that he will respond to our points about uniforms.
I am disappointed that the Government have not seen fit to deal with the very real issue of child casualties. Only three weeks ago, before the House rose for the Christmas recess, we heard that child casualties, especially among child pedestrians caught up in accidents, are unacceptably high. I think that the Minister accepted that, so will he admit that it is not only speed that causes many of the injuries and casualties among child pedestrians but that we must also consider the role of fixed speed cameras and—something that has been overlooked for much of the debate—of mobile speed cameras, and vehicle design?
Although I am delighted that in comparison with the rest of Europe we have a good record on most types of road casualty, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity offered by the Bill to address the unacceptably high figures for child casualties.
I hope that the Minister will respond to those points and that the House will support the Opposition in our reasoned amendment. If congestion is the problem, the Bill in its present form does not necessarily provide the way forward but will lead to an unacceptably bureaucratic traffic management system.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
We have had an excellent debate, and I emphasise the word "debate" because quite often we in the House have a dialogue of the deaf, but there has been a genuine discussion across the Floor this time. It would have been better if no hon. Member with a Scottish constituency had spoken and we had been confined to hearing Members with English or Welsh constituencies because this business affects only England and Wales.
The debate has also been adorned with first-class contributions from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) used his wealth of experience as a former Secretary of State to ask some penetrating questions, such as who is going to pay the bill for all this? If the Government's cavalier approach to administration costs in the Department for Transport is anything to go by, they are not interested in the costs of anything these days. The new limit for administration costs in that Department is now no less than £379 million this year. That is just the bill for administration.
114 My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked fewer questions but made a series of constructive and persuasive proposals—a shopping list that I hope he will be able to pursue in Committee. He should have received encouragement from the fact that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), in a rather London-centric speech, agreed with many of his points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key)—a former Minister for Roads and Traffic—talked about the role of cameras in snooping on road users. Later, I shall draw attention to the fact that the Government are failing to enforce the law, despite the number of cameras and notwithstanding all the snooping that is going on. He also spoke eloquently about the continuing Salisbury traffic nightmare and his support for the motorcycling fraternity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh)—a member of the Transport Committee and the RAC—brought some interesting points to the debate, including her plea that we should try to reduce the carnage among children on our roads. Those hon. Members who have had the chance to look at tonight's Evening Standard will have seen a most horrific example of just that, where a six-year-old girl in, I think, Ealing or Southall was mown down and killed on Christmas day. That was perpetrated by someone who had stolen a car and was driving unlawfully in a bus lane—a reminder that it is a mistake to try to separate driving offences and criminal behaviour.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), as usual, spoke with authority and effectively damned the Bill with faint praise. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) emphasised the importance of reducing congestion for the rural economy. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) brought to our attention his concerns as the chairman of PACT, and those concerns were echoed by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who emphasised his concerns about cyclists.
§ Mr. Chope
No, I will not give way because the hon. Gentleman has not been present for the whole debate. If he had read tonight's Evening Standard and been present for the whole debate, he would have had the chance to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) highlighted his concern about the Bill's impact on the development of broadband, and that point was also made by a number of other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) took the biscuit in the sense that he demonstrated a knowledge of road humps superior to that of any other hon. Member who participated.
The Government should be concerned at the serious all-party criticism of the Bill on a number of accounts. There is a lack of pre-legislative scrutiny—an ideal opportunity has been missed. There is a lack of detail in the Bill on several key points, particularly the extra powers for traffic officers and the unanswered question about what will happen to the 550 police who will be 115 displaced. There is also the issue of the Bill's impact on broadband and the extraordinary powers that the Government will take to oust traffic managers where they do not like them when they are working for local authorities.
Other concerns emphasised by Conservative Members were the lack of a level playing field between utilities and local highway authorities, both contributing to highway disruption, local authority fixed penalty notices being extended to moving traffic offences, and speed cameras being used as revenue raisers and no longer commanding the respect of the motoring public.
