Clause 45

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 6 May 2008.

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Traffic regulation conditions for anticipated traffic problems

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

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

For the benefit of the Committee, will the Minister put this clause into context and tell us what eventuality will be covered by it that escapes the scope of current legislation? Will the clause be used to deal with transient problems or only where there is a persistent and permanent problem or an anticipated persistent and permanent problem?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The clause will extend the circumstances in which a traffic authority may ask the traffic commissioner to impose traffic regulation conditions on bus operators to include situations in which the authority foresees a likely traffic problem. Under current legislation, a traffic commissioner can impose traffic regulation conditions on operators of local bus services following a request by the traffic authority in response to a traffic problem in a particular area. Traffic regulation conditions may be imposed only to prevent danger to road users, to reduce severe traffic congestion or to reduce or limit noise or air pollution. The conditions are attached to the public service vehicle operator’s licence of the bus operators providing services in the area where the conditions apply. For example, they may prevent certain operators from using certain routes, or stipulate that operators may stop at certain places for no longer than a given time. They may also restrict the use of noisy tourist commentaries or specify minimum emissions standards.

In response to consultation on the draft Bill, a number of people told us that the problem with those provisions was that they could be used only where a problem had already arisen, resulting in a delay before the conditions could be imposed, during which time serious problems might arise, such as severe congestion and danger to road users arising from so-called bus wars. We appreciate that difficulty, so provisions in this clause mean that a traffic authority can make a request to the traffic commissioner for traffic regulation conditions to be imposed in anticipation of a problem, rather than after it has arisen, which will help traffic  authorities to be proactive in dealing with potential problems. I believe that that will help reduce congestion and provide a quicker, safer and more reliable service for passengers. I hope that the Committee will support clause 45.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 4:30, 6 May 2008

I thank the Minister, who has answered most of my concerns, except the point I made when I caught your eye, Mr. Taylor. Will the provision be used to deal with transient problems? For example, the borough of Sandwell has an annual transport weekend on which it takes over a large field and has a display of vehicles going through the town centre. Will the provision be used to deal with such occasions, which perhaps occur only once a year, but when they do are massive, change the pattern of congestion in a town or city and clearly need to be addressed?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The point is that they could be either. However, if the problem were transient, we would expect the traffic regulation condition to be transient as well.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire for bringing this issue up under the clause stand part debate. I know that the Whips want us to bounce on very quickly, so I will not take much time. Will the Minister tell us whether the regulations, because they refer to the safety of passengers, will deal with the situation that arose in the north of Greater Manchester where the wheels kept falling off FirstGroup’s buses? This is not a joke; it was a serious danger to passengers. An inquiry found FirstGroup in Rochdale in north Greater Manchester not fit and proper to be running that route. It registered a wholly-owned subsidiary of FirstGroup to run exactly the same routes. The traffic commissioner was just applying the law. The passenger transport authority, which had instigated this inquiry, was incensed, as were the travelling public. Will that anomaly and unfairness be dealt with under this or any other section?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I believe that that would be an issue for existing road safety rules, which are for the traffic commissioner to enforce. For example, the traffic commissioner would be able, through a licence condition, to take action in that instance. I will take away my hon. Friend’s point and if there is different advice that I ought to be giving, I will write to members of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part if the Bill.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill