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Column 1190from work on horseback or, indeed, in a pony and trap, will probably be inconvenienced and have to take the diversion route, not their normal route.
Mr. Quentin Davies : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's explanation, but am disappointed that the interests of those who go to and from their residence or place of work on horseback are not protected in his Bill. What is the position for bicyclists, because I cannot find any reference to them in the Bill ? Is it his intention to prevent someone from coming or going to or from his residence or place of work by bicycle ?
Mr. Atkinson : Such a person would, under the Bill, be prevented from cycling down the road. He would not be prevented from wheeling his bicycle from his house, through the closed-off stretch of the road and mounting his bicycle when he reached a diversion, or a road that was not affected by the closure. Again, he would be inconvenienced--I hope only marginally--but he would be able to transport his bicycle as a pedestrian to the place where he could start riding it. That might be slightly inconvenient for him, but. when balanced with the good of all those enjoying and watching the event, it is a small inconvenience for a limited time, and for a maximum of once a year.
Mr. Quentin Davies : I am sorry to keep interrupting my hon. Friend, but another provision in the Bill, in clause 1(8)(c)(ii), concerns me. I must declare an interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it refers to
"the leading or driving of horses, cattle, sheep or other animals."
I have a flock of sheep, as the House may know, and I speak for all those who have sheep and may need to move them from time to time from one field to another. That sometimes means crossing the public highway. Does that mean that when an event--as foreseen in the Bill--occurs, it will be impossible for those with livestock to move them across the public highway ?
Mr. Atkinson : I am afraid that I must pile disappointment on disappointment on my hon. Friend. I regret that, in the same way that he will not be able to ride his horse or bicycle down these roads, he will have to restrain his sheep for a period until the cavalcade has passed by. I am sure, because the police are remarkably flexible on those matters, that, should he tap the officer on the shoulder and say, "Will you mind if I just move my flock of sheep across the road ?" he would no doubt facilitate that at the earliest possible opportunitity. If one can imagine 1,500 vehicles, 200 bicyclists, French gendarmes and a flock of my hon. Friend's sheep, I suspect that we could end up with a great muddle of mutton and profiteroles and Gallic oaths. I regret to say that this prohibition will have to stay in the Bill.
Mr. Butler : I am increasingly concerned by my hon. Friend's repeated references to French gendarmes. Any hon. Member who has been to Paris will know the success of the French gendarmes in controlling traffic, keeping it moving, preventing collisions and so on. Will they be assisted by some English policemen, or will we have to put up with French gendarmes on their own ?
Mr. Atkinson : In these enlightened times, my hon. Friend is being much too chauvinistic about the matter. The fact that the gendarmes are prepared to send a contingent to this country is a great compliment. We may
Column 1191beat the French at rugby--we possibly do-- but we would certainly welcome them over here. As I said, the French police will be here only in the role of ordinary visitors. They will have no more rights than any other citizens in this country ; they will be here simply as visitors. The actual job of controlling the police and riding with the tour de France will be the responsibility of the local constabulary, which obviously has the locus to deal with the crowds and matters that may occur.
Mr. Fabricant : Can my hon. Friend confirm that either there will be the expense of having to put up signs "tenez a gauche" or road traffic regulations will be suspended and people will have to drive on the right of the roads that are closed ?
Mr. Atkinson : That was a matter of great concern to us when we considered the Bill, because we thought that there might be pressure from French cyclists to cycle on their traditional side of the road. We then took the view that there would be some British cyclists and we felt that if the French came to Britain, they should conform to our regulations. Therefore, we have specifically excluded any change from left to right.
Mr. Spring : Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the French police will be mindful that French farmers have shown a terrible disposition towards British sheep, and if French police come over here they must keep a sharp eye on our sheep flocks in the verdant counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire ? The last thing that we want to do is destroy Anglo- French relations after a successful tour de France has taken place, and further deprive our farmers of an export market which has been closed to them because of the inability of the French police to control their farmers in some instances.
Mr. Atkinson : That raises another serious issue which, regrettably, we did not fully consider in our discussions on the Bill. We dealt with the question of moving sheep flocks, but we did not think that our indigenous flocks would be too much at risk from those who came here. Some farmers may come over in the cavalcade, and local sheep farmers may have to bear that in mind in the security precautions that they take.
