Clause 8 - Powers to confer further special powers on traffic officers

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 27th January 2004.

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Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 4:15 pm, 27th January 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 93, in

page 4, line 27, after 'may', insert

'after full consultation with all relevant parties'.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 12, in

page 4, line 36, leave out 'any Act or'.

No. 13, in

page 4, line 36, at end insert—

'(3A) An order made under this section may not amend any Act'.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland)

This is by way of a probing amendment to discover what would be the Government's intention if the clause were to remain in the Bill: would there be any consultation on any further special powers given to traffic officers that might be brought in? If the Minister puts on record that there will be consultation, whom will it be with and what form will it take? I do not want to pre-empt what may be said in the clause stand part debate, but this is a clause that gives the Liberal Democrats considerable concern. If it were put to a vote we should certainly vote against it, given its wide-ranging powers. In the interim, and in the assumption that we might not be successful in striking out the clause from the Bill, I should like to know whether the Government envisage consultation, in what form they envisage it, and how it might take place.

I also ask the Minister to tell us why, for clause 2, it was appropriate for the wide powers of privatisation to be held back for ministerial diktat alone and not put into the clause? That would have been a sensible place in which to put them and would have allowed parliamentary scrutiny. However, the principal point is to ascertain how the clause might be acted on in future.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30 pm, 27th January 2004

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 12 and 13. I associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross from the Liberal Democrat Benches. If one must have a choice, I would prefer to sacrifice speed rather than adequate consultation and parliamentary approval. However, I accept that the Government may not be persuaded to remove clause 8 from the Bill, and so I hope that they may be persuaded to water it down in the interest of the democratic process by accepting amendments Nos. 12 and 13. The effect

would be that were clause 8 to remain in the Bill it would not give power to alter any Act of Parliament. Indeed, it would expressly not have that effect.

I hope that the Minister is prepared to compromise. Although it is right in the light of experience to ensure that traffic officers have the powers that they need to discharge their duties properly, that should not be at the expense of the parliamentary process.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I agree that it is an undesirable development, meaning that it will become easier to amend and complicate legislation without going through the proper process of scrutiny in the way that we are today on this primary legislation. My right hon. Friend has done a service to the Committee and to the House of Commons by drawing attention to the quite wide-ranging power as it stands in the Bill, which would allow changes to occur without going through the proper process. We need to make it difficult to legislate; we have far too many laws and are generating too much additional law at all times. It is much better to have a long and careful process on more occasions, like that used for primary legislation. It makes Governments a little more reluctant to pick up the legislative pen. It makes them consider the impact of the legislative pen a little more carefully, clause by clause, line by line, in a workman-like way, as we are doing today.

I have some reservations about the Liberal Democrat proposal. If there is one thing that my constituents are more annoyed by than not being consulted over a proposal, it is being consulted and then having their views ignored. It is a doubly annoying phenomenon that happens all too often these days; the Government proceed ostensibly full of good will and wishing to consult, but when they get an obvious answer from a locality that their line is not popular, their policy is ill conceived or their intentions are wrong, they steamroller on none the less and ignore the consultation. My fear is that something similar will happen in this instance.

Such bureaucracy will soon develop its own house style and its own policy and will not be willing to listen. It would be an added insult to add consultation procedures without even specifying who has a right to be consulted, so that I waste even more time on behalf of my constituents contacting another bureaucracy that is unlikely to respond. If the Liberal Democrats are serious about more local control, they should not draft proposals that entail merely consultation. They must put some teeth into the consultation. There must be limits on the power of those proposing the policies and carrying out the consultation should the consultation discover that the measures are unwelcome or that there is a large majority view against them. I am not minded to support the Liberal Democrat proposal because it is mere window dressing and it will not work.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

I have two questions to which I hope the Minister can provide crystal clear answers. The first is to ask whether the Minister can give an assurance that the clause will not give ''Dick Turpin'' powers to members of the car-parking and

wheel-clampers social club, to enhance their ability to take people to criminal courts and to harass them with bailiffs. I want the Minister's assurance that no additional powers will be given to these people in sparkling new uniforms.

My second question considers clause 8 in the context of clause 5 and the powers that might be exercised for

''maintaining or improving the movement of traffic'',

reducing anything that can cause congestion,

''avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using . . . a road''

and preventing damage.

The Minister and I discussed road humps in an Adjournment debate, and he will be pleased to know that the road humps that we debated have now been removed from one of the estates in my constituency, much to the delight of all my constituents in the area.

