Road Safety Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 21st March 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 10:30 am, 21st March 2006

I shall deal at the beginning with one or two domestic matters. In doing so, I welcome all hon. Members to the Committee. I am confident that the Bill will be debated constructively and positively.

I hope that the programme motion will be noted by all Members. I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution in connection with the Bill, and that copies of both are available in the room. I also remind Members that adequate notice of amendments should be given and that as a general rule, my co-Chairman Janet Anderson and I do not intend to call starred amendments. Will all Members also ensure that electronic gadgets—pagers and mobile telephones—are either turned off or on silent mode during sittings? I am inclined to react aggressively if I hear any tinkle or other electronic sound.

We come first to the programme motion, debate on which may last up to half an hour. Members will be aware that the matter was discussed by the Programming Sub-Committee last evening.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Road Safety Bill the Standing Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 21st March) meet—

(a) at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 21st March;

(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 23rd March;

(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 28th March;

(d) at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 18th April;

(e) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 20th April;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 4; Clauses 17 to 19; Clause 5; Schedule 1; Clauses 6 to 9; Schedule 2; Clause 10; Schedule 3; Clauses 11 to 16; Clauses 20 to 22; Schedule 4; Clauses 23 to 40; Schedule 5; Clauses 41 to 60; Schedule 6; Clauses 61 to 64; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 20th April.

I welcome you to the Chair, Sir Nicholas. It is a pleasure to serve under you, and I have no doubt that it will be a very enjoyable experience for all of us.

Yesterday I was being driven along the M6 between two visits in the west midlands when, a few hundred yards ahead of me, a large lorry travelling in the opposite direction veered across the carriageway and smashed into the safety barrier, sending barrier and wreckage flying across the road in front of the vehicle in which I was travelling. Fortunately, the driver whom I was with was sufficiently skilful to avoid the debris, otherwise I think that the Committee would have been looking for another Minister before the   sitting could have commenced. The experience has reminded me to ensure that the Whips look after me better in future, as I have a majority of only 660, and I do not think that they would welcome a by-election at the moment. It has also given me renewed enthusiasm for the Bill, so I look forward to the debate. I am pleased to see the expert Committee that has been put together, including many hon. Members on both sides of the room who have had a long and meritorious association with road safety issues over many years.

The programme motion allows us nine sittings. The proposed order of consideration is logical, and nine sittings should be more than adequate if we are all disciplined about making our contributions, which I have no doubt we will be. The clauses will mostly be considered in the order in which they appear in the Bill, although the order of the first group that we will discuss has been changed slightly to allow us to discuss speeding issues at one time rather than have to return to them later. I am confident that the programme motion will be received well by the Committee.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Before I call the spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition to respond, may I say, I am sure on behalf of the Committee, that we are delighted that the Minister came safely through his scrape on the M6? Coming down the M1, there were signs all the way saying that there was a problem on the M6. We are delighted that he came through unscathed owing to the skill and expertise of his ministerial driver.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you, Sir Nicholas. Serving under your chairmanship is a great pleasure. The Opposition will do our best to follow your instructions and to stay firmly in line, as I know that you will come down heavily on those who transgress. It is also a great pleasure to see the Minister here after his unpleasant experience yesterday, which shows the relevance to millions of people of our discussions over the next few weeks.

We have avoided a by-election, and I am glad that we have a Minister sitting in front of us who looks not only safe and sound, but ready to answer a number of questions, as the Opposition have tabled a large number of amendments. I would like first to welcome our team. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has been an enormous help in drafting our amendments, of which I think that there are more than 100. Our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), will obviously provide valuable input from the rural point of view, as I suppose I will. It is also a great pleasure that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is present, as he is a fund of knowledge on motoring and motor cars; I believe that he owns more cars than any other individual Member of Parliament. He told me once in the Tea Room that he was up to 15 cars—is that right?

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con) indicated assent.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hope that they are not all in the House of Commons car park—my right hon. Friend might assure us of that later. He has a great knowledge of this field, and as a former Minister, he knows how the world of power works. We look forward to hearing his advice. It is also with great pleasure that I greet my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott), who will give the suburban or urban perspective.

We have tabled a large number of amendments, some of them obviously probing. We would like the Government to clarify the clauses, and we would like to tease out what they are really about. We will make it clear when amendments are probing amendments and when we are merely seeking information and clarification. Most of the amendments that we will consider today will probably fall into that category, as we do not have any great disagreement on the first few clauses. Indeed, there are parts of the Bill that we support. We are quite open about that, as we were on Second Reading, which we did not oppose.

Our general drift, however—I made this point in my winding-up speech on Second Reading—is that one cannot coerce 34 million people with driving licences. That is just too many people; they drive 25 million cars and 2.5 million vans. Things must be done in partnership, and they cannot all be stick. There has to be some carrot, and recognition of what is happening on our roads. We cannot legislate in an ivory tower in Parliament, ignoring the reality—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I am sure that I am going to hear this speech later on, because it has nothing directly to do with the programme motion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his eloquence when we are dealing with the appropriate amendments, but we are currently debating the programme motion.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry, Sir Nicholas. I am happy to be picked up.

We will support certain provisions, and some of our amendments will be probing. We will withdraw such amendments happily, but there are other amendments on which we really want the Government to change. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has raised concerns, for example, and he has had a satisfactory meeting with the Minister, so we will happily withdraw the relevant amendment if the Government promise to come up with a serious amendment of their own, drafted by Ministry officials. Then there are bound to be other amendments on which we simply do not agree and on which we will stick to our guns, because there are certain areas where the Bill is not perfectly drafted and is flawed in some of its conceptions.

