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House of Commons

Friday 6 July 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Community Charge (Private Estates)

9.34 am

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I have the honour to present a petition on behalf of 165 residents of Herne Bay, being almost the entire membership of the Studd Hill property owners association. Studd Hill is a small, informal retirement estate. My petitioners say

"that those living on the Herne Bay Studd Hill private estate, previously in receipt of rate reduction in respect of services not provided by the local authorities are, as a result of the terms of the Local Government Act and the introduction of the community charge, now denied that reduction and therefore required to pay for services that they do not receive."

My petitioners ask that the Government amend the section of the "Local Government Act that is relevant to require local authorities to rebate the community charge in respect of services enjoyed by other charge payers but not available to residents living on private estates".

I believe that the petition reflects a genuine grievance, and it has my fullest support.

To lie upon the Table.

9.36 am

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point is extremely important, particularly today, when we are considering no fewer than 46 private Members' Bills. It concerns the question of the tradition of objecting to Bills that seek to achieve their passage, as it were, on the nod.

That has long been a tradition in this place. Private Members' Bills are vulnerable animals in legislative terms and, because of the pressure of time, it is inevitable that, on the last day, a large number of measures will be down, some seeking to obtain Second Readings and so on on the nod.

Because of the pressures on Fridays in constituencies, it has sometimes happened that hon. Members with genuine objections or reservations about legislation, and who prefer to see those matters debated properly rather than passing on the nod, get a colleague here to object on their behalf. It has long been the tradition for that to happen.

Recently, a sinister development has occurred, in that hon. Members promoting those Bills have sought to name the individuals concerned who are raising the objections, with the express purpose of identifying publicly, for those outside who are interested in the lobby, that those were the individuals concerned.

That development has had sinister results. For example, when objections were recently raised to a Bill, a twisted minority outside--I can only describe them as that--part

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of a lobby, sent threatening and abusive letters to hon. Members, and even issued death threats. That is not the way in which democracy should be conducted.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the principle whether you should call hon. Members who are promoting Bills, who see their Bills objected to and who seek to name the individuals concerned. It is not good practice, and I wonder what you, as guardian of our affairs, can do to defend us from that twisted and bitter minority who seek to disrupt our democratic procedures.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You, like hon. Members in all parts of the House, will deplore the activities of people outside who issue threats of the type described by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). But you will confirm that it has long been a tradition of the House that what we do in the Chamber goes on the record. When we go through the Lobby to vote, our names are recorded. To my knowledge, certainly since 1974, it has been normal practice when hon. Members shout "Object" for other hon. Members to seek to identify those who are objecting so that the action that they are taking in the House may be made clear to their constituents. While you will deprecate any threats that may have been made against hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will not stop the practice of hon. Members trying to identify those hon. Members who block Bills. Although they have every right to object to measures, they should be prepared to accept the public responsibility for doing so.

Several Hon. Members : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that this will not delay today's proceedings.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. You, Mr. Speaker, will be aware that in the city that I represent there has been a recent outbreak of violence against ordinary people simply because they have fallen foul of a twisted minority who claim to be in favour of animal rights. The threats to which my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) referred are in exactly that category. While I totally accept the democratic point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I hope that, through you, Mr. Speaker, the House can achieve its continuing objective of fair debate that is not conducted under a possible sentence.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). If the sinister development to which he referred continues and grows, it will make hon. Members frightened to come to the Chamber and object on Fridays.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : I support the Protection of Badger Setts Bill and would like it to be passed into law. An article appeared in the News of the World last Sunday suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison), who objected to the Bill on its last appearance in the House, was responsible for it not becoming law. As you, Mr. Speaker, and all of us know, that is absolute nonsense. If it does not become law it will not be because, quite

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properly and reasonably, someone objected to it, but because its promoters failed to secure sufficient parliamentary time. If we are to go ahead with the normal procedures for private Members' Bills, it is important that they should be reported properly. Any hon. Member who objects to a Bill should not be pilloried as my right hon. Friend was because that is dishonest.

Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a difficult problem here, not necessarily because of the point raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) about the identification of a Member who objects, but because outside the House there is, not surprisingly, a lack of knowledge about the way in which the procedure of the House works. As everyone inside the House last Friday would have known, an objection is not necessarily an objection to the Bill in principle. The objection made to the Protection of Badger Setts Bill last Friday was made purely and simply because the objector wished further amendments to be made to the Bill. The only opportunity to do that was to object to the Bill so that there would be a further opportunity, hopefully today, for discussing the amendments. The lady who wrote the article in the News of the World clearly thought that such an objection was an objection in principle, but that was not so. That misunderstanding of parliamentary procedure could mean serious consequences for those who object to Bills.

Mr. Speaker : It is useful, I think, for members of the public who now witness our proceedings on television to be given the explanations that we have heard in this morning's points of order. The Select Committee on Procedure reported on this matter three years ago, on 5 May 1987, in its second report. The Committee set out the arguments for and against identifying Members who object to Bills being read a Second time without debate and unanimously recommended no change to present procedure. Therefore, such a change could certainly not be introduced without a formal decision on the part of the House--I say that to the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) who raised that point. It may well be that hon. Members will ask the Select Committee on Procedure to look at the matter again to see if the decision should be reviewed.

As one who was responsible, in a previous incarnation, for looking after Bills on Friday, may I say that what the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) said was true. It is not good practice for legislation to go through the House without proper debate. We frequently find--I think that the House will agree--that when that happens, amendments need to be made to the Bills and there is little time in our parliamentary programme to achieve that. There is a good reason for objecting to Bills that have not had a full and proper debate in the House.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a totally separate matter. A Bill has appeared on the Orders of the Day and

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Notices of Motions for today, until today, but mysteriously it no longer appears. I have the great honour and privilege to be the Parliamentary Private Secretary to, among others, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Industry and Consumer Affairs, who is present today. The hon. Member who drew No. 1 in the ballot --the most coveted prize in the House--sought to introduce a Bill relating to consumer guarantees. With the Minister I attended every one of the Bill's sittings on the Floor of the House, in Committee and on Report. It was down for debate today at position No. 4 on the Order Paper. My hon. Friend the Minister, his advisors, officials and I spent a considerable amount of Government, ministerial and official time preparing ourselves so that we could ensure that the House had the opportunity of considering the vast number of Lords amendments tabled by the Bill's promoter the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones)--

Mr. Speaker : What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Brown : My point of order for you, Mr. Speaker, is this : is it in order for an hon. Member who draws position No. 1 in the ballot, when the Bill has gone through all its stages in the House, suddenly and without notice to the Minister or the House, to withdraw his Bill on the day that Lords amendments are to be considered?

Mr. Speaker : Yes, it is absolutely in order for him to do that. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Votes and Proceedings of yesterday, 5 July, he will see that the Consumer Guarantees Bill has been set down to be considered on Friday 20 July. Therefore, what has happened is perfectly in order.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Well, it takes time from today's Bills, which I think hon. Members are anxious to debate.

Mr. Hughes : I accept that, but this is an important matter--for two reasons. First, I have come here specifically today because I have been lobbied by my constituents who wish the Bill to be passed. It is right that the Bill appears on the Orders of the Day for 20 July, but the reality is that today it had a chance of being debated and passed into law, but on 20 July it has not.

Mr. Speaker : That is a matter for the Member in charge of the Bill. He decides ; it is his responsibility.

Mr. Hughes : I accept that, but the point of order is that it is not only a gross discourtesy to the House and the Minister, but to you, Mr. Speaker, because the Bill was put down for today, could have been debated but has effectively been killed. That has wasted everybody's time and is a gross discourtesy. I am appalled by it.

Mr. Speaker : That is a matter for the Member concerned, but in putting down his Bill for a later date he has possibly given another hon. Member whose Bill was lower in the ballot the opportunity of seeing his Bill put on the statute book.

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Orders of the Day

Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Schedule 1

Sections substituted for sections 14 and 15 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984

Lords amendment : No. 1, in page 4, line 39, leave out "and (3)" and insert ", (3) and (4A)"

9.49 am

Mr. Martin. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 8.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I am grateful to be turning to the House with my Bill for its concluding stage today. It is a little more than five months since the House approved the Bill's principles when it granted it a Second Reading. I hope that I shall be permitted to detain hon. Members a little longer than I was able to do on that previous, brief occasion. Having thanked colleagues and other hon. Members previously for their help with this measure, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, who so kindly took up the measure and steered it expertly through another place.