At a later stage, could a specific power be given under clause 8, with due consideration and consultation, to allow traffic officers to inspect current road humps and any plans for future road humps? It is clear from the evidence from my constituency that the provisions in clause 5(3)(a) to (d) match the problems caused by inappropriate use of the cushion road humps on large estates such as the Manton estate. That pro-motorist but also pro-community piece of legislation would be most welcome.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

The hon. Gentleman makes a superb case on a problem that has bedevilled many communities throughout the UK. I congratulate him on his campaign. Is he aware that the emergency services are particularly keen that his proposals should be taken up by the Minister, because they find that their vehicles are impeded and damaged by the ridiculous street humps that we have in so many places?

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Nottinghamshire fire engines could not straddle the Manton road humps; Nottinghamshire ambulance service was not consulted about them but had to cross 21 humps to reach the extremity of the estate and 21 again on its way out.

Road humps in Britain are put predominantly in large council estates and large mining villages, and in mining villages a disproportionate number of people have back problems. It is not just the statutory services that object to the road humps, but the bus services as well. The same elderly miners who have back problems use the buses, and they have become the most vitriolic and strident campaigners against road humps.

Road humps also cause problems for the funeral services. A hearse is particularly unsuited to crossing road humps, because it is a low load-bearing vehicle. If a funeral cortege travels from St. Paul's church in the centre of Manton to Worksop cemetery, the entire cortege has to cross 13 road humps. I can imagine no greater indignity.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The hon. Gentleman explains what happens with funerals. He should count himself lucky.

The residents of Commercial road, Staines, can still remember when a hearse came over the road humps to collect the coffin and the body and when it came back the other way it was grounded, had to be towed away and was late at the crematorium.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I suppose that there is the possible advantage that the road hump will jolt so much that the body will rise in its coffin and be resurrected, but as far as I am aware that has unfortunately not yet happened to any of my constituents.

However, my point is that if so-called road safety developments are unthought-out and badly designed, they are an impediment. Traversing a cushion road hump at 60 mph is more comfortable for passengers than at 10 mph, which gives an incentive to drive faster rather than slower. Removing the kerbs from footpaths makes it more dangerous for young people and the elderly to cross a large stretch road with humps. Such badly designed and badly thought-out initiatives are naturally rather unpopular.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Is not the point, as some of the key campaigners who have advocated such road safety measures have suggested, that it is the local authority's responsibility to consult all people? One group that tends to be neglected is pedestrians.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Absolutely—pedestrians, motorists, the emergency services, the bus services and the funeral directors. I merely make the point that traffic officers could be given the new role of spotting such obstacles, which are a major impediment not only to traffic but to the cohesion of the community. Given the example of the removal of the road humps on the Manton estate, that function may be an appropriate way for the Government, who are pro-motorist and pro-car, to demonstrate their willingness to take a step further.

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

I cannot let it pass that although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that road humps can be a great impediment if the location and materials are ill-conceived, I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, who has done sterling work for Road Peace, agrees that the funeral director might be travelling because he has someone in the back who has died at the hands of a speeding driver. Road humps save lives. We should bear in mind that speeding drivers kill, I think, 10 people every day.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but is not the answer that road humps are not the way forward? There are other ways of slowing vehicles down without the downside of road humps, which increase noise pollution and air pollution and damage vehicles.

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

I believe that the hon. Gentleman may be right. There can be detrimental effects, but at the end of the day road humps unarguably save lives in certain locations. However, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is absolutely right that some locations are not appropriate and that road humps sometimes cause many problems.

I cannot let it pass that the right hon. Member for Wokingham thinks that it is a bad idea to have consultation, especially when the amendment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and I tabled, is intended to deal with statutory instruments. We should not allow statutory instruments to sneak through. The reason for tabling the amendment was to get on record which authorities the Minister would consult. I hope that the list would include local authorities and traffic authorities, but that would be up to him. I hope also that he will reassure the Committee that consultation is an important part of the process.

I should like to draw the Minister's attention to page 5 of the first report of the Transport Committee for the 2003–04 Session, which says about clause 8:

''Even though these powers are subject to the affirmative procedure we believe there should be a thorough exploration of exactly what is proposed, and why these powers cannot be identified now.''

Likewise, the AA motoring trust said in a recent parliamentary briefing of 26 January that the clause should be deleted. It stated:

''This section is unacceptable from a public policy standpoint. Parliament should not give the Executive the power to grant itself unspecified powers, which are not themselves limited to those referred to under section 5''.

I sincerely hope that the Minister can reply to those points.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 4:45 pm, 27th January 2004

May I say to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw that I enjoyed his contribution? I am pleased to hear from the Labour Benches such marvellous, libertarian, common-sense and pro-motorist views. If he needs a new home after the vote downstairs at 7 o'clock, I will be in the Strangers' Bar and would be happy to discuss terms with him.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise that Labour Members come from the tradition of making the cars.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the offer still stands.

