HL Deb 22 April 2004 vol 660 cc1-27GC

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell)

Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Noble Lords will speak standing and the House has agreed that there will be no Divisions in a Grand Committee. Therefore, unless an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn. If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.

Viscount Astor

Before the first amendment is called I have two points to make to the Minister. First, I thank him for arranging meetings with his officials which were extremely useful in explaining some of the complicated matters in the Bill.

Secondly, I hope the Minister will not mind if I take this opportunity to berate him in the most tactful way that I can. In the debate on civil enforcement of traffic contraventions in another place on 16 March, the Minister, Mr Jamieson, said, I have concluded that there is merit in putting civil enforcement guidance on a statutory basis. It would give the guidance greater force and make authorities more mindful of its content when carrying out enforcement activities. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will withdraw the new clause on the understanding that we will introduce a suitable amendment in another place, putting guidance to local authorities on civil enforcement of traffic contraventions on a statutory basis".—[Official Report, Commons; 16/3/04; col. 193.] I notice that the Minister has not tabled such an amendment and I wonder whether he can give an assurance that he will table one while we are dealing with the Bill in Committee.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the way in which he introduced this additional point. I have good and bad news for him. The good news is that a government amendment will certainly be tabled to fulfil the commitments that we made in the Commons. The bad news is that there are one or two other government amendments that we are still to table as a result of developments in regard to the Bill which relate to later parts of the Bill. They will be tabled in good time fir proper consideration by the Committee.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 [Traffic' officers: introduction]:

Viscount Simon moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 5, after "traffic" insert "support

The noble Viscount said: In moving Amendment No. 1 standing in my name I shall speak also to the other amendments in the group. I am delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, put their names to these amendments, thus giving cross-party support. We all know what a police officer is and recently we have seen police officers given some assistance by people called police community support officers who are not police officers. Most people know what a traffic officer is: he is a police officer who has specialised in traffic and road policing and he also deals with non-traffic offences that he encounters.

We have traffic officers who are police officers and others so named in the Bill who are not. I venture to suggest that that will lead to some confusion and it could be a recipe for disaster. After all, when is a policeman not a policeman? The answer is when he is a traffic officer.

I am led to believe that when ACPO were discussing certain aspects of the Bill, the inclusion of the words "traffic officer" was passed through on the nod. It was not until after the deliberations had concluded that it was realised what had been done. So like civilians called "police community support officers", I propose that non-police traffic officers should be called "traffic support officers". I beg to move.

Viscount Astor

I would like to support the amendment which would be useful in terms of avoiding confusion. I am sure that the Minister will provide a helpful answer. If he does not, we have the ability to degroup the 50-odd amendments with which it is grouped.

Lord Davies of Oldham

It has not taken long for the nuclear threat to emerge. Degrouping of that magnitude fills the Committee with proper terror and me with a very substantial degree of it. I hope, therefore, that my reply to the amendment and to the others with which it is grouped will be sufficiently helpful to enable the noble Viscount to feel able to withdraw it.

I remind the Committee why we are introducing the traffic officer service. Congestion on our strategic road network already costs the country around £3 billion each year, and traffic is forecast to grow by 25 per cent over the next decade. A quarter of all the congestion is attributable to incidents which also lead to more than 4,000 people being killed or seriously injured annually.

Pressures on the network continue to increase so the imperative for better traffic management is clear. Traffic officers will play a pivotal part in helping the Highways Agency to expand its role as a network operator and take a much more pro-active role in the management of traffic. At the same time it will allow the police to refocus some of their resources so as to concentrate on core activities.

The traffic officer initiative is about improving the motorist's journey on the network, and acting as the "motorist's friend". Here my noble friend may detect an inkling of the fact that I am responding sympathetically to the sentiments behind his proposal. As the motorist's friend, the officer will tackle congestion, remove obstructions and dangers, address safety and help the public to have a safe and reliable journey to their destination.

Traffic officers will focus particularly on managing traffic in the event of collisions and other incidents. They will work alongside the police, other emergency services, maintenance and repair contractors, vehicle removal contractors, and others to clear incidents quickly and to redirect traffic. But they will also be expected to take the lead in dealing with minor incidents, clearing obstructions and implementing traffic management measures to redirect traffic around obstructions. They will also help to improve information for road users on the nature, scale and duration of incidents.

We believe that the name "traffic officer" conveys the right message about the traffic officer's role to the public, striking the right balance between acting as the "motorist's friend"—which is clearly a crucial part of the role—and signifying the authority to take control and issue directions when needed.

The name "traffic officer" is acceptable to all the major stakeholders including Ministers, the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency and the police. It is now recognised in many circles, including both Houses, and is being used in ongoing consultations with external stakeholders. I hear what my noble friend says about reservations in some quarters but we have not received adverse comments on the name during our consultation. "Traffic officer" has the great virtue of brevity and clarity. That is of some importance. Vehicle livery and road signage and notices should be short so that drivers can read them quickly, even when travelling at high speed. On certain occasions the signs will, of course, be under the direction of traffic officers.

The proposed name is, as my noble friend indicated, similar to "community support officer", a service established under the Police Reform Act 2002. But I think my noble friend will recognise that community support officers operate predominantly on foot in town centres and pedestrian environments. Traffic officers will operate in a very different environment indeed. It is not desirable to have a longer rather than a shorter name when messages must be communicated to people, sometimes at high speed and in all weather conditions, day and night. For those very reasons, the traffic signs regulations allow the police to use signs on moving vehicles in a sharp and abbreviated form: for example, "Police—Slow"; "Police—Accident"; "Police—Use hard shoulder"; and "Police—Rejoin main carriageway". Those messages, which are communicating accurate information, are as brief as possible because the police are signalling to moving traffic which is often going at high speed.

We intend to authorise that kind of signage and communication for the traffic officer service. We believe that a far longer name, which noble Lords seek in the amendment, would be disadvantageous while in no way creating a significant advantage.

I understand the point behind my noble friend's amendment, and I recognise the intention to identify the traffic officer as being of support and help to the travelling public. Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which a traffic officer needs authority, and that authority needs to be recognised immediately and appropriately. That is why he should be called by the terms that we have defined.

Viscount Astor

The Minister has been kind in giving us an explanation of the duties of traffic officers, which has helped to set out what their role will be. When the Bill was debated in another place, the Government accepted an amendment which would bring about a standard uniform for traffic officers. However, having listened to the Minister, it is clear that those officers will be advising, or even telling, the motorist what to do when they are in their vehicles. Have the Government given any thought to what will be written on those vehicles? Clearly they are not police vehicles, but will they have blue lights? Will they carry a sign stating "Traffic Officer"? What will be written on them? When the motorist receives the message at high speed, will it be clear who is giving him that message? Will there be a blue or a yellow light? Will there be something to ensure that they have the necessary authority to carry out the role that noble Lords are suggesting?

