HL Deb 30 March 1994 vol 553 cc1162-8

8.31 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am very pleased to have been asked by my honourable friend the Member for Hexham, Mr. Peter Atkinson, to take this Bill to your Lordships' House. That will mean, I think, that I shall have taken at least one transport-related Bill through the House every Session since 1986. I do not know whether that is some kind of record. The Bill fulfils a need to clarify the law in respect of road closures and traffic regulation for large sporting and social events and entertainments on the highway. The effect of the Bill is to confer new powers on traffic authorities to make orders imposing temporary restrictions or prohibitions on traffic to allow large events to take place on closed roads and also to regulate traffic on surrounding roads to minimise the consequent inconvenience and disruption to road users.

I shall describe the Bill's provisions briefly. Clause 1 will have effect by inserting three sections into the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Section 16A permits traffic authorities by order to make the type of restrictions which are available elsewhere in the Act when, for example, road repairs are required; that is, road closures, making streets one way, parking suspensions, speed limit restrictions and so on. However, it does not allow any closures which would prevent pedestrian access to premises. Section 16B limits the duration of an order to a maximum of three consecutive days and their frequency to not more than once in any calendar year unless allowed by the Secretary of State. Section 16C makes it an offence to contravene an order. The penalty is level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1,000). That section also empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations covering the procedure for making orders, including the giving of notice and consideration of representations. Clause 2 is the standard expenses clause, necessary because of the different incidence of expenditure under the new powers. Finally, Clause 3 and the schedule make consequential amendments and give the short title and extent of the Bill (England, Wales and Scotland but not Northern Ireland).

In the absence of any provision to the contrary, the Bill will come into effect immediately upon Royal Assent. Notes on clauses are available. They give a fuller description than the one I have given should any noble Lord be interested in looking further into the matter.

The Bill is necessary to safeguard the visit of the Tour de France Cycle Race in the summer, two stages of which are to be held in England on 6th and 7th July in Kent and East Sussex and in Hampshire respectively. However, the Bill also fulfils a long-felt need for adequate powers to be conferred on traffic authorities to regulate traffic in connection with major spectator events held on public roads such as the London Marathon, the Great North Run and the Lewes Bonfire Party. It will of course be of benefit to tourism. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Mountevans will wish to say something on that subject.

Although highways are used primarily to get from place to place, there are long-standing rights to use highways for pleasure, and many sporting and social events have been regularly taking place on the highway and giving considerable pleasure to large sections of the population for many years. However, the powers available to the police and to local authorities to restrict and regulate traffic are now considered to be inadequate for the extensive traffic management measures that need to be taken to minimise the danger and inconvenience that would otherwise result at these well attended events.

The existing powers that have been used to close roads for events on the highway date, for the most part, from the last century when, for better or worse, motor vehicles and the associated volumes of traffic legislation had not yet appeared. Limited powers are to be found in provisions such as Section 21 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. Those provisions give the police general powers to direct the route to be taken by Carts, carriages horses and persons … in times of public processions, public rejoicing or illuminations". Those powers will continue to be available to deal with the traffic aspects of many public events held on the highway. However, at the time when those powers were created no one could have foreseen the degree of personal mobility that the motor car now provides, enabling huge numbers of spectators to attend some of the more popular events, and creating the need for widespread traffic management measures, not only on the roads on which the event is taking place but also on surrounding roads. The Bill, if passed, will permit traffic authorities to put such traffic management measures in place as are necessary to minimise the disruption and inconvenience that would otherwise be caused.

I believe, and I am sure your Lordships will agree, that it is most important that we ensure that large public events which traditionally take place on the highway are allowed to continue. The Bill will reinforce the right to use the highway for pleasure and will safeguard the future of those popular events requiring road closures which by their very popularity attract such large crowds that special traffic regulation is required on associated roads.

I wish to reassure the House that the Bill does not permit gratuitous closures of roads, nor permit roads to be closed for undesirable purposes. The use of the powers in the Bill to permit motor racing events on public roads is specifically ruled out for the very good reason that that would encourage imitative behaviour by more easily influenced drivers when a road is reopened. Sadly, that was borne out by the experience of last year's Isle of Man TT Race, when over the fortnight 10 motorcyclists were killed out of competition on reopened public roads. The Bill will also not permit roads to be closed for any cycling race or motoring event which has not been duly authorised.

