With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 137, in
page 41, leave out line 24.
No. 138, in
page 41, leave out line 25.
No. 151, in
page 41, line 31, at end insert—
'(4A) Regulations under this part of the Act may not extend provision in relation to different descriptions of contraventions to include such contraventions as are likely to cause or contribute to a road traffic accident.'.
No. 139, in
schedule 7, page 71, leave out lines 8 to 22.
No. 140, in
schedule 7, page 71, leave out lines 23 to 29.
No. 141, in
schedule 7, page 71, leave out from line 30 to end of line 25 on page 73.
Clause 69 deals with contraventions subject to civil enforcement. Amendment Nos. 136 to 138 and the consequential amendments Nos. 139 to 141 to schedule 7 would leave out references to bus lane, London lorry ban and moving traffic contraventions. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) will speak to amendment No. 151 with which we have a lot of sympathy, having read the briefing from the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety.
Bus lane enforcement in London is rather hit and miss at the moment. We are told that there has been a substantial increase in the number of bus lane contraventions that are now the subject of fixed penalty notices. The clause would extend that across the country, but we should have regard for what is happening in practice. A car that momentarily occupies an empty bus lane becomes the subject of civil enforcement. If vehicles impede the progress of buses along bus lanes, that is one thing, but a vehicle that momentarily enters a bus lane that is otherwise empty does not hinder the flow of traffic but improves it, which is what the Bill is, or should be, about.
Bus lane enforcement and enforcement of other moving traffic contraventions have been the subject of representations by the Metropolitan police. I am sure that other members of the Committee received the briefing note that I received. It has caused me concern. It states that
as part of its core business, is
''to ensure the efficient movement of buses on agreed routes/locations and assist in the control of congestion at agreed priority locations . . . When the Bill was first drafted the TOCU SSA was still being negotiated, therefore the implications of the Bill on their business was not considered. The TOCU is also unique in that it employs Traffic Police Community Support Officers (combined Traffic Wardens and PCSOs) able to deal with disorder and Traffic offences.''
Since the establishment of the new operational command unit, there has been much more Metropolitan police enforcement of prohibited left and right and turns: there was enforcement of 3,922 instances in 2002; in 2003, that had risen to 6,221. At the same time, contraventions of box junctions had declined from 244 to 169.
The Met says that it wishes to deal with the problem of motorists who are breaking not only the motoring law but other laws as well, and it is concerned that dual enforcement will not be possible. I accept the Minister's arguments on the last group of amendments that to have motorists in double jeopardy is the wrong solution. If it is wrong, the preferable course, in the light of the experience of the Metropolitan police, is for them to retain enforcement responsibility for moving traffic offences, which is the subject of my amendment.
I quote again from the briefing, which I hope the Minister takes seriously. It states:
''It is therefore necessary for the police to have the ability to address poor or bad driving whenever it occurs.
The TOCU and the Traffic OCU would prefer to have the option of dual enforcement''—
as I said, I do not believe that that is appropriate—
''as already occurs for parking in the controlled areas of a pedestrian crossing:- offending vehicles may be issued with a penalty charge by parking attendant or a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) by the police service.''
The Met wants dual enforcement, but, if that is not possible, it should have sole responsibility for enforcement of moving traffic offences. The briefing draws attention to the disparity in the penalties that are available for criminal enforcement, for which the police are responsible, and civil enforcement. It states that
''the civil penalty is substantially more than the criminal Fixed Penalty. A sum of £80 or £100 is being suggested''
for the civil penalty,
''compared with £30 and £60 for endorsable offences, with the civil penalty going to the Local Authority''
rather than the Exchequer.
The Metropolitan police says that it would be able to address the problem of not being able to stop vehicles at box junctions, in bus lanes and for moving traffic offences if the Functions of Traffic Wardens Order 1970 were amended. It would then be able to enforce yellow box junctions and prohibited turns. Why does the Minister think that it is better to pass that function to wholly civilian people instead of transferring it to traffic wardens who, however much
some people may dislike them, at least come under the Metropolitan police code of discipline.