Lord Davies of Oldham

It is intended that traffic officers will be designated by having red lights on their vehicles. They are different from the police. They are not police, but of course they have authority to redirect traffic which itself may be moving at considerable speed. Therefore, it is important that that authority is instantly recognised.

Lord Rotherwick

I wanted to clarify one point. The Minister pointed out, importantly, that signs on motorways state "Police—Left" or "Police—This or that". If the traffic officer in question is putting out the sign, what will it say? Will it say, "Traffic—Stop" or "Traffic—Diversion", with the first word insinuating that the sign is being placed by a traffic officer rather than a policeman, or will the traffic officer use the word "Police" when using signage to tell motorists what to do?

Lord Davies of Oldham

He will not use the word "Police"; he will use the words "Traffic Officer". That is what he is. Members of the Committee are not looking totally convinced by the quality of my argument at this stage. That may derive from the fact that we are all used to the colloquialism whereby police officers are often referred to as traffic officers when they are in control of police cars on motorways.

We do not see anything wrong with the public associating the traffic officer and his authority with the role of the police guiding traffic. In fact, in that respect the traffic officer is taking over aspects of police work, and that is why we want to use a phrase which is as close as possible to the public's understanding. These officers have areas of authority, but it is equally clear that they must be recognised as different from police, because they do not have direct police powers.

3.30 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

Will the Minister say what efforts the Government will make to educate the motorist about the powers of these new officers? A number of members of the Committee warned on Second Reading against a dilution of the instant recognisability and authority of the police. such as the blue light, and a number of other types of officer, such as community support officers, being seen in uniform. I am not clear about the powers of a community support officer who wants to search an individual. Is the individual obliged to undergo such a search?

We know that these officers will be using a red light. Will motorists have to yield to a vehicle with a red light? We all know, as motorists, that we have to yield to vehicles with a blue light, be they ambulances, fire engines or police cars. If there is a vehicle with a blue light repeatedly flashing, the motorist must pull over. Will that be the case with red lights? How will the motorist know what to do?

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

While the Minister is answering that, I have a question of my own. I declare an interest as chair of the Local Government Association Transport Executive. My point concerns recognisability and public perception. While it is very clear in the public mind that a motorway is a motorway, and that is one kind of road on which such officers will operate, it is much more difficult in the case of trunk roads. Some of them are under local authority control because of recent detrunking arrangements, and some will remain under the control of the Highways Agency. So it will be perfectly normal to have two very similar roads in one area: one, under Highways Agency control, will have the officers, and the other will not. That may add to confusion in the mind of the public.

Viscount Simon

May I ask a further question on rear-facing lights which are red? At the moment, as these officers are not police officers, they will not have to be obeyed. My understanding is that some time in the future it is proposed that these so-called traffic officers will have rear-facing blue lights. Legislation will have to be introduced because they are still not police officers.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I think I can give a categoric response to the contribution from my noble friend. There is no intention that they will have blue lights because, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, a blue light, particularly one flashing in one's rear mirror, indicates one proper authority to which we are all used to responding—but not too often, I hope.

Traffic officers will not be involved in pursuit, nor in monitoring traffic which is moving, so there is no question of their light flashing, to motorists' concern, in their rear-view mirror. The traffic officer is there to give warning of problems ahead. They do not have powers of arrest, so they will not go in pursuit of anyone who may contravene traffic regulations in relationship to their work. That is done by police officers and only by police officers.

Traffic officers will exert proper authority around an incident. They will have to be obeyed; they will have the statutory power to stop and direct traffic but not, as I think noble Lords were indicating, to engage in high speed pursuit of someone whom they regard as having broken the law. They will have the right to place mandatory traffic signs which will need to be obeyed, otherwise motorists will be breaking the law. But there is no intention to create for them the exact similitude of a police officer.

Lord Cobbold

Surely they will need to force their way through a traffic jam to get to the place where the incident is happening so that there will be a red light in the mirror and people will have to move out of the way.

Lord Davies of Oldham

That is true, and I feared that aspects of this debate would relate to the whole question of our driving habits and how we respond to lights in our mirrors and so on. The noble Lord is correct—people would be expected to concede to a vehicle of authority, one which would be going about its lawful business of dealing with congestion. The matter on which I was seeking to disabuse the Committee was the notion that a red light would have the same effect as a blue light, which, as I understood the position, was an indication that a police officer might be in pursuit of individual motorists—pulling them over with regard to particular offences. That will not be the role of a traffic officer.

Viscount Simon

The Minister referred to signs given at high speeds. Does that mean that a traffic officer is allowed to exceed the speed limit?

Lord Davies of Oldham

No, when I referred to signs at high speed I meant signs that would be placed in any obstructed carriageway, or even above on a motorway sign, which would indicate that there was a problem ahead and that the problem had been identified by a traffic officer, not a policeman. But traffic officers would have the right to trigger or to set those signs that would need to be recognised at high speed.

I shall go a little further, because I have not gone far enough in reassuring the Committee about the point of the flashing red lights. There will be flashing red lights at the point of the incident. When they travel to the location of the incident the traffic officers will not be in emergency pursuit, as police officers sometimes are. We all know, for example with regard to ambulances, how quickly we move to one side to facilitate the progress of emergency vehicles. Traffic officers will not be in that category—that is why they will not be carrying those lights. The reason for a red light will be that the vehicle will largely be parked at, or he very close to the incident and the light will be there to indicate to everyone that a person in authority is there dealing with the incident and certain instructions will need to be obeyed.

Lord Rotherwick

I apologise for nit-picking. However, following the noble Lord's comments on red lights coming up in one's rear mirror, could the Minister tell us a little more? If a traffic officer is racing towards an incident of great importance, say, on a motorway, and needs to minimise disruption, improve the movement of traffic and perhaps make the road safer, will the motorist see that traffic officer in the rear mirror approaching with flashing red lights and a siren? After all, ambulances and police have sirens. If that is the case, will the traffic officer's siren be of a different nature to those of ambulances and the police, so that one can differentiate between all three?

Lord Davies of Oldham

The traffic officer will not be in charge of an emergency service. When it comes to motorways, he or she almost certainly will proceed down the hard shoulder to pass obstructions—as do recovery vehicles that also sometimes have flashing lights, but which are never associated with the police. That will also be the case with a traffic officer. He will not be expected to be hurtling down our roads at high speeds with red flashing lights. On the contrary, they will proceed to the incident. It is there that the red light will come into play, when the vehicle is in position to give warning to traffic. But they will not be authorised in the same way that police inevitably are, due to their emergency role, to engage in high speed driving above speed limits on occasions with a blue light flashing. Traffic officers will not be able, or expected, to engage in such activity because that is not their role. There will be no siren, either.