I think that most of the people will be here to enjoy the tour de France and hand out profiteroles. I do not think that they will pose a great threat to the sheep in the south-east. Coming from the borders and the north of the country, I never think that the sheep in the south-east have as much class anyway. The French, who buy 40 per cent. of the lambs produced in Cumberland, prefer north country lamb, so I am sure that the sheep in Sussex, Kent and Hampshire will be safe from the depredations of any stray French farmers who tag on the back of the tour de France.
We have given the Bill careful thought in order to balance the needs of the people who will inevitably be inconvenienced by these events, and the needs of the organisers who run such popular events. It is important for, and incumbent on, the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. Now that we have discussed the measure, it will become public knowledge that people will be able to mount a legal objection to any one of these events ; it would be a great pity if they did so. Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
In conclusion, I thank the staff of the Department of Transport and express my appreciation to them. They
Column 1192helped me considerably in the preparation of the Bill and discovered most of the loopholes and the likely questions that I could be asked. The only question on which we were probably foxed was that of sheep. We had not discussed attacks on sheep perhaps as much as we should have done. However, I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me for that and give the Bill a Second Reading.
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) on bringing forward the Bill and explaining it so coherently and persuasively. The objective is clear. As my hon. Friend said, it will give traffic
authorities--usually local authorities--the right to restrict or prohibit traffic in the case of a major sporting event, social event or entertainment.
My hon. Friends will know that my constituency of Bury St. Edmunds has had a long-standing connection with the state of California. I mention that because what happens in California tends eventually to spread to the United Kingdom. I raise that point because I shall examine in some detail the whole matter of health and exercise, which will be given a considerable boost by the tour de France. In the past few years in California, people took to exercise and healthy living in a way that many of us would feel was perhaps somewhat excessive. What concerns me is that there is a new trend in California of going back to high-cholesterol living--that appears to have happened literally in the past few months. Restaurants that previously sold salads and other low-calorie foods are now offering indulgent, high- calorie items, including foie gras in the more expensive ones. I mention that because if there is a reversion to more unhealthy living in California, inevitably it will spread to the United Kingdom, as so many social trends have done in the past. The state of health of our nation is poor, compared with some of our European neighbours.
Mr. Spring : The Bill is important because flowing from it will be a renewed interest in cycling and environmentally friendly activities, which will be wholly welcome and desirable. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said that all that is irrelevant, but the tour de France will have an important exemplary effect on the health of the nation and demonstrate the need to increase exercise and improve health.
Mr. Clappison : My hon. Friend makes an extremely valuable point in the context of the debate. Is he aware that the Sports Council has made cycling a focused sport in the south-east and is gearing up for a major increase in participation in cycling as a result of the tour de France and its associated benefits ? Does he agree that that will be, as he rightly said, a major boost to health promotion in this country ?
Mr. Spring : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is an important aspect in terms not only of health but of tourism. Although there is an important, narrow definition to the Bill, which was so ably put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, the broad issues that relate to it are also important.
Column 1193I come back to the health of the nation because, after all, there has been considerable controversy about our national health. There are clear, specific targets, for both men and women, to reduce high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and to encourage physical activity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said, cycling is part and parcel of that process.
I applaud the measure because it is important to encourage participation in sports, especially by our young people. People will be encouraged to do that, especially if they have the assurance of safety that the Bill brings forward so competently.
I think that it was the Duke of Wellington who said that the battle of Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton, but the sad truth is that 600 sports sites in England, no fewer than 200 of which are school pitches, are under threat from planning applications or appeals. For many people, especially young people, sport increasingly means watching television or video games. The number of physical education teachers has fallen by one eighth in the past decade and the number of schools without umpires and referees has increased. It is interesting and important to note that it is not only "The Health of the Nation", which was published nearly two years ago, that alludes to the need for exercise. The national curriculum also refers to the need for two hours of physical education a week. I was brought up in a rather harder school and remember doing at least two hours a day. However, only one third of our schools meet the undemanding target that has been set, so the example of the tour de France will be important in encouraging young people to take up cycling and physical exercise in general.
Standards of exercise and good health tend to be higher in many other European countries. There is a danger that we could be regarded not as a nation of shopkeepers but, regrettably, as a nation of lounge lizards. I hope that by securing the tour de France this summer, we shall provoke more interest in cycling and health. The Bill would also enable important international events such as the London marathon to take place in greater safety.
