HC Deb 16 March 2004 vol 419 cc213-28

Any motor vehicle with two or more passengers shall be entitled at any time to use any carriageway marked out as a bus lane.—(Mr. Greg Knight.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Greg Knight

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 6—Bus lanes (use by other vehicles)— All bus lanes where buses are moving in the same direction as traffic in the adjacent or vehicle lane shall be open to use by cycles, motorcycles, licensed taxis and invalid vehicles.

Mr. Knight

It must be about 25 years ago that the first bus lane was introduced in the United Kingdom. I think that it is appropriate, as this Bill is before us, that we take a look again at the operation of bus lanes in the UK to see whether we can strike a better balance and get more use out of bus lane capacity. All too often, we see empty bus lanes and congestion in other lanes. For much of the day in some cities, traffic is at a standstill, while alongside that congestion there are empty bus carriageways. When bus lanes were introduced, they were sold to the public as a way of decreasing pollution by allowing buses to have quicker access to and from city centres. The argument went that if people caught the bus they would find that their journey was quicker because the bus would be able to use a dedicated bus lane. We were told that that was the environmentally friendly way to travel. However, I think we would all accept—at least I hope we would all accept—that bus lanes have not worked as well as we were told they would on their introduction. The reason for that is that, in many city centres during the rush hour, a third of the road capacity in one direction in some cases, and in others up to half the road capacity, is taken up with a dedicated bus lane.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that enforcement of bus lane discipline is sadly lacking? I do not know whether he shares my experience but, driving in London, I see a rather regrettable number of violations of bus lanes, with apparently very little effort to enforce them. Does he not agree that enforcement, together with his proposal, would make a great difference?

Mr. Knight

I would warn drivers who think that they can use the bus lane without getting caught to take care, because cameras have been installed at the front of buses to act as a video policing unit and record the details of any vehicle transgressing the current rules. I welcome that development. My right hon. Friend is right that enforcement has been and remains to some extent a problem, but detection rates are on the up because of the use of new technology.

Law-abiding drivers have to sit in their cars in long traffic queues, increasing not only pollution but anger and frustration.

Mr. Miller

They could get on the bus.

Mr. Knight

Contrary to that sotto voce contribution, that is not an option that is available or appropriate to every motorist. Some people find that, although the bus may cover part of their journey, if they are travelling to a rural area such as East Yorkshire, the service is either woefully inadequate or non-existent. It is simplistic attitudes such as the hon Gentleman's that got us into this position. Many motorists cannot use a bus because it does not take them where they need to go. The enemy here should be pollution, not the motor car. As cars become less polluting, his attitude towards them should become more benign.

Given that bus lanes do not work as well as we were told they would 25 years ago, it is now appropriate to reconsider the rules and guidance on their operation and try to make them work better. New clause 4 is designed to encourage car sharing. Its scope does not extend to contraflow carriageways: I do not argue that those should be opened up to other traffic, but a with-flow carriageway could be used by shared cars.

This is not a unique or new proposition. Car sharing is encouraged in many states in the United States of America. If there are more than two passengers, the car is entitled to use a dedicated lane. There is a real incentive to share a journey and thereby reduce car use, in turn reducing congestion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was concerned in an earlier debate about taking discretion away from local authorities. I accept that the new clause would do that, but I say good, because they have been singularly unimaginative in their approach to tackling this problem. I do not say that the Minister was misleading, but I do not think he painted an accurate picture when he replied to a similar debate in Committee. He gave the impression that it is all down to the local authority, but I have obtained a copy of the guidance issued by his Department, and it is not neutral on the subject.

On page 15 of "Keeping Buses Moving" there is a reference to other vehicles using bus lanes. It says that this could encourage the rather different result of a switch to car sharing by public transport passengers. However, it does not go on to say why reaction over here should be any different from what happens in the United States. The next paragraph says: It is considered that while there can be no general case for allowing high occupancy vehicles to use bus lanes, there may be special situations where a high occupancy lane would be justified. The guidance is designed to dissuade local authorities from introducing bus lanes that other vehicles could use. That is a shame, and whether or not the Minister feels that local authorities should continue to have such flexibility, I hope that he will say today that ministerial encouragement should be given to innovation in this area. I also hope that he is prepared to encourage local authorities to establish whether car sharing in the United Kingdom would help to decrease the congestion that is all too often present in urban areas, not just in rush hours but for most of the day.

