Clause 37 - Crown application

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 5:30 pm, 29th January 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 186, in

page 17, line 7, leave out subsection (2).

Crown immunity is a matter of some fascination to me, and we could debate it at great length, but another occasion would probably be more appropriate. I realise that it is a sensitive issue, and that all sorts of provisions in Standing Orders and ''Erskine May'' relate to discussing the Crown. That is why I did not table an amendment to subsection (1), and I am sure that Her Majesty will be pleased no end to note that she is entirely free to pop out of Buckingham Palace to dig up the Mall with a pick and shovel.

Subsection (2), however, raises a substantial question, and I suspect that the answer will be highly technical or, indeed, lost in the mists of time and Crown immunity. Subsection (1) says:

''This Part and any provisions made under it bind the Crown''.

It seems strange, therefore, that subsection (2) should say:

''Nothing in subsection (1) is to be construed as authorising the bringing of proceedings for a criminal offence against a person acting on behalf of the Crown.''

We have debated criminal sanctions and criminality in relation to statutory undertakers and others who dig up roads, but we are now being told that someone who does so on behalf of the Crown cannot be considered to have committed a criminal offence, even though the provisions apply to the Crown. We are discussing not the Queen herself, because she is specifically and personally exempted, but Crown employees. If the provisions apply to them, why can they not be treated in the same way as every other citizen of this country? If they committed an offence, they would be as much of a criminal as you or I would be in those circumstances, Miss Begg.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 5:45 pm, 29th January 2004

This is a fascinating debate. I missed it when we debated the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, because although the issue of Crown immunity emerged in the end, that was after my departure as a Minister for planning. I will not take revenge for that and have the debate now, although perhaps it needs to be had at some stage. What is in the Bill reflects section 167(5) of the New Roads and

Street Works Act 1991. For consistency, we wanted clause 37(2) to be identical to that. I will not go into the whole story of why the Bill should reflect the 1991 Act, save to say that, until the debate about Crown immunity and Crown employee immunity has been had in far wider forums than the Committee of the Traffic Management Bill—I will happily participate in that debate—it is appropriate that the Crown definitions in the 1991 Act carry on in the Bill. I will resist the urge to go into the Crown immunity debate at this time on this measure.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am grateful to the Minister. I expected that reply: it is the only sensible one to give, because the issue is much wider than that raised by the Bill. That said, I am glad that I had an opportunity to flag it up. I should make it clear that, when I raise these matters, I am expressing a personal opinion, not speaking on behalf of my party.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I say that only in case I am accused at some stage of producing a party policy on something that I think requires a general debate in which all of us, irrespective of the party to which we belong, could usefully participate. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.