Clause 84 — Financial Provisions

Traffic Management Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 16th March 2004.

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Amendment made: No. 4, in page 52, line 39, leave out

'regulations under paragraph 3(3) of'

and insert

'an order under Schedule 3 to'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 6:14 pm, 16th March 2004

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.

I notice that we have three quarters of an hour in which to debate Third Reading, so that might give hon. Members the welcome opportunity to go to the "Taste of Cornwall" exhibition upstairs on the Lower Waiting Hall, which was organised by my hon. Friend Ms Atherton. I enjoyed a lovely oyster and, I must say, a tiny drop of Skinner's Keel Over there. Anyone who wants to taste the fine fare of the west country should take the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just been reflecting on the words that you used at the end of the proceedings on Report. You said, "Consideration completed". I realise that the use of those words is a long established practice, but will you reflect on whether it would be more appropriate to say, "Time allocation completed"? Consideration of these matters has certainly not been completed, because we did not reach many of the amendments. Under the arrangements for the modernisation of the House, the Chair ought to consider not saying "consideration completed" because that is misleading, as the Government's guillotine concluded the remaining stages of debate. Will you reflect on that for subsequent announcements?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am more than happy to reflect on that point of order, as I do on every point of order. The House will have heard the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I am afraid that for the time being the words that I used must rest.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Traffic management—the way that we manage our roads—affects all of us every day. The Bill will make sure that our road space is managed in the interests of road users, help us to get the most out of the investments that we make in our infrastructure, and cut out some of the unnecessary disruption that can clog up our roads.

Notwithstanding what has just been said, I am glad that, in Committee, we made good progress within the time allocated. The time allocation worked well for the Committee, and the Bill has been given good scrutiny by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members. Some elements have received widespread support on both sides of the House. I am pleased to say that, in general, debate has been constructive, and it has helped to shape Government policy. I thank all who contributed to the discussions, not just those who were in Committee, and who made useful and worthy contributions—so good, in fact, were some of the Opposition's contributions that they changed the Government's mind. When I was in opposition, that was rare. I thank the officials and those who support the Opposition. I know that there are many people in the backrooms of Members' offices who do a lot of work on Bills and get very little thanks from the public for doing so. I place on record my thanks to those people for their work.

Transport and infrastructure are there to support the economy, and if our economy is to function properly, goods and people need to move efficiently. Keeping traffic moving can help to improve safety and reduce pollution, so reducing congestion will help us to achieve some of our other goals. Congestion is a symptom of economic prosperity, and notwithstanding what was said on Second Reading, we now have growing economic prosperity. There are more than 1.5 million more people in work than in 1997. That is more people who are travelling to work, and more people with money in their pocket to spend on going out for leisure. I welcome that; it is a good thing and it is part of being in a prosperous, democratic society.

There are even more utilities digging up the roads, installing new services that we want and, of course, maintaining the vital infrastructure that lies beneath our roads.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

There are also more highways authorities, local and national, messing up the roads. Will the Minister, at this late stage, guarantee that in another place the Government will move amendments to extend to them powers that will control their activities?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

From our debates, certainly in Committee, we know that such authorities are already included. It is for not only the utilities but the Highways Agency and the highways authorities to make sure that they do everything to avoid impeding the flow of traffic. In fact, the Bill gives new responsibilities both to the Highways Agency, through the traffic officers, and to local authorities through traffic managers, to make sure that traffic is kept moving safety in their areas.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Reading the Bill carefully, I find that it is precisely the fact that it all the time confirms the need to keep traffic moving that worries me. Is the Minister satisfied not only that the powers to be given to the new group of traffic officers will be properly controlled, so that we know what they are and are not capable of doing, but above all, that the general public will understand why we have yet another group of people whose function seems to be limited but whose powers seem to be considerable?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In time, the public will understand the role of traffic officers, who will begin to take up duty on our roads this year. Their task is to help to keep the traffic moving and ensure the safety of people on the network, which will be appreciated by the public. The Bill will not solve all our problems, but it complements our other policies. There will be more capacity where appropriate, as is happening on the M25. Billions of pounds will be invested in local transport improvements, and better use of new and existing capacity will make a difference. We need to manage both trunk roads and local roads properly, which is why the Bill gives the Highways Agency and local authorities the new powers that they need to do that job.