The amendments deal with unfinished business which we did not have time to complete during the earlier stages of the Bill. They can be debated as single group because they are consequential upon one another and result from the undertakings that we gave in this place to interested parties : the Ramblers Association, the British Horse Society and others. Naturally they were concerned about the impact that the Bill might have, unamended, on walkers, riders and other non-motorised traffic.

The House will recall the misunderstanding on Report, on 27 April, and the limited time that we had for Third Reading, on 4 May. That meant that we were unable to deliver our promises before the Bill went to their Lordships' House. The House accepted that we would table suitable amendments to meet the criticism and concern. The other place was clearly satisfied with our proposals, and had seen and accepted the correspondence with interested organisations, which are also satisfied with what we have proposed and with what their Lordships have done.

I hope that the amendments will be accepted by the House, since they satisfy the promises that we made, although I am more than happy to provide a little detail so that colleagues on both sides of the House may feel satisfied.

All the amendments refer to the schedules. The first five refer to schedule 1, paragraph 15. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 insert a new paragraph, (4A), which makes effective provision for the shorter order time of six months, which we accepted was reasonable in the circumstances. We have tried to solve that problem while preserving the main

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thrust of the Bill which was to create an 18-month temporary traffic order. Notices are of much shorter duration.

Amendment No. 3 describes when such different provision will apply and meets concerns that I outlined earlier and on Report. Amendment No. 4 means that the 18-month order will not apply when the temporary prohibition or restricton is made for reasons mentioned in paragraph 14 (1)(a) and that it will take longer.

Amendment No. 5 defines the process by which the Secretary of State can extend an 18-month order. Amendment No. 6 inserts two new paragraphs, (4A) and (4B), to respond to the two new order times of six and 18 months, and to how and in what circumstances the six months order can be extended. The amendment also clarifies what must happen if the Secretary of State refuses an extension.

Amendment No. 7 recognises the two new paragraphs by inserting them in paragraph 6 of the main schedule. Amendment No. 8 seeks to define a footpath, cycle track and byway. I am pleased that we have tried to ensure that the words will have the same meaning north of the border.

The law outside Greater London imposes a three-month limit only on temporary traffic orders, and the Secretary of State has the power to consent to longer periods on request. The major objective of the Bill was to relax that requirement and to create an 18-month order. The proposed period in the Bill was understood to be consistent with the extensions of the time limit that was acceptable to the Secretary of State in the past. It matched the 18-month period allowed for experimental orders under section 9 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and it seems to represent a reasonable step towards deregulation as it removes the need for many orders to be subjected to the unnecessary bureaucratic process of approval. Consent requirements have been progressively relaxed since the early days, when a Minister for Transport approved all traffic regulation orders. So, the time is ripe for a modest further move away from central decision-making.

The proposal in the Bill is among a number of ideas on which the Department of Transport consulted widely in 1987, following the report of the traffic and parking working group, which involved representatives of local authorities ; and the proposal received majority support from consultees.

The Bill caused the Ramblers Association and other groups to make fresh representations on the issue, which were well received ; we were sympathetic to their concerns. It is fair to say that they had always been a little cautious about the relaxation proposals and they felt that a shorter period would be appropriate for temporary orders affecting paths, bridleways, cycle tracks and bridleways that are open to all traffic. I understand and share their view.

Temporary orders can be used only to restrict or prohibit traffic. For the purpose of the 1984 Act, traffic includes pedestrians and any

"person driving, riding or leading a horse or other animal of draught or burden."

The result is that a temporary traffic order can be used temporarily to restrict the passage of all traffic, including walkers and riders--hence the concern that was expressed. I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Denton and

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Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is in his place, as he particularly wished to raise these matters early in proceedings on the Bill.

