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Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Bill [Lords]

Ms. Ruddock : I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 15, line 8, at end insert--

(12) Before using his powers under subsections (1) and (6) above, the Secretary of State shall seek the views of the relevant highway authorities.'.

The amendment continues the main theme pursued by the Opposition in relation to part II, which is the absence of any reference to local highway authority involvement in deciding where driver information systems operate, which roads should be included or excluded and how any problems should be tackled. The amendment tackles the deficiency by requiring the Secretary of State to seek the views of relevant highway authorities before issuing or amending an operator's licence.

Throughout our discussions, Ministers have tried to have it both ways in their efforts to resist any form of local democratic control over an autoguide operator. The main purpose of the amendment is to enable highway authorities to undertake their traffic management and road safety responsibilities in the autoguide era by having some influence over the implementation of the system.

In responding to amendments in his inimitable style in Committee, the Minister proclaimed :

"The rats are already running. Does anyone seriously believe that there are unused rat runs waiting to be discovered by autoguide? Each of us is aware that people know which routes are a diversion from the main signed route."

A few seconds later, when arguing that autoguide would be less distracting than other means of navigation, the Minister said : "The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is sitting in the passenger seat. His wife is driving and she asks, How do we get to the next place?' They start looking at maps".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee E, 16 May 1989, c. 65.]

If autoguide is to be commercially viable, it must be aimed at those who do not know all the rat runs in every Member's constituency. It must provide a faster service than simply relying on signed main routes. In those circumstances there must at least be the danger that the use of some rat runs will be encouraged. There are already signs that minor roads are to be included in the autoguide scheme. At the first meeting of the autoguide pilot assessment group, involving the Department of Transport, the local authority associations and the police, the Department would not give an undertaking that minor roads would be excluded from the London pilot scheme, because it was too early to say.

Throughout the Bill's passage, Ministers have warned of the need not to impose constraints on the commercial operators. Of course, the operators will be pressing for a maximum number of roads to be included in the scheme. Therefore, it is essential that Parliament provides the means by which the bodies responsible for traffic management issues--the local highway authorities--will have an opportunity to influence the introduction of autoguide.

On Second Reading, the Minister stressed that the success of autoguide will depend on co-operation between a number of different interests. But he went on to argue :

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"It is quite important not to set down in advance that local authorities should be able to have a veto."--[ Official Report, 13 April 1989 ; Vol. 150, c. 1102.]

The Minister pursued a similar theme in Committee, claiming : "If we allow too much direct local authority control now, it is likely to strangle the system at birth."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee F, 16 May 1989 ; c. 70.]

Local authorities are rightly apprehensive. At the meeting of the autoguide pilot assessment group, for which the Minister is responsible, the Department said that it could see no reason why any road in London, however unsuitable, should be excluded from the network of roads used to direct through traffic on which the autoguide system should operate in the pilot stage. That is in direct opposition to the Government's own policies as expressed in "Traffic Management Guidance for London, 1987", which says that roads off the designated road network are essentially local roads and through traffic should not be encouraged to use them.

The amendment would provide highway authorities with no extra powers, but they would have the right to be consulted. This is a modest amendment, but it is essential if highway authorities are to have confidence in the legislation. The only alternative would be for the Minister to give a clear undertaking to consult the highway authorities before undertaking his licensing responsibilities.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : It may be helpful if I intervene at this stage in the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on the research that has gone into her speech. She is concerned about a serious point, but I hope to persuade the House that the amendment would not be the right way forward.

It would be difficult to have an autoguide pilot scheme in London without using any minor roads, partly because on approaching central London it is difficult to define a designated road and so exclude a road on that basis.

I take this opportunity to repeat that I have no intention of encouraging people to cross the centre of London, or even to cross inner London, when going from one part of outer London to another. I have been consistent in that, although it takes some people a while to get the message.

Ms. Ruddock : The Minister says that he does not seek to encourage that, but surely that is the purpose of autoguide.

Mr. Bottomley : The purpose of autoguide is to make sure that people take efficient routes. It is inefficient to put traffic on the wrong roads. I spend a lot of time explaining to people that many of the rat runs to which they are so devoted not only take them a longer distance, but a longer time. Studies carried out on the A3 in Kingston showed that. However, it is difficult to persuade some people of the truth of that. Autoguide would demonstrate that more easily.

We all know that dealing with junction problems using designated roads, primary route networks and even trunk roads, gives travellers a greater advantage, as well as those residents who are no longer disturbed by the rats who are doing the running. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her logic at the beginning of her speech. I am not sure that it took the discussion much further forward, but Freddie Ayer would have been proud of it.

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Under the amendment, if the Secretary of State wants to make a change before amending a licence in London or within the area of the M25, he might have to consult 20 or 30 local authorities. As to what will happen initially, both the consortia interested in the pilot scheme said that they will make presentations to local authority associations and to the police.

The critical question is whether there will be any possible gain by sending volumes of traffic down the wrong roads. The answer is no. But it cannot be sensibly argued that one should work only with local authorities to effect consent, or go through a relatively long procedure before introducing a scheme.

Ms. Ruddock : If the Minister is confident that the system will work well and give rise to no problems, why on earth does he not concede our argument and give local authorities the right to be consulted?

Mr. Bottomley : The simple answer relates both to the amendment and to red tape. This is the third or fourth time that the same arguments have been rehearsed. The detail may have been modified, but the points made are basically the same. The hon. Lady agrees that there is no point in trying to divert traffic down the rat runs. Autoguide is the one system that offers the potential of telling road users which routes will save them time. The hon. Lady is probably aware that the alternative systems, which would not require a licence, were based on a microcomputer whereby one disk would give the motorist the choice of the fastest route, the shortest route, the most scenic route, the route taking him through the greatest part of the hon. Lady's constituency or mine, and so on. It seems to me that we should look for the common sense solution and avoid tying up an innovative project with unnecessary red tape, or tying the hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by prohibiting him from making a modification in respect of the M25 without consulting a large number of highway authorities.

Mr. Moate : I go along with my hon. Friend's thesis, but what would be the position if a route perceived by autoguide to be economically efficient turns out to be environmentally unpopular, particularly among the residents of a quiet street? If representations are made to my hon. Friend by a local authority or by a large number of residents, what sanction can he use when saying to the autoguide companies, "This route is bad, it is inflicting a great deal of environmental damage, and it is very unpopular"?

Mr. Cryer : The Minister will be kicked on to the Conservative Back Benches by a ruthless Prime Minister.

Mr. Bottomley : If that is so, I shall join the hon. Gentleman on the rotters' Bench, offering good advice--and I may find myself losing my seat in the same way that he lost his.

It is too early to say that no minor roads should be included in the network. The hon. Member for Deptford agrees with other hon. Members that environmental nuisance is unlikely to arise on an unsuitable road without there being danger as well. We believe that we have found a helpful way forward.

The Department is concerned as much about safety as about traffic management. The two overlap. We think that consultants should be engaged to monitor the operation of the pilot scheme, so that we can learn its lessons --rather

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than say that nothing should ever be allowed to go wrong. The arguments have been rehearsed at least three times in the House, and the scheme should be allowed to go forward. It has been established that presentations will be made to local authorities, and when the pilot scheme is in operation we will know whether the fears that have been expressed are justified. If they are, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take that into account.

Mr. Corbyn : The Minister's churlish refusal to concede our arguments calls into question the logic of his own arguments. If, as he says, presentations will be made to local authorities, why cannot they also be properly consulted? The Minister told his hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that he is concerned about environmentally sensitive routes being damaged by autoguide. The hon. Gentleman knows that, unless local highway authorities are involved, they will have no power to alter an autoguide route.

The scheme is a form of privatised roads, privatised traffic management and privatised direction system. Unless there is proper licensing linked to the local highway authority, the system will encourage rat running, the use of unsuitable roads by high-speed cars, and commuter motoring.

The Minister says that he does not want traffic crossing central London or an increase in commuter motoring into and out of the area, but he has no powers to stop it. Once a company has been given a licensing system or the power to introduce one through a particular area, with no consultation with the local authority, the Minister has handed over part of the traffic management powers to the small minority of motorists who can afford to subscribe to autoguide, and to an autoguide company that is not interested in the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, the environment or the community. It will be interested only in getting someone in a company car from A to B by a faster route. That is the motive behind the autoguide system.