4.15 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)

I do not intend to detain the House for very long on this subject, but I want to discuss a very real problem that I have encountered. I have discussed it with the Department, but I received a factual reply that did not deal with it at all. I ask the Minister to give a moment's thought to the unfortunate milkmen in inner-city areas. Milk floats, which are by definition extremely slow and rather unwieldy, rightly have to avoid inner bus lanes because they would constitute a hazard. But delivering to customers in inner-city areas has become so difficult that many milkmen do not know how to proceed. One unfortunate milkman incurred £450 worth of fines in one week, which was more than he earned. If we as a nation want to encourage people to continue to buy bottled milk, we should think seriously about this issue.

I should tell the Minister that I do not have any pet solutions—would that I did—but the traffic authorities need to be told that we desperately need such small tradesmen to continue to offer a service, particularly in urban areas. If they cannot deliver, they will soon give up trying and make their money elsewhere, which would be to the detriment of such services.

In talking about clearing bus lanes, we should also consider the plight of the service provider during certain working hours. I do not pretend that finding a solution will be simple, but unfortunately, the suggestion that milk be delivered during the night—superficially, that seems a good answer—ignores the fact that if it is delivered at such times in urban areas, it is not on the doorstep when the householder gets up in the morning.

Mr. Redwood

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am happy to give way on the subject of milk bottles.

Mr. Redwood

Is the hon. Lady suggesting to the Minister that small delivery vehicles should be exempt from bus lane rules? I would have a lot of sympathy with such a proposal.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I hesitate to suggest that, but we do need to find a way to enable people to continue to deliver goods. I do not have a lot of sympathy for the very large chains, which could organise their deliveries accordingly and keep people on at night to open up stores and let in deliveries; however, for individual tradesmen this problem constitutes a significant hazard. Indeed, it is worrying many people and putting them off wanting to do the job.

Would that I had an answer for the Minister. This is perhaps a unique parliamentary occasion, in that I have nothing to suggest, but he need only tell me that he will think hard about the matter and come up with a usable scheme.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (LD)

The intention behind new clause 4 is laudable. Given the need to reduce congestion, any suggestion that involves cars carrying more than one passenger is good in principle. The difficulty lies in the practical enforcement. I suspect that one of two scenarios will arise. To enforce the provision, an enormous amount of extra resources will have to be invested to provide more cameras to watch bus lanes; or we will end up like the United States, where there is a booming trade in suitcases containing pop-up secondary figures, which can be placed in the front passenger seat in order to fool traffic wardens and police officers. It is then going to be a waste of time, and it will also defeat the object of reducing congestion. On some urban roads where there are regular bus services—let us say every eight, 10 or 15 minutes—the congestion will clearly be worsened by cars being allowed into the bus lanes.

I am more than happy, however, to support new clause 6, proposed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). It is eminently sensible and it highlights the current problem of enormous local variations, which leave many cyclists and motor cyclists confused as to whether they can or cannot use bus lanes. I hope that the Government will therefore accept new clause 6, but the Liberal Democrats cannot support new clause 4.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)

Does my hon. Friend agree that for single user travel, motor cycles represent an environmental benefit compared to cars; secondly, that motor cyclists are on the whole pretty responsible in their use of bus lanes; and, thirdly, that the Government themselves promised before 1997 to put motor cycles at the heart of their transport strategies? Would it not be odd if the Government now refused to take seriously the provisions of new clause 6, so sensibly proposed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)?

Mr. Marsden

I agree with my hon. Friend and I hope that the Minister will deal with that in his reply.

As I said before, I would be interested to know whether the Conservative Front Benchers have costed the enforcement of the provisions in order to transform what seems to be a good idea into a practical outcome that would reduce congestion.