Viscount Simon

Mouchel, which has recently changed its name, is the equivalent of the Highways Agency in carrying out these operations when there are collisions on motorways and, perhaps eventually, dual carriageways. When its vehicles have to travel on the hard shoulder they have to obtain permission from the police in order to do so. Will that continue?

Lord Davies of Oldham

We are providing for exemptions for traffic officers to use hard shoulders. We recognise that arriving early at a point of congestion is to the benefit of all. I want to reassure noble Lords that they will not exercise the same role as police officers.

Viscount Goschen

I want to push the Minister on one point. He made two statements. First, traffic officers would have the power to order motorists to stop their vehicles; and, secondly, they would not do that from a moving vehicle. Sometimes the police order vehicles to stop. On some occasions they slow down a whole column of motorway traffic approaching an accident. Will traffic officers have the power to stop vehicles only when they themselves are stationary?

Lord Davies of Oldham

The answer to the question is, "Yes". The concept is that the traffic officer arrives at the point of congestion caused by the incident and then takes action. The vehicle with its red light is part of the warning. Traffic officers have powers to direct traffic, and if necessary to stop motorists for that period of time when it may be necessary to clear the road as a result of an accident. That is when their powers are deployed.

Lord Marsh

As the debate continues, I have an overwhelming desire to see whether I can outperform in the number of hypothetical situations that one could stand on the head of a traffic warden or support officer. The amendment is purely to include the word "support". Presumably, "support" in each of these cases—I make a wild assumption—relates to the rest of that part of the Bill under which we shall discuss the traffic support officer against the background of the issue that it deals with, which will be nowhere near as much fun. Can we get on?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I was hoping we could get on in such a form that I did not need to rise.

Viscount Simon

It has been an interesting discussion. I have to say that I am not totally convinced. The Minister said at one stage that these officers would work alongside the police. Police community support officers work alongside the police. Working alongside the police means supporting the police. I am still not convinced. I will read carefully what has been said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 11, at end insert "; or (c) liaison with local traffic authorities to assist the management of traffic moving over relevant and local roads

The noble Viscount said: Part 1 of the Bill sets out provisions for the Secretary of State and the Assembly for Wales to establish traffic officers responsible for managing strategic road networks in England and Wales. The amendment places a duty on traffic officers to liaise closely with local transport authorities.

The Local Government Association has expressed a concern that local traffic authorities have not been given similar powers to those given to the Highways Agency and the Assembly for Wales, and that that may have the unintended result of raising expectations among local road users that they will receive a similar service from local traffic authorities.

The Bill does not anticipate equivalent staff employed by local authorities. So the amendment would ensure that there would be a dialogue with and a relationship between traffic officers and local authorities. That will ensure that traffic officers will be made aware of individual traffic management pressures within those authorities, including issues arising from duties set out elsewhere in the Bill.

It has been suggested that the Highways Agency staff will be more operational in nature, in that they will be similar to constables in the work they carry out, rather than undertaking any administrative duties. We have just had a debate about some of their responsibilities. It is clear that in spite of the Minister not accepting the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, they are, in effect, in this support role. I believe that it would be a good idea to ensure that officers bear in mind the need to take local traffic issues into account when carrying out their duties. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I thought that the thrust of the previous debate dealt with how extensive the role of traffic officers should be. On the whole, the burden of certain remarks was that they needed to be restrained. That is the case. The role of the traffic officer is a limited one. The crucial aspect in which it is limited is the roads on which they will play their part, such as our motorways and our major trunk roads.

We recognise that in certain circumstances, to relieve congestion and problems on a trunk road, it may be necessary to exert a certain amount of authority with regard to joining local roads. The intention is that the traffic officer's duty will apply to trunk roads and to motorways.

The amendment takes the responsibility much wider than that, under the benevolent guise of indicating that most traffic management will have aspects of successful co-operation with local authorities. During the course of deliberations on the Bill we shall have plenty of time to debate co-ordination of activity with local authorities. It would not be right for us to accept an amendment that extends a traffic officer's duties to local roads. Not one of us can doubt that local authorities have an important role to play as regards roads. I need to resist the amendment because the concept behind the Bill is that traffic officers will operate on the trunk road network and on motorways.

There is already liaison between the national authority and local traffic authorities. That takes place through existing Highways Agency and local authority channels and more recently through national and regional control centres. Thus direct input from traffic officers is likely to be nominal, as their main activity will be to patrol the trunk road network. Others will be concerned with the level of co-ordination that we all recognise is beneficial; and so beneficial to the travelling public that a great deal of co-ordination already takes place. On that basis, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I am not entirely confident that the Minister has fully understood the LGA position. It is certainly not asking for the powers of traffic officers' support or otherwise to be extended. It is simply a matter of practicality. It is not difficult to imagine a situation in which a traffic officer, attending an accident on a trunk road, decides to divert the traffic on a day when the local authority has also decided that major roadworks will take place on the same road. The affected road may be some miles away and the traffic officer on the spot, with a blocked road and an accident, will not be aware of problems elsewhere in the network, unless there is some liaison.

While I fully accept that it would be better if such a matter were not on the face of the Bill, nevertheless I believe that the Committee and external agencies would like some assurance that at least in guidance the issue of liaison will be addressed very strongly. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for the motorist to know who is to blame for a situation that has arisen.

Viscount Astor

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may make a couple of points following the intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott.

I accept that my amendment might have been somewhat misleading to the Minister because, at the end, it says "and local roads". The amendment was not intended to extend the power of traffic officers to local roads; it was intended to ensure that when the traffic officer was liasing with local authorities, the local authorities would have to take into account what was happening on local roads. The issue of trunk roads cannot be taken in isolation. The noble Baroness cited a valid example which we have all seen whereby there is an accident on a trunk road, the road is closed and traffic is diverted on to a minor road. That has happened on motorways and dual carriageways.

My amendment was not about extending any remit but about ensuring that there will be adequate liaison between local authorities and the traffic officers. We would like that assurance from the Minister. I think he made a helpful point about guidance, saying that the point could be dealt with in some form of guidance. I would be grateful if he could clarify that, because I was not exactly sure what he was saying. His answer was helpful but I should be very grateful if he could expand on it slightly.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am reluctant to expand too much on my response at this stage because, as the Committee will recognise, a substantial section of the Bill deals with the question of successful liaison and relations with local authorities. We are going to debate that issue at very great length. All I want to indicate now is that co-ordination is not only desirable but essential. It is already taking place between agencies. However, traffic officers will not be responsible for that level of co-ordination.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful to the Minister. He has not entirely answered my question but I shall read carefully what he said. I do not know whether I misheard him when he talked about guidance in his original comments. I do not know exactly what he meant by those. I would be grateful if he could reply briefly.

Lord Davies of Oldham

We are developing national and local protocols with local government on these issues. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, indicated, those already apply to information exchange on issues of urgency. As I said, we will be able later in the Bill's passage to explore how we can give better effect to that co-ordination. I am merely saying that it would not be appropriate to extend that role to traffic officers.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, which I shall study with care. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 6 not moved.]


Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Designation of traffic officers]:

[Amendments Nos. 7 to 11 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Jurisdiction of traffic officers]:

[Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Bradshaw

I join the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, in thanking the Minister for facilitating our meeting with officials before this debate. That was very useful.

My intention in opposing Clause 3 is to give us the opportunity to seek a very strong assurance from the Government that the measure in no way implies a reduction in the 550 existing traffic police who are hard pressed to carry out existing policing duties. I am sure that the Minister will give us that assurance but I should like him to include in it his colleagues in the Treasury. Such a measure as we are discussing may be viewed by others as an opportunity to introduce an economy. Traffic police have been significantly reduced in number. We cannot afford such a reduction. I assume that it will still fall to the traffic police to investigate accidents and other forms of lawbreaking but that they will not be investigating officers. Will the Minister clarify that diversions will involve the secondary road network? I am sure that that will be necessary in most cases.

My next point concerns my experience, which I should have declared at the outset as an interest, as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority. I have ridden in a police car on a motorway travelling at 140 miles an hour not in pursuit of a miscreant but because information has been received that a vehicle has hit the central or outside reservation and has rebounded on to the carriageway. It is important to reach the scene very quickly in order to stop other vehicles colliding with the vehicle that has rebounded on to the carriageway. Most motorway accidents result not from the primary collision but from other vehicles running into the first vehicle involved in the accident. Traffic officers need to be able to travel quickly to prevent subsequent collisions as they need to attract motorists' attention to the first collision. I would appreciate the Minister's response to those points.

Viscount Astor

Perhaps I may raise a slightly different point relating to Clause 3. The use of hard shoulders was debated in another place. The Minister in the other place said that the Government intended to bring forward secondary legislation by the early summer of 2005 to allow traffic officers to use the hard shoulder. If we make progress on it, the Bill that we are discussing will come into effect rather earlier than the summer of 2005. Will the Government bring forward the relevant secondary legislation at an earlier date—I realise that the Minister said that consultation would be required—to enable traffic officers to operate effectively?

As we discussed in our rather wide-ranging debate on the first amendment, not being able to use the hard shoulder would certainly be an impediment to the operational effectiveness of traffic officers. It is important that the Government consider that matter. What progress is being made on the issue? If we are to have traffic officers, we need to ensure that they have the correct powers, that their duties are clear and that everyone understands them from the beginning. I am sure the Minister will agree that what we do not want is to start off in a muddle. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell me what progress the department has made on that matter.

4 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for contributing to this debate. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that traffic officers will not supplant but, rather, will supplement the police. Traffic officers will take responsibility for some important duties, but duties that have occupied police officers at the cost of higher priorities. I am sure that all police forces which have tackled trunk road and motorway incidents will have had the experience of deploying their limited resources at one accident when another high priority accident occurs. As the noble Lord said, the relevant officers need to reach the scene of an accident quickly. I want to reassure him regarding the role of the police. They are the only ones who can effect an arrest, and they are the only ones who can investigate an accident in terms of the necessary evidence for bringing a prosecution.

It is not expected that the police will not play an important role in any serious incident. The intention is to concentrate their role on important matters with which they alone can deal and to allow traffic officers to deal with the other, incidental consequences of such an incident—that is, relieving congestion and getting the traffic moving again. It is important that traffic officers should fulfil that role.

I turn to the extension of the role of traffic officers beyond trunk roads and motorways. We can envisage some circumstances in which it will be necessary for them to play their part, although that will not necessarily be on trunk roads. For example, where a tunnel was built on a significant road, traffic officers would be required because if anything went wrong in a short section of the tunnel, there would be the potential for congestion. The traffic officers would be deployed there, whereas their presence would not be merited on the rest of the road system—the road itself—because it was not a major trunk road in other respects.

Interestingly, noble Lords introduced to this part of the debate the question of the use of the hard shoulder. In the first instance, until the regulations are properly in place, the police will exempt a vehicle on the hard shoulder when it is clearly occupied by a traffic officer bent on his lawful business of moving towards the point where an incident has occurred. If the hard shoulder was being used by a traffic officer to take his wife and family to Blackpool, I have no doubt that there would inevitably be a different response from the police.

We intend to amend the motorway regulations in the summer of 2005. At that point, we shall make the emendation to allow traffic officers to use the hard shoulder without needing police protection but, in the intervening period, that is how they will go about their reasonable business. We need to consult on this point in order to get it right. We shall be changing motorway regulations and we need to ensure that we effect those changes accurately in all aspects. That is why it will be a year before we do so.

Viscount Astor

I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. Can he give me an assurance that if a traffic officer on a trunk road happens to be within an area covered by local authority traffic wardens, he will not be given parking tickets by over-zealous traffic wardens for parking in the wrong place and that he will not be clamped?

Lord Davies of Oldham

As I said, we anticipate that traffic wardens will operate on roads on which the local authority does not have that degree of power. Even if it had, it would not be painting yellow lines on them, thus giving effect to parking restrictions. However, I hear what the noble Viscount said and I am sure that a warning about the zeal with which they pursue their duties in this respect will go out to all officers.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Powers to direct traffic officers]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [The special powers of a traffic officer]:

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 18: Page 3, line 24, at end insert— (e) ensuring the integrity of, and safety of persons involved in, any investigation into the causes of an accident or incident on such a road

The noble Lord said: Clause 5 deals with the special powers of traffic officers. It confers duties on them in respect of, among other things, the management of incidents in the strategic road network, as we have heard.

The four paragraphs in subsection (3) only really emphasise the need to maintain or restore traffic flow. They do not really reflect the need to assist in the gathering of evidence, if that is necessary or to maintain the integrity of the crash site—which is clearly important under certain circumstances—and, most important of all, the safety of those who are conducting it. It is terribly important to protect the people involved in dealing with accidents. I should have thought it was a role that the traffic officer could usefully perform. I suspect that the Health and Safety Executive will pursue this with its usual diligence— especially if it loses any of the responsibility for railway safety, which is completely irrelevant.

My noble friend may say that this is all covered already. However, it is important that this particular duty to protect the integrity of and safety of persons involved in investigations is in the Bill, along with the other four paragraphs. I beg to move.

Lord Borrie

I support my noble friend Lord Berkeley. When one has a legislative provision and powers are set out with several purposes—here there are four lettered purposes—those purposes are more likely to be interpreted as exclusive. My noble friend Lord Berkeley is very rightly concerned with the safety of those who are at a particular spot investigating an accident. Paragraph (c) refers to, avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using such a road". I suspect that the word "using" relates to people travelling up and down the road for their normal purposes rather than the traffic officer who has arrived to investigate an incident. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Berkeley is right in believing that it would be helpful to have an additional provision in Clause 5(3) to deal specifically with the risk of danger to those who are investigating an incident.