I should like to concentrate on two or three big issues. The Government have hyped the Bill, saying that it is a congestion-busting Bill, yet in the Department for Transport's autumn performance report, published in December 2003, at page 5, we see that the Department admits:The target for congestion will not be met. We are in the process of agreeing a better and more useful measure of congestion.The Government have been working on this for some time, because the first target was set in 2000 as a public service agreement to reduce congestion on the inter-urban trunk road network and in large urban areas in England below current levels by 2010 by promoting integrated transport solutions and investing in public transport and the road network. The latter part of that target was removed, so in 2002 we had a fresh target to reduce congestion on the inter-urban trunk road network and in large urban areas in England below 2000 levels by 2010. Yet we are told this autumn that even that target will not be met and that the Government will find a better and more useful measure of congestion.
I asked the Secretary of State, in a question that should have been answered today because it was a priority written question, what the level of congestion in inter-urban roads and urban roads is against which he intends to achieve a reduction as a result of the Bill. As reducing congestion is supposedly at the heart of the Bill, one would have thought that that would be an easy question for the Department to respond to, but it has failed to do so in a timely way.
The Department has also failed to respond to another question asking for the Secretary of State's estimate of the proportion of congestion on roads in England and Wales that is caused by poorly planned and lengthy street works carried out by utilities and by or on behalf of highway authorities. He had great fun knocking the 10 per cent. figure in the Opposition's amendment, but if he says that that figure is wrong, let him declare the correct figure. Why has he not done so in response to my parliamentary question due for answer today?
The second point that I want to emphasise, which was raised by a number of hon. Members tangentially, is the police role in fighting crime. The Motorists Forum report, published in December last year, included a review of the delivery of the road safety strategy and emphasised the link between road traffic offences and other crime. It referred to the North report, which was published in 1988.
There is a contrast between the approach taken by the Government in the Bill and that of the Road Traffic Act 1991, with which I was privileged to be involved. The 116 latter measure was informed by the North report, which was followed by a public debate on the issues that it raised. This time, the Government have ducked out of that public debate and scrutiny, and have rightly come in for severe criticism from the Select Committee and many others. The North report emphasised the importance of proportionality of enforcement for a wide range of traffic offences, from minor lapses to potentially fatal disregard for the law, and that issue is as relevant now as it was then. Research in 1999 demonstrated the link between people who commit traffic offences and people who commit serious crime. It showed that a third of drivers illegally parked in disabled bays had criminal records. Half had committed road traffic offences and a fifth were of immediate police interest because of suspected connections with unsolved crime. There is therefore a direct link between people who flout the traffic laws and people who, in the strongest sense of the term, are criminals.
The Government, however, have not taken the opportunity in the Bill to address concerns about rising car crime and lawlessness among those who drive on our roads. Every hour, 300 car crimes are committed at a cost to the nation's drivers of £826 million. Car mugging, in which crooks break into vehicles to steal, has risen by 20 per cent. in the past year to no fewer than 415,000 offences. There are four times as many car muggings as street robberies. The Government's emphasis on dealing with street robberies ignores the plight of motorists, who pay an enormous sum of money as a result of the lawlessness to which they are subject. Nine out of 10 motorists do not believe that the Government are doing enough to fight car crime, and the Bill does nothing to address that.
The number of people driving without a driving licence is, according to the Minister's figures, between 620,000 and just over 1 million. The number of people without insurance is estimated to be 1.25 million. The number of untaxed vehicles is 1.75 million, and only about half the fines imposed for driving offences are paid. At its worst, the Bill panders to those who enjoy persecuting and humiliating the motoring public. It targets the essentially law-abiding citizen, yet does nothing to tackle the rogues responsible for increased lawlessness on our roads.