Another brake on the use of these powers is in the frequency of their use, limited as they are to a maximum of three days per calendar year for any particular stretch of road without the consent of the Secretary of State. I also understand that if the Bill is passed the Department of Transport will make regulations requiring traffic authorities to consult widely and with good notice on any proposals to use those powers so that full account may be taken of any representations made by those who will be most affected.

In conclusion, I ask the House to support the Bill, which will allow local authorities, after due consultation and consideration of representations, to take such measures as they consider necessary to ensure that these large-scale events continue to take place safely and with the minimum of inconvenience for all.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

8.38 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to speak in support of the Bill so ably introduced by my noble friend, and—dare I say it?—long-time transport sparring partner, Lord Brabazon of Tara. While I can think of reasons for supporting the Bill which would take me 20 minutes to say, I shall focus on just three. I shall concentrate first on the fact that the Bill is a mainland-wide Bill, and I shall return to that point; secondly, on the fact that it is an enabling Bill rather than a Bill that forbids and complicates; and, lastly, on the fact that it will have an enormous impact on tourism.

The nationwide element is important because the Bill does away with the need for a number of individual and specific Bills which might crop up in the future.

My noble friend reminded us that road motor racing is specifically excluded. However, some noble Lords will recall that, when the City of Birmingham wished to promote on-highway motor racing, it was put to considerable difficulty when it sought to get an individual and specific enabling Act through Parliament. One has in mind events such as the Monaco Grand Prix or the Le Mans 24-hour race. They are conducted legally and with decency.

Henceforth, such individual Bills for specific events will be unnecessary; this Bill makes them so. Those who wish to promote events of a major scale—for instance, the Tour de France or elements of it—will have the opportunity to fall back on the powers which they will enjoy in the Road Traffic Regulations (Special Events) Act 1994.

I turn to the enabling element of the Bill; the positive element. So much of the legislation that we discuss is needed in order to restrict public or private conduct. On the other hand, this Bill simplifies the regulation of major —perhaps I may say "international"—events. Not only is that good administration, it is also a matter of enabling events to take place which will bring enormous pleasure to many, whether they be present in person or derive their pleasure via the media.

Finally, I welcome the Bill on the grounds of tourism —and here I must declare an interest. The events which the Title describes as special will surely contribute to the growth of domestic and foreign tourism within or to the United Kingdom. Tourism can be looked on as our fastest growing industry or, potentially, as our biggest employer. That is already the case in Scotland. But beyond the employment position is a balance of payments "plus" of great importance. Special events of the kind that we are discussing will encourage our fellow citizens to stay at home. By doing so they will not add to the imports side of the balance of payments ledger.

At the same time, events of this nature—for instance, the visit to Southern England of the Tour de France—will in the short term give rise to considerable foreign visitor traffic. But, in the longer term, such an event will generate exceptional media coverage. It is positive coverage which reaches millions of enthusiasts and many more millions of potential visitors in a way which the tourism industry—be it the government-supported tourist industry such as the British authority or the commercial sector—could never hope to finance. The Bill before us may be short and specific but its potential impact is, in the promotional sense, enormous and general. It deserves our wholehearted support and I am delighted to offer that.

8.43 p. m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, we are grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, explained the Bill in a more succinct way than it was explained in another place. He should realise that there is a difference between this House and another place. First, the Bill was introduced on a Friday, when Members take their last chance of the week to make a speech involving their constituency. Naturally, they send a copy to the local paper and they had probably had representations from constituents. Also, the second debate on that day was about women in Parliament. There are still many male chauvinists in the other place and I should riot have been surprised if they had tried to delay the Bill

Perhaps I may illustrate the way in which the Bill was treated in the other place. I calculate that the Second Reading took 57 columns in Hansard. A week later the Committee stage amendments, Third Reading and Report stages were conducted in less than one-third of a column. No one spoke and the Bill was passed. That indicates the feeling in the other place, leaving aside the relaxation of Friday debates. It was, nevertheless, a. serious issue.