The powers can be used only for the purposes set out in the Bill--because of works or proposed works on or near a road, or because of the likelihood of danger to the public or of serious damage to the road. The Bill makes no significant change to the present law in this respect, but it is clearly right that the authorities should be able to restrict or prohibit all traffic on the grounds of public safety, until the problem--a temporary danger caused perhaps by subsidence from quarrying, an unsafe building or fallen trees--can be dealt with.

I have spent a little time giving the background to the Bill in some detail to explain the need for the Lords amendments. I have accepted, as the Government have accepted, that the restoration of footpaths and bridleways ought generally to be less problematical, and to take less time, than the restoration of vehicular use where that has had to be restricted or temporarily suspended for more substantial remedial work.

Diversions are more likely to be disruptive for users on foot or on horseback than for motorised traffic, which may be back on its intended route fairly quickly. A detour of a mile is perhaps insignificant when travelling by car, but it is a rather different matter for walkers. For those reasons, a shorter period for such orders seems to be wholly reasonable. The amendments propose a period of six months, which has been accepted as a reasonable compromise by all concerned parties.

When necessary, an authority can, before the six months perod is up, seek the Secretary of State's consent to a longer period of closure or restriction. That follows the present law.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : My hon. Friend is on an important matter. Some years ago, I used to go horse riding in Heston farm, and when the M4 was being built, the bridlepaths that I used were closed for about two years. The building of major motorways and railways is important, but they can take two or three years to complete. Is it right that the local authority should be able to apply to the Secretary of State to close the appropriate footpaths or bridleways for that period?

10 am

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : If the footpath, bridlepath or cycle track is in integral part of a road, road restrictions will apply and people will not be able to treat the footpath or bridlepath as a separate entity. We could not have allowed a coach and horses to be driven through the arrangements for the building of the M25 simply because a foothpath ran across the route. We could not have a six-month rule for one bit and an 18-month rule for the other. If a footpath or bridle path is an integral part of a projected road, we are dealing with a highway and not with a footpath in the accepted sense of the word.

If the Secretary of State refuses consent, another order may not be brought forward until three months have elapsed. I do not think that the consent procedure will be used very often, but it is a sensible arrangement where circumstances warrant it or necessity dictates. The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to prescribe by regulations the procedure to be followed in connection

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with temporary restrictions by order or notice. Those powers are contained in clause 1(2), which is a substitute for section 16(2) of the 1984 Act. The regulations will be made by statutory instrument after consultation with the relevant bodies. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister has given such assurances to the organisations that will be consulted about draft regulations. For the purposes of illustration, I have concentrated on footpaths and bridleways, but the amendments apply equally to cycle tracks and byways that are open to all traffic. That is for the reasons that I have outlined and is subject to the explanation that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). Definitions are provided in the final amendment by reference to existing statutory definitions. Surprisingly, they differ north and south of the border, so reference is made respectively to the position in England and Wales and in Scotland to which my Bill also extends.

We are working from Bill HL 76 which was printed on 9 May and the amendments refer to that document. The Bill was reprinted on 21 June after their Lordships' deliberations as Bill HL 99, and it contained some printing errors. They have been noted and I am assured that they will be rectified in the Act if the Bill is successful. The errors relate simply to cross-references consequential upon the insertion of the new amendments to section 15 where it appears in the schedule. In the wrongly printed Bill, in page 4, line 40, the reference to subsection 2 should be to subsection 3. In page 5, line 15 the reference to subsection 4 should be to subsection 5. In line 21 on the same page, the reference to subsection 3 should be to subsection 4. On page 15, line 48, the reference to subsection 2, should be to subsection 3. I would not like the House to think that I had been careless and had not noticed those errors. That is why I am drawing them to the attention of the House.

When I introduced my Bill, I scarcely thought that it would in any way promote the green image. Its primary objective is to rationalise and enhance the powers of highway authorities in dealing with temporary restrictions on roads where by far their most challenging problems must arise. I respect the interests of walkers, riders and cyclists, and I am glad to be able to meet their concerns by these amendments.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : I shall be brief. The last time that I spoke on a Friday, I was upbraided by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who accused me of speaking for 77 minutes. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, said that you found that difficult to tolerate. It is amusing to note that, just 12 hours ago, the hon. Member for Linlithgow spoke for even longer. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) for drawing my attention to that and contrasting it with my 77- minute speech two months ago. The Bill is a good one and deserves a speedy passage after consideration of the Lords amendments. I am delighted to support the amendment which the Lord Brougham and Vaux proposed and which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) has drawn to our attention. The amendment is necessary because, when the Bill left this House, some voluntary organisations, especially the British Horse Society and the Ramblers Association, were worried about it. I am grateful to those organisations for allowing me to have copies of the correspondence between them and my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic.