Finally, the Secretary of State has kindly said that I am an expert in the field, so I should like to address speed cameras. The Government have tried to exercise spin on the issue. The answer that I received on 17 December about the eight safety camera partnership areas for which figures are available said that, in 2002, the number of fatalities had increased in four areas, notwithstanding the presence of a safety camera partnership, and had decreased in the other four. That conclusion is not the same as the Government's spin that such partnerships always result in a reduction of fatalities. The Secretary of State said that he was concerned that the safety cameraship—[Laughter.] I am sorry, he said that the safety camera partnerships should comply with his rules. However, his own handbook states:Compliance with these rules and guidelines bears no significance on the detection and enforcement of offences so 117 detected by safety camera operations. To this end, non-compliance with these rules and guidelines by a partnership does not provide for any mitigation in defence for an offence committed by a driver in breach of current UK law.Surely, if the Government are concerned about the abuse of the rules and guidelines, they should declare tonight that if in future anybody is caught on a speed camera, but it is shown that that camera is operating in breach of their own guidelines, no penalty should be imposed. That is surely the minimum progress that we should make this evening, and is something on which Members on both sides of the House would agree.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)
This has been a full and thoughtful debate in which there has been support for the Bill in all parts of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) said that a number of bids had been made by people who wished to serve on the Committee considering the Bill. I am sure that the Whip has taken careful note and marked the contributions that have been made, and that all of us will go to sleep tonight dwelling on the word "cameraship"—a new word that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has put into the English language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made a powerful contribution in which she raised a number of points. I hope that many of them will be addressed in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) made a very thoughtful contribution.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), with his 10 commandments, made one of the best contributions tonight in terms of presenting good ideas. Perhaps the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) will note his speech. He may have something to offer, although he seems to be shaking his head; I am not quite sure why.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) made a helpful and supportive contribution, as he always does in such debates. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), drawing on his long experience in the matters under discussion, made some useful points, and I am sure that many of them will be debated in Committee as well.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) spoke of London. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) expressed well-reasoned support for the Bill. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made a sensitive and supportive speech and was very much in favour of the Bill, for which I am grateful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made some very powerful points about road safety. As always, he was a strong advocate for his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke for good sense, as always, and emphasised important issues of road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) made a very thoughtful contribution.
I hope that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) serves on the Committee, so that we can enjoy many a happy hour there together, as we have on 118 other Bills. The hon. Member for Christchurch was in danger of sullying the tone of the debate, but we will gloss over that.
The Bill contains a number of measures with a common aim—ensuring that our national and local road networks are operated as efficiently as possible and safely for the benefit of all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, who are just as much road users as people in motor vehicles.
The creation of the traffic officer service for the Highways Agency has arisen from a very thorough review by the agency and the police of their respective roles and responsibilities. It is apparent that transferring some of the traffic management activities on motorways and trunk roads, especially when there are incidents on those roads, would bring considerable benefits. There would be benefits not only for drivers, in terms of fewer and shorter hold-ups and better information about what is happening, but for the police, as the equivalent of 540 police officers would be released for vehicle, road and other crime fighting duties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich raised the issue of how those extra resources would be used. Of course, it is a matter for the chief constable in each area to decide how any time that has been released from police officers should be used. On a recent visit to the west midlands, where the first trial is to be introduced, I saw that the police there were anxious to use any of the resources released in respect of traffic officers for further crime reduction and tackling crime on the roads, not only including road crime, but where criminals are using the road network in conjunction with other criminality.
The traffic officer service will be brought together with the new regional control centres, operated jointly by the police and the Highways Agency, which will manage traffic and co-ordinate on-road resources. We intend to roll out the approach progressively, starting in the midlands this year.
For local authorities, we are introducing a network management duty, so that they carry out all their relevant activities in a way that minimises congestion and disruption. They will be required to appoint a traffic manager. It will be for each authority to decide the traffic manager's precise role, but the manager will be key to achieving the goal of keeping the traffic moving.
Several hon. Members asked what exactly the role of traffic managers should be. Of course, their precise duties will be a matter for the local authority concerned, and they will be responsible to it. That will in no way diminish authorities' existing duties on safety, the environment and the provision of high-quality public transport, but by drawing together the strands that affect the movement of the network, the service that is provided to all road users will be improved. At the same time, if authorities are not performing their duties properly, it is right that the Government should be able to take action. We would much prefer that authorities improve their performance and manage their networks effectively, but if intervention is necessary the Bill provides for that on the basis of evidence, transparency and proportionality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich raised several points that encompass many of those that were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, 119 and quoted the important statistic that four times more people are killed on our roads each year than are murdered. That further focuses our attention on the need to drive down the number of casualties on our roads. Safety is key to the measures in the Bill.
Several Members asked about traffic officers. Of course, they will be trained for the appropriate level of activity that they have to undertake. Their uniforms will be clearly distinguishable from those of the police: they will be marked, "Traffic Officer", and carry the Highways Agency logo. As for the role that they might perform if they were the first people to arrive at an incident, they could provide first aid or give information to road users further back on the road to avoid their running into the incident as well. The kind of extra power that may be appropriate in future is the checking of overweight vehicles on some parts of the road network.