Mr. Cohen : Will my hon. Friend give some thought to the democratic rights--if any--that would be enjoyed by a resident of a street that was being rat run because of the system?

11 pm

Mr. Corbyn : My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Such a resident would probably have no rights at all. In Committee I discussed with the Minister and others the potential problems in Finsbury Park, where I live. The area is bedevilled by rat-running commuters. It is appalling : every morning there are traffic jams everywhere, with people speeding through in expensive cars, often very dangerously. Local residents are rightly angry about it. The local authority, Islington council, has done what it can, but its powers are limited because it does not control overall traffic movements.

If the autoguide system comes in, roads that we should like to be restricted or closed--or subject to the introduction of speed humps--may become subject to an autoguide system. What will happen to the local community then? Does a road with autoguide beacons down it automatically become a major through road? I suspect that it does. Such matters may not seem important to the Minister. I fail to understand, however, why valuable parliamentary

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time, the expertise of dozens of people in the Department of Transport and a great deal of money should be expended to introduce a system that denies local highway authorities the power to plan their traffic management schemes properly, and merely enables a small number of people to travel through urban areas faster. That energy, money and parliamentary time should be spent on promoting public transport and supporting the efforts of highway authorities to make urban roads safer, rather than more dangerous, as they will become under this system.

At the heart of the matter is the question of local authority consultation. The Minister gives us all the honeyed phrases that he can : he says that he will talk to local authorities and give them demonstration runs. He offered a demonstration run to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and myself, but unfortunately neither of us could attend on the day that he mentioned. I hope that the offer will be repeated. The Minister offers formal meetings, but he does not concede the basic power that is essential if highway authorities are to plan traffic movements properly.

This is a recipe for anarchy, danger and the undermining of public control over traffic systems. Control is being handed over to a private company whose only interest is in making money for the minority of motorists who can afford to subscribe to it. It is an outrage : the least that the Government can do is concede the right and powers of the highway authorities.

Mr. Cryer : I support the amendment, because it makes sense. One of the things that worries me about the system is that the private operators who are behind it will be subject to inbuilt pressure to promote all sorts of short cuts. Motorists will feel that if they save five minutes through the system others should be persuaded to join it.

Mr. Corbyn : I apologise for intervening on my hon. Friend's speech so early. Does he agree, however, that although the initial promotion is aimed at urban areas, a spread to rural areas could pose a danger of heavy traffic being directed down rural roads which would provide a rapid short cut for those who knew their way around? The danger does not apply just in urban communities such as the one that I represent. It could apply equally to country lanes and smaller roads.

Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. I represent an urban area, one third of the city of Bradford, and in the city as a whole there are about 200 road improvement schemes designed to protect pedestrians and separate traffic from pedestrians because of the intrusion of vehicles into densely populated areas. The local authority cannot finance such schemes because of a shortage of money from the Department of Transport.

I have taken up with the local authority many cases of constituents complaining that cars are running down their roads, taking corners quickly and making use of side roads as short cuts. They say, "We have no way of stopping them, our children are in danger as they go to and from school and the volume of traffic is increasing." Because of that increased volume of traffic, motorists are bound to seek short cuts. Indeed, the autoguide system may result in such short cuts being invoked as part of local authority planning procedures.

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That makes it all the more important for the citizen to have the right of representation, with the local authority having the right of consultation. Such a right for the citizen should be built into the scheme from the beginning. The citizen should not be excluded from jurisdiction over the development of traffic routes where those routes impinge on ordinary urban, and possibly rural, life. Traffic is a growing problem, a despoliation of our cities and villages. Acceptance of the amendment would not inhibit the Minister, but it would establish a pattern for involvement by the public in a highly sensitive area. At present, when I take up constituents' complaints, the local authority replies, "We do not have money to finance road improvements, even though, on existing trunk and minor roads which are well used, there is loss of life and limb."

Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend referred to problems in urban areas and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) made the same point but relating to country lanes. Is my hon. Friend aware that coaches and heavy vehicles could come within the autoguide system? With unrestricted access, so to speak--if the amendment is not accepted--those heavy vehicles could find their way down country lanes and residential streets.