Mr. Redwood

I rise to support my new clauses 4 and 6. With the oral amendment suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)—that this should apply only to bus lanes where the traffic is moving in the same direction in and adjacent to the lane—new clause 4 makes a great deal of sense. Furthermore new clause 4 is complementary to my new clause 6. There is some overlap. For example, under new clause 4, a taxi with a passenger would automatically be able to use the bus lane, because it would be a vehicle with two or more passengers. Depending on the definition of "vehicle", the same would apply to a motor cycle with a passenger and there are other overlaps with public service vehicles.

I hope that, on further reflection after hearing my remarks, my right hon. Friend might see the advantages of my new clause 6, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) has kindly done. The purpose of both new clauses is, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, to make greater use of the space of a bus lane without in any way impeding the progress of the bus. The purpose of the bus lane is to allow the bus to hit faster journey times with greater reliability. I do not believe that the proposals in either new clause—certainly not in new clause 6—would in normal circumstances get in the way of achieving that.

In the case of new clause 6, I would argue that there are not only advantages stemming from greater use of the highway, but overriding safety considerations, to which I should like to draw the House's attention. The Liberal Democrats have briefly referred to them and I would have thought that they would recommend themselves to Ministers. Under the new clause, cycles, motorcycles, licensed taxis and invalid vehicles would be entitled to use the bus lane. The case for each is a little different, as I should like to explain.

First, there is the cycle or push bike. I believe that it is very dangerous for cyclists in busy urban areas—where bus lanes are usually located—to have to jostle between large and sometimes fast-moving buses on the inside lane and every sort of vehicle ranging from fast cars to extremely heavy lorries on the outside lane, especially on narrow highways that may not initially have been designed to have both a bus lane and a mixed-vehicle lane in the same place.

According to the highway code, cyclists should occupy the inside of the mixed-vehicle lane, which means that they are just on the outside of the bus lane. That can be an extremely dangerous position. A bus can whistle along in the bus lane, which its driver can reasonably expect to be free. However, the driver must make the difficult judgment about whether a cyclist has the extra inches of clearance at the edge of the bus lane necessary for the safe passage of both vehicles. At the same time, the drivers of cars or lorries in the other lane might be attempting to overtake the cyclist, not realising that a bus is about to create the pressure—or pinch point—on the cyclist. That often leaves very little wobble room for the cyclist. [Interruption.] I see that the Minister is yawning, but he should appreciate the plight of cyclists in this respect. Although a bicycle may be correctly placed on the road, there may be a little overhang in the bus lane.

Mr. Jamieson

Yes, I did yawn, partly because the right hon. Gentleman is going on at such length. Unless a local authority says otherwise, cyclists are permitted to use cycle lanes. That is why I was looking a little bored.

Mr. Redwood

That is right, and if a cycle lane is provided along with a bus lane and a mixed-vehicle lane, my argument does not apply. However, there are many locations in the areas in which I travel regularly where there is no cycle lane parallel to the bus and mixed-vehicle lanes. My brief analysis of the cyclist's plight is very relevant and the Minister should listen carefully. I speak for many cycling interests outside the House. They would tell the Minister how perilous it can be to occupy the exposed—but correct—position on the highway, between fast travelling buses and relatively slow travelling other vehicles. That is where cyclists can get squeezed.

Mr. Greg Knight

Perhaps my right hon. Friend and I can shake the Minister out of his boredom. Is he aware that, in 1995, the Conservative Government gave the go-ahead for a trial in the Bristol area allowing motor cyclists to use bus lanes? A period of assessment was given to determine whether there was any detrimental effect on safety, and I understand that the safety record was excellent. Is it not now time for us to grasp the opportunity and introduce the provision elsewhere?

Mr. Redwood

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I shall come to the subject of motor cycles when I have finished talking about cyclists. New clause 6 would give cyclists the choice about where to ride. I think that most would prefer to ride in the bus lane, close to the kerb. There are fewer buses than other vehicles, and bus drivers would be aware that cyclists could be encountered there. As they approached from behind, bus drivers would be under a duty to move out around the cyclist if there was a potential conflict. Cyclists in that position would not then face the twin pressures of the mixed-vehicle lane and the bus lane at the same time.