I turn now to the contribution of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). The period of economic success in the 1980s and 1990s that he talked about must have passed me by. One of the reasons why our transport network is under so much pressure is that now—in the late 1990s and 2000 onwards—we have an economy that is thriving, with 1.5 million more people in work. That has created extra stress on our transport system, which was neglected for years by the Conservative party.
The hon. Gentleman said that there would be 550 fewer traffic police. That is simply not the case. We will release the time of those 550 police to enable them to carry out other activities, such as tracking down criminals on the roads. They will enforce the law on the roads, not be removed from them.
The hon. Gentleman uttered another piece of nonsense—let me nail this one—when he said that traffic officers will represent a competing breakdown service on the motorway. He clearly was not listening when the Secretary of State said in his opening speech that that is not the case. They will not provide an alternative breakdown service, but in certain circumstances they may do what the police do now—for example, they may call in contractors to take a vehicle away if no other service is available to do it. The role of the AA and the RAC will of course remain as it is today. Traffic officers will work closely and carefully with all the people who provide such services on the road.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Bill places in the hands of civilians certain activities for enforcing the law. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave credit to the hon. Member for Christchurch for introducing speed cameras. In the 1930s, one of my predecessors in Plymouth, Devonport—Hore-Belisha—had a certain beacon named after him. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) made the suggestion, to which I shall give careful consideration, that the speed cameras should be called Chope cameras. I also give the hon. Gentleman credit for introducing the measure to transfer enforcement for road traffic offences from the police to local authorities. He said on 26 February 1991 in the debate on the Road Traffic Bill:I had in mind that local authority parking attendants could be responsible for enforcing almost all parking regulations within 120 particular designated areas"—[Official Report, 26 February 1991; Vol. 186, c. 817.]That was the first time that the matter was mentioned. I do not want to undermine the success of the hon. Gentleman in introducing so many of the things that he now criticises from the position that he currently occupies.
The hon. Member for Ashford spoke at length about speed cameras, as did a number of other contributors. He said that there is a lot of evidence that cameras are in the wrong place. "A lot of evidence" is not constituted by his constant repetition of a falsehood. In the newspapers he has been quoted as saying that 4,000 cameras were wrongly placed. I noticed that when my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) asked him to name one of those 4,000 cameras that were in the wrong place, he could not tell us anything at all. He was totally silent on the matter.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that many hon. Members in all parts of the House would be up in arms if we said that we intended to remove the camera from their local community, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. The A631, the A638 and the A620 may be some of the roads in question.
I have a challenge for the hon. Member for Ashford, and it is a serious one. On matters of road safety, I should like to think that we had a certain amount of cross-party accord. I am sure he would agree that we want to reduce death and injury on our roads. I hope there is no disagreement on that. If he knows of any speed safety camera in one of the partnership areas that has been placed somewhere where it does not meet the stringent criteria set by my Department, let him provide that evidence. If he does not have the evidence to present to me and to the House, let him be silent for a time and reflect on the number of people, particularly the children and elderly people, whom those cameras have saved.
§ Mr. Jamieson
If the hon. Member for Ashford can provide evidence that any of those 4,000 cameras do not meet the criteria, we will have the matter investigated. I asked for that eight weeks ago. As yet, nobody has come forward and identified such a camera or site. We are told that there are 4,000, but nobody has come forward with a camera site that does not fit the criteria. I give the hon. Gentleman this commitment: if he will give me just one such example, we will have it investigated and, if appropriate, we will have it removed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire made a helpful contribution to the debate, particularly in her comments about roadworks at night and structuring the roadworks to take place at appropriate times of the day. That is provided for in the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham mentioned 10 ideas, of which four or five instantly struck me as having considerable merit. I hope that he is successful in getting on the Committee that will consider the Bill, so that we can further explore some of those ideas. I can tell 121 the right hon. Gentleman that on occasion, we raise the speed limit on a road. He will know that on the M4, where the speed limit was 50 mph, we decided that there was no road safety reason for it being 50 mph on the lead-in to London, so we increased the speed limit to 60 mph.