Mr. Cryer : That is a potential development and proves that we must have a consultative process for the citizen. People are more inclined to accept developments if they feel that they have some safeguard. After all, the Department of Transport is not generally known as the people's friend. People do not readily turn to that Department for guidance when road schemes are mooted.

If the system is successful--I have reservations about that--commercial vehicle operators will make calculations about delays because they lack knowledge about routes. They will want to use their vehicles in as efficient a manner as possible. Consequently, they will want to use the system to speed up distribution of supplies. The Government have capitulated yet again to the Commission. Instead of rejecting completely the introduction of 40-tonne vehicles on our roads, they agreed to vehicles heavier than 38 tonnes being allowed on to them. Now we have the grim prospect of even heavier vehicles on our roads.

Instead of turning down the amendment, on the somewhat dubious basis that it would hinder the swift implementation of the measure, the Minister should take people--in particular, local authorities--into his confidence and say that they have a part to play if controversial aspects of the system impinge on people's peace of mind and safety. Initially, very few people might want to take up that right. Local authorities may welcome the system and say that it will lead to improvements. However, the amendment is a safety net, and I urge the Minister to accept it.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said that our relationship with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is not as good as it should be. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) reminds me that in her day it was fine. I spent most of today with the AMA. Nobody raised any problems over autoguide. They had plenty of opportunities to do so. There are many examples of co-operation between the Department and local authorities.

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The Government look after only 4 per cent. of the roads. Most highway authorities look after roads for the Department, as well as looking after their own 96 per cent. The partnership works well. No local authority association has much to fear from autoguide. The president of the AMA said that he is aware of the monitoring arrangements that have been agreed with the local authority associations. They are members of the autoguide pilot assessment group. The police are also members of that group. The operators will be working closely with individual local authorities. The safety points that I made are serious and important. The House should reject the amendment and get on with the pilot scheme. When we have had experience of it we shall be able to judge whether the fears are justified.

Mr. Corbyn : The Minister says that we shall then be able to judge whether the fears are justified. Surely it would be much better if he said that the Department will consult local authorities over the implementation of the scheme, if that is what it is minded to do. He is not prepared to give local authorities the opportunity to influence the scheme.

Mr. Bottomley : I am not sure that to say something twice will help either the House or the hon. Gentleman. There is nothing either in autoguide or in the Bill that in any way overrides the power of local authorities to manage traffic. That deals with the point that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and others are rightly concerned about and with the point that I have been concerned about for three and a half years--that through traffic should be on through routes. Traffic management requirements are automatically built into the autoguide system. If they were not, people would be required to do things that are unlawful as well as not very helpful. Unless we recognise that fact, we shall not make much progress. We must ensure that traffic can move efficiently because it knows which route to take. As soon as more than a sample number of vehicles use autoguide, we cannot usefully send them down roads that are not suitable for them. It is essential to get rid of misguidance through ignorance rather than to try to abuse more and more parts of the road system, especially in urban areas.

Unless general traffic management action is taken, encouraged by the Department, which acts as a sort of community telephone exchange for local authorities, the car will remain the master of most urban areas. The lesson that we have learnt from the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and from a growing number of areas in the United Kingdom is that the car can be excluded from many areas by traffic management, not by trying to write too much detailed red tape, however natural it may be for the Labour party to do that, into the Bill.

Ms. Ruddock : The Minister does not seem to recognise that, because of the operation of autoguide, it is just conceivable that new traffic management problems will arise. If a lot of vehicles are sent down a road because it happens to be somewhat more empty than others, it might become a new rat run. Residents may go to their local authority and ask for restraining measures to be taken. The local authority would then come into conflict with the Minister's Department, as its measures might redirect traffic on to a designated road.

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11.15 pm

Mr. Bottomley : That was a helpful intervention. If a local authority introduces traffic management arrangements, autoguide will have to take them into account. Autoguide's existence does not make any difference to the local authority's traffic management powers. Perhaps this debate has been useful as that point has been spelled out clearly. I do not think that I can add a great deal to what has already been said. The hon. Lady has made her point, and it has been taken into account.

Ms. Ruddock : Can the Minister tell me categorically that Autoguide will not be able to object to a new traffic management scheme?