My proposal means, however, that cyclists could be on the inside of the mixed-vehicle lane and the bus lane, if that is what made sense in the circumstances. Also, a cyclist who wanted to turn right would have to move over to the inside of the mixed-vehicle lane to complete the manoeuvre. Cyclists would therefore have greater flexibility. They are the most vulnerable of road users, and that necessary extra flexibility would be welcome.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a potential problem here? Cyclists who use the inside of the designated bus lane—which I hope will include vehicles in multiple occupation—force the drivers of buses and other vehicles to move out when they want to pass. That partly blocks the mixed-vehicle lane. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is possible that the total traffic flow will slow down as a result? Has he taken that into account?

Mr. Redwood

I have taken it into account, but the problem is not major. The advantage of my proposal is that, in normal circumstances, the bus will be travelling much more quickly than the cyclist. The manoeuvre involved will therefore take only a very limited time. There will be problems in very heavy traffic, but I submit that even bigger problems will remain if this extra flexibility that I propose is not given to cyclists. The congestion incident that my right hon. Friend described will still occur, but cyclists would occupy a different position on the highway. If the highway is not wide enough to accommodate bike, bus and other vehicles—the analysis offered by my right hon. Friend—it will not be wide enough to accommodate bus, bike and other vehicles, which is the disposition covered by my new clause. I think, therefore, that my right hon. Friend's point is not strong: the case is neutral, because both analyses reveal that a problem is created when a highway is too narrow to accommodate a bus lane and another lane.

4.30 pm

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire has indicated that motor cycles are a different case. The extra flexibility would be a good idea for them, because we have all experienced motor cyclists weaving in and out of heavy traffic to get to the front of the queue and optimise the power and relative thinness of their machines compared with other vehicles. Giving motor cyclists the choice between the bus lane or the multiple-occupancy vehicle lane would probably help to minimise incidents in which they collide with wing mirrors or other parts of vehicles in the multiple-occupancy vehicle lane.

Motor cycles would not get in the way of buses because in practically every case they have better performance than buses and obviously keep themselves well out of the way, normally by accelerating away from contact. Such flexibility would be an added welcome freedom for motor cyclists and would reduce conflicts between them and other vehicles. They are currently crowded into the multiple-occupancy vehicle lane and cannot get into the bus lane to get free of other vehicles, which might reduce collisions as bus lanes tend not to be used and are more likely to contain free space for motor cyclists.

Lembit Öpik

The Motor Cycle Industry Association has examined the evidence and made it clear that it is safer for motor cyclists and better for the environment to make it easier for people to use two wheels instead of four when they choose to travel alone. That point is born out by the expert literature, includingMotor Cycle News, which backs up the right hon. Gentleman's point that there is no downside to allowing motor cyclists in bus lanes because buses will never be held up by higher-performing motor cycles.

Mr. Redwood

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's views. Motor cycles will not normally hold up buses, and allowing them to go in bus lanes will give them greater flexibility. The multiple-occupancy vehicle lane is often congested, which makes it difficult for motor cyclists and other vehicle users.

The green argument, which probably informed much of the original work on bus lanes, contains a mistake. The sad truth is that buses travel around this country with, on the whole, few occupants. The average bus has only nine passengers, although occupancy is obviously much better during rush hours in urban areas. If a bus is travelling around with so few passengers, it is, of course, a less green option than all those people travelling in their respective modern motor cars. The average bus is quite old and average fuel efficiency is very poor as a result. It is a less green option to switch people out of modern cars into older buses unless the buses achieve high occupancy rates, which is a point that should inform debate on the selection of bus lanes. The green argument for bus lanes only holds in areas in which high occupancy can be obtained with frequent services that people can rely on.

The case for licensed taxis is easy. Licensed taxis are, after all, public service vehicles that offer a service to the general public, and they often help those who find it most difficult to get around in our community. I should have thought that they, like buses, should obtain some advantage from the use of privileged lanes. That is not only my view but that of many Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councils around the country, which can allow taxis in bus lanes.