I was worried about the possibility of local objections, a point raised in the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, made it clear there will be consultation with local authorities and local people. I am delighted that the Tour de France is coming to this country. I saw it once in Paris, when the whole of France stopped. The excitement that it generated was the same as that which used to occur at the Oval and Lords. I do not think that the people there are now so enthusiastic. The race was a wonderful spectacle and I hope that it will be a fitting addition to the celebrations that we shall have for the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

It is interesting to note that certain events rely on legislation that is perhaps 100 years old. Only when a big event such as this comes along is it realised that the law has to be changed. Therefore, the Bill provides two benefits. The first is that it allows the Tour de France to come to this country. The second is that it makes our law more flexible in handling other such events. We are grateful for the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. Wearing his tourism hat, he said that he too believes that the Bill will help to create a spectacle that will attract tourists to this country. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill.

8.47 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara for introducing the Bill in such a clear and succinct manner. 'The Government fully support the Bill.

The powers to close roads and to regulate traffic for sporting and cultural events on the highway are outdated or obscure. I am pleased that this Bill will ensure that the visit of the Tour de France goes ahead in July and will safeguard the future of many more traditional events in this country. As has been mentioned, there is a long-standing right in this country to use the highway for pleasure. That is the case, which is enshrined even in the most recent Highways Act. However, when considering a Bill of this kind, it is most important to ensure that a balance is kept between those who wish to use the highways for events such as those mentioned and those who wish to use them to go about their ordinary daily business other than for recreation. Therefore, while the sporting and cultural events which attract a large number of spectators should continue to take place, there should be certain controls on the use of the powers in order to ensure that they are not abused or used gratuitously.

If the Bill is passed, regulations will be made to cover the procedures to be followed when making traffic regulation orders under these powers. The regulations will be concerned in particular with public consultation before orders are made. That is a key issue in maintaining the good will of local people in the areas where sporting events are to take place. It is they who may be caused inconvenience. It is important that the people who will be most affected by road closures receive good notice of the intentions of the traffic authorities. For that reason, a period of notice of up to 12 weeks would perhaps be appropriate.

It can be seen from the face of the Bill that at no time can pedestrian access to premises be suspended by a traffic regulation order. The traffic authorities must consider representations, including whether an event even needs to take place on the highway in the first place. When authorities have satisfied themselves that it should, they must consider the safety and convenience of alternative routes. Of course, the Bill does not permit any road to be closed for more than three days in any calendar year without the consent of the Secretary of State. All that is a considerable improvement upon the present situation where such powers that do exist do not require anything like the same level of consultation and consideration before a road is closed.

The Bill is a wholly appropriate measure. It balances the rights of those who wish to participate in or watch great events from time to time and those who must use the highway for more traditional purposes on a day to day basis. If it is passed, it will safeguard events on the highway for the future and it will also help to make them safer both for participants and for spectators.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the all-round support that the Bill has received from my noble friend Lord Mountevans, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and indeed the Minister. My noble friend Lord Mountevans concentrated in particular on the impact on tourism which this Bill could have and the coming to this country of the Tour de France in July —or as it will be known in France, the Tour en Angleterre.

That is the largest sporting event in the world in terms of spectators with an estimated media coverage of some 1 billion people—if one can believe that. We expect also that it will attract a considerable number of spectators over its two days in England. That may exceed 1 million people. That is a major opportunity for international publicity for the United Kingdom and will be a boost to tourism which the local authorities strongly support. It will come within a few weeks of the official opening of the Channel Tunnel and the cyclists will travel through the Channel Tunnel (although not on their bicycles but on the train) in order to take part in the event.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has read, as I have, the Second Reading debate in another place which took place on 4th February. I found it an extremely amusing debate. It is not often that one laughs out loud when reading a debate; but, as the noble Lord said, that may possibly have had something to do with the business that was to follow on that Friday morning. However, I commend that debate to your Lordships. The noble Lord mentioned also the need for local consultation. The Minister covered that point extremely clearly when he described the regulations which the Secretary of State is minded to produce in that regard.

Once again, I am grateful for the reception which the Bill has received, and I commend it to the House.

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