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The British Horse Society wrote to my hon. Friend on 2 May and said that it supported the amendment as a strengthening of the Bill in the context of footpaths and bridleways. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, the amendment also covers cycle tracks, so that restrictions should not be subject to 18 months but to a much more acceptable period of six months. The British Horse Society asked my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the issue of appropriate guidance by his Department on the exercise of these powers by highway authorities, and the society would like to see consultations about the preparation of such guidance.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the way in which he has responded to the British Horse Society, the Ramblers Association, and amendment No. 1. The Department of Transport consulted interested parties to ensure that the amended legislation meets with their approval. That shows the Department at its best. That is why it will be possible to incorporate the amendment in the Bill.

I see that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is present. He has taken a great interest in footpaths, bridleways and rambling for many years. He will agree that the way in which consultations have taken place on Lords amendment No. 1 before it was put to the House, are a great assurance to the people outside the House whom he represents. It is on the record that there have been exchanges of correspondence between the organisations and the Department.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is starting a long filibuster, with several of his hon. Friends, to stop us reaching the Protection of Badger Setts Bill. I warn him that Opposition Members will be tempted to call Divisions if the filibuster continues on this amendment, which could have been moved formally. We have been through all the matters which the hon. Gentleman is discussing. Divisions had a disastrous effect on the Bill on a previous occasion. I suggest to him that, in trying to prevent us from reaching the Protection of Badger Setts Bill, he should not tempt Opposition Members too far.

Mr. Brown : I would be prepared to have the charge of filibustering levelled by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker or by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), if I had been speaking for 77 minutes. However, I resent it utterly when I have given you, the House and now the hon. Gentleman, a commitment that I have no intention whatever of filibustering. My speech will probably now last six or seven minutes instead of four or five minutes. It will have been prolonged not by me but by that intervention.

When I have given an absolute assurance that I do not intend to filibuster and shall speak for only six or seven minutes, I am not prepared to have that charge levelled at me. I have spoken for less than four minutes. I spoke for 77 minutes two months before the hon. Member for Linlithgow spoke for 80 minutes. If I had spoken for a similar length of time today I would accept a charge of filibustering from the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

I now wish to make progress. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish would know right from the beginning of my speech if I intended to filibuster. The signs are not there today. Those who have had the good fortune to listen to some of my slightly more lengthy speeches can tell from

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the tone and style of my speech and the speaking voice that I use whether I am filibustering. This morning I am not filibustering. Representations were made in the House from various quarters. Therefore, it was agreed that a shorter period, of 18 months, would be appropriate where temporary orders would affect walkers, horse riders or cyclists, who may be rather more inconvenienced than motorised traffic by temporary closures and diversions. The effect of the amendment is simply to introduce a six-month time limit for such orders instead of an 18-month limit.

The amendment provides that the Secretary of State may extend the six-month period at the request of the authorities which issues the order.

That is an important fallback for the authorities. One cannot guarantee that everything will always be in apple-pie order within the six-month period. Equally, I understand worries about the original period of 18 months. That allows, as now, for some flexibility where circumstances justify a longer restriction. If my hon. Friend the Minister refuses the request, the authorities may not frustrate it and bring forward a further order until a period of three months has elapsed. Again, that formulation already exists in section 15.

Definitions are also provided for footpaths, bridleways, cycle tracks and byways open to all traffic by reference to existing statute, including those in Scotland where appropriate. The objective behind the amendment was agreed by the parties who intially expressed anxiety about long restrictions.

I bring my remarks to a close approximately two minutes later than would otherwise have been the case if the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish had not intervened.