Viscount Simon

The safety of an individual investigating a crash or coning off the scene of a crash is very important. I took the police course in this particular respect about 18 months ago, and it is now being covered by and introduced into other constabularies. This is very important and I thoroughly support my noble friend's amendment.

Viscount Astor

I have a simple question for the Minister. I hope that he may be able to answer it, but if he does not perhaps he will write to me. As there will be a number of traffic officers patrolling motorways, as it were, it is quite likely that they could arrive at the scene of an accident before the police. Will they have any first aid training? Will they be able to help any persons involved in the accident? After all, the police have first aid training; they carry some medical supplies and they help. I am sure that the Minister and the Committee would not want a traffic officer to be prevented from being able to offer assistance to someone who had been involved in an accident. If the Minister cannot give me an answer now, I would be grateful if he would look into it for me.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

As we have heard, Amendment No. 18 seeks to assist accident investigations and those carrying out such investigations by enabling traffic officers to use their powers to stop and direct traffic to protect the scene of the incident. What has emerged from our brief discussion is the importance of traffic officers protecting the police who are carrying out the investigations. Traffic officers will have a critical and valuable role in protecting the scene of an incident during on-road investigations and the officers who are undertaking those investigations.

In circumstances where death, serious injury and/or criminality is involved, the police will take the lead and carry out an investigation with traffic officers providing support. Police will undertake their work at the scene of the incident, while traffic officers will undertake traffic management measures to protect and preserve the accident scene, including the investigating officers, until investigations are complete.

With additional resources for attending and dealing with incidents the police should be able to focus their efforts on the investigation, while traffic officers seek to minimise the disruption to traffic—including the possibility of secondary incidents. In that way accident investigations should be more effective than they are now; safer for all other people involved and less disruptive.

Clause 5(3)(c) and (d) would allow traffic officers to use their special powers to avoid danger to persons on the road, or indeed traffic using the road, and to avoid damage to anything on the road; and those purposes would enable traffic officers to act in that way. The Government's view is that those provisions do provide the protection for investigating officers that noble Lords have been debating. Indeed the purposes in Clause 5(3)(a) and (b) would also be relevant, because traffic officers would be concerned to manage traffic driving to and past the investigation site with a view to minimising the impact that the investigation would have on traffic flow.

Regarding the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, they will have training in emergency first aid and will be able to help in that area. I hope that, with those assurances, my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Berkeley

I am grateful to my noble friend for that explanation. In doing so he has given us a strong justification of the needs of the traffic officers. It was very useful to hear how the Minister sees their role in relation to the police.

I would agree with him that one could possibly interpret paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) as covering my amendment, but I return to the helpful comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who said that avoiding danger to "persons or other traffic", as I understood from his contribution, is to do with using the road as drivers and passengers. I shall read the comments of my noble friend in response and then consider whether my concerns have been covered, or whether we should have another go at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 19: Page 3, line 25, leave out "incidental" and insert "connected

The noble Viscount said: This amendment also relates to Clause 5 and I am concerned about the word "incidental". I did consider whether the whole of line 25 should be removed from the Bill, because it seemed to me that it was otiose to the matter and it widened the clause unnecessarily. I looked up "incidental" in the dictionary, which gave the definition, minor, supplementary and not essential".

We seem to be giving traffic officers powers to be involved in something that is not essential near a road. That is a bit loose; we should consider making it a little tighter and clearer. I have used the word "connected" in the amendment, although I am not sure whether it is the right word. One could use the term "associated with", for example.

It seems to me that the provision in line 25 widens everything. Parliamentary draftsmen like to widen things as much as they can because they never like to be told that the powers might not be there in the future. Drafting is always all-encompassing, which one can appreciate. But it is the job of your Lordships' House, as a revising Chamber, to ensure that we do not give these wider powers to anybody. We should consider what those powers should be with care so that traffic officers can operate with the powers they need to do the job that Parliament gives them successfully. That is my concern.

This is a probing amendment on the drafting. I should also like the Minister to consider why and in which circumstances it could be necessary. I beg to move.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

I cannot see the point of this amendment. The role of the traffic officer, as set out in the Bill, is extremely good. "Incidental" will widen the provision very nicely regarding incidents or even problems on roads which are not major trunk roads which are covered by this. I think the wording as it stands is necessary for the proper operation of these traffic officers whom I see as having a very important role. I oppose the amendment.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I always rush to the defence of downtrodden, overworked, underpaid parliamentary counsel whenever I can, just in case I might be in need of them in the future. However, I rush even more to their defence if they are accused of doing something when their intent is diametrically opposite. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, says that of course they want as much breadth as possible and are always prone to this weakness when it comes to drafting legislation. Our interpretation of the word "incidental" is that it will in fact narrow the competence of the officers. The amendment would broaden the responsibilities in such a way as to cause a frisson of horror among parliamentary counsel.

The great danger at this stage is that we start dancing upon the point of the dictionary pin when it comes to interpreting words. The noble Viscount's preferred word, "connected", is quite wide in its associations. It is linked to the activity which would fall within traffic officers' competence. However, "incidental" indicates subordinate to or lesser than the other powers identified.

The noble Viscount shares the anxieties we all have of others appropriating to themselves powers they ought not to have unduly. But on this occasion, we are in favour of the restriction and he, mistakenly, is in favour of broadening it.

Viscount Astor

What a wonderfully robust defence of those who draft Bills. I am sure they appreciate it; indeed. I do, because I know they are doing their best to get it right. I must defer to them if their meaning of "incidental" is better than mine. If that is the case, I am grateful to the Minister because his answer solves one of my problems. I hope that he will see that I put down the amendment not to be mischievous—that is the last thing I would do—but to ensure that the clause meant what the Minister has clearly explained that it does mean. He has said that it narrows the provision, and I am extremely grateful for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 to 22 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Powers to stop or direct traffic]:

[Amendments Nos. 23 to 32 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?

Viscount Astor

Clause 6 deals with powers to stop or direct traffic. I am initiating this debate simply to test the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform on this clause. The report argues that the powers to stop traffic within this clause, along with those to place temporary traffic signs in Clause 7, are significant. The Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly will have the power to confer further powers by order under Clause 8. The report states that although the power, is limited by the fact that the further power must be considered necessary for the purpose of facilitating the performance of duties which may be assigned to traffic officers (clause 8(2)), the range of duties which may be assigned is wide". It continues: The order-making power includes power to provide for enforcement through criminal sentences … and a Henry VIII power lo make supplemental, incidental, transitional or consequential provision". Will the Minister explain whether the power could be used, for example, to give traffic officers a further power of arrest? Do the Government have any thoughts on what further powers might be needed? If they do not need further powers, I wonder why the provision is in the Bill. I should be grateful for the Minister's reply.

