HL Deb 09 November 2000 vol 618 cc1755-9

.—(1) A local traffic authority may designate any road for which they are the traffic authority as a quiet lane or a home zone.

(2) The appropriate national authority may make regulations authorising local traffic authorities who have designated roads as quiet lanes or home zones to make use orders and speed orders of such descriptions as are prescribed by the regulations in relation to any roads designated by them as quiet lanes or home zones.

(3) A use order is an order permitting the use of a road for purposes other than passage.

(4) But a use order may not permit any person—

  1. (a) wilfully to obstruct the lawful use of a road by others, or
  2. (b) to use a road in a way which would deny reasonable access to premises situated on or adjacent to the road.

(5) A speed order is an order authorising the local traffic authority by whom it is made to take measures with a view to reducing the speed of motor vehicles or cycles (or both) on a road to below that specified in the order.

(6) The appropriate national authority may make regulations specifying procedures for the making, variation and revocation of—

  1. (a) designations, and
  2. (b) use orders and speed orders,
including procedures for confirmation (whether by the appropriate national authority or any other body).

(7) The appropriate national authority may give guidance to local traffic authorities about matters to which they must have regard in determining whether or not to designate a road as a quiet lane or home zone.

(8) In this section—

(9) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and may make different provision for different cases or areas.

(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 28 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 29.

Both these new clauses have been prepared in response to Liberal Democrat amendments which were withdrawn at Report stage on the understanding that the Government would bring forward our own amendments at Third Reading. We were sympathetic to the objectives of the Liberal Democrat amendments.

In the case of quiet lanes and home zones we have, I hope, achieved the essential objectives of the Liberal Democrat amendment, though with some significant differences. I think that we would agree that in terms of achieving the road safety targets which the Government set themselves in the road safety strategy, the creation of home zones in urban and residential areas and tackling the problems of speed in our rural lanes and villages are an important part of that.

Amendment No. 28 would give legal status to the concept of home zones. It gives the appropriate national authority power to make regulations which in turn would enable local traffic authorities to make use orders and speed orders. Use orders will be particularly valuable in home zones because they will give legal status to uses of the road for purposes other than the traditional one of "passing and repassing". Speed orders would enable the local traffic authority to introduce speed limits in individual quiet lanes and to reduce speed limits below the current levels.

Amendment No. 29 which concerns the rural road hierarchy is slightly less complex. It embraces the essence of the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats at an earlier stage. It commits the Secretary of State to undertake a review of all the considerations required to implement the rural road hierarchy; to address the problem of speed which is a hazard and inflicts environmental pollution on much of our countryside and, after consultation, to publish a report within 12 months. I believe that these amendments will make a major contribution to road safety. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward the amendments in response to the amendments I brought forward on Report. I am particularly pleased to see legal identity being given to home zones and quiet lanes. I welcome the flexibility which the proposed new clauses give to local authorities in this important area of road safety. However, the devil, as always, will be in the detail. Much will hinge on the regulations and guidance. Will the Minister say when that will be forthcoming?

I would appreciate some clarification of subsection (6) of the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 28, which states, procedures for confirmation (whether by the appropriate national authority or any other body)". I feared that this might mean that the Secretary of State's approval would be required for each individual scheme.

I am rather disappointed that the issue of precedence has not been covered in the Government's amendments. On Report, the Minister said that he would redraft my amendments to meet his quibbles. I suppose that I am quibbling at his use of the word "quibble" because precedence is fundamental to the concept of home zones. That is certainly the experience of our Continental neighbours. We were keen to see the enabling powers put on the face of the Bill and are therefore disappointed to note that they are not included in the amendment. Earlier this evening when we discussed a workplace parking levy, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—rightly, in our view—said that the purpose of workplace charging was to give local authorities a tool and that it had been included in the Bill in response to the demands of local authorities. After consultation has taken place and after representations are made, if it becomes clear that there is a demand on the part of local authorities for powers to change the precedence, will the Government consider including that matter in guidance in the future?

I particularly welcome the rural road hierarchy and the commitment to a 12-month review and the publication of the results of that review. I was interested to note that the Bill refers to a link between speed limits and accidents. That measure will be welcomed by many rural dwellers for whom that matter is a constant concern. Does the Minister see lower speed limits on minor rural roads as a desirable outcome of the review? Once the review is completed, will primary legislation be required to change the hierarchy, or can that be done by statutory instrument?

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I support the amendment. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for bringing it forward. It is good to see quiet lanes and home zones included on the face of the Bill. I have two questions. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, mentioned priority for pedestrians. Can the use order be used to specify or designate priority for pedestrians, or does that matter require primary legislation? Secondly, an interesting road sign has been approved by the European Union. I believe that it is called E30. It depicts an attractive little house and kids playing football. Would local authorities require approval to erect such signs when home zones are established, or could they erect them anyway? I think that would be rather nice. I hope that my noble friend will comment on that.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am grateful for the general welcome for the amendments. I hope that I can respond to some of the points that have been made. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked what authorities other than local authorities would be involved. In London it could be the GLA. Although, initially, individual consents may be given, that may change in time.

We hope to issue guidance as soon as possible. That almost certainly means next year. As regards my view on speed limits in rural lanes, the road safety strategy, and my frequent elaboration of it, indicate that I believe that in many cases 60 miles an hour—that is the default speed on single carriageway roads—is not appropriate in many rural lanes. However, each local authority can assess the appropriate speed for an individual rural road or lane.

As regards the issue of priority or precedence, I accept that our amendment differs in this respect from that tabled by the Liberal Democrats at an earlier stage. We believe that we can achieve that objective through existing powers. We believe that the absolute priority that is established in some Continental legislation is not appropriate. We are considering the position, say, on a zebra crossing where pedestrians have the right of way but they are expected to cross in a reasonable time. Where children are playing in a home zone, clearly one would expect the car to slow down. However, one would also expect a provision whereby the children would make way in order for the car to reach its destination.

To lay down precedence in absolute terms would not be appropriate. We are talking here about the obligation on the car driver and other road users to act reasonably in the context of the road that they were using. A home zone would be marked by clear signs. Whether or not they would be the signs described by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, such zones would have designated low vehicle speeds which could be 10 miles per hour or lower. All the existing important provisions as regards due care and attention, consideration for other road users and so on would apply. If one adds all that up, creating a new offence of failure to give precedence, given the difficulty that might arise in certain situations, would not add very much.

We are proposing that there would be a special reference and special supplement to the Highway Code explaining how road users should behave in home zones. I hope that that answers most of the questions. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 29: After Clause 266, insert the following new clause—