Clause 4 - Powers to direct traffic officers

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 27th January 2004.

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

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

I am intrigued to know how the Minister views clause 4 in relation to clause 3 because there is a conflict between them. For example, suppose that a traffic officer, with limited jurisdiction, is carrying out his duties and is approached by a chief constable who says, ''Stop what you are doing over here and go to the other lane of the motorway'', and then gives him directions. Is the Minister saying that clause 4, which gives a police constable powers to direct a traffic officer, overrides that traffic officer's limited authority, or does clause 3 override clause 4 so that no matter what a traffic officer is directed to do by a constable, the traffic officer will act unlawfully if that direction is outwith his authority? I should be interested to know how the Minister envisages the two clauses working together. The common-sense view on how the two clauses ought to operate, which most of us would accept, is that if an experienced police constable feels that the traffic officer should be doing something slightly different, even if his authority does not extend to it, the police officer should be able to direct the traffic officer to do whatever he thinks is right in the circumstances. I hope

that the Minister can assure us that clause 4 will widen the authority under clause 3.

Does the Minister intend the clause to be as wide as it appears to be? We are all aware of the scenario in which we expect it to operate; that is, a uniformed officer assigned to traffic duties arrives on the scene of an accident or an area of congested traffic and instructs the traffic officer what to do. As worded, the clause refers only to the ''direction of a constable'': it does not have to be a constable in uniform. It could be a detective constable off duty on his way home. Does the Minister intend the clause to apply to any constable, even a constable not in uniform?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I have been waiting ever since Second Reading to reach clause 4 because I was deeply wounded and mortified on that occasion. I intervened on the Secretary of State, who generously gave way. I said:

''The documents issued by the right hon. Gentleman say that the police will be in charge of the new officers. However, can he assure the House that if those traffic officers get to the scene first they will have to wait for the police to arrive, rather than act in their absence?''

Had the Secretary of State known the totality of what was going on my mind at that moment, he would not have replied:

''The police are not in charge of those officers, who are employed by the Highways Agency.''—[Official Report, 5 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 36.]

That may or may not strike other members of this Committee as correct or incorrect, but I think that what I asked the Secretary of State was correct and justified, and his answer was, not to put too fine a point on it, in its totality, not all it should have been. I know that I cannot describe the point any more correctly than that, but I think that the Committee will get my drift. Clause 4 reads:

''A traffic officer shall, when carrying out his duties, comply with any direction of a constable.''

Perhaps I am a bit on the thick side, but I rather think that being told that one must comply with the directions of a constable means that one does what the constable says. That suggests that the constable is in charge of the traffic officer. I should be grateful if the Minister would say whether he supports the Secretary of State, who said that I was wrong, or his own Bill. He cannot support both.

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

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire asked whether a constable would need to be in uniform to give a direction to a traffic officer. It is my understanding that a constable is someone who is always on duty and who therefore could, in the appropriate circumstances, give that instruction at the site of an incident whether in uniform or not. If I am wrong on that, I am sure that somebody will correct me.

Traffic officers will be employed by the Highways Agency and will work with all the training, protocols and job description set out by the agency. However, there must be clear protocols to govern how Highways Agency contractors assist the police at incidents on the road, as happens now. Two sets of people cannot be in charge at an incident. The clause ensures that a police constable is in charge at the incident and will instruct

the traffic officer, as appropriate. Traffic officers would not be under the control of the police in their general work, but where there is an interface between the two, the police constable has supremacy.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I want to be clear that I caught the words of the Minister correctly. Did I hear him say that the constable will be ''in charge''? I think those are the words that Hansard will report. If he said that, why did the Secretary of State say that the police are not in charge of the officers?

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

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels rather bruised about the way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put him right on Second Reading. I said that the constable will be in charge of the incident and would therefore, as appropriate, give any direction to the traffic officer at the site. As we discussed when the hon. Gentleman raised the issue earlier, if traffic officers arrived first, there would be clear lines of action for them to take, but when the police arrive, they take charge of the incident and will, in those circumstances, direct the traffic officers. Once the incident is closed, the traffic officers move off and continue in their own way, with their own chain of command, as is appropriate.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Perhaps the Minister has a different clause 4 from mine. He is trying to wriggle by saying that the police will be in charge of the incident, but my version of subsection (1) says:

''A traffic officer shall, when carrying out his duties, comply with any direction of a constable.''

The police are in charge of the traffic officer. The provisions say nothing about being in charge of the incident.

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

The clause is intended for cases in which the police are working with traffic officers. In those circumstances the police officer could give directions to the traffic officer. For most of a traffic officer's general, day-to-day duties, the police would not be involved and there would be very little interface between the two.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.