Clause 18 - Guidance to local traffic authorities

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 29th 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 seek some information from the Minister. He referred to the language used by lawyers, and in this clause, the first sentence states that the

''appropriate national authority may publish guidance to local traffic authorities''.

What does he mean by the word ''publish''? Legally, something is published if it is given to a person other than the author. Does he envisage that the guidance will be published only for local traffic authorities, or will it reach a wider audience? I sincerely hope that it is intended for ''publish'' to be interpreted in the widest sense. Every local library and local newspaper should have a copy of the guidance. I should like to see to a copy when it is published, so I hope the Minister will agree to put one in the Library.

I say that because subsection (2) says:

''In performing those duties a local traffic authority shall''—

now we have the word ''shall''—

''have regard to any such guidance.''

In other words, if the local traffic authority does not follow the guidance, it is in breach of a duty. If the guidance is not widely published, how will the public know whether their traffic authority is in breach of the duty under which they are supposed to operate? I hope that the Minister will reassure the Committee that a copy of the guidance will be available to any member of the public on request. It would be unfair to expect the Minister to tell us everything that he thinks will be in the guidance today.

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

I think it is fair that the Minister listens to arguments that are adduced as the Bill progresses through Parliament. That may cause him to put more into the guidance than he would do otherwise. I do not criticise him for not producing a copy of the guidance today. However, I hope that when he and his officials consider the framework of the guidance, he will be willing to take on board my suggestion that whenever roadworks involve the closure or narrowing of a carriageway, a complaints telephone number should be affixed to a temporary sign so that aggrieved motorists have a point of contact through which they can express their concerns.

Reference was made this morning to local authorities sometimes not being on the ball and causing more disruption than when the utilities companies dig up a road. It would be worth while for the motorist to know who to call with a valid complaint about what is happening. I hope that the guidance will require those who undertake work on the highway to display such a number.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I may have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's last point and it can be thrown in the pot for discussion. I make no apology for having no guidance here now, not least for the reasons that he suggested. It would have been presumptuous of me—nay, arrogant—to produce such guidance before the

Committee had even started. The last Government governed by diktat every now and then, but we seek to be as expansive, involving and inclusive as possible. We want the guidance to emerge with the Committee's collective wisdom. In addition, as I think I said before, we seek to hold the widest possible consultation with interested parties, such as utilities, local authorities and local government associations. We shall undertake to conduct that process as quickly as we can.

I have laid a paper before the Committee that describes roughly what will be in the guidance, but that by no means includes an exclusive list. We certainly intend to publish that information in the widest sense of the word, not the narrow sense. I am sure that it was a great honour for my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) to receive a copy. The information is due to be published. We seek a far wider dissemination of it in the consultative stage and, ultimately, in the final stage. Quite what the form will be beyond the normal practice of ensuring that highway authorities have the information, putting it on the website and whatever else, I do not know. However, I undertake to ensure that the information will be published in the widest sense. The document will be a public document.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is right that the ''shall'' in subsection (2) is supposed to apply with force rather than be optional. Regardless of whether obtuse things prevail in Cumbria and not in Cornwall, all the relevant parties under the Bill will be obliged to satisfy us with their network management duty. They have no choice or flexibility other than in how they do that, but the fact that they must do it is provided for in the Bill. With those assurances, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I am grateful to the Minister. He has provided me with the assurances that I sought.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.