Mr. Bottomley : It cannot be excluded from objecting. The whole point of traffic management schemes is that they are advertised so that people can object to them. It would be ludicrous to tell an operator that it cannot exercise the same rights as any other organisation, body or individual. Autoguide will have no power of veto. A veto exists only when proposals affect designated roads and the Secretary of State can exercise it in accordance with legislation. Unless the hon. Lady is suggesting that Autoguide should be forbidden by legislation from even writing to a local authority saying, "Oi, have you thought that your proposals might have an effect on traffic movement, and we are experts on traffic movement?" there is nothing to fear. I am sure that she is not suggesting that. The hon. Lady has raised a matter sensibly, I have given a serious, factual answer, and I think that we ought to leave it there. Mr. Corbyn rose--

Mr. Bottomley : I would rather not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who can speak on Third Reading, as I have made my point and the House has got about as much out of this debate as it is likely to get. Amendment negatived.

Clause 12

Power to install apparatus etc

Amendment made : No. 9, in page 16, line 12, leave out subsection (3).-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]

Schedule 1

Existing HGV and PSV Drivers' Licences

Amendment made : No. 10, in page 23, line 31, at end insert-- 12. The power to make regulations under paragraph 8 above includes power to prescribe the classes of goods vehicle or passenger-carrying vehicle which, by virtue of section 1(2) of this Act, the holder of an existing licence is authorised to drive during the currency of his existing licence.'.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]

Schedule 2

Provisions inserted in Road Traffic Act 1988

Amendment made : No. 11, in page 29, line 41, at end insert-- "provisional licence" means a licence granted by virtue of section 97(2) of this Act ;'.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]

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Schedule 5

Driver Information Systems : Undertakers' Works

Amendment made : No. 17, in page 42, leave out lines 16 to 46 and insert--

"relevant undertaker" means--

(a) any person or authority authorised by or under any Act (whether public general or local) to carry on any railway, tramway, road transport, water transport, canal, inland navigation, dock, harbour, pier or lighthouse undertaking ;

(b) any person to whom the telecommunications code is applied by a licence under section 7 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 authorising him to run a telecommunications system ;

(c) any public gas supplier (within the meaning of Part I of the Gas Act 1986) ;

(d) any holder of a licence under Part I of the Electricity Act 1989 who is entitled to exercise any power conferred by paragraph 1 or 2 of Schedule 4 to that Act ;

(e) the National Rivers Authority or any water undertaker or sewerage undertaker ;

(f) any other licensed operator of a driver information system ; or

(g) any person to whom this Schedule is applied by any Act passed after this Act ;

"undertaker's works" means--

(a) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (a) above, any works which he is authorised to execute for the purpose of, or in connection with, the carrying on by him of the undertaking mentioned in that paragraph ;

(b) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (b) above, any works which he is authorised to execute for the purposes of, or in connection with, a telecommunications system run by him ;

(c) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (c) above, any works which he is authorised to execute for the purposes of, or in connection with, his supplying gas as a public gas supplier ;

(d) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (d) above, any works which he is authorised to execute for any purpose connected with the carrying on of the activities which he is authorised by his licence to carry on ;

(e) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (e) above, any works which that Authority or undertaker has power to execute for purposes connected with the carrying on of its functions ;

(f) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (f) above, any works which he is authorised to execute for the purposes of, or in connection with, a driver information system operated by him ; and ;

(g) in relation to a relevant undertaker falling within paragraph (g) above, the works for the purposes of which this Schedule is applied to him.".'.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]

Order for Third Reading read.--Queen's and Prince of Wales's Consent signified.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]

11.17 pm

Mr. Corbyn : We have had a short Committee stage and a fairly lengthy Report stage. Unfortunately, the two stages have been taken separately because of the antics of the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel- Jones). I am not quite sure whether he was trying to let his Back Benchers get home early or he could not keep them here.

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Nothing that the Minister has said has altered the basic objection that many of us have to the Bill. It is called a road safety improvement measure, but it does not extend the eyesight testing requirement that many of us believe is necessary. The principal part of it concerns the provision of an autoguide system. The Minister said that Autoguide will not co-operate with local authorities because it does not have to, that local authorities will have no power to stop Autoguide coming in, but that when someone objects to, or supports, a traffic management scheme, Autoguide will be one of the participants in the consultation process. That is the kernel of the problem.

