HL Deb 11 July 1995 vol 565 cc1543-6

134A In paragraph (5) (c), after ("by") insert ("the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Transport, and").

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 134A as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 134.

I am as confused as everyone else over this procedure. I hope that I may, without adding to the confusion, also speak to Amendment No. 134D, which is grouped with this one and which makes the same point.

These amendments arc my attempts to draw to your Lordships' attention the importance of interdepartmental and cross-authority working. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that the references that I have suggested are not in fact necessary either as a matter of practice or indeed as a matter of legislation. I hope he can assure me that in the provisions as they will be set out on the face of the Bill, what I seek will be covered, and not simply as a matter of good will.

I very much welcome Amendment No. 134. However, in welcoming it I must express regret that it is necessary, and indeed that it has come to be seen as more necessary during the difficult weather that we have experienced since this Bill started its passage through Parliament.

My amendments refer not only to measures that are to he taken by local authorities but to measures to be taken by the Secretary of State (that is, the Secretary of State for the Environment), and more particularly the Secretary of State for Transport. I seek to include that reference in subsection (5) (c) and as a new paragraph in subsection (6).

The contribution to air quality—or perhaps I should say the detraction from air quality—brought about by transport is increasingly understood and is a matter of increasing concern. Subsection (5) (c) refers to measures to be taken by local authorities. Indeed, they will be in a position to do certain things to assist in improving air quality. They are very much at the sharp end. The Secretary of State for Transport may, for instance, have a policy whose effect is to increase road traffic, and perhaps in particular heavy traffic, rather than moving as much to rail as may be possible, or he may, for instance, not support the use of buses as much as may be practicable. Then it will be impossible for local authorities to take local steps which can do more than ameliorate at the very margins what is going on.

I am sure that the new Secretary of State for Transport recognises very well that he inherits a huge responsibility in this area. As I say, I hope that the Minister can reassure me that that responsibility is recognised, not only as a matter of good will and general discussion between the departments, but actually in the words of the Bill. I cannot see it, but then I may not be reading the words quite correctly. I beg to move.

Moved, That Amendment No. 134A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 134, be agreed to.—(Baroness Hamwee).

6.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the noble Baroness has a very good point of substance, but her way of dealing with it is contrary to our usual legislative practice. Unfortunately, the term "Secretary of State" is deemed to include all Secretaries of State. Now that we have a First Secretary of State, I think it would even include him. Therefore, although the noble Baroness clearly made a point that is worthy of consideration by the Government, I do not think the Government would feel themselves very much at ease in dealing with it in that way; and, alas, it is probably too late to find another way of drafting it.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am glad that we got ourselves back on the technically correct rails, even though it was confusing not only to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but also to others. She moved her amendment, and technically the debate is taking place on that amendment.

Perhaps I may answer first the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, on the substance of my amendment. She was concerned about local authority monitoring costs and thought that they would he very large. Not all authorities will need expensive monitoring equipment. Some will already have bought some equipment. We are expanding our networks and will be directing our resources at the priority areas. We shall discuss the cost fully with the local authorities, and we shall deal with all these matters in the course of the consultation which is bound to go on with the local authorities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, very kindly hoped that I should be able to tell her that her amendments were unnecessary. That is precisely what I was about to do, though in a more felicitous way. Her Amendment No. 134A is unnecessary because the strategy will set out the Government's policies on air quality, including the steps which they will take to address air quality problems. These will include policies that will be contributed to by a number of different government departments. It is unnecessary to specify individual Secretaries of State.

In regard to Amendment No. 134D, my noble friend Lord Renton, as usual, hit the nail completely on the head when he said that, although the noble Baroness wants to consult the Secretary of State for Transport, it is not necessary to state that specifically in the Bill because the Secretary of State for Transport is included in the generic term "Secretary of State". He will of course be fully consulted and will be a major contributor to the national air quality strategy.

I am surprised, however, that in sitting down my noble friend said that it was too late to do anything about it even if we wanted to, having said that it was not necessary in the first place. If we did put in the amendment that the noble Baroness wanted, we should be requiring the Secretary of State to consult himself. As my noble friend Lord Peyton would say, that would be a very odd thing to do. So that is not necessary. The point that the noble Baroness wanted covered is in fact covered by the use of "Secretary of State" as a generic term. He will be fully consulted on the national air quality strategy.

Amendments Nos. 141A and 261A, to which my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding referred, would enable the regulations, as my noble friend said, to extend the power to stop vehicles to traffic wardens. At the moment that power is confined to policemen.

I can quite understand the reasons behind this proposal. However, I am bound to tell my noble friend that I do not believe that regulations about air quality discussed in the closing stages of the Environment Bill are the right place for a review of the functions of traffic wardens.

There are strong arguments either way on this matter. I understand the need to ensure that scarce police resources are used to best effect. But conferring powers to stop vehicles is a very significant step indeed, as I know from the days when I was privileged to occupy a position in the Home Office. A number of organisations have expressed very strong concerns that only the police should have powers to stop vehicles. We also noted the views expressed on all sides of the Committee in another place.

It is true that the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 contains the means to transfer some powers to traffic wardens; but important questions would remain. The provisions of the 1984 Act apply to the transfer of "appropriate functions". It is by no means clear that the functions of stopping vehicles would necessarily come into the realm of being an appropriate function for a traffic warden. For example, what would happen if drivers refused to stop? What happens then? How would the traffic warden react? Should he run after the driver? Should he send for a policeman? What happens? These matters are important. We shall have to consider what would happen if these people, having been stopped by a traffic warden, proved unwilling to co-operate. The police have powers to deal with such contingencies but traffic wardens do not.

I understand the argument of my noble friend. This a perfectly terrible situation. But if this change is to be brought about, or something of that nature, it ought to be done in the context of a wider review of the powers and duties of the police and traffic wardens, where the Home Office can ensure that all those who should be fully consulted are fully consulted. That would include all those organisations which represent the police and the motorists' organisations and even women's groups, which have expressed concern about these matters.

My noble friend has a point but I do not feel that this is the appropriate place or indeed the appropriate time to incorporate it into the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I expected to be shot down on those grounds. However, aiming to table a couple of amendments before the weekend—like other noble Lords, I have had some difficulty in dealing with the bulk of this work and apologise for the lateness of my amendments—I thought it was probably better to get the amendment onto the Marshalled List rather than wait and achieve perfect wording. I recognised also that at this stage it was unlikely that your Lordships would wish to return the Bill to another place on such a matter.

I thank the noble Earl for what he said on the issue of transport and the consultation which will take place. I am not sure that I entirely agree with him that Secretaries of State should not he required to consult with themselves. Sometimes procedural delay requiring them to stop and think might not be a bad thing.

As I am on my feet, perhaps I may take the opportunity to regret that the Minister gave such a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. My name is also to his amendment and I warmly support it. I think that it was entirely the right place in which to try to move the issue forward and ensure that the steps proposed can he put into effect. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment No. 134A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 134, by leave, withdrawn.