On our trunk roads, 25 per cent. of congestion is caused by incidents. We will not stop all those incidents, but we can reduce the time taken to deal with them and cut out unnecessary congestion. The new traffic officer service will target new devoted resources on keeping traffic moving on our motorways, and will be a uniformed, dedicated, 24/7 force serving the motorist. It will make our motorways safer, give drivers better information and improve traffic flow. In short, the traffic officer service will be the motorist's friend.

The Bill creates new powers for local authorities. Permit schemes and other provisions will put local traffic authorities in a stronger position to manage their roads. We are creating a realistic expectation that all local authorities will focus on managing their roads, as the best authorities are already doing. Creating new powers, however, is only part of the picture. Right hon. and hon. Members argued forcefully on Report and in Committee about many aspects of network management, authorities' own roadworks, the use of bus lanes and phasing of traffic lights—both subjects of debate today—and speed limits, and humps, which my hon. Friend John Mann discussed in Committee. Powers are already in place to deal with such issues, but we agree that we need to make sure that they are being used properly with the right end in mind, which is why the new network management duty that we are giving to local traffic authorities is important. It is not just about doing things that are new—we need to make sure that everything else is controlled and working properly.

The network management duty and the accompanying guidance for local authorities will focus attention on getting the right results. It will not, however, tell authorities what decisions they have to make to achieve those results. Authorities themselves are better placed than us to take those decisions. We are already making good progress. Ministers and officials are meeting key stakeholders to develop the guidance on the network management duty, and we are making similar progress with the secondary legislation stemming from parts 3 and 4. Even today, authorities and utilities are developing options for the creation of permit schemes, and I look forward to the results of their deliberations and seeing how we can make a difference to what happens on our roads.

While this Bill is in the other place, we will work hard to make sure that its key measures deliver results for road users as soon as possible. Before the end of April, I expect the Highways Agency's traffic officers to be operating on the ground in the west midlands, and working with the police to keep traffic moving and to clear up after incidents. I look forward to the benefits that the service will deliver; to giving traffic officers their full powers when the Bill receives Royal Assent; and to the delivery of benefits in the north-west and south-east by spring 2005, and across the whole network by the end of next year.

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Shadow Minister, Transport

I reiterate the general support of the Liberal Democrats for the Bill and its concepts. The Minister has outlined the benefits that it will bring about. How will they be measured? Will it be down to individual performance mechanisms and indicators for specific parts of the traffic officer service, or will it be down, ultimately, to reducing congestion, which should be the objective?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

There will be a combination of those aspects. We are setting targets for the traffic officers. It will be a matter of reducing congestion and dealing with incidents more rapidly than is currently the case. There will be measures of customer satisfaction to see whether people who use the roads value the service they get when, for example, a car has gone out of control or broken down in the fast lane of a motorway. Those are hazardous and worrying situations, and the traffic officers will be able to assist. We will judge them on the basis of their contribution.

This is a new service, and we will see how the tasks and roles of traffic officers develop. Some will become more important than others and we will change the priorities accordingly. We want to learn from the west midlands experience as we roll that out to the rest of the country, to see what traffic officers do best and how they can best contribute to keeping our traffic moving safely and to the satisfaction of all motorists, whatever type of vehicle they drive.

As the House knows, we are making good progress towards implementing other key measures. We expect to be able to issue guidance to authorities on the network management duty very soon after Royal Assent, so that we can focus immediately on bringing together all those strands in the authorities and on keeping traffic moving on the roads. Authorities will be given the necessary powers to control street works and road works as a priority. There will be full public consultation this summer on regulations for permit schemes. We want to see authorities using those powers effectively as soon as they are available.

People want to know how our plans will affect them. I am pleased to say that the Bill will make a difference by supporting the economy, improving safety and reducing pollution. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 6:27 pm, 16th March 2004

As the House reaches the final stage of the Bill before it moves to another place, I pay tribute to colleagues in all parts of the House who have attempted manfully and occasionally successfully to improve it. The Minister graciously pointed out that he has taken on board some of the sensible suggestions made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and we are delighted with that.