As the afternoon has worn on, I have become slightly more relaxed as the draftsman of amendments Nos. 12 and 13. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham has supported me on a couple of amendments, so the balance seems to have improved and I have not had to endure the same difficulty as I did this morning.

What my right hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham and for East Yorkshire said is correct, and I am attacking not just the Labour Government, but any Government who say that they do not care what is in a Bill because if it suits their purpose, they will change it without reference. If that is going to happen, I do not see the point of having a Parliament or a Standing Committee, but that is what the clause will do. I cannot believe that it is right.

I have no difficult with subordinate legislation, which is sensible as there are plenty of arguments in favour of not cluttering up the House with unnecessary detail. However, no matter what reason

the Minister gives, I cannot bring myself to believe that it is right and democratic to give the Government the power to change any Act by fiat. That is not democratic, and I plead for the Minister to stand up for democracy and, rather than justify the clause, say that he is willing to consider it again. It cannot be correct to allow a Secretary of State to say that he does not care what legislation says and will change it without consulting Parliament.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

If the debate continues to range so far and wide, there will be no cause for a stand part debate as we will have covered all points.

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

The debate has indeed been wide ranging, and I too have enjoyed the contributions from both sides of the Committee.

Amendment No. 93 is possibly unnecessary, but the spirit behind it is not. The Government always consult as appropriate on draft regulations to ensure that they are sensible and carry the appropriate support. Any proposal would be subject to parliamentary or even judicial challenge if such consultation had not taken place, and consultation is a standard practice.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross asked what form the consultation would take. Consultation does not have to be statutory to be good, but we envisage wide consultation of interested parties to the usual Government standards that have been used for some time. We want to make the consultation meaningful and to have proper discussion. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham said, consultation must be not a ritual but a proper discussion in which we listen to what people have to say and in which they can make a difference. If it is any help, I can tell the Committee that in previous consultations on matters that seem unimportant in the great vista but are important to certain groups of people, we have listened carefully and changed our minds substantially.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham asked who would be consulted. That will depend on what we were doing, but the police, fire brigade and the ambulance service come immediately to mind. Local authorities, freight and motorist bodies and recovery companies would also probably be involved, as would any other bodies, such as environmental groups, that have an interest in the particular issue.

My natural inclination is not to accept amendments Nos. 12 and 13. The Government are reluctant to put in the measures for which they provide. However, if they are not there, we may need some minor consequential amendments to primary legislation. The amendments would severely restrict and reduce the clause's effectiveness. In many cases, they would make it unworkable for the purposes intended.

In practice, the Government are able to amend secondary legislation, so the amendments are not necessary. They would tend to render the clause useless. There will be some minor peripheral issues, but not major issues that we would want to bring through by these means. They would be brought forward by affirmative resolution statutory

instruments that would come before and be debated by both Houses of Parliament.

We thought carefully about examples, and I do not think there are many. There is a tiny example of where a small change in legislation may be needed: the Bill gives the power for the traffic officer to escort heavy loads, but he has no power to dictate at what time of the day that could take place, which would mean a minor change to a piece of legislation elsewhere. That is the sort of minor change we anticipate.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

My hon. Friend will be aware of the regulatory reform process, which has built into it the kind of consultations about which he has been talking, allowing a number of organisations to express views. Would he consider looking at that kind of regulatory reform, which would assist him in taking the clause forward?

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

We are prepared to consider anything that improves consultation. My Department consults well in general, but if there is something we can do to improve, we will. I thought that the right hon. Member for Wokingham was going to say to me—it has been said to me on other occasions—that sometimes the one thing worse than not being consulted is being consulted. Some people are on consultation overload; we are mindful of that. Certain bodies find it difficult to respond because of the number of consultations that we send out. We have to be thoughtful.

I enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, who took us back to Dick Turpin powers. I assure him that there is no intention of powers being brought in so that traffic officers can rob members of the public at the side of the road, in car parks or anywhere else. That will be good news to him, but I have one word of disappointment for him. The traffic officers unfortunately will not be inspecting his road humps. They essentially appear on local roads, and, of course, traffic officers will not operate on those.

I am not yet aware of road humps on any motorway, but I am aware of some severe dips on the M6 in Warwickshire. I am sure the traffic officers would take an interest in whether they were growing deeper. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that ancient mine workings have caused those dips. Anyone who has been across them will appreciate that they are like a helter-skelter ride.