If we want to introduce a traffic management scheme, the people who are normally most affected are local residents, residents of adjoining streets which may be affected by increased or decreased traffic, local highway authorities and the emergency services. It is not normal to take account of objections from a company whose sole interest is to get people more quickly through that community. The Bill is giving a private company a franchise on our roads, which means giving it an unaccountable power for an undesirable end. I hope that the House will recognise that and oppose the Third Reading. The legislation is of no benefit to those of us who are concerned about traffic movements and safety in inner urban areas. It is of no benefit in improving road safety as a whole. The energies that have gone into drafting the Bill could have been much better spent developing and improving public transport systems and keeping cars out of urban areas. The Minister says that he wants to do that, yet he gives powers to other people to encourage drivers to come into those areas. We would have been better off spending our time making our transport and traffic systems safer and more usable by the majority of the population rather than spending the time on an expensive autoguide system for the minority who can afford it, driving around in expensive cars, rat-running down small urban streets and country lanes.

Many Conservative Members may vote for the Bill. In a few months, when the systems are introduced, or in a few years, when they have been extended to the whole country, the Minister will get representations from many people who want the schemes removed from their area because of the complaints of local residents.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : The speech by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is a ludicrous, open distortion which will do him no good. Autoguide's aim is to reduce congestion, mainly by ensuring that people do not get lost and go several times around the hon. Gentleman's constituency, my constituency or that of any other London Member during the pilot scheme. It means that they will find an efficient way of going where they want to go without going off the right track. Most of the tracks will be on the main roads. We are also making 1989 the Year of the Sign and ensuring that signs follow on from each other rather than act like the hon. Gentleman's speech--starting at the beginning, going halfway, getting lost and then picking up in some other direction.

We heard earlier that the scheme would be for the benefit of the friends of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and then we heard that it would be for the benefit of the friends of the hon. Member for Islington, North who have big posh cars. We know, because it was established in Committee, that the local authorities will

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maintain their traffic management powers, which are not affected by the Bill. We heard the interesting idea that those who are trying to serve the interests of road users--especially the commercial organisations, including those providing services to constituents in Islington, North, often in vehicles driven by those

constituents--should be forbidden to offer a comment on local authority traffic management orders, but those people may know more about traffic management than the hon. Gentleman does.

Mr. Corbyn : Why does not the Minister answer the debate?

Mr. Bottomley : I thought that I had been answering the hon. Gentleman's speech, paying a courtesy to him that he seldom pays to others. The hon. Gentleman does not understand what he is talking about. He does not have the slightest conception of how to make traffic better for local residents. I suggest that he starts reading some of the traffic advisory unit notices that the Department issues. If he will not do that, he might look at some of the joint work of local authority associations. They understand what we are trying to do, and in general support us.

Mr. Corbyn : I was chairman of a planning committee.

Mr. Bottomley : When the hon. Gentleman was chairman, he should have spent more time listening than speaking.

Sensible contributions have been made in the debate, most of them by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), who raised serious points, to which we have given serious answers. I commend the Bill to the House. It will improve safety, make driver licensing more efficient and pave the way for new driver information systems which will reduce traffic congestion. It will be a valuable improvement to road traffic law.

11.23 pm

Ms. Ruddock : There have been some interesting discussions on the Bill and the Opposition have pressed a number of amendments that would substantially improve it. I am sorry that the Minister has not been receptive to them. Indeed, he has been intransigent on a number of key points, and I know that many people inside and outside the House will be disappointed by his unwillingness to accommodate their concerns. Despite what the Minister said, I stress that those concerns included those put to me by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. As I said on Second Reading, in general we have not objected to the Bill. The proposals in part I, to unify the driver licensing system, are acceptable to us.

In Committee we spent much time discussing clause 6 of part I, which deals with new requirements for motor cyclists. Opposition Members welcome the requirement that motor cyclists take a training course before they are able to drive on the road, and all parts of the motor cycling world were in support of that. However, we were concerned about the applicability of the clause and possible impracticalities. In Committee, we sought several improvements to allow motor cyclists to ride their bikes to and from their courses. They would also have ensured an adequate number of properly qualified and trained instructors and would have set up a register of training centres. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller)

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