Viscount Goschen

When we were debating Amendment No. 1, the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, correctly drew the Committee to order by saying that we were in fact discussing nomenclature. We strayed rather wide and went on to discuss the powers of traffic officers to stop motorists. Perhaps this is the most appropriate part of the Bill at which to return to the issue. I am not sure that we have had a satisfactory explanation from the Minister of how the provision will work. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to the number of police officers and sought assurances that there would be no reduction. I am concerned about confusion regarding roles not only among police and traffic officers and between the two agencies but in the minds of motorists.

The Minister assured me that the power to stop or direct traffic was available to the traffic officer only when he was stationary. I have looked carefully through Clause 6 but I did not see that restriction. I wonder whether the Minister can point out where that is stated in the Bill.

Secondly, in connection with Amendment No. 1, I raised the issue of the education of motorists. I am not sure that the Minister explained the matter satisfactorily. We are struggling with these issues in the drafting of the Bill, having read the relevant papers and listened to the Second Reading debate. I am not sure that all motorists will necessarily have listened to the Second Reading debate, although clearly it would have been in their interests to do so. For example, what will the Highway Code state with regard to motorists' reactions to traffic officers? Unless these issues are crystal clear, I suggest that the room for confusion might well lead to a reduction in safety.

Lord Bradshaw

I wonder that anyone might be so bereft of something to listen to that they would listen to the Second Reading debate of the Traffic Management Bill, if' it were broadcast.

Do the powers to stop or direct traffic definitely include the power to divert traffic? Clause 6 contains the words "to stop the vehicle". I understand and support that power. Clause 6 also refers to the power of a traffic officer to make a vehicle, proceed in, or keep to, a particular line of traffic". However, does a traffic officer have the power to intervene at a road junction and send traffic in a particular direction?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am grateful to the noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. The point with which I most disagree was that raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, concerning whether the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was anxious about the extensive powers contained in the clause that we are discussing. That is not the case. However, the committee expressed real anxiety on certain parts of the Bill that we shall discuss. A government amendment has been brought forward to take account of those anxieties. We shall discuss that in due course. The committee did not criticise Clause 6, although other Members of this Committee have expressed anxiety about it.

I wish to deal with the specific points that were raised. The straightforward answer is that traffic officers will have the power to divert traffic, but that is an advisory not a mandatory power. They can put in place diversion signs but whether drivers obey those signs is a question of the laws that relate to driving rather than laws in respect of following a traffic sign. Traffic officers certainly need to have the power to erect such signs to divert traffic. Without such a power the management of traffic following an incident could not take place. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that the necessary powers exist but not quite in the form that he suggested. Perhaps we can debate that matter a little further in due course.

I turn to the matter raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. He is absolutely right; it is not the Government's intention to rely upon the public having read the Second Reading debate of the Bill in the House of Lords to gain an understanding of its provisions, valuable though such an exercise would be. We shall need to engage in a substantial process of information and communication with the public on the role of traffic officers and explain why certain aspects of their role will need to be complied with by the travelling public for the convenience of all.

I think I perhaps slightly misled the Committee— and I apologise if I did—with regard to whether the vehicle could be moving when indicating a sign to the public. I was seeking at the time to disavow the notion that traffic officers would be in hot pursuit—if I recall the debate—with their lights flashing in the rear-view mirror of a vehicle and acting like highway police patrols. I now seek to disabuse the committee of that notion.

It is the case that the traffic officer might be directed by a police officer. It might be through communication—as I think the illustration has shown—that further away from the incident action needs to be taken to slow down traffic. As the noble Lord clearly indicated, slowing down traffic on our motorways is not a task undertaken lightly. Signs have to be abundantly clear. Traffic officers will have the ability to get motorway communication signs up and their vehicles will have the ability to make the same kind of signals for slowing down traffic that a police car would make if it were at the same point. I wanted to clear up that point. I do not think that I was entirely accurate earlier in the way I responded to what was a rather different issue.

4.30 p.m.

Viscount Astor

The Minister has somewhat confused me. It may be my fault, but I should be grateful for some elucidation. If I heard him correctly, he said that under the powers that traffic officers will have, they would not have the power to force anyone to do anything. In effect he was saying that if they say, "Please join a single line of traffic and go down that lane", and for some reason someone in a car says, "I don't wish to", they do not have to do so. I do not read that in the Bill. Perhaps I have the matter wrong. I should be grateful for the Minister's enlightenment.

Clause 6(1)(a)(ii) states that a traffic officer has power when he is engaged in the regulation of traffic on a road, to direct a person driving or propelling a vehicle, to make it proceed in, or keep to, a particular line of traffic". Clause 10 deals with offences. Subsection (5)(a) and (b) state that it is an offence to fail to comply with. a direction given in relation to that vehicle under a power conferred by section 6, or … section 7". Am I not right in thinking that an offence is committed if a motorist does not comply with a request or an order—however one would like to put it—given by a traffic officer? It seems to me that that is what the Bill says. I was therefore rather confused by the Minister's response.

I may have the issue entirely wrong; I should be grateful for the noble Lord's response.

Lord Marsh

Perhaps I may pursue the matter. Clause 7(2) and (3), the proposed amendments to Sections 35 and 37 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and those to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, confer most of the powers a police constable would have in these circumstances and the authority that goes with it to the traffic officers. I should like to know whether that is a correct understanding.

Lord Bradshaw

That worries me. I think we are getting to the nub of one of the real issues of the Bill. If these people are there to make best use of road space in an increasingly congested motorway network they need to have two quite clear powers. First, they need to be able to stop as quickly as possible vehicles going towards the scene of an accident. That more or less means switching on a sign on the vehicle which says "Stop", "Proceed cautiously", or something similar. One cannot transmit many signs on a fast moving motorway. They need the power to do that.

Secondly, they need a power to get people off the motorway or trunk road in those circumstances. One does not actually want people going down a cul-de-sac towards an accident where they perhaps they may be trapped for two or three hours with all kinds of problems which arise in that case. The issue needs clarification, as I am sure it will give rise to much confusion.

Lord Davies of Oldham

This does need clarification, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have addressed this point with great accuracy and who have pressed me. I have been less clear than I should have been up to now' and I want to be as clear as it is within my power to be.

The traffic officers will need these powers, and they are police powers. They will need the powers to warn and, in certain circumstances, to instruct the travelling public to obey. I was seeking to indicate—I think that is where the point of confusion occurred—that traffic officers are not police officers. They do not supplant police officers in their powers because they cannot enforce such restrictions. They can place restrictions, and it will be an offence, enforceable by the police, if their instructions are not complied with. However, they are not the arresting authority. That was why I was eager to emphasise earlier that they will not be a red light in the rear-view mirror pursuing an errant motorist. That is not their role.