I cannot stress sufficiently how strongly I feel about good exercise, especially for young people. Young people need role models, but, sadly, today's sportsmen, whether in cricket, rugby or ice-skating, are not doing especially well. It was sad that we failed to qualify for the world cup final in America in the summer and it was of course a tragedy that Manchester failed to win the Olympic bid.
Mr. Butler : My hon. Friend said that our ice-skaters had not done very well. Following their regular daily training at the Milton Keynes Bladerunners' ice-rink, Torvill and Dean did reasonably well in coming third. My hon. Friend is perhaps being too disparaging.
The Bill would enhance
Column 1194would perhaps encourage better sporting performances. I hope that I shall be allowed to observe that I was in Sarajevo 10 years ago when Torvill and Dean triumphed. However, I pass quickly on.
As the Sports Council said, cycling is excellent exercise. For many years, I cycled from my flat in Pimlico along the Embankment to work. It was good for my health, as it was for all those who did likewise, but, sadly, my cycling is now confined to the House of Commons' gym. If cycling increases its hold on the popular imagination, it will bring other considerable benefits. I am thinking especially of the county of Suffolk, part of which I represent.
My county has more churches per person than any other part of the United Kingdom and one of the most important by-products of seeking to preserve the unique beauty of our churches has been a great cycling event that occurs once a year. I believe that the tour de France will boost charities in the county of Suffolk and elsewhere because of the increased interest in cycling that it will generate. The event takes place every September. Hundreds of people get on their bicycles and cycle around some of Suffolk's 450 churches, which are open. It is not a competition--one can visit as many or as few as one wishes--but one can obtain sponsorship from companies or individuals. Since its inception in 1982, about £1.2 million have been raised for the magnificent wool churches. It has encouraged young people in my constituency to become interested in cycling and has got them out into the fresh air. The arrival of the tour de France, whose success would be helped by the Bill, will thus help to increase interest in charitable giving via such sponsored cycle races. I hasten to add that the Suffolk constabulary plays an important part in ensuring the road safety of the many young people involved.
The Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who not only cycles regularly but who undertook a grand cycling tour of his diocese, taking in the parish churches on the diocesan perimeter, sets a marvellous example not only to his clergy but to everyone in the county.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said, the Sports Council is extremely anxious to promote cycling. The Cyclists Touring Club gave me some fascinating statistics, which I am sure that the House will wish to hear. There are 15 million cycle owners in this country, 2 per cent. of all journeys are made by bicycle and--believe it or not--more journeys are made by bicycle than by rail, although I am confident that, once British Rail is privatised, that will change. The club also said that 1 million bicycles are used daily. Cycling provides exercise which is useful in promoting good health, it is environmentally friendly and it may also have benefits in terms of charitable giving as I described.
From a cycling point of view, the growth of tourism has been a tremendous phenomenon in many parts of England. That is so not only of the areas that may be covered by the tour de France but in areas such as East Anglia, which produces specific maps on which routes are set out for cyclists from all over the world, especially from Holland, whose topography is similar to ours.
We have heard about the French visitors who will come to witness the great sight of the tour de France and we understand that the French police are coming to keep an eye on them, but cycling encourages tourism on many levels, especially in the rather flat part of the world--Suffolk--that I represent. The cycling leaflets that are
Column 1195being produced by tourist offices all over England will meet the inevitable increase of interest in cycling caused by the tour de France in the summer. The Bill sets out the parameters for safety and organisation by the local authorities, which will significantly boost the tour de France.
