HL Deb 03 June 1991 vol 529 cc519-23
Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is with some sense of deja vu that I rise to move the Second Reading on this Bill, since a little less than one year ago—1,4th June 1990—I was speaking to a very similar measure which had been introduced in another place by the Member for Nottingham South, Mr. Brandon-Bravo. I must therefore explain to your Lordships' House that that Bill, which was subsequently considered by your Lordships' House in Committee to meet anxieties expressed by the ramblers, and received a Third Reading on 2nd July last, failed to make it onto the statute book, having encountered procedural difficulties on its return to the other place. Happily, the Member for Stafford, Mr. William Cash, was successful in the ballot this Session, and adopted the Bill which is before us today.

The Bill is substantially the same measure as the one which I was privileged to move last Session. Its main provisions are designed to enhance highway authori ties' powers in the area of temporary traffic regulation; to relax existing consent requirements on local authorities; and to secure uniformity of approach among all authorities in Great Britain.

The Bill reflects provisions which have emerged from discussions between the local authorities, the Department of Transport and representative bodies. It is uncontroversial. In view of its history and the late hour, I hope I may be permitted to concentrate my remarks this evening on the main changes in the Bill this Session.

First, the Bill has been amended to take account of provisions enacted in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. That Act contains provisions enabling local authorities to apply, as appropriate, to the highway authority—or in Scotland, the roads authority—for that authority to exercise its powers under Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to prohibit or restrict traffic temporarily for the purposes of litter clearing and street cleaning. The new Section 14—set out in Schedule 1 to this Bill—has therefore been redrafted to subsume appropriate references. A consequential appeal has been added to Schedule 2 to this Bill.

Secondly, the Bill has been modified to take account of the Government's New Roads and Street Works Bill. Your Lordships are already well aware of the provisions of the Government's Bill, which has been fully considered in this House and by another place. We are now waiting to consider amendments made by another place. I remind your Lordships that, where it is necessary to restrict or prohibit road traffic on account of temporary road works, local authorities rely on the powers in Sections 14 to 16 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Those are the powers which this Bill seeks to strengthen and improve. So it is all the more apt, now that the Government have brought forward their proposals for reforming the street works code, that this particular Bill should be proceeded with. It will help to streamline administrative procedures and enable local authorities to take more effective action.

The main change as a result of the Government's New Roads and Street Works Bill is to introduce into the Bill the expression "traffic authority" in Clause 2(5). This is because Schedule 8 to the New Roads and Street Works Bill itself introduces that expression throughout the 1984 Act. This is merely a drafting convenience; it does not convey any change of substance. It is simply shorthand for the previous references to highway authorities (in England and Wales) and roads authorities (in Scotland). Once again, there are consequential repeals in Schedule 2. It is expected that the New Roads and Street Works Bill will receive Royal Assent and come into force before this Bill. The repeals will simply remove references which will be redundant once this Bill is enacted.

Thirdly, my Lords, the Bill omits a provision which was included in its predecessor; namely, that breach of a temporary speed restriction imposed under Section 14 of the 1984 Act should be liable to obligatory endorsement and discretionary disqualification. The omission does not come about by reason of any change of mind about the merits of such a provision. It arises simply because the matter has already been taken care of in Schedule 2 to the Government's Road Traffic Bill which is currently before your Lordships' House. So it has been omitted from this Bill.

I think I need not say a great deal more. The Minister for Roads and Traffic, in speaking to the Bill on Third Reading in the other place, commented on the continuing growth of vehicle traffic and the pressures that that brings on road space. This makes it all the more necessary to ensure that obstructions to traffic flow are kept to a minimum. When there is a legitimate need to restrict traffic—whether in the interests of safety, to prevent damage, or to avoid conflict with works in the road—it is important that the traffic authority should be able to act swiftly and efficiently. The Bill seeks to provide for that, while at the same time maintaining adequate safeguards so that access to premises is maintained, appropriate traffic signing erected, and suitable provision made so as to bring the arrangements to the attention of the public.

With those few remarks, I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Brougham and Vaux.)

9.3 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, and also to Mr. William Cash in another place for introducing the Bill, albeit technical. We certainly welcome it.