In many cities, oddly, some bus lanes allow taxis and others do not. In some cities, some lanes are taxi friendly and others are not. Such situations make it difficult for novice taxi drivers, and taxi passengers cannot understand why they sometimes buy an advantage and other times do not. A general measure to allow taxis in bus lanes would be welcome to taxi drivers and passengers countrywide. The point is certainly important in the evenings when people want to go out. If it were easier and cheaper to use taxis because they travel quickly down bus lanes, it would encourage people to use them rather than their own cars, and if people are tempted to have a drink there is no possible danger to them or other road users.

Finally, invalid vehicles are slow-moving vehicles used by some of the most vulnerable people in our community. I am not saying that they must use the bus lane—it is difficult for them to decide where they should go on a busy road with both a bus lane and a multiple-occupancy vehicle lane but it would be good to give them the choice because some of them might feel safer if, like bicycles, they travelled close to the curb with a threat from one stream of traffic only rather than having to travel in the multiple-occupancy vehicle lane. That lane probably contains a threat from both types of traffic because invalid vehicles are often relatively narrow and other vehicles think that they can get past them, which is not always the case on a narrow stretch of two-lane road.

It must be terrifying for some people in those vehicles on busy roads with two lanes, where they are sandwiched in the middle. I would like to give them the choice. They would not have to use the bus lane, but they would probably welcome the choice. I hope that I can persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends and the Liberal Democrats to agree with new clause 6, and I am happy to support new clause 4, especially with the amendment to make it clear that it does not apply to contraflow bus lanes.

Mr. Forth

I admit that I am puzzled by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has just said. I am not sure that there is an amendment to new clause 4. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) tried to slip one in, rather cleverly, but I am not sure that it is valid. I am therefore puzzled as to whether I am debating the wording as it appears on the amendment paper, which states: Any motor vehicle with two or more passengers shall be entitled at any time to use any carriageway marked out as a bus lane. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, by some parliamentary sleight of hand of which I was hitherto unaware, has managed to change it to resemble more closely new clause 6.

Mr. Redwood

I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) was hoping that the Minister would think that his suggestion was a good idea and would wish to have a similar amendment tabled in the other place.

Mr. Forth

It remains to be seen whether my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire wishes the Minister to take up the wording on the amendment paper or the wording of his verbal amendment. I thought that I would try to clarify that point, and I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has helped me to do so.

I approach the issue from my experience of driving on the 1-5, which passes through Seattle, between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia. On a lengthy stretch of that road, which is arguably one of the busiest interstates in the USA, especially at rush hour, there is a traffic lane dedicated to vehicles carrying two or more persons. From my observation of that experiment, it works well and makes a lot of sense. It is not a theoretical exercise, but a practical one. We can look to such examples, especially in the United States, and draw on them.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Do I detect a slight imbalance in the amount of road space used by roads in the United States, especially in Oregon, compared with this country? From personal experience, Oregon is a rather larger county than any of the ones that the right hon. Gentleman and I normally deal with. Would not the space available affect the issue?

Mr. Forth

The good people of Oregon would be extremely upset if their state were referred to as a county. It is a great state and it is indeed fairly large. We should bear it in mind that our entire country could fit into the state of Wyoming, which has a population of only some 500,000. However, it would appear that that is a thought upon which you do not wish me to dwell, Mr. Deputy Speaker, given the expression on your face. I take the hon. Lady's point. The United States has more space, generally speaking, for carriageways, even in the urban area of Seattle, but American vehicles are wider than ours. I do not wish to press the parallel to the distress of the hon. Lady, whose knowledge of such matters is greater than mine is ever likely to be. I simply raised the issue as a tentative example of how allowing a lane to be dedicated to a certain type of vehicle, whether for buses or vehicles in multiple occupation, is probably a good idea and seems to work well.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) raised a reasonable point about enforcement, which ties into the intervention I made as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire introduced new clause 4. If there is a problem, it is the lack of proper enforcement of the bus lanes that already exist. To that extent, there might be a concomitant problem of enforcement if the new regime were put in place. but that is an argument for more effective enforcement in general rather than a specific objection to new clause 4. I hope that the Minister will examine the proposal positively following the debate and bear the enforcement point in mind.