On Second Reading, we moved a reasoned amendment. We accepted that we need to take steps to help drivers and others who use the road network, but we did not accept that the Government's proposals amounted to a coherent, well thought out strategy to solve the many problems on our roads that the Minister mentioned at the beginning of his speech. The central problem with the Government's approach to traffic management is incoherence. They cannot decide whether they regard the car as an evil or not. Their heart tells them, and many of their own Back Benchers tell them, that motorists are a bad thing whose lives need to be made miserable, but they accept that there are tens of millions of drivers in this country, many of whom rely on the car as an essential necessity for going about their daily business.

It is our contention that those people should have their lives improved as much as possible by the traffic management network. That is what we have been seeking to do with our suggested changes to the Bill. The question facing us today, after the Committee and Report stages, is whether enough of the many persuasive arguments put by my right hon. and hon. Friends and by hon. Members in other parts of the House, including on the Government Benches, have been taken on board by Ministers. The answer, regrettably, is no. We have done our best to improve the Bill so that it genuinely meets the needs of road users, but Ministers have insisted on sticking to the bulk of their original plans, so the Bill is not yet in a fit state for us to support it. I hope that in another place it can be changed in those areas where it is deficient.

All that despite the rather good start to the debate on consideration. We were entirely happy to support Ministers on their new clause on blue badges to help disabled people, and we paid tribute to Members on both sides of the House who lobbied for that. Then, Ministers graciously conceded that our ideas on civil enforcement and the need for statutory guidelines are sensible. We are delighted that they agreed to look again at the wide-ranging and ill defined powers that they have given traffic wardens to impose penalties on drivers of moving vehicles, and we hope that they will return with further sensible suggestions. It was good to hear Ministers admit that we were right about the need for statutory guidelines. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Jamieson, was praised for his flexibility. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, that was it for the rest of the day as far as common sense was concerned, and we got no more real agreement from the Government.

Nevertheless, I hope that when the Government move their own amendments in another place we can support them, because this is a key issue for those who are concerned not only with traffic management, but with the wider issue of respect for the forces of law enforcement. One of the great problems of our age is the increasing breakdown of respect among the general population for the police and other law enforcement agencies; over-zealous civilian enforcement of traffic laws is a significant contributor to that.

The second problematic aspect of the Bill is the permit scheme that the Government propose to foist on councils and the utilities. We had an extremely entertaining debate—largely conducted, it must be said, on this side of the House—on the balance between those two good Conservative principles of low and honest taxation and local accountability. We came down on the side of low and honest taxation because, as the National Joint Utilities Group says, the Government's scheme will add £1.2 billion per annum to utilities' costs in building up their networks. That is why we suggested that the fee for any application for a permit or issue of a permit should not be higher than the administration cost incurred.

The arguments over the extra £55 per household tax that the Government propose to impose were well rehearsed, and I will not go over them again. However, I invite Ministers to consider what happened in the experiments that they set up to test this type of system. The Halcrow report on the pilot schemes that were implemented in Camden and Middlesbrough showed that utilities did not change their practices under lane rental although they had to pay the charges. The objectives—to reduce journey times in Camden and to reduce delays in bus journeys in Middlesbrough—were not achieved, and the additional costs to the utilities in the 11 months of the pilots were £1.18 million in Camden and £862,000 in Middlesbrough. If Ministers looked at the evidence that they themselves commissioned, they would not be proceeding down this route. It is somewhat stubborn and pig-headed of them to persist with the scheme, and I assure them that we will continue our opposition in another place.

The third area where the Bill is seriously deficient is in the effect on the breakdown services of the proposals on managing incidents on motorways. Ministers have fallen over themselves to provide assurances that they do not intend to damage the RAC, the AA and Green Flag, and did so again today. Sadly, they seem not to have read their own Bill, which permits the Highways Agency to establish a monopoly roadside recovery service funded by charges on motorists. Given Ministers' record on milking motorists, they should understand why bodies such as the AA and the RAC, which are of course supportive of improved incident management, are so concerned about the Bill. Ministers will probably not listen to Opposition parties, but perhaps they will listen to the motoring organisations, which, as has been pointed out, have 10 million members. The AA says:

"The Bill, as drafted, could not only enable the removal of motorists' existing right of choice of commercial provider but also remove the existing right of one motorist to stop and help another . . . Consumer protection issues also appear to have been overlooked because the Bill gives powers for charges to be set to create a revenue stream in the financial interests of the HA"— the Highways Agency—

"or contractors".