I agree with noble Lords in all their points. Will these officers have the powers necessary to attend at a point of congestion, to stop traffic where it is dangerous for it to proceed and to divert traffic when it is advantageous to the travelling public that such diversions should take place? The answer is that they certainly will have those powers. At the present time such activities are carried out by police officers and will in the future be carried out by traffic officers.

However, enforcement will still be the responsibility of the police because traffic officers are not police officers, with the power of arrest.

Viscount Goschen

What happens when there is a serious accident, the traffic officer puts down a sign saying "Stop" and motorists do not stop? A policeman would get in his vehicle, put the blue light on, and make sure that those motorists did stop. I am concerned that there will be confusion when an officer has the power to tell people to do something but not the power to do anything about it if they refuse. I am seriously concerned that road safety could be compromised in these circumstances.

Viscount Astor

Before the Minister speaks, perhaps I can help him. He can deal with both points, which are similar.

I understood the Minister to say that if the motorist ignored the instructions of the traffic officer, he would be committing an offence under the Bill, but the traffic officer would not have the power to arrest him. Presumably, however, the traffic officer would have the ability to, for example, take down the number plate of a car, inform the police, who could take further action. I am assuming that to be the case, and it is connected with the point made by my noble friend Lord Goschen.

Lord Davies of Oldham

The noble Viscount is not only striving to be helpful, but he is extremely helpful. He has expressed the matter better than I could.

Lord Marsh

It seems to me that the point is clear— it is or it is not. Subsection (4), which refers to the Road Traffic Act 1988, states: In section 163 of that Act (power of police to stop vehicles), in subsections (1) and (2) after 'uniform' there is inserted 'or a traffic officer"'. That leads me to suppose that a traffic officer is being given similar powers to those of the police constable under that Act. I am quite prepared to go on talking for a moment if the Minister wants to look at the advice he has been given. It is an important point, and it may be more complicated than I think it is. However, as I read this, if the amendments proposed to the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 are as simple as I think, they seem to meet the point made and give the traffic officers the powers of the police in those circumstances. I may be wrong, of course.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I was trying to reassure the Committee that, as the noble Lord indicated, traffic officers will take on certain police powers. Their signs will be mandatory. The difference is that, if the police place mandatory signs and someone breaks the law at that point, a police officer can take the immediate action of arrest. The traffic officer would do exactly what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, indicated. He would make clear the identification of the offence and that the legally applied requirement of the traffic officer had not been complied with, and, in due course, it would be prosecuted.

Viscount Goschen

I make a final intervention because I sense that we are not getting far on this issue. I am concerned that these officers will have powers to do things but without the authority to do anything about it if people do not obey them. For example, people respect and obey a police officer who slows down the column of traffic on a motorway, but I am concerned that a new breed of officer will be doing that. In theory, one would not have to obey his commands. If one did not, the officer would not have any immediate ability to do anything about it. Does that mean that police officers will have to accompany traffic officers almost the whole time?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I do not think that we should make too much of this situation. After all, we are all forever driving past temporary roadworks where traffic lights have been installed but where there is no policeman to carry out the immediate arrest of anyone who disobeys the lights. Everyone knows that, if you drive through such a red light, you are almost certain to be observed because anyone working there, by definition, will have his own safety at stake and will certainly take steps to provide the necessary evidence.

Traffic officers will be empowered to place mandatory signs. We shall communicate their powers to the public so that people know that they are duly authorised to act when incidents occur. They will adopt police powers. They will not be able to do what a policeman can do, which, in the most extreme case, would involve an immediate arrest.

Viscount Astor

It has been useful to debate Clause 6 and the powers that it contains. I think that Members of the Committee are clearer as to what the powers are. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation.

I mentioned Clause 8, but perhaps I should leave that to the debate on whether the clause shall stand part. The Minister did not deal with it and so I shall deal with it then. I am grateful for his contribution to the debate. It has been of enormous use in aiding the Committee's understanding of the clause.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Powers to place temporary traffic signs]:

[Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Power to confer further special powers on traffic officers]: [Amendments Nos. 35 to 37 not moved]

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

Viscount Astor

I referred to the powers in Clause 8 when we discussed Clause 6. They are similar and connected. Clause 8 provides for very wide powers. I accept that they have to be made by the Secretary of State and that a draft order has to be laid and approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Clause 8(1) states: The appropriate national authority may by order made by statutory instrument confer further special powers on traffic officers". I am not clear what they are. I realise of course that there are major thoroughfares that are not part of the trunk road or motorway system—for example, the Mersey Tunnel is not part of the trunk road system, nor is it a major thoroughfare. Therefore, a traffic officer would need to have the powers for such matters. I imagine that various toll bridges may be included.

Will the clause broaden the scope as regards the number of roads that may come within it? Do the Government consider that they would have to go further than just trunk roads? Rather than redesignate roads, will they include roads that, for example, link trunk roads or link a trunk road to a motorway? Or can Clause 8 be used to give traffic officers special powers of enforcement? Is that where the clause is going? What is the purpose? Is it about a geographical spread? Is it there to give traffic officers greater powers of enforcement? Why do the Government feel that the clause is necessary and what are the reasons for it? Perhaps the Minister can enlighten the Committee on why it is in the Bill. That would aid the Committee as it is an important area.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving me the chance to explain the importance of Clause 8, which provides a power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to confer additional special powers on traffic officers by statutory instrument.

The only special powers conferred on traffic officers by the Bill are those of stopping and directing traffic and placing traffic signs. We believe these powers will be sufficient for the officers to carry out their duties effectively. But we are concerned that if experience shows that additional special powers would be appropriate, then this clause allows such powers to be conferred without needing further primary legislation.

This is an innovative concept. It is a radical new approach to traffic management on trunk roads and it represents a significant change in the Highways Agency culture and remit. Traffic officers will be operating in a demanding and exposed environment. As operational experience develops it may be that further special powers are identified that could make the traffic officer service more effective and efficient. The Highways Agency is certain to learn important lessons during the early years of operation. Clause 8 provides the ability to confer new special powers on traffic officers to ensure that they remain adequately empowered to carry out their duties effectively and safely and to so confer such powers over a relatively short period of time by using the speedier legislative process of secondary legislation.

The clause contains clear limitations on both the extent of the powers which may be conferred as well as the purposes for which they may be exercised. First, the national authority would have to be satisfied that any such power would be necessary to facilitate the performance of the duties as set out in Clause 1(2); that is duties that relate to traffic management and the authority's functions as highway and traffic authority. Secondly, the exercise of special powers is subject to the restrictions set out in Clause 5, particularly subsection (3), which limits the purposes for which special powers may be used to assist traffic movement on motorways or other trunk roads, to prevent or reduce congestion on such roads, to avoid danger to persons or traffic on them, to prevent damage to the road or anything on or near the road, and for incidental purposes.