I generally followed the argument that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham deployed when he spoke to new clause 6, although with the reservation that I expressed in my intervention. If we encouraged cycles and motor cycles, especially, to use such designated bus lanes, it might exacerbate traffic congestion because larger vehicles such as buses might be caused to swerve around two-wheeled vehicles and thus perhaps obstruct the mixed vehicle lane. However, I accept my right hon. Friend's analysis that that would probably be a price worth paying and that, given the benefits that we would get and the encouragement that the measure would give to people to use two-wheeled vehicles, it should probably at least be tried.

The introduction of pilot schemes and observing how the system would work might be worth exploring, although that suggestion is not explicitly provided for in the new clauses. We do not need to rush into such schemes completely when we embark on them. I am sure that the Minister accepts that pilot schemes are often a good idea, especially when assessing such suggestions. Perhaps different variations of the scheme could be tried and observed.

We thus come to the intriguing difference between new clause 4—before the attempted verbal amendment on the hoof by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, which was a novel parliamentary experiment—which would allow any carriageway to be used, and the more explicit provision drafted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham in new clause 6, which would apply if traffic were moving in the same direction as buses. Perhaps, again, it would be worth piloting different approaches. I am intrigued by the prospect of contraflow traffic containing a mixture of different vehicles. It might sound like a recipe for chaos on the face of it, but it might work perfectly well and ease traffic flow in some circumstances. I would not want to dismiss either formulation out of hand. We could easily accept either formulation, determine how it works and find out how it could be extended nationwide.

My right hon. Friends have done us a great service by proposing such imaginative and experimental ideas. I hope that the Minister is in an imaginative mood, although he does not seem to be in any sort of mood except a somnolent one. When he replies to the debate, I hope that he will sparkle, impress on us the fact that he has grasped all the imaginative suggestions, and say that he might be prepared to carry them forward, rather than laying the dead hand of officialdom and bureaucracy on them, as is, regrettably, all too often the way. This is a bit of a challenge to the Minister. We have put the suggestions forward—I am happy to support them—and rather than dismissing them out of hand, I hope that he will give us some encouragement and indicate that he will be prepared to consider them, perhaps through pilot schemes or experiments, so that when we come into government, we can report back to the House that they have been successful.

Mr. Jamieson

I shall endeavour to sparkle this afternoon, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I agreed with the points made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) at the start of his speech when he said that we want better use of our roads and bus lanes. I did not quite follow his argument about buses in East Yorkshire, however, because when I was last there, I did not see many bus lanes in some of the rural areas—they were mainly in more urban areas. Perhaps he will inform the House where they are. He will know the area far better than I do.

4.45 pm

The arguments that we have had today were well rehearsed in Committee, and I am delighted that we are hearing them again today. Bus lanes are generally provided to enable buses to avoid the queues that occur in congested road networks. The higher carrying capacity of buses means that the lanes make efficient use of road space in terms of moving people, and the quicker and more reliable journey times that follow make buses a more attractive and realistic option, thus further relieving pressure on the road network. The more other vehicles are allowed to use bus lanes, the more the purpose and effectiveness of those lanes is devalued.

New clause 4 would effectively turn all bus lanes into high-occupancy vehicle lanes. It is easy to envisage that bus lanes would become choked by other traffic and that the presence of other vehicles in a bus lane would encourage the drivers of single-occupancy vehicles or those carrying just one passenger to use the lane as well. That would delay buses and lead to enforcement problems.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire talked about using new technology such as cameras to enforce bus lanes. Of course, cameras can be used to distinguish between buses and other vehicles, but there is considerably more difficulty in distinguishing whether a car has one, two or three occupants, as the new clause would require. That is why the enforcement of high-occupancy vehicle lanes in Leeds and south Gloucester relies on a police presence and the ability to stop vehicles apparently contravening the rules. There was a complaint from one lady who had a small child strapped in the back of her car who, of course, was not visible to the police officer from outside the car. There are difficulties and anomalies in trying to enforce such rules.