In other words, the body empowered to remove vehicles will be funded by the charges that it can make. I should have thought that that in itself would be enough to ring alarm bells with Ministers.

The AA makes another good point, particularly apposite given our debate on blue badges and the needs of disabled drivers:

"The Disabled Drivers Association says that the special needs services provided by the major roadside recovery organisations are vital to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable drivers. It would neither make sense nor be acceptable to them to put these national services under threat."

Ministers need to look again at those points.

The RAC envisages:

"A needless doubling up of resources", because

"70 to 80 per cent. of our customers call for help from a mobile phone. This means that in many cases breakdown organisations will already have sent a recovery vehicle before the Highways Agency becomes involved."

The RAC, too, is concerned about unfair charging of motorists and in particular—the Minister did not address this extremely good point at all—the second order effect, by which there will be a reduction in the number of motorists with breakdown cover. If people know that the Highways Agency has some kind of monopoly right on motorways, and will come along, charge them what it likes and take their cars away anyway, that will discourage them from joining the excellent breakdown organisations.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber when we debated that on Report, but if so he would have heard me say that we hold the breakdown services in the highest regard and that the Government have no intention, through the Highways Agency or any other body, of supplanting their excellent work. There will be no incentive for people to leave the AA, the RAC or any other body under the "second order" to which the hon. Gentleman refers, because they will be charged for having their vehicle totally removed from the road. The only powers that we have transferred to traffic officers are those that the Conservative Government gave the police, back in 1984.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I was here, and I heard the Minister give those warm words, but he does not appear to have listened to the words of the organisations. The fact is that they do not believe him, and I am afraid that we are now at the stage of the decaying years of this Government when no one believes a word that they say. The Minister can reassure people until he is blue in the face, but it is quite clear that those hugely responsible, popular, important organisations have not been reassured. He has made exactly the same points on meetings taking place in a few weeks' time as he made on Second Reading, and he has not accepted any amendments drafted by those organisations and tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am therefore not surprised that they suspect his motives. The warm words that he keeps repeating are not backed up by any deeds. Until Ministers do something to help the emergency organisations, rather than just say how much they value them, they will not be credible on this point.

Among the noteworthy aspects of today's debates were the warm tributes to local authorities and local power that the Minister kept paying. He will be aware, however, of the real concerns of local government about the centralising tendencies of the Bill as it stands, in particular about the powers to impose traffic directors on local authorities. The Bill does not state in what circumstances that might happen or what evidence the Government will have to produce to enable them to act in that way. It does not set a timetable for any review of arrangements in cases in which the Government have declared a local authority to have failed and have taken away its powers of traffic management—[Interruption.] The Minister is sitting there chuntering, but he should perhaps talk to his colleagues in the Local Government Association, who made those points very strongly in the days leading up to this debate. He has not convinced even his Labour colleagues in the LGA: yet another group of people who can see that Ministers' words and deeds are completely out of sync.

In amendment No. 1, which we did not reach, we suggested adding to statutory duty the need to keep the roads in good repair. My hon. Friend Mr. McLoughlin made the good point that the Bill has therefore not completed its scrutiny. Surely it is a basic and sensible aspiration to ask local highways authorities to keep the roads in good repair. That is the sort of thing that should appear in a traffic management Bill, and it is a great shame that, because of the Government's habit of trying to shorten parliamentary scrutiny of their legislation, perfectly non-contentious and sensible ideas such as that in amendment No. 1 cannot even be debated in the House.