With those remarks, as the debate is open-ended and no guillotine is built into the motion, as we agreed in our informal meeting last night, I can say that we will be happy to support the motion as it stands.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I associate myself with the remarks of the Minister and of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) in welcoming you to the Chair, Sir Nicholas.

This is the first occasion in which I have had any dealings with a transport Bill since my appointment by my party’s new leader. Having previously dealt with home affairs, however, I am no stranger to the Standing Committee system and to this Corridor. Being back in the salt mines at such an early stage in a new era of responsibility is an unexpected pleasure for me. I am delighted that the Minister is here, given the perils that he has clearly endured to be with us.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire said that he offered from the Conservative Benches the perspective of the urban, suburban and rural. I can add to that, because I bring the island perspective, which is a distinctive perspective. It was observed after I had been appointed to the Committee that I represented a constituency that contained not a single yard of motorway or railway track. I therefore hope that I can bring dispassionate and disinterested observation to our consideration of the Bill.

I am delighted that, for once, I am not the only Scot in this Standing Committee, as many parts of the Bill will have a significant impact in Scotland. I see the hon. Members for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna), for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), previously Glasgow, Cathcart, and for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy).

The Government’s provision of nine Committee sittings should, with good will, be sufficient to deal adequately with the Bill. I believe that the serious work is done in Committee and that more often than not, less is more.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I add my voice, Sir Nicholas, to those that have already expressed delight that you will chair at least some of our sittings.

I am pleased that the Minister escaped unscathed from his recent experience on the M6, which I believe is one of the most dangerous motorways in the United Kingdom, mainly because of the volume of traffic. I hope that when he has a chance and it is in order for him to do so, he will tell us whether the crash barrier in question was the old type or the new concrete type that appears to be being introduced on some of our motorways. There is an aspect of his incident that he should perhaps look into. Far too many accidents on motorways are caused by heavy goods vehicle drivers driving carelessly, sometimes while on the telephone, and using the size of their vehicle to throw their weight around. I hope that his Department will look at the percentage of accidents caused by HGV drivers and see whether something can be done about it.

I am less happy than my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire that a programme motion has been tabled. I am delighted that the Minister has thought it appropriate not to have internal knives. Where there is a guillotine motion, it should always be for members of the Committee to decide what aspects   of the measure they want to dwell on and not for the usual channels, which are not part of the Committee, to tell us that we must finish so many clauses by a certain date. But why is there a guillotine motion at all? The measure was not opposed by any party on Second Reading. There was no obstruction and no attempt to say to the House that we did not wish to see the measure as a vehicle—if hon. Members will forgive the use of the word—to look at road safety issues. The parties agreed that there should be a Road Safety Bill. The differences on Second Reading arose in relation to the items that the different parties wanted to see in the Bill or removed from it.

I am therefore disappointed that the Minister has not taken the view taken by the last Conservative Government, who thought that there should never be a programme motion unless and until there was evidence of obstruction. That used to be the basis on which we proceeded in Standing Committee: a guillotine was never imposed until it was clear that the Opposition were seeking to prevent passage of the measure. I may be a lone voice in this regard, but I deplore the fact that we have this programme motion before us. It is not as bad as it might have been, but I still deplore the fact that we have it at all.

The last time that I whipped a Bill in Standing Committee, I was the then Government’s Home Office Whip and I had a perfectly good relationship with the Labour Home Office spokesman. [Interruption.] I will come to who it was. Throughout the proceedings of that Bill that spokesman said where he wanted the set-piece debates and the time of day that he wanted them, and that if we helped him to achieve that we could have the out-date of the Bill whenever we wanted. That spokesman was the Prime Minister. We never had any problems with the Prime Minister when he was an Opposition spokesman. I do not think that the Minister will have any problems with my hon. Friend, because the Opposition start the examination of this Bill from a position of good will. We want the vehicle of this Bill, it is just its contents that we wish to scrutinise and examine.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 10:45 am, 21st March 2006

May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the current Home Affairs spokesman for the Opposition said on Radio 4 that part of this Bill was a matter of philosophical difference between us and that the Conservatives would oppose it at all costs. I think that he has changed his position on that now, but nevertheless he said in public that the Opposition would try to hold this Bill up if they could. I welcome the fact that they are now taking a far more constructive line on I, but there is potential for fundamental disagreement.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am not sure that the Minister is right; opposition is not necessarily obstruction. The Minister needs to distinguish between the two, because I am sure that he would accept, on reflection, that effective scrutiny and seeking to persuade by rational argument   and reasonable discussion that a particular clause should not be in a Bill are not of themselves obstruction. It is what we are here for.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The House decided, rightly or wrongly, that there should be a programme motion, and we must accept that basis, whether Opposition Members like it or not. The question is whether the programme motion will allow adequate scope for appropriate debate on those parts of the Bill that Opposition Members do not like, rather than whether they agree with the principle of programming. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I will certainly bear that in mind, Sir Nicholas. In essence I am saying that I do not like the principle of programming and so I do not like this programme motion.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that we made it quite clear that there are elements of the Bill that we do not like but there are also elements on which we disagree in principle? We will have some long debates. We have not opposed the programme motion because it is open-ended. We had an assurance from the Minister last night that we could go on into the night if necessary. I am relaxed that we will have plenty of time to discuss issues where we disagree. As I made quite clear, there are issues of fundamental difference between us and the Government. I reassure my right hon. Friend that we will discuss them at great length if necessary.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

If we go through the night often, we will all be relaxed. I am not relaxed about the principle and therefore I do not like to see these things on the Order Paper. That is the point that I am placing on record.

Question put and agreed to.