I recognise that, in the right place, high-occupancy vehicle lanes can be an effective traffic management measure, and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will be pleased to know that, later this year, my Department will be publishing guidance to authorities on the implementation of such lanes. Who knows, in the very long term, when the right hon. Gentleman and I are well retired, there may be a Conservative Government implementing some of these plans.

Mr. Greg Knightrose

Mr. Jamieson

I was just coming to the right hon. Gentleman's point about high-occupancy vehicle lanes, but I will give way.

Mr. Knight

We welcome what the Minister said about issuing guidance. Will it be general guidance that, in effect, updates what is now the seven-year-old guidance on bus lanes? The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) raised an interesting point. The original guidance referred only to heavy goods vehicles using bus lanes in some cases, and there may be a case for short-run delivery vehicles being included as well. Will the guidance be all-embracing?

Mr. Jamieson

The guidance will relate to high-occupancy vehicles.

I do not have the experience of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of travelling in the United States of America, but I think that I have travelled on the road outside Seattle to which he referred. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I noticed that it was rather wider than even the widest motorways in this country. I noticed also that it had no bus lane but rather a high-occupancy vehicle lane, whereas the new clauses relate to bus lanes, which are mainly in confined urban areas that in no way equate to the great intercity highways of the USA. Interesting though his point was, it does not easily read across to this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich made an interesting point about the problem for milk floats and other service providers. The milk float in my area arrives at 4 am, making a considerable noise and usually waking me up at the same time. I accept that there is a problem, because for people who find it difficult to get to the shops those deliveries are a lifeline. Delivery companies also provide employment. She asked if I would go away and think hard. I certainly shall, as long as she does likewise. I would be happy to put our brains together to find a solution.

Mr. Redwoodrose

Mr. Jamieson

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is offering to join us in a troika to solve the problem.

Mr. Redwood

Has the Minister thought about bus lanes' hours of operation, because milk floats often go out early, so they may not conflict with the frequent service provided by buses? Is it not possible to make the bus lane inoperable early in the morning so that delivery vehicles can use it?

Mr. Jamieson

Again, I find myself agreeing with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is at odds with his Front Bench, as I believe that such things should be decided locally. Local authorities should work with local companies to see if we can accommodate such arrangements. In some areas, bus lanes are not required 24 hours a day, but it is important that local authorities make those decisions. The House will be surprised to learn that I do not favour the big state intervention that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) advocated —[Interruption.] I see that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst agrees with me.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Before we leave our unfortunate milkman, there is an added hazard when delivery vehicles are subject to a congestion charge. I am afraid that I do not have an instant answer—I wish that I did—but I hope that we can find a way to assist small deliveries. Given the level of petty theft in urban areas, it is not possible to ensure that delivered goods are still there when people get up to collect them. It is a difficult but genuine problem.

Mr. Jamieson

I accept that it is both difficult and genuine. Equally, if milk floats used bus lanes regularly, it could inhibit the flow of buses, and local people would have a view about that. There could also be a considerable hazard—the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said that buses would be weaving in and out of the next lane, which would create safety problems.

Mr. Redwood

I do not know of any place that needs a 24-hour bus lane. Bus lanes are needed only in busy periods when there is a frequent bus service. Outside those hours, buses could easily use the outside lane, because there would not be a great number of other vehicles, allowing delivery vehicles to do their job.

Mr. Jamieson

In certain parts of the country—this is particularly true of London and big conurbations— there are 24-hour bus lanes because buses run 24 hours a day. In the night, there is no need to lift the restriction on using bus lanes because the roads are reasonably clear of cars anyway. The real problem was identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. We need to address it, along with local authorities and suppliers to see if we can reach an accommodation. I cannot see an easy solution to the problem, and I do not believe that she can either. It has been drawn to my attention that, in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Wokingham, I referred to cycle lanes rather than bus lanes. I meant that that cycles were permitted to use bus lanes, but he probably inferred that.