The police are keen to retain that responsibility and do not wish it to be passed over to civilian enforcement. In the light of their powerful submission, I hope that the Minister will accede to our amendments, which will increase public confidence. We know that the police and those trained by them are better able to exercise reasonable discretion in practice and have the power to enforce the wider criminal law, which is so often the subject of contravention by those who offend the traffic regulations.
I have no problem with the clause moving road traffic contraventions from criminal to civil enforcement. In fact I support it and believe that it is the right way forward. The examples in the Bill seem perfectly reasonable. My problem arises from the discrepancy between the explanatory notes and the Bill. The explanatory notes to the clause say:
''Contraventions which would lead to licence endorsement may not be added to the list of moving traffic contraventions.''
However, that does not appear in the Bill, and concern has been expressed that the offences to be decriminalised might include safety-critical activities such as driving without a seat belt or without lights. Safety issues must also be taken into account. The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned PACT, which says that offences that could lead to crashes should remain criminal offences.
The pattern of decriminalisation is reasonable, although it has been somewhat piecemeal over the years, but the clause could be used to extend it much further than is intended. It would be helpful if the Minister could give an assurance that that piecemeal approach will be stopped and issues of safety will continue to be criminal offences.
Many motorists are annoyed when they face a 24-hour bus lane, when there is no such thing as 24-hour buses. Some local authorities are reasonable in this regard and fix a plate under the bus lane sign to stipulate its hours of operation. In many parts of London, bus lanes coming into the centre operate only during the morning rush hour and those going out of the centre operate only in the evening rush hour. That is a sensible way of proceeding. Where carriageways face congestion and a bus lane is empty, it surely makes sense—if we are in the business of removing congestion, which I believe most members of the Committee are—that, where appropriate, motorists are allowed to use empty bus lanes.
The part of schedule 7 relating to bus lanes, paragraph 6(2)(b), states:
''only by buses (or a particular description of bus) and some other class or classes of vehicular traffic.''
I ask the Minister whether that is variable or set in stone in a statute? In other words, can a local authority decide what, in their opinion, should be deemed
''some other class or class of vehicular traffic''
that is able to use a bus lane? If it is fixed, will the Minister consider introducing some flexibility?
I put that to the Minister because, in other countries, attempts have been made to dissuade motorists from going out in a motor vehicle on their own. The classic example concerns the school rat run, where one mother will take her car out to fetch her child or children. America, in particular, encourages car sharing. On the freeways of certain states, someone in a car with more than one passenger is entitled to use a fast lane that they would otherwise be prohibited from using. It seems to me that we should look in this country at allowing motorists who are willing to go in for car sharing to use bus lanes. If, by so doing, we could encourage a percentage of the population to leave their motor vehicles at home, would not that be welcome?
I would like to know the Minister's thinking. Is he, for example, willing to reflect on perhaps allowing some experiment to take place in certain parts of the country, with motorists who share their vehicle allowed to use the bus lane? I hope that he is prepared to react positively to and think imaginatively about that suggestion. It seems to me that it would—at a stroke—reduce congestion. We heard a lot of talk this morning about how many of us in the House think of the Minister as a reasonable man. I hope that in addition to being reasonable, he
will show us that he has got imagination and spark, and is clearly future Cabinet material, by saying that he will consider a car-sharing scheme allowing motorists to use a bus lane. Who knows, in future, that may be his contribution to posterity?
I have some sympathy with Conservative suggestions for innovative car-sharing schemes. However, I am concerned that they are proposing to take out the specifics on contraventions to do with buses. It is one thing piloting studies to see if there can be a way of making a scheme work, but I am concerned that wholesale removal from the Bill would be counter-productive.
There does not appear to be a mention of cycling. I know that the Cyclists' Touring Club, the national cyclists' organisation, has raised the question as to why there is no mention of such contraventions in the Bill—
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.