We have no plans to expand the powers of traffic officers beyond those specified in the Bill. However, it might be decided in future that traffic officers should be able, for example, to check that vehicles are not overweight in order to protect valuable highway infrastructure. We do not think it is necessary now, but it is a possibility in terms of highway management. As we all know, congestion is caused partly by roadworks; roadworks are partly due to the weight of traffic; and traffic weight is crucially affected by individuals' compliance with load restrictions. However, we are not taking these powers now. We are merely indicating that, in due course, it might be felt that additional powers are necessary for the benefit of the travelling public.

A statutory instrument could be made for the enforcement of such powers, including the creation of new offences. A power conferred without any provision for enforcement would be unlikely to carry credibility, and so we feel the ability to include enforcement provision is necessary. The instrument could also include any supplemental, incidental, transitional or consequential provisions necessary including by way of amending any primary or secondary legislation.

The special powers conferred by the Bill are granted by extending to traffic officers certain existing statutory powers held by the police. This requires the amendment of or reference to the relevant statutes governing the police. It is likely that any additional special powers would be similarly granted by way of adoption of existing statutory provisions necessitating their amendment. Clause 8 would allow that to occur. In England, the SI would be made in Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure. In Wales, the SI would be made by an affirmative vote of the National Assembly in plenary session.

In setting up this innovative concept, which will aid the motoring public and has widespread support, we think that we are providing the requisite powers to do an effective job. In this clause we are merely giving ourselves the opportunity to learn from experience. If an additional power were to be necessary, it would be the subject of a statutory instrument that would require the affirmative support of both Houses of Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales.

Viscount Simon

There are two separate matters to bear in mind. First, my noble friend mentioned overweight vehicles. The power to inspect such vehicles is already conferred on the Vehicle Inspectorate. Secondly, what is the view of senior police officers on the possibility that police powers will be conferred on these traffic officers at a later stage without primary legislation?

Viscount Astor

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I can give him a chance to consider the question put by the noble Viscount. I should remind the Committee that, in its report on the Bill, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform said: The Bill contains a formidable array of delegated powers". The one that it wished to draw to the Committee's attention was that in Clause 8. As the Select Committee and indeed the Minister pointed out: The order-making power includes the power to provide for enforcement through criminal offences (but limited by the bill to summary offences) and a Henry VIII power to make supplemental, incidental, transitional or consequential provision". It goes on to say: We draw this provision to the attention of the House because of the width of the power, and suggest that the House may wish to invite the Government to explain whether, for example, the power can be used to give traffic officers a power of arrest". The Minister has in effect said that the provision could be used to do that. I think that the Committee ought to beware of that and take it seriously. I can easily foresee a situation where an accident is caused by a grossly overweight lorry or a car without insurance, tax or MOT and its brakes do not work—or where someone just ignores the directions of the traffic officer and the police are not present—and there is a clamour from the Highways Agency and the traffic officers saying, "We need powers to enforce what you are trying to make us do". Would it not be useful to have such a power so that we can see whether people have paid the road tax or whether their tyres are balding? There will be a clamour to increase powers. There is no doubt that if they had such powers their lives might be more effective.

The Committee and the House need to be aware that this issue will be raised. We need to consider whether we want such powers in the Bill. If your Lordships feel that it would be a retrograde step in terms of extending the powers albeit to admirable people, but in effect giving powers to officers who are not police officers, we should consider it carefully. Perhaps the Minister could tell the Committee what conversations there have been with the police forces in this country and with the Association of Chief Police Officers, and whether in certain circumstances they would approve of the extension of powers. Is that in the mind of the Government?

It is an important issue because we need to know how such powers could be used. We can all foresee the clamour when the public suffer. The first thing that one would see would be headlines in a tabloid newspaper saying, "Traffic officers do not have the powers that they need, so what will the Government do about it?" We need to consider that. When the Minister replies to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, perhaps he could include a reply to those issues.

Lord Berkeley

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I can expand on the matter. This is an occasion when Henry VIII did quite a good job. It depends whether one likes the clause or not. I believe that it is a very appropriate clause. My noble friend mentioned overweight vehicles, but there is also the issue of bridge strikes, which cause endless delays to rail and road travel. Similar things happen at level crossings. Whether we like it or not the Vehicle Inspectorate is not around much, as we have discussed many times in the House, although it carries out occasional checks. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, suggested earlier, will there be fewer police? There are not many police at the moment so this could be another opportunity for adding further powers in the future which I believe most law-abiding citizens would welcome, especially if the purpose of the Bill is fulfilled, which is to keep traffic moving. This is an important clause.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am grateful to my noble friend for his support and to other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. My noble friend Lord Simon will readily recognise that there is a Vehicle Inspectorate. Of course, the inspectors have no right to stop vehicles. We know the limitations of their role. In response to his second question about the police attitude in this regard, the Association of Chief Police Officers is satisfied with our provision in the Bill, provided that it is subject to adequate and proper parliamentary scrutiny. He will recognise that we have affirmative procedures linked to this matter.

On the general issue of the power of arrest, which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised and which was the concern of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I can tell the Committee the Government's intent. In the other place the Government moved an amendment to make it absolutely clear that we do not intend to bestow the power of arrest on traffic officers.

There was a suggestion in the other place that the Bill as drafted may give rise to such an interpretation. A government amendment struck out any ambiguity in that respect and made it absolutely clear that we do not intend to give traffic officers the power of arrest. That is in the Bill that is before the Committee.

We have no plans to give powers to traffic officers in relation to enforcement, or to confer on them the power of arrest for the very simple reason that the Bill is about aiding the motorist and tackling congestion. We want the officers to be seen, and we expect them to act, in the role of motorists' friend. When incidents occur, they will facilitate motoring progress. To confer powers of arrest on such officers would significantly change their role and their perception in the eyes of the public. The publicity to which I alluded earlier when responding to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, will be necessary to educate the nation about the role of these innovative traffic officers as officers who will facilitate the progress of the motorist. Their role will not be concerned with punitive activity and will have nothing to do with powers of arrest. On that basis, perhaps the noble Viscount will feel able to accept the position.

5 p.m.

Viscount Astor

The Minister has been extremely helpful to the Committee in explaining Clause 8. I am grateful for his assurance that the powers will not be used to give traffic officers the power of arrest. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, would quite like them to have powers of arrest. However, it begs the question: if they are not to be given powers of arrest, why do they need Clause 8 and what kind of powers will they be given? The Minister has not been particularly explicit on that. We may wish to return to the matter on Report and tighten up the powers that may be given. At the moment the provision gives the Secretary of State, although he has to return to Parliament, extremely wide-ranging powers. I accept that the Minister does not intend to use it to do that, and I am sure that that is the case. However, as we all know, Ministers and Secretaries of State change—in the Department for Transport they change quite often—and policies change. Of course I accept the assurances of the noble Lord. We may reconsider this matter, but in the mean time I am grateful for the response of the Government.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 38: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—