My own county council decided to appoint a cycling officer, who is encouraging cycling even at the primary school level. Young people have heroes in many different sports and they will take to cycling when they see the massive coverage on television. When I was a schoolboy, there were two varieties of bicycle. One was the drop-handled, racing variety and the other was the sit-up-and-beg variety. With the high-fashion consumer trends among young people today, there is a much greater variety. There are multi- coloured bicycles with matching gear. That is useful in making people feel that cycling is not only healthy exercise but that it is fun to get togged up in such gear, which is good for business as well. Suffolk county council spends £50,000 on cycling generally, including improving cycle lanes and access for cyclists in particular to areas of the county. The figure has increased four times in the past year, reflecting the great interest in cycling, which will certainly increase after the tour de France this summer. The effect is also being felt more closely. In my constituency, St. Edmundsbury borough council has set out a strategy for cycling in Bury St. Edmunds, again in conjunction with the Cyclists Touring Club, to ensure that cycling is done in safety and is attractive to do. The World Tourism Organisation has said that by 2000, tourism will be the world's biggest industry. It is sad that France and Spain receive more tourism revenue from us than we do from them. I note that many hon. Members go to France on holiday. I believe that when the French, who take such an enormous interest in the tour de France, see the verdant beauty of the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, they will be persuaded to come to England. I lived in Paris as a student. When I talked to people about the beauty of England, many had the impression that England was fog-bound and rainy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tourism potential of the tour de France will be significant and the Bill will certainly help that process.
Hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, have touched on the tour de France. There have been allusions to other cycling events and to marathons. We are seeing a huge increase in cultural activities as well. We had Pavarotti in the park, for example, and yesterday, Pavarotti-- almost--in the tunnel, which was a great media event. People increasingly like to go to such events, whether at Wembley or Hyde park, where they have a spectacular time. The Bill will give local authorities the ability to control such events more admirably.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill. It includes coherent provisions not only for the tour de France, but for a whole variety of other events. The spill-over in terms of benefits to the health and welfare of young people especially, to tourism and to our cultural life will be immense. I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham for introducing the Bill.
Column 119610.43 am
Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester) : I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and to make a number of constituency points. My hon. Friend mentioned the tour de France, which will be known here as the tour en Angleterre--not the tour d'Angleterre as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) wrongly said. It will go through my city of Winchester where it is considered to be extremely important. The Bill has the backing of Winchester city council and Hampshire county council. It also has the backing of Winchester chamber of commerce, which has asked me to mention a number of points.
The Bill is important because it involves what is not only a sporting event, but an important commercial event for Hampshire. It builds on a series of initiatives that have taken place in Hampshire, such as twinning with towns in France, especially northern France. It builds on the efforts of Winchester chamber of commerce to form an alliance with specific chambers of commerce, especially in Normandy. Every year, a joint event is held in Winchester High street in which a town in Normandy is invited to sell its merchandise in the city. In return, Winchester chamber of commerce sells goods at a similar event in France. The Bill is necessary and will build not on one isolated aspect of commercial activity, but on something that has been happening in Hampshire generally and in my constituency in particular for some time.
I have one slight concern about the Bill. We talked about the rights of access for pedestrians. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will refer later to what will happen to emergency services. I hope that he can assure us that the controls will not affect access for the emergency services, whether the fire service, the ambulance service or the police, and that that point is covered by the Bill. I also reinforce the point that it will be important for commerce that while the streets in any town or city are closed access to and from the shops is not impeded. It is important that when thousands of people are in cities and villages they should have access to shops. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can give a view on that. Although the Bill is an enabling measure to allow proper policing of events, it must not be over-restrictive and it must not prevent commerce from going on. Those in the Winchester chamber of commerce who welcome the Bill might then say that it was not a good thing. Perhaps it is envisaged that when local authorities decide to invoke the measure, they will have some control over access to commercial premises. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would address that point. Having the tour en Angleterre is a great initiative. Those who suggested that le tour should come to the south of England are to be congratulated. It is estimated by the tourist boards in the south that those who come to visit from France, along with all the cyclists and accompanying paraphernalia, will increase the demand for overnight accommodation in the area by 5 to 10 per cent.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that the tour will not be a three-day wonder. Local authorities throughout the south are building on the initiative and will make the most of it over several months. This week a briefing meeting was held by Winchester chamber of commerce in the city-- appropriately, at the Cafe Monet which I had not come across but which I shall now find.
Column 1197The meeting illustrated to people in the city and those interested in commerce precisely what advantage they could take of the tour. Winchester chamber of commerce and Winchester city council have set out a series of activities from next month, through July and into the autumn. There will be a variety of activities. Some are purely commercial and will highlight twinning arrangements that we already have with other cities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) dwelt on the health and fitness aspect of cycling. Local authorities in Hampshire will build on that as well. There will be a series of events and programmes in schools throughout the county to encourage children to take up cycling or, if they already cycle, to do so more safely and to take a general interest in the sport. I very much welcome that.