The debate has been useful. I hope that the Bill will gain accord from both sides of the House. It will undoubtedly make a major contribution to road safety and reducing congestion.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 362.124
|Division No.19]||[9:59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Heathcoat-Amory, rh David|
|Amess, David||Hoban, Mark (Fareham)|
|Ancram, rh Michael||Hogg, rh Douglas|
|Arbuthnot, rh James||Horam, John (Orpington)|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Howard, rh Michael|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Bacon, Richard||Hunter, Andrew|
|Baldry, Tony||Jack, rh Michael|
|Barker, Gregory||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Baron, John (Billericay)||Johnson, Boris (Henley)|
|Bercow, John||Key, Robert (Salisbury)|
|Blunt, Crispin||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Boswell, Tim||Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)|
|Brady, Graham||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Brazier, Julian||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Lansley, Andrew|
|Burns, Simon||Leigh, Edward|
|Burnside, David||Letwin, rh Oliver|
|Burt, Alistair||Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)|
|Butterfill, John||Liddell-Grainger, Ian|
|Cameron, David||Lidington, David|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Lilley, rh Peter|
|Chope, Christopher||Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)|
|Clappison, James||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Maclean, rh David|
|Collins, Tim||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Conway, Derek||Malins, Humfrey|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian|
|Curry, rh David||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)||Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)|
|Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)||Murrison, Dr. Andrew|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Duncan, Alan (Rutland)||Osborne, George (Tatton)|
|Evans, Nigel||Ottaway, Richard|
|Fabricant, Michael||Paice, James|
|Fallon, Michael||Paterson, Owen|
|Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)||Prisk, Mark (Hertford)|
|Redwood, rh John|
|Flight, Howard||Robathan, Andrew|
|Flook, Adrian||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Forth, rh Eric||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Fox, Dr. Liam||Rosindell, Andrew|
|Gale, Roger (N Thanet)||Ruffley, David|
|Garnier, Edward||Selous, Andrew|
|Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)||Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian|
|Goodman, Paul||Shepherd, Richard|
|Gray, James (N Wilts)||Simmonds, Mark|
|Grayling, Chris||Soames, Nicholas|
|Green, Damian (Ashford)||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Greenway, John||Spink, Bob (Castle Point)|
|Grieve, Dominic||Stanley, rh Sir John|
|Gummer, rh John||Steen, Anthony|
|Hawkins, Nick||Streeter, Gary|
|Heald, Oliver||Swayne, Desmond|
|Syms, Robert||Willetts, David|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Wilshire, David|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy||Winterton, Ann (Congleton)|
|Tredinnick, David||Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Viggers, Peter||Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)|
|Walter, Robert||Young, rh Sir George|
|Whittingdale, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wiggin, Bill||Hugh Robertson and Mr. Mark Francois|
|Adams, Irene (Paisley N)||Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)|
|Alexander, Douglas||Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)|
|Allen, Graham||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Austin, John||Clelland, David|
|Bailey, Adrian||Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)|
|Barnes, Harry||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Barrett, John||Cohen, Harry|
|Barron, rh Kevin||Coleman, Iain|
|Battle, John||Connarty, Michael|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Beard, Nigel||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Beckett, rh Margaret||Cotter, Brian|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Cousins, Jim|
|Beith, rh A. J.||Cranston, Ross|
|Bell, Stuart||Crausby, David|
|Benn, rh Hilary||Cryer, Ann (Keighley)|
|Bennett, Andrew||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Benton, Joe (Bootle)||Cummings, John|
|Berry, Roger||Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)|
|Blackman, Liz||Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Cunningham, Tony (Workington)|
|Blizzard, Bob||Dalyell, Tam|
|Boateng, rh Paul||Darling, rh Alistair|
|Borrow, David||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||David, Wayne|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Davidson, Ian|
|Brake, Tom (Carshalton)||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Breed, Colin||Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Brennan, Kevin||Dawson, Hilton|
|Brooke, Mrs Annette L.||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)||Denham, rh John|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Dismore, Andrew|
|Browne, Desmond||Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Dobson, rh Frank|
|Bryant, Chris||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Doran, Frank|
|Burden, Richard||Doughty, Sue|
|Burgon, Colin||Drew, David (Stroud)|
|Burnett, John||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Burnham, Andy||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Burstow, Paul||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Caborn, rh Richard||Edwards, Huw|
|Cairns, David||Efford, Clive|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy||Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Farrelly, Paul|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Fisher, Mark|
|Caplin, Ivor||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Carmichael, Alistair||Flint, Caroline|
|Casale, Roger||Flynn, Paul (Newport W)|
|Caton, Martin||Foster, rh Derek|
|Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Challen, Colin||Foster, Michael (Worcester)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)|
|Clapham, Michael||Foulkes, rh George|
|Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)||Francis, Dr. Hywel|
|Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Gardiner, Barry||Laws, David (Yeovil)|
|Gerrard, Neil||Laxton, Bob (Derby N)|
|Gibson, Dr. Ian||Lazarowicz, Mark|
|Gidley, Sandra||Leslie, Christopher|
|Gilroy, Linda||Levitt, Tom (High Peak)|
|Goggins, Paul||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Green, Matthew (Ludlow)||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||Linton, Martin|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Grogan, John||Love, Andrew|
|Hain, rh Peter||Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Luke, Iain (Dundee E)|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)|
|Hamilton, David (Midlothian)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||McCabe, Stephen|
|Hancock, Mike||McCartney, rh Ian|
|Hanson, David||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Harman, rh Ms Harriet||MacDonald, Calum|
|Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)||MacDougall, John|
|Healey, John||McKechin, Ann|
|Heath, David||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||McNulty, Tony|
|Hendrick, Mark||MacShane, Denis|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Heppell, John||McWalter, Tony|
|Heyes, David||McWilliam, John|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Mahmood, Khalid|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mallaber, Judy|
|Hodge, Margaret||Mandelson, rh Peter|
|Holmes, Paul||Mann, John (Bassetlaw)|
|Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)||Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)|
|Hope, Phil (Corby)||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)|
|Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Howells, Dr. Kim||Martlew, Eric|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Meacher, rh Michael|
|Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)||Merron, Gillian|
|Michael, rh Alun|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Milburn, rh Alan|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Miliband, David|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Miller, Andrew|
|Hurst, Alan (Braintree)||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hutton, rh John||Moffatt, Laura|
|Iddon, Dr. Brian||Mole, Chris|
|Illsley, Eric||Moonie, Dr. Lewis|
|Irranca-Davies, Huw||Moore, Michael|
|Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)||Morley, Elliot|
|Morris, rh Estelle|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Mountford, Kali|
|Jamieson, David||Mudie, George|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W)||Mullin, Chris|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Jones, Kevan (N Durham)||Naysmith, Dr. Doug|
|Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||O'Hara, Edward|
|Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)||Olner, Bill|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||O'Neill, Martin|
|Kemp, Fraser||Owen, Albert|
|Khabra, Piara S.||Palmer, Dr. Nick|
|Kidney, David||Perham, Linda|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Picking, Anne|
|King, Andy (Rugby)||Pickthall, Colin|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)||Pike, Peter (Burnley)|
|Kirkwood, Sir Archy||Pond, Chris (Gravesham)|
|Knight, Jim (S Dorset)||Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)|
|Kumar, Dr. Ashok||Pound, Stephen|
|Ladyman, Dr. Stephen||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Lammy, David||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)||Stoate, Dr. Howard|
|Straw, rh Jack|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Stringer, Graham|
|Pugh, Dr. John||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Purchase, Ken||Stunell, Andrew|
|Purnell, James||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Quin, rh Joyce||Tami, Mark (Alyn)|
|Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)||Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)|
|Raynsford, rh Nick||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Reed, Andy (Loughborough)||Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)|
|Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)||Teather, Sarah|
|Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Rendel, David||Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)|
|Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Tonge, Dr. Jenny|
|Rooney, Terry||Touhig, Don (Islwyn)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Trickett, Jon|
|Roy, Frank (Motherwell)||Truswell, Paul|
|Ruane, Chris||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Ruddock, Joan||Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Salter, Martin||Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)|
|Sanders, Adrian||Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Vis, Dr. Rudi|
|Sawford, Phil||Ward, Claire|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Sheridan, Jim||Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)|
|Short, rh Clare||Watts, David|
|Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)||Webb, Steve (Northavon)|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||White, Brian|
|Skinner, Dennis||Whitehead, Dr. Alan|
|Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)||Williams, Betty (Conwy)|
|Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Willis, Phil|
|Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)||Wills, Michael|
|Soley, Clive||Woodward, Shaun|
|Southworth, Helen||Woolas, Phil|
|Spellar, rh John||Worthington, Tony|
|Squire, Rachel||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Starkey, Dr. Phyllis||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Stevenson, George||Wyatt, Derek|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)|
|Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stewart, Ian (Eccles)||Charlotte Atkins and Jim Fitzpatrick|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.