I have only one question to put to the Minister. I find it rather surprising that we have had two comprehensive Bills —the Road Traffic Bill and the New Roads and Street Works Bill—before the House, and the issues set out in this measure were not picked up in those specific pieces of legislation. I do not wish to carp about the matter; the House is indebted to those who sponsored the Bill privately. Private Members' Bills, particularly those the Government want, is a dangerous route because they may be subject to capricious activities, particularly in another place, over which governments frequently have no control. It is therefore a risky business. Having said that, I welcome the Bill.

9.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to express the Government's full support for this Bill. I am particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux has undertaken to carry it through this House for a second time. We understand it is no reflection at all on him that the Bill failed to reach the statute book last year. Indeed, the Bill was actually improved, under his pilotage, during its passage through Committee in your Lordships' House and was in a form which met with widespread approval when it returned to the other place last July. As my noble friend explained, its downfall was due to procedural difficulties rather than any objections of substance. The passage of time since then has necessitated a number of minor and consequential amendments, which my noble friend helpfully explained. Otherwise, as he says, the Bill is unchanged from the measure which the House has seen and agreed before.

The Government welcome the reappearance of the Bill this Session. It is a small and admittedly rather technical measure. Its main benefits lie in the improved powers and greater flexibility which it offers traffic authorities in managing traffic for temporary periods. All who have an interest in minimising congestion and disruption to road users will particularly welcome its provisions.

In our debates on the measure last year, several of your Lordships regretted the fact that the Government had not—at that stage—been able to bring forward measures to reform the Public Utilities Street Works code. Happily, a year later, we have now done so, in the form of the New Roads and Street Works Bill, which will shortly be returning to this House after completing its stages in the other place. We believe that the provisions in that Bill will go a long way to improving the present arrangements.

Action is already being taken in advance of those changes. For example, the Department of Transport recently published the new Chapter 8 of the Traffic Signs Manual, entitled "Traffic Safety Measures and Signs for Road Works and Temporary Situations". That provides a national standard of good practice for the signing and marking of obstructions, as well as for temporary traffic control. A booklet is also available offering advice to road workers and supervisors to ensure safe practice at road works on all-purpose roads. The New Roads and Street Works Bill will require public utilities and others to guard, light and sign their street works in accordance with the new standards.

The Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill has a complementary role to play. It will help to ensure that traffic authorities can respond quickly and effectively to short-term needs for traffic restriction. As my noble friend has said, the Bill will play a small but significant part in providing a streamlined and more effective code of powers for use when authorities need to restrict traffic temporarily on roads or other highways. It will greatly reduce the number of occasions when authorities have to seek consent for temporary traffic orders. It will enhance the powers to introduce temporary regulation on alternative roads where traffic is diverted; and it will remove unnecessary bureaucracy, for example by allowing a single comprehensive order to be made when both local roads and trunk roads are affected.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked why it was not possible to have incorporated these provisions in Government Bills during this Session. I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that there is always more demand for legislative space than there is ever capacity to meet it. Decisions have to be taken about priorities, and inevitably there are constraints on what can be included. In bringing forward both the Road Traffic Bill and the New Roads and Street Works Bill, the Government took the view that both Bills should be restricted to the specific and substantive measures with which they were respectively concerned. I must say that it is a refreshing change to hear from the Benches opposite a call for longer rather than shorter Government Bills.

This short Bill, having already been passed through most of its stages last year, was available for adoption by Members successful in the Private Members' ballot and was accordingly taken up by my honourable friend the Member for Stafford. As your Lordships may be aware, it has enjoyed a very swift passage through the other place and there is no reason, if your Lordships' House agrees, why it should not proceed speedily through its stages in this Chamber as well. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his welcome for this small technical measure. I think that my noble friend has dealt with the reasons why it was not incorporated in one of the other Bills, and so I will not gc into that at this hour of the night. I should also like to thank my noble friend and all his colleagues in the department for their help, which has been most valuable. I would once again thank all noble Lords for the su sport that they have given. I trust that we shall not be having a Committee stage or Report stage. With those few words, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.