I have not been able to discover whether there is an initiative for those in my constituency, including myself, who are of a somewhat more sedentary nature. I raise that in the hope that the event's organisers will cater for those who will certainly not be able to participate in the race. Will my hon. Friend the Minister, who might have a common interest with me in the matter, see whether such an initiative, of which he and I could take advantage, could be encouraged? He is almost a parliamentary neighbour and I invite him to attend on the day to see how the event goes. Perhaps he and I could get on a tandem and go around the streets of Winchester to amaze the public. Perhaps he will respond to that when he speaks. The serious argument that I want to advance is that every effort is being made to use the Bill to promote an event that will have a wide appeal to members of the public of all ages and interests. The Bill is also welcomed by Hampshire constabulary, who should not be responsible for closing roads and should not take on the burdensome bureaucratic work involved with events of this sort. Local authorities should take on those responsibilities, because they have a wider view of the public interest. The police welcome the lifting of that burden and the introduction of proper regulation to ensure that such events take place in a better ordered way.
I did not intend to detain the House for long. I merely wanted to raise those constituency points to highlight to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham why his Bill is important and why it should not go through on the nod. I am sure that many hon. Members will want to raise specific constituency points. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to raise mine. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reply to the arguments that I have advanced. I do not oppose the Bill, but further enlightenment would be extremely welcome. 10.52 am
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : As other hon. Members have said, there is great urgency to give the Bill a Second Reading today. The Bill is important for tourism, for Britain and, from what we have heard, for the profiterole industry.
I am grateful for the correction from my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) that the tour should be called the tour en Angleterre and not the tour d'Angleterre. My confusion arose because of the name tour de France as opposed to the tour en France.
Column 1198The Bill is being debated at an important time because it is the 50th anniversary of the D-day landing, which no hon. Member has mentioned today. The event will command huge media coverage, which will not only benefit tourism and sport but will remind people of the sacrifice that people made 50 years ago in the liberation of France. Millions of pounds are at stake and the Bill should be passed without delay.
The Bill is not only important for the tour de France--or the tour en Angleterre ; it will have enduring uses. Not long ago, the formula 3000 grand prix was held in Birmingham. I recall former Team Lotus cars screaming around spaghetti junction. I drive around that junction in my little red Lotus Elan, which I believe is well known to West Midlands police. I should like to put it on the record for the benefit of the police that I do not scream around spaghetti junction but drive sedately, and well within the speed limit. Mr. Butler rose
Mr. Butler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He spoke of commemorating the D-day landings. Is he aware that they were in the other direction ? On the question of his Lotus kit car, those of us who intend to speak about using motor vehicles in road events would not include kit cars but only professionally produced vehicles.
Mr. Fabricant : I am horrified by my hon. Friend's latter point--I almost hesitate to use the word friend. I remind him that the Lotus Elan is manufactured in Norfolk ; it is not a kit car and it has huge export potential. He will be aware that Lotus has recently been taken over by Bugatti.
Mr. Fabricant : My hon. Friend claims to be an expert on car manufacture. Since its acquisition by Bugatti, the Elan has been reinstated and is available for export. I greatly regret that no Norfolk Members are present. I hope that my hon. Friend's argument will not damage Lotus's export potential.
Birmingham became the Monte Carlo of Britain after the super prix was held there. It brought valuable revenue into the city. It is up to Birmingham whether to hold such an event again, but the Bill will make it easier for it to do so.
The Bill will encourage the tourist industry, which is in much need of a boost. We cannot and should not ignore an industry that is not only the second largest in the United Kingdom but employs 1.5 million people. As tourism amounts to 4 per cent. of our gross domestic product, and as £25 billion is spent on tourism every year, any measure that makes it easier for special events to be held by easing road traffic regulations and thus encouraging more visitors to attend events should be heartily welcomed. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) on introducing the Bill.
Column 1199The Bill's motives are admirable and practical. I welcome the support that it has been given by the police and local authorities, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned, and by the Department of Transport. The Bill aims to boost the cultural and social life of this country by making it easier for local authorities to control the flow of traffic around special events such as those that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned--marathons and bicycle races.
Having said that, however, I believe that a balance must be struck between enabling highway authorities to carry out their duties more effectively and ensuring that the rights of motorists and other road users rights are protected. Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), have mentioned that aspect. We shall need adequate advance notices and clear signposting of diversions. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to reassure me on that.