New clause 6 would require all with-flow bus lanes to be open to use by cycles, motor cycles, taxis and invalid carriages. It is unnecessary for cyclists, who already have a right to use with-flow bus lanes. The Secretary of State's consent would be required if a local authority wished to exclude cycles, but it is rarely requested or given. A small number of bus lanes may exclude cycles for safety reasons, for example where cyclists are encouraged to use a parallel cycle track rather than a narrow bus lane. If it could be provided that there was a cycle track as well as the bus lane, that would be a considerable advantage to the cyclist, but one has only to look at the roads in London and many other urban areas, including my constituency, to see that it would be almost impossible to provide a facility for a bus lane and a cycle track in the available space.

As for motor cycles, taxis and invalid carriages, local authorities have the power to allow other vehicles to use bus lanes if they consider that that would be desirable. We believe that it should be left to the discretion of local authorities to decide whether any other classes of motorised traffic should be allowed to use any of their bus lanes, taking into account their local transport plans and specific objectives in creating those bus lanes. That cannot be done effectively by central Government.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire mentioned the guidance on bus lanes in local transport note 1/97, "Keeping Buses Moving". That acknowledges that there are circumstances in which it will be appropriate and desirable for other vehicles to use the bus lanes and gives guidance on assessing the effects on buses and other road users. I stress to the right hon. Gentleman that that is guidance, not instructions, to local authorities. I emphasise for the third or fourth time that it is important that, working within the guidance, local authorities make decisions appropriate to their own circumstances.

Some local authorities have allowed motor cyclists to use bus lanes. That has raised concerns for the safety of other road users, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. Before revising the guidance, we are awaiting the results of trials in London allowing motor cycles in bus lanes. It would be premature to give an unconditional recommendation that motor cycles should be able to use bus lanes, let alone to give them standard access.

Generally, it is better for invalid carriages to use footways, rather than the carriageway, wherever that is possible. It is not a good idea to encourage such small, low-powered, slow-moving vehicles to use bus lanes. Apart from the danger of their being ridden over because the bus driver cannot see them in his mirrors, moving at a maximum speed of 8 mph they would considerably inhibit the flow of traffic behind them.

The new clauses are not necessary in relation to cyclists, and in relation to the other vehicles, they would undermine the effectiveness of bus lanes by removing the right of local authorities to decide which other vehicles, if any, should be allowed to use bus lanes. I therefore ask that the motion be withdrawn.

Mr. Greg Knight

The Minister is on a roll this afternoon. We have enjoyed listening to him. He has been bold, helpful, and willing to listen to views expressed in the House and the points raised in the debate. Knowing how the Government Whips Office works, I should warn him that he is in danger of being shuffled off to another Department because he is being too helpful to the House.

Before the Minister rose to speak, I wrote on a piece of paper what I intended to say to wind up this part of the debate: the guidance is seven years old, needs updating, is overcautious and restrictive, and the Government should update it. He guessed that that is what I intended to say, and I warmly welcome the fact that we are to get new guidance. I hope that he will put a copy in the Library so that right hon. and hon. Members can see it.

Our main criticism of the guidance that is seven years old is that it leads local authorities to act too cautiously and not to consider innovations that may be suitable for the locality that they serve. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham referred to motor cycles being allowed to use bus lanes. Apart from Bristol, as far as I am aware, there is no part of the country where that is allowed. Although the guidance makes it clear that the decision can be made locally, at the end of paragraph 4.12 on motor cycles, it states: The Department recommends that motorcycles should not normally be permitted to use bus lanes. I hope that when the new guidance is issued, it will be more neutral in what it says to local authorities. It should point out the range of options that are available to them and allow them to make their own decisions.

5 pm

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) expressed concern about the policing of bus lanes where other vehicles are allowed to use them. That should not be a problem given the advent of new technology—digital cameras are better than the earlier analogue ones—and a policy of unannounced and occasional policing. Policing a law by which certain motorists are not supposed to be in a vehicle unaccompanied—for example, learner drivers are supposed always to have a qualified driver with them—does not present a particular problem and, as camera imaging gets better and more buses have cameras inside, this should not be an insurmountable problem either.

The draconian business motion leaves me with a dilemma: should I test the mood of the House or save 15 minutes of debating time to raise issues further down the amendment paper? In the light of the Minister's helpful response and the fact that he is to issue new guidance, which we warmly welcome, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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