So the Bill, which purports to help traffic flow and improve the conditions on our roads, has failed to achieve its objectives. It should have provided relief for congested streets and frustrated road users, but it is now clear that we shall have to wait for such useful legislation until the next Conservative Government. This Government have been waging war on the motorist since they came to power and, sadly, the Bill does not mark a ceasefire, as it was meant to. In its own terms, the Bill fails in its purpose, and I urge the House to reject it.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich 6:40 pm, 16th March 2004

Any traffic management scheme must be properly organised, and the Bill represents a sensible attempt to do exactly that. We desperately need to bring a bit of sense to the way in which we manage our road space in congested towns and villages and to accept that many different groups of people need to use what is a very limited space.

I have one reservation about the Bill, however, and I would like to spend a minute putting it on record. The powers that it gives to traffic officers are very wide-ranging while not being tremendously precise. They also appear to present some difficulties. We are creating a new traffic police force without the full skills and abilities of true traffic policemen. We could easily have expanded the existing police forces to create a real traffic police force, if it were only the clogging up of motorways that was causing the difficulty. I hope that we shall not regret this decision in due course.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 6:41 pm, 16th March 2004

I see a number of other hon. Members waiting to speak, so I shall be brief. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who took part in our proceedings today and in Committee, which was certainly helpful to the Bill.

I gave the Bill a pretty broad welcome on Second Reading. I said that its general principles were right, and that is still my view. I raised three points at that time, and I shall touch briefly on each of them now. The Minister mentioned the problems of congestion. They certainly impede our economy and add to emissions, which has a negative impact on the environment and on human health. The Bill is welcome in that it seeks to address those problems in general terms.

We have talked about the timetable for the Bill, and it certainly proved adequate in Committee. The Bill received good scrutiny, and I pay tribute to the business managers for achieving that. I am also grateful to the Minister for mentioning the backroom staff on all sides; they do a good job. I appreciated the opportunity, as did my staff, to meet his officials to consider various aspects of the Bill. I have to say, however, that on Report, holding six short debates was perhaps not the best way to proceed. I am sorry that we did not get to the one debate that I would have liked to take part in, which was the one on my amendment.

I expressed my concern on Second Reading that traffic officers and traffic managers might not have sufficient regard to safety. The Minister gave reassurances in Committee in that regard, which I was content to accept. I believe, from what he has said, that the commitment to road safety will be there. Another point that I raised with him, about which I am less certain, relates to environmental management, and to whether network managers will have sufficient regard to that issue. There is an imbalance between keeping traffic moving and what is best for the environment. It remains to be seen whether the Bill will look after what is required for the environment.

One issue that we debated in Committee and failed to get to today was the London settlement in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and how the powers that the Bill confers will relate to traffic directors and the Mayor. As the Bill stands, it removes the primacy of the Mayor on transport matters, by enabling traffic directors to override the Mayor's strategy and directions in relation to local implementation plans, and his directions to Transport for London. It therefore contains a major shift in the London devolution settlement. In Committee, the Minister said that it was not the Government's intention to unpick the devolution settlement, but further research has shown that that is precisely what they did, as the back-stop powers that they required were already available under clause 143 of the Bill that set up the Greater London authority. That matter may have to be dealt with in another place.

Notwithstanding that fairly severe reservation and the other matters that I touched on, I believe that the principles of the Bill are correct. It is important that our traffic be kept flowing as freely as possible. My colleagues and I are content to support the Government in the Lobby.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 6:45 pm, 16th March 2004

Consideration on Second Reading began with the Government responding positively to a letter that I wrote about the concerns of utility companies by setting up the working group. This afternoon, the Government accepted an amendment on the blue badge scheme that I tabled in Committee. I thank Ministers for their positive response throughout.

Having said that, I raised a number of other concerns in Committee regarding the permit scheme and road safety that Ministers need to continue to take on board during the ongoing consultation. The assurances that they gave in Committee on how those concerns will be dealt with in the ongoing discussions are important, particularly those on network management having a duty to deal with road safety issues.

It is important to get the balance right between utilities and local authorities—that has been mentioned today—and in the co-ordination of street works. I welcome the assurance that the Government gave in Committee that start-up companies will not find themselves at an unfair disadvantage over the works that are essential for the growth of our economy. I appreciate that Mr. Forth will want to endorse that.

The traffic forum proposals should be taken forward. Also, the involvement of stakeholders in drawing up the regulations and, in particular, the need for joined-up government, are important. It is not only the Department for Transport that should be involved.