Mr. Wilshire rose—

John Mann rose—

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

As I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, I will give way to him first.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

There has been a growing spirit during the day of maximum compromise in the air. There is another set of road humps, which I have not yet properly addressed, in my constituency, some of them on more major roads. I suggest that a compromise could be reached whereby the road humps could be taken out and used as part of the infill for the dips.

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

That suggestion is ingenious, and I will certainly give it careful consideration. I can tie the two issues together by saying that road humps can do

a useful job in some circumstances by slowing traffic and making the roads safer.

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

Well, they do. I know that in some parts of the country, local people would rightly be up in arms if the humps were removed. However, before any such measure is taken, people should be properly consulted. Generally, such measures are not supported if people are not thoroughly consulted. In my view, before local authorities put in road humps, they should exhaust every other means of traffic calming, and they should have in mind not a particular method but a way to reduce the number of people killed and injured on the roads. Sadly, on the roads on the estates that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw mentioned, many of those people are children.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

In the spirit of our debate, perhaps I can make an offer through the Minister to the right hon. Member for Wokingham and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. If their authorities have money to spare that they do not want to spend on traffic calming, would they please transfer it to my authority? As my hon. Friend the Minister says, other parts of the country have a desire to improve traffic calming.

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

That is right; and if the local authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw has extra funds to pass on to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), I am sure that he will wish to ensure that it does so.

The debate has been rather wide ranging, Mr. Beard, and we may have tested your patience a little. However, I hope that the Committee will resist the amendment.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank you, Mr. Beard, for your indulgence. The debate has been wide ranging, but it has been all the better for it. I compliment the hon. Member for Bassetlaw on his speech. En passant, he made a number of telling points on the subject of road humps, and most of us hope that before long they will be on the way out. They delay emergency vehicles, they cause damage to vehicles and the increase noise and air pollution. There are far better ways—

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Order. Could the hon. Gentleman leave coffins and road humps to another time?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I did say en passant, but I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman said.

I make no criticism of those who serve the Minister for including clause 8. After all, it is the duty of those who serve Ministers to ensure that Bills cover all eventualities and give powers to deal with all the problems that may arise. However, the accumulation of power in clause 8 is unacceptable. One need only look at its wording. Subsection (1), which confers further special powers, would be bad enough if the conferring of the powers related only to the existing duties of the traffic officers, but in subsection (2) further special powers can be given to facilitate the performance of

''any duties which may be assigned to traffic officers''.

In other words, if duties that we did not envisage today can be given to traffic officers, further powers can be given and powers to alter legislation can be made under the clause.

The essence of the Minister's defence seemed to be, ''I'm honest David: trust me.'' We do trust the Minister; he is held in the highest regard in all parts of the House. However, we are making legislation. I shall not say, as Sir Robin Day once said to Sir John Nott, ''Ministers are here today and gone tomorrow''. However, a time will come—I hope that it is a long way off—when the Minister will be moved on. We may then have a transport Minister who takes a totally different view of the powers given in clause 8. Although we are prepared to trust honest David, we are not prepared to trust his unknown successors. I hope that the Committee will decide, on reflection, that the Bill would be far better without clause 8. However, if we have to have it, I would rather it remained somewhat meaningless. That said, Mr. Beard, we would like the opportunity to vote on amendments Nos. 12 and 13.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 5:00 pm, 27th January 2004

Amendment No. 93 has elicited from the Minister the explanation that I hoped that we would receive and has put it on to the record. In that sense, the amendment has achieved its objective, and I shall withdraw it. However, as we have decided not to have a clause stand part debate, I shall make a few remarks.

I agree with the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, who highlighted the accumulation of power and the multiplier effect, which are my concerns about the clause. I have not sat on a Standing Committee before, but I have experienced consideration in Committee in another place, where I have listened to Ministers at the Dispatch Box saying in a silken-tongued way that this would never be used and that that was merely to keep for a rainy day when some unforeseen circumstance that might not have been thought of could just occur. I remember listening to Lord Sewel saying all of that in relation to section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998. We have now had, I think, 55 motions using that section—a backstop power that nobody could envisage using except very occasionally, but which has become a regular feature of the parliamentary process. While I do not think that this will necessarily become a similar section, it has all the hallmarks of something that could be used in such a way. If a power needs to be in the Bill and is not, and the other powers cannot be dealt with by proper parliamentary scrutiny, my first choice would be to see the clause struck out. If not, then my hon. Friends and I will vote for the Conservative amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 12, in

page 4, line 36, leave out 'any Act or'.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]

Question put: That the amendment by made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 7.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 13, in

page 4, line 36, at end insert—

'(3A) An order made under this section may not amend any Act'.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]

Question put: That the amendment by made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 7.

Question accordingly negatived.

Motion made and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 6.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.