Clause 16 - The network management duty
Traffic Management Bill
Mr Tony McNulty (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport; Harrow East, Labour)
Without going fully down the road suggested by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) because that would require almost a Second Reading debate on all the clauses in part 2, rather than specifically on clause 16, let me say that many of the answers he requires will unfold as we discuss part 2 and his point is fair. When my Department formulated the Bill, similar arguments and philosophies were expressed. How can we reach a position in which all citizens can expect a high standard from all local authorities, regardless of where they live? How can that be balanced with as little intervention as possible from the centre, with local democracy and accountability prevailing? One route, as implied by the hon. Gentleman, is simply to look for failure and come up with criteria that state broadly what local authorities should do and what we should do if they fail.
The importance of network management is such that every authority in the country should live up to a particular standard and every citizen should expect that standard from their authority. That is implicit in the rest of the paragraph in the regulatory impact assessment, to which the hon. Gentleman failed to refer. Of course, if the phrase
''a failure to legislate will preserve the status quo''
was on its own or the end of the sentence, it would be at least a truism if not an absurdity. However, a comma follows, and the sentence continues:
''in which the Government believes that there is insufficient demand made of highway authorities to ensure that they manage their networks in a holistic way, with the interests of road users in mind.''
The full sentence carries the import behind the Bill. We are determined that network management will be best achieved by the duties outlined in clause 16, which is what the amendments would change. We will return to the general thrust of some of the early amendments, particularly amendment No. 97, in the context of how much in the Bill should define network management duties.
This situation has a touch of déjà vu, as it reminds me of the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill last year, in which we were trying to provide for a statutory duty on planning. The question is whether we take a shopping-list approach and
include everything in the Bill or frame the legislation sufficiently broadly to encompass all that is required. If I seriously believed that including safety and environmental considerations in the definition of the network management duty would improve the Bill, I would find it easy to say that it was a lovely idea and that we would include it. However, I am told that we would then suffer from ''undue specificity''—I do not know whether I have made that phrase up or whether it is a legalistic one. We all agree that safety and environment are important but, ironically, the more specific detail in the Bill, the weaker the duty becomes.