The Bill is a useful step forward and I urge Ministers, as they take the consultation forward, to take on board the real, underlying concerns that gave rise to a number of amendments that were considered in Committee.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 6:47 pm, 16th March 2004

Previous Transport Ministers under this Government worked on the assumption that 30 million motorists must be wrong. If the motorists were not wrong, they would impose rules, regulations and new restrictions to ensure that they were, and then charge them for it.

The latest Secretary of State and his ministerial team offered us something better. We were told that they had seen the light: they had come to realise that most people most of the time make their journeys by car, that most goods move by van or lorry, and that however successfully we improve railways and other public transport modes—this Government have been singularly unsuccessful in that—we are unlikely to get away from the fact that the overwhelming majority of longer journeys are undertaken by road vehicle.

We entered into the spirit of the Bill expecting great things. Certainly, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Jamieson has been pleasant and agreeable—from time to time, he has found merit in what the Opposition have said—so it is more in sorrow than anger that I have to say that I share the disappointment of my hon. Friend Mr. Green, who sits on our Front Bench.

I was expecting much more. I was told on Second Reading that several ideas that I had put forward had a lot to recommend them and would help to improve traffic flow, but I find that somehow they have not found their way into the Bill as yet. I live in hope, because in the other place, where there is a better voting balance, wiser heads may prevail. The Minister may take away from today's debates some better ideas that could be reflected in the Bill before it returns to the House.

So many points need improving. Today, for example, Mrs. Dunwoody talked about important issues concerning delivery vehicles. She is worried about the lot of the milk float. It has to go out early in the morning and hazard its way round the bus lanes worrying about infringements and taxes being imposed on it if it intervenes by using the bus lane. The driver also has to worry about crossing the bus lane on foot, presumably after having parked in the middle of the highway. That is a ludicrous situation. The Minister agreed, but had no immediate solution. The milk float is one of many delivery vehicles that have to chance their arm with bus lane regulations. I hope that the Government will think again and understand the need for change. One possible solution is to alter the times at which bus lanes come into effect, so that early-morning deliveries can take place without difficulty. If we want to improve road capacity and reduce congestion, bus lanes should only operate at busy times of day, when frequent and regular bus services need to use them. It seems ridiculous to blank off half or one third of the highway on each side for the whole day when often no congestion warrants that intrusion or no buses are using that facility.

We have attempted to address speed limits but without success. All of us believe that low limits should be imposed where vulnerable people—particularly children and the elderly—may be on or near the carriageway. At times when children are entering or leaving school, it makes sense to impose tight speed controls. They can also make a lot of sense when applied to busy roads in residential areas and near the homes of elderly people.

It does not make sense to impose a series of varied speed limits—30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 mph—on main trunk roads through urban areas in a way that the motorist finds confusing. Often, lower speed limits are set than most motorists judge to be safe. Those arbitrary limits are buttressed with cameras as a way of collecting large sums of money from motorists who may not be aware that the limit has suddenly changed from 60 or 50 mph to 40 mph and have to make a contribution to the one-armed bandits in the sky.

The Under-Secretary frowns, but an experienced motorist used to be able to judge the speed limit by the environment through which he or she was driving. If one was driving through a well-lit, built-up area one knew that the limit was 30 mph. A dual carriageway in an urban area meant a 40 mph limit. Anywhere else on a main highway meant a 60 mph limit in the case of a single carriageway and 70 mph for a motorway-type road.

There is now a stunning array of different speed limits, particularly in urban areas. Experienced motorists cannot guess or judge but have to keep their eyes skinned to the side of the road to see the one sign—often covered in mud, dirty and not easily recognisable—when their eyes should be fixed on the road ahead, in case there is an unusual impediment. As a result, even law-abiding motorists often get caught out in areas they do not know well. There should be a much more rational approach. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench suggest a limit of 80 mph on motorways. In trying to observe, as I do, the 70 mph limit I am always in the slow lane and practically every other vehicle overtakes. If I broke the speed limit and got caught, that would make far too exciting a story—so like the Minister, I suspect, I try to behave myself. I notice that most of my constituents do not believe that the 70 mph speed limit is reasonable or sensible and regularly break it.

