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Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill

Volume 171: debated on Friday 4 May 1990

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Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

2.10 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful for the opportunity, in the closing minutes of today's business, to speak to the Third Reading of my Bill and to explain briefly its broad purposes. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. As a private Member, I am greatly honoured to be able to present a Bill to the House. It is not an honour that many right hon. or hon. Members have an opportunity to enjoy.

I should like to record also my gratitude to all those who have assisted the passage of the Bill. As it is in some respects a technical measure, I pay tribute to the Ministry of Transport officials who assisted me with the queries that arose, and with the amendments that were tabled. I thank also the organisations that either wrote or came to the House to express their concerns and to seek reassurances. They included the Ramblers Association, the British Horse Society, the National Farmers Union, the Freight Transport Association, and the Automobile Association. They have all contributed to the Bill.

I express sincere thanks for the contribution made by the Opposition, particularly by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who led the Opposition in Committee.

Given that mine is such a modest Bill, you may be surprised to learn, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I received the assistance of no fewer than three Ministers—my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who assisted me in Committee; for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who helped me with the Report stage; and, lo and behold, my distinguished, hon. and learned Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who assists me today. That truly is an honour three times expressed.

The Bill is a modest measure, but it promises worthwhile improvements to the law. As it had a formal Second Reading, I shall briefly set out what it seeks to do. It would bring about a reformed national code—although it excludes Northern Ireland—for temporary regulations dealing with notices and orders.

When the Bill was first published, my colleagues were surprised that we did not have a national uniform code, and that there were different rules for London and for the rest of the country. The Bill seeks to rationalise some of the requirements for longer-term works, and it places upon local authorities—which were widely consulted—the duty to have proper statutory regard to alternatives when orders are laid down.

The Bill deals with two forms of temporary notice: a short notice for five days, which is not renewable and is most helpful to local authorities, and a limit of 21 days for all other notices. The 21-day notice can be renewed in certain circumstances.

The main aim of the Bill is to rationalise orders. Until now, they have been applicable for three months and have been renewable almost ad lib. In my constituency, in the past six years there have been two major works, and at present there is one project which is estimated to last for some three years. Under the old rules the orders for that project would have had to be renewed every three months. That is the kind of bureaucracy that serves no one.

The 18-months rule will almost certainly simplify and reduce much of the bureaucracy. Colleagues may be interested to know that, in an average year, some 15,000 temporary orders are issued.

The Bill seeks to tidy up an extraordinary anomaly which means that, although a person who commits a traffic offence may have his licence endorsed or be disqualified from driving, if the offence was committed in a coned-off area on the motorway or somewhere where a temporary order applied, those constraints of the law would not apply.

The road user stands to gain from the presence of a more adaptable and comprehensive measure to regulate traffic where necessary. I believe that the relaxation of the period for temporary orders will be widely welcomed, as it is a useful step towards deregulation. However, some hon. Members have expressed anxieties. We had a truncated Report stage last week. On procedural grounds rather than because of a Division, the Bill failed to complete its Report stage but, happily, it has returned to the House this morning.

I am grateful to see the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on the Opposition Front Bench, as she was disappointed that consideration of the Bill was not completed last Friday, and no doubt she is happy to be present today to greet it with acclamation. Would that other private Members' Bills which run into procedural problems were given an opportunity to get on with the job seven days later.

Anxieties about the Bill have been brought to my attention by ramblers and horse riders. It was interesting to listen to the debate on the Rights of Way Bill and to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), legally define footpaths and bridle paths—if I heard him correctly. If that is so, the anxieties of the Ramblers Association and the British Horse Society are valid. We could have dealt with the matter last week; we obtained the assurances on Thursday last. Since last Friday, we have obtained them in writing. Sadly, they cannot be written into the record, but I am sure that the other place will be satisfied with the assurances that have been given.

I have discussed the matter with the Department of Transport and with the Minister for Roads and Traffic. He wrote, at my suggestion, to the Ramblers Association expressing his understanding of its concerns. In his letter of 30 April, he said that he was content that my Bill should be amended
"so that temporary orders affecting traffic other than motor vehicles on a footpath, bridleway, cycle track or byway would have a more limited duration."
He suggested that the limit on those highways should be six months, whereas my Bill says that the period should be 18 months.

The Minister told the Ramblers Association—I understand that the same assurance has been given to the British Horse Society—that when the Bill is enacted
"appropriate guidance might be issued by the Department to highway authorities about the exercise of their powers".
The guidelines
"would aim to emphasise the statutory duties which already oblige them to protect rights of way and minimise obstruction."
The Ramblers Association acknowledged the Minister's letter the following day and confirmed that it was prepared to accept the proposal that temporary orders should last for six months. We granted that concession to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) before the untimely break in the proceedings last week. The Ramblers Association and the British Horse Society are now satisfied.

It is a modest Bill. I said last week that, if one is not among the first seven successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills, the last thing that one wants to do is promote a Bill that is so contentious that it will never be given a Second Reading. If, by some extraordinary mischance, it were given a Second Reading, it would undoubtedly be talked out and never pass Committee. I am delighted to have played a small part in the legislative process. I thank my hon. Friends who have supported me. I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third Reading and pass it. Nevertheless, before it is given a Third Reading, I hope that the Minister will say something about it.

2.24 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) is to be congratulated on bringing his Bill successfully to this point. I know that he had a few procedural difficulties last Friday, but he has obviously overcome them with great skill. His elegant and persuasive description of the Bill's contents taught us a great deal.

The Bill is a welcome measure that introduces a uniform code of powers for all authorities in Great Britain in connection with temporary traffic restrictions.

Will my hon. and learned Friend the Minister give way?

I know that my hon. and learned Friend is absolutely packed with material, but I wonder whether he is aware of the objections of the British Horse Society to the former proposals in the Bill to lump together bridleways and highways, and the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) has agreed to separate them. Will the Government be happy with that, as the horse world certainly is?

The Government are extremely happy with that. I have no doubt that the reason why the Government were prepared to welcome the modest change described by my hon. Friend owed a substantial amount to the advocacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I thought for one nasty moment, that he was going to ask me what the content of clause I was. That is why I was so churlish. But on the contrary, he had only help in his mind and if he wants to intervene again, I am sure that I can give way. I had better return to my script, because I certainly cannot operate without it on such a Bill.

The Bill will enhance the ability of local authorities to respond speedily and effectively. Among its main concerns are the protection of public safety and the management of traffic for temporary periods to avoid damage or congestion.

Temporary restrictions are only one end of the traffic management scale—at the other end are traffic jams. Authorities are continually initiating new measures to help make the best use of existing road space and to try to resolve conflicts between competing demands of motorists and pedestrians—private and public transport, passenger and goods traffic. It is a balancing act, but the authorities have a great deal of expertise. We encourage them to take local needs more carefully into account. Parliament has laid down statutory requirements to be met. There are prescribed procedures to follow, but we must also give them freedom and flexibility to act in response to local conditions. The Bill will help to do that. It will leave local authorities better placed to cope with the needs and demands of traffic.

I welcome the Bill, and hope that it will make a swift passage through its remaining stages and on to the statute book. Clearly, it would not be right for me to conclude my brief contribution without once again thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South for the persuasive and eloquent way in which he has carried through the Bill, and for the thought and learning that he has put into it. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.