Clause 3 - Jurisdiction of traffic officers

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 27th January 2004.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 3:00 pm, 27th January 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in

page 2, line 30, leave out from 'has' to 'jurisdiction' in line 36.

Normally, Whips are delighted when all their troops appear. However, as the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is attached to the amendment and I might once again have to plead guilty, perhaps it would have been better if he had arrived after I moved it. We do not want a rerun of the little difficulty that I ran into this morning, but I thought that I would get the apology in before it was necessary, just in case.

This morning, under amendment No. 1 to clause 1, we debated whether we should leave out subsection (2)(b). I am tempted to say that this is another ''To be or not to be'' debate, because it involves the same sort of principle. Amendment No. 5 addresses clause 3. Subsection (1) states:

''A traffic officer has jurisdiction''

and specifies where the traffic officer has jurisdiction. However, the bottom of the subsection states

''unless his designation provides that this subsection does not apply to him.''

Subsection (2) states:

''If subsection (1) does not apply . . . he has jurisdiction only over such relevant roads, or relevant roads of such descriptions, as may be specified in his designation.''

The Minister argued earlier for clarity, lack of bureaucracy, brevity and all the other things for which Ministers of all political persuasions argue. He now has an opportunity to show whether he means it. The clause contains two provisions, one of which is

necessary; the other, by definition, is not. The traffic officer has jurisdiction over what is referred to in either subsection 3(1) or 3(2), but not both. If the Minister wants the traffic officer to have general powers, why does he not say that? I am offering him an opportunity to clarify the situation. Does he mean that traffic officers have jurisdiction

''only over such relevant roads . . . as may be specified'',

or general jurisdiction?

The Minister is looking puzzled, and although I do not like to repeat myself, I will try again. Subsection (1) provides that the traffic officer has jurisdiction over only any relevant road, while subsection (2) refers to any road ''as may be specified''. I do not see the need for both provisions, as one or the other will do. I took potluck and proposed to delete subsection (1), but I am not wedded to that. If the Minister agreed to delete subsection (2), I would be happy, but I do not see why we need both.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 3:15 pm, 27th January 2004

I was not puzzled; I was concentrating carefully on what the hon. Gentleman was saying. He said that his amendment would abbreviate the clause, and I would be happy if we could find some way of abbreviating the Bill without changing its effect. Brevity can be a virtue.

However, the original wording is safer because the policy behind the clause is that traffic officers should generally have jurisdiction over the entire national network, with flexibility reserved to limit that in certain cases, some of which we discussed earlier. The amendment would mean that the wording would not unambiguously correspond to that policy or make it clear that there is contemplated a designation applying across the entire national network. It would also carry the additional administrative implication that all designations would have to identify geographic extent expressly and that service managers would have to check officers' designations before deployment around the network more often than would otherwise be the case.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

That is fascinating, but I do not buy into the Minister's argument. He suggests that there should be flexibility but does not offer a shred of evidence for why he needs it or to what it might amount. If I heard him correctly, he argued that there should be two sorts of traffic officers, some having a designation on specified roads and others having a designation on any road. Should we take it that there will be two sorts of traffic officer in the name of flexibility? If that is what the Minister wants us to accept, he owes us a justification.

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

As I said, the intention is that a traffic officer would be designated over the whole of the national network, whether that is England or Wales. However, there may be certain circumstances in which someone could be designated to a specific part of the network, which is why we believe that the flexibility is necessary. I gave the example of the Dartford tunnel, and the same might apply to a part of the road or network if we believe that it is appropriate. We believe that such flexibility is required.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

That does not really persuade me, but I understand the Minister's point. The good news for him is that I accept his second argument, even though I do not accept his first. His point about having to check Fred's designation on every occasion rings true. My constituency almost contains a bit of the M4, but it includes the end of the M3 and the M25, and I can see the difficulty with an officer being designated to the M25 but not the M3. I accept that having to check which motorway an officer is supposed to work on every time he is sent out would be too much. It is a valid argument against the amendment.