Parking is another issue that we have debated but on which we have not succeeded in changing the Minister's mind. One reason why highway capacity is so limited is that many people at home and work and in town centres have to park their vehicles on the carriageway because planning rules do not make sufficient provision for parking, hard standing or garaging. That does not stop people owning and using cars but means that a large number of vehicles, when not in use, stand out on the highway—reducing the space available on a crowded highway network in a crowded island. I hope that Transport Ministers will talk to their planning colleagues and re-examine the guidelines.

The guidelines are based on the false proposition that, if planners restrict the amount of garage and hard-standing space in people's homes, and the amount of car parking in city and town centres, people will be deterred from owning or using cars. That is a misunderstanding of human nature. As society gets more prosperous, and as the public transport alternatives are so obviously not up to many people's demands in relation to going to work, taking the children to school or going about their leisure and pleasure, of course, people will own cars. If there is not sufficient parking space at home, they will park out on the highway, and if there are not sufficient off-road parking places in town and city centres, more congestion will result as vehicles circulate around the town and city desperately looking for the limited parking places available, and having to play a kind of Russian roulette to get one. That increases congestion and pollution, and does not succeed meeting in the green objectives that underlie the policy.

We have debated the issue of bus lanes. Again, it was disappointing that Ministers did not decide to include in the Bill a provision to allow vulnerable vehicles and other users of the highway such as motor cyclists and cyclists the right in every case to use the bus lane. Ministers were persuaded of the case for cyclists to use the bus lane, and said that that usually happened, so it would not have hurt to put it clearly in the legislation. They also said that they were studying the case of motor cyclists. Hundreds of thousands of cyclists and motor cyclists who may hear about this debate will be disappointed that the Bill does not recognise their needs or include them as reasonable users of the bus lane. The Minister says that he has a lot of sympathy with my view, so I do not know why he cannot use his legislative pen to put my mind at rest and show either that that is happening or that it should happen as a matter of course.

Many Members on both sides of the House recognise that traffic lights, their location and use, are one of the big problems in creating congested Britain. We have made several proposals for improving the use, phasing and deployment of traffic lights, which we think could make a lot of sense. The case, as with that for amending the bus lane regulations, is based on safety as well as speed and ease of passage. Many accidents occur at junctions, which is not surprising given that, at junctions, traffic moving in different directions comes into conflict and powerful vehicles come into potential conflict with bicycles and pedestrians. Junctions are the most dangerous parts of the road network. Our motorways, which are by far and away our fastest roads, are also our safest roads, because most of the hazards of the junction have been taken out by grade-separated interchanges, meaning that traffic moving in different directions never comes into conflict. Of course, no pedestrians or push cycles are allowed on motorways. Relatively high speeds at uncongested times of day are therefore combined with much greater safety because of segregation of traffic and proper use of the motorway.

On the main trunk road network, which does not have dual carriageway and grade-separated interchange provision, there is much more conflict between different types of vehicle moving in different directions and more vulnerable road users. I hope that, as a result of the debate, the Government will recognise the need to study those junctions and how many of them can be enlarged and improved with a view to segregating different users of the junction and segregating traffic flowing in different directions to reduce the likelihood of conflict. My single message to the Government on safety and congestion is that it is not speed that causes the accidents, and it is not just a case of trying to get traffic moving more quickly to stop congestion. If we want a really safe highway network, we must design conflict out and we will then cure both congestion and many of the safety problems.

We need to be much kinder to the pedestrian. On the railways, we have a very good rule that people should never walk anywhere near the tracks and should not try to cross the railway lines other than by means of a bridge, and yet different rules seem to apply when it comes to managing the main road network. As a pedestrian in London rather than a car user, I think that we pedestrians should also obey the rules. Pedestrians should have proper provision, probably with more bridges and underpasses, so that we can cross the road without having to wait for traffic and avoid the conflict between pedestrians and cars that often occurs.

The Bill provides for a massive stealth tax on the utility companies. My right hon. and hon. Friends have calculated that it could be as much as £55 per household as a result of the powers—

It being Seven o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [5 January].

The House divided: Ayes 333, Noes 136.

Division number 93

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.