I want to focus my remarks on maintaining that balance. The hard-pressed motorist is public enemy No. 1, but he or she also has rights. The famous novelist L.P. Hartley-- not to be confused with J. R. Hartley, who wrote the respected treatise on fly fishing-- complained that
"Motorists are irresponsible in their dealings with each other and with the pedestrian public ; for their benefit homicide was legalised. The basic principles of equality were flouted, while the opposing principle of envy was disastrously encouraged."
Mr. Butler rose
Mr. Butler : I am grateful for my ever-changing name, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I look forward to your alighting on a suitable one in due course. Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I am, about clause 1(1) of the Bill, which would insert proposed new section 16A in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 ? It purports to make motoring events possible other than those involving a race or trial of speed--rallies, driving tests, and so on-- but not unless the competition or trial is authorised by or under regulations in that section. It is exactly the same wording as that which makes possible the regulation of cycle racing, where, again, there is the requirement that that is not possible unless it is authorised by or under regulations made under the relevant section of the 1988 Act. Therefore, is it my hon. Friend's concern that in due course, when appropriate regulations are made--I am sure he shares my hope that it will not take too long--they will apply to motoring events as well, hence his interest in that subject in the debate ?
Mr. Fabricant : I agree with my hon. Friend whole-heartedly. As I said earlier, Birmingham set a precedent some years ago--and with some difficulty--by organising the Formula 3000 grand prix. Clearly, if the great city of Birmingham decides to do that again, it will be far easier once the Bill is enacted.
It must be remembered that if there is a special event many motorists passing through the area need rights of access and proper traffic control, especially if other routes are not readily available. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has also suggested, it will undoubtedly have a number of revitalising effects on our social and cultural life. Moreover, the Bill will encourage sporting events and I suspect that if the Bill is passed a number of sporting events will flourish, and tourism will flourish with them. Clearly, at a time when Britain is having a little trouble attracting major sporting events into the country--the
Column 1200European football championship excepted-- anything that goes some way to encourage and enable major sporting events to be held must be commended. If the Bill is passed, we shall have gone some way to convincing those abroad, yet again, that they will not face red tape and bureaucratic wrangling.
While I support the Bill in principle, I wonder how we can ensure that, while enabling authorities to restrict and regulate traffic temporarily, motorists' needs and rights will not be ridden over roughshod by local authorities. After all, do not motorists suffer enough traffic congestion ? We have enough motorway cones on our roads to build a mountain that would be the envy of the common agricultural policy. However, I note that the Department of Transport's lane rental initiatives and cone phone lines are reducing that mountain to a mere foothill.
The previous Bill on temporary restrictions on road traffic was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and by Lord Brougham and Vaux in the other place in 1991. While the purpose of their Bill, like the one before us today, was to "ensure that traffic authorities could respond quickly and effectively to short term needs for traffic restriction"
by reducing the number of occasions when local authorities have to seek consent for temporary traffic orders, clear mention was made of the need to strike an appropriate balance between greater freedom for highway authorities and sufficient protection for road users. I maintain that that balance is a difficult one. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would give assurances that his Bill will have proper safeguards to ensure that, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford in May 1991 :
"Limitations on the rights of free passage for road users cannot be unreasonably imposed."
Mr. Malone : My hon. Friend is making an important point. Does he agree that it may be sensible to try to incorporate some provision in the Bill, perhaps in Committee, allowing local people at some point to make reasonable representations to the local authorities before the regulations are framed ? Would he care to comment on that suggestion ?
Mr. Fabricant : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes a worthwhile point. Again, a difficult balance has to be struck, in that if local people are allowed to object or provide an input--and it is important that they be able to do so--this does not outweigh the effects of the Bill in slicing through red tape and enabling events to happen easily. It is important that the procedures are not long winded.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has said, there must be a clear need for local authorities to provide adequate warning to road users in advance of special regulations to provide adequate signposting, although I hope that that will not impose a great cost on local taxpayers. It is important to give clear guidance on alternative routes. There must be an obligation on the local authorities, with the organisers of the special events, to provide adequate information to road users. Perhaps that, too, may be discussed in Committee. Again, I seek reassurance from the Minister on that point.