10.15 am

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : It is a great pleasure to speak on the amendment. This most important Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) was a good Bill from the outset but, because of the examination that it received in another place and, indeed, its examination by organisations such as the British Horse Society and the Ramblers Association, it is now a better Bill. None of us can doubt that, after the work that the organisations have done, and the generous response which they and members of another place received from my hon. Friend the Minister, the Bill has been improved.

I was a local councillor and then a member of the Greater London council, so my local government experience is confined to London. I must confess that I had not realised what a mess this aspect of the law is outside London. I am pleased to note that London can teach the rest of the country something in that respect. There is no doubt that the law was a mess. We may well have cause to be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South for sorting out the law on the matter.

Road users stand to gain from the presence of an adaptable and comprehensive measure to regulate traffic where necessary. The relaxation of the period for temporary orders will be widely welcomed as a useful step towards deregulation. The 18-month rule and the six-month rule created by the amendment will almost certainly simplify and reduce much of the bureaucracy.

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I am led to speculate on why the Bill and the amendment are necessary. The answer is that people do not get the efficiency they want from local authorities. Neither is it satisfactory from other statutory undertakers. When a sewer is replaced, or gas, or electricity or British Telecom works take place, promises are made about how long the work will take. We have all experienced that and we know that the promises never come true : the works go on and on. If one is really lucky, when the gas board finishes, the water authority immediately starts work.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : The hon. Gentleman's remarks on that matter should be directed to the Minister. It is well within the power of the Government to bring in legislation in a new street works Bill to deal with the problem that the hon. Gentleman outlines. That is not the purpose of this Bill.

Mr. Hughes : The Labour party thinks that it is possible to legislate for everything. I recognise that the Labour party takes the magic wand approach to policy.

Ms. Ruddock : I am sorry, but that remark is not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that the Department of Transport has held long sessions with working parties and that there is a consensus on the need for a new street works Bill. It is not a Labour party matter, although we support the proposal. There is a consensus across local authorities and the Departments involved.

Mr. Hughes : I am suitably admonished. I accept that that remark was not worthy of me. There again, it was an accurate description of Labour policy.

I wish to examine the matter in detail. Local authorities probably have a responsibility. Undoubtedly people who use footpaths, bridlepaths and cycle tracks have been frustrated about the amount of time that the paths have been obstructed. The main procedural difference is that orders require local publicity in advance of restrictions, whereas notices can introduce restrictions with immediate effect. The more summary notice procedure is therefore strictly time-limited. The Bill clarifies the need in both instances to have regard to alternative routes. It will allow procedures to be prescribed that will ensure adequate signing.

What are the incentives for speedy completion of works? We all know that footpaths and bridleways are highways. One would not think so from the way in which they are abused at times. Authorities are under a general duty under section 130 of the Highways Act 1980 to "assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway"


"prevent as far as possible, the stopping up or obstruction of the highways".

Authorities must still have regard to that duty when satisfying themselves of the need for a temporary restriction. Such restrictions will not be allowed to continue indefinitely, and those who wish to protect the right of people to use highways, bridleways, footpaths and cycleways will have the law on their side when they seek to ensure that that does not happen.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) when he responded to my intervention about major roadworks. Everybody wants major public works in principle, and

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everyone demands that the Government should pay for them. No one, however, wants them built on his doorstep. We may have an interesting example of that when we come to debate private business next Thursday. We shall learn whether hon. Members think it more important to build a new tube line in London than to have life disrupted just outside their front door. It will be interesting to hear the reaction of hon. Members. No one wants disruption, but it must take place if we are to have the infrastructure that we require.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South flattered me unintentionally. He thought, when I was talking about riding horses in my youth, that I was referring to the building of the M25. I am rather older than he thinks. I was talking about the construction of the M4, which cut across the footpaths and bridleways that I was accustomed to using when on horseback. I am grateful for the clarification that the Bill will not stop that usage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke about the British Horse Society and the consultation with it. He posed a question, and I am uncertain about the answer that he received. I know that the society, in a letter of 2 May to my hon. Friend the Minister, asked to be included

"among the interested bodies to be consulted on procedure regulations to be made under Clause 1."

What was the answer to that request? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to clarify the position when he replies to the debate. The society and other organisations should be included in consultation.

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