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

I want to add a little more. The provision offers flexibility in the phasing in of traffic officers. I said earlier that we were trialling this in the west midlands. It is an extensive area, but traffic officers will initially be restricted to those roads only and may not go outside the area. That gives us that little flexibility as we roll out the introduction of traffic officers throughout the country.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I still do not buy the flexibility argument, but I do buy the argument about not always having to look up exactly where. I accept the second but not the first. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hope that this is an appropriate moment to raise a matter that arises from the note that the Minister kindly distributed about secondary legislation flowing from the Bill. He said in that note that one proposal to amend the Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 1982 was to

''allow traffic officers the same exemptions as the police currently hold in relation to the use of the hard shoulder, the discretionary power to direct others to the use of the hard shoulder and the stopping on a carriageway.''

The note also states that

''consultation will start after Royal Assent with expected introduction of Statutory Instrument by early summer 2005''.

Will the Minister explain what will happen between now and then? Will he say why, contrary to indications given in previous Government statements, there are no proposals to extend the exemptions beyond traffic officers to the rescue and recovery services? If my memory serves me right, the Government stated in a White Paper on freeing up the highway that it was important that the rescue and recovery services should be able to use the hard shoulder to get to incidents. If the Minister is not equipped to answer the point now, I shall understand; we can discuss it later. It is an important question. It is not only about the use of the hard shoulder; it is also a practical question of how the new power for traffic officers can work effectively if they have to wait until the early summer of 2005 before being allowed access to the hard shoulder without the specific authority of a police officer.

The other question is less significant, but I would be grateful for the Minister's help.

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

Order. The points that the hon. Gentleman is making are covered in new clause 22. I suggest that we either debate the subject now or wait until we reach the new clause. Whichever is chosen, the debate will not be repeated.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I understand that we cannot have the same debate twice, but if the Minister can answer the point now, we can conclude the debate. If he cannot, we can come back to the point on new clause 22. That may give the Minister a good let out.

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

I have never been let out of anything. The use of the hard shoulder is something that we allow reluctantly, because it clearly has to be done only by certain bodies and only in controlled circumstances. We will bring secondary legislation before the House of Commons by the early summer of 2005, but we certainly want to consult first. The use of the hard shoulder is generally allowed on a case-by-case basis. I do not have at my fingertips the regulations that apply to the other emergency services, although I can undertake to bring them to the Committee. I shall be happy to do that either at the next sitting or when we come to new clause 22. Rather than give a partial answer now, it may be best to provide a fuller answer later.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I would like to probe further on the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne. The case outlined in clause 3(2), in which the traffic officer has limited jurisdiction, is the difficult one. We must consider how a traffic officer's jurisdiction might be limited, and that people who must obey him might know that it is limited. It would be difficult if a traffic officer went to the scene of a problem and discovered that his designation did not go round the corner, where he might need to direct traffic. There would often be such border, or edge-of-area incidents.

I am unhappy about limited jurisdictions. If a traffic officer is a liveried, trained, qualified person, he or she should have the power to operate wherever the need arises. If traffic officers have limited jurisdiction, would a driver be entitled to ask to see their papers before accepting direction? That could be an obstacle to the smooth progress of traffic. How easy would it be for them to prove that they have the necessary designation? Would they carry designation papers, a card, or a photo identity pass with their designated roads on a map on the back? If a motorist were unhappy at how a power was used, it would be reasonable for him or her to seek assurance that a traffic officer had that power. It would be better if traffic officers could act anywhere. Where they act could be limited by the day-to-day requirements placed on them by managers or directors, but they should be given general powers.

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

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is our intention that traffic officers have powers over the whole network in a particular national authority, whether it is England or Wales. However, the right hon. Gentleman might have missed the earlier debate in which we discussed specific cases involving, for example, a tunnel, a bridge or a particular piece of road. In such cases, a traffic officer might be designated to work entirely on that

piece of road. It is wise to maintain flexibility for such circumstances. I identified cases in which separate police forces operate. The Mersey tunnel is not on the national network but is policed by a separate police body, because it has specific difficulties and problems for which people are trained. There may be similar circumstances to that, but the general thrust of what the right hon. Member for Wokingham is saying is right.

We would not want traffic officers to have to show people their papers to show where they were designated. That would be ridiculous and would undermine the operation of the service. In general, officers patrolling motorways and trunk roads would have the widespread job of covering the entire network. Specific officers working in an area would generally stay in their designated area, rather than being out on the open road.

Question put: That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 6.

Division number 4 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 3 - Jurisdiction of traffic officers

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.