Perhaps I may be especially helpful, given my background before I came to the House. I suggest that one way in which to keep motorists and the public informed of diversions and so on would be for the organisers of special and major events to set up temporary radio stations which
Column 1201could broadcast information while a special event was being held. Those radios stations could provide relevant traffic information and police notices to passing motorists, who would be able to tune in on their car radios. Not only would the motorist be made well aware of the new road restrictions, but the organisers would be able to promote their events. The radio stations would also be able to give specialised information about ticket availability, where to queue, and so on. I am sure that the House would agree that "London Marathon 99.1 FM" or "Tour de France 102 FM stereo" have a resounding ring. It would be a great success for event organisers and motorists, and it would not need legislation.
Mr. Mackinlay : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been studying the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire for some time and it is quite clear that he is reading his speech continuously ; indeed, he would be incapable of stringing words together without it.
Mr. Fabricant : As I said, those radio stations would not need legislation. While the Luddite party opposite--I am thinking of one Member especially--opposed the introduction of ITV, Channel 4, independent television, independent radio and satellite television, we have been the deregulator of the airwaves. More recently, the Broadcasting Act 1990 has been a boon to restricted service broadcasting for special events
Mr. Fabricant I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for bringing me back to the main point of the debate. It is important that where there are special events, road signs should be made available and that there is adequate communication to road users. Byroad users, I include not only people who travel from A to B, where that route takes them through the special event, but road users who wish to attend the event, which is tremendously important. Those licences are readily available. The Radio Authority says "Restricted service licences are generally issued on demand" that is important"subject only to frequency availability and adherence to various specified technical criteria".
In 1992, 241 such licences were issued and some were for such special events. It would improve traffic flow in the area of special events and would promote those events as well.
Mr. Malone : The point that my hon. Friend is making about how the regulations will apply is important, especially in my constituency of Winchester where the Minister knows that we have traffic problems aplenty. Will my hon. Friend consider the point--I am not saying that it should be in the body of the legislation, but perhaps in some of the regulations-- that there could be some sort of telephone freephone number to call giving information about all such arrangements so that the wider public, and not only those in the locality, may avoid the area and be
Column 1202made aware of what roads would be closed ? Would he consider that, rather than simply having a separate radio station for each event ?
Mr. Fabricant : I am again grateful to my hon. Friend for his good suggestion. People may be deterred by the cost of using a phone line-- unless it is an 0800 number--but they can tune in to a radio station free of charge. I am sure that I do not have to remind my hon. Friend that many of his constituents work for National Transcommunications Ltd., now known as NTL, which is the former engineering division of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. It has played an active role in helping to set up special event radio licences for events such as those that the Bill will allow to be held.
While I hope that the Bill will be passed, I trust that some of my concerns will be taken into account. I hope that we can look forward to special sporting and cultural events and that we can also make sure that the needs and freedoms of road users are not ignored or neglected. To paraphrase a recent editorial in The Daily Telegraph , motorists must not become a populace more ruled against than ruling. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport) : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this time, because I have to return to my constituency. It is unusual for me to be here on a Friday, but this is an important Bill in which I have a particular interest. It appeared to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) that some brief points raised by some of my hon. Friends were not directly related to the Bill. I hope to relate my speech directly to the Bill and hope that it will not sound too much like an impassioned speech by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). The House should thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who spoke so eloquently. It is no coincidence that he, of all my hon. Friends and other hon. Members who were fortunate to obtain a high place in the ballot, has presented a Bill that does not seek to introduce new, burdensome legislation, but seeks to regularise an important aspect of road traffic regulations. It seeks to put it beyond doubt that local traffic authorities will have powers to restrict or regulate traffic to allow major sporting or social events or entertainments to take place on public roads. The Bill will be necessary to allow the staging here of the tour de France, but it is not just a question of that event. I note that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic agrees. I hope that he will take on board my concern that, all too often, the Department of Transport uses examples of events in southern England or in London, such as the Notting Hill carnival or the London marathon, to highlight why regulations or, in this instance, a Bill should become law.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham rightly said when he used the example of the great north run, many events--probably more events--take place outside London and the south-east. I represent a north-west constituency, a seaside resort at that, and I should like to highlight those events, which are extremely relevant. In my constituency, there are events such as the Southport flower show, which is second only to the one in London, and the