Previous Section Home Page

Column 1203

major air show, which has taken place annually in recent years. Last year, some 350,000 people came to my constituency for that show.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham knows perfectly well that my constituency is not very big. There is congestion now and when 350, 000 extra people arrive for an event such as the air show it causes considerable traffic difficulties. It is right and proper that the Department should come up with examples other than the Notting Hill carnival and the London marathon. As I have said, the Bill will address many other appropriate events.

At the moment, the police and local authorities have various powers to deal with the difficulties about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has spoken. He mentioned the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and I referred him to the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. It was patently obvious that, in the 1830s and 1840s, our predecessors addressed matters relating to public health. They had not envisaged the scourge of the wheel clamp and did not have the forethought or wit to believe that local authorities would introduce measures such as pay and display or create other problems.

I hope that I am allowed to mention the problems caused by my own local authority in Sefton where the Liberal Democrats ganged together with the Labour party in Southport to introduce a system of parking controls that are hampering traders and putting people out of work. I shall return to that, because it is directly relevant to consideration of the Bill.

In London, the police are not certain that legislation that is currently on the statute book can be used to override the parking bays and traffic regulation orders to which I referred my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. Given the fact that the police are not certain whether they already have the powers to suspend parking bays and so on when special events take place, it is surprising that it has taken so long to produce a Bill such as that of my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to him.

The police probably feel that decisions are not necessarily a matter for them but for local authorities. I take the view that local authorities should be accountable to their electorates. The necessity to close roads or to divert traffic the wrong way down a one-way street are matters for local authorities, which are responsible for their areas. The police are more concerned with breaches of law and order that may occur as a result of special entertainment or sporting events and high concentrations of visitors. The police would probably feel far happier if the House legislated to put the matter right. There is other legislation to cover specific events. My hon. Friends the Members for Hexham and for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) referred to the Road Traffic Act 1988. That Act bans bicycle racing, but allows it if special arrangements are made. However, it does not cover some of the events to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham referred.

When plans were being drawn up for the tour de France, it was realised that it could be better described as an event rather than as a bicycle race, as there is so much accompanying transport and festivity. While the tour de France will probably bring far more people to the south-east and southern England than perhaps some of the single events in my constituency to which I have referred, it is important for the Bill to proceed with all haste. I hope

Column 1204

that none of my hon. Friends and no Opposition Members--not that I see many Opposition Members in the House-- have great objections in principle to the Bill.

The Bill updates the powers to close roads temporarily for major events and transfers them to local authorities. As I have said, no existing powers are being repealed. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that his Bill does not seek to create burdensome regulations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) drew attention to a matter that I wish to discuss. I refer to the process whereby local traders, business people and residents, as well as those who are to participate in an event, consider the proposals for road closures and traffic regulations. I trust that they will have an opportunity to comment, whether by a telephone hotline or in writing to the local authority. I hope also that when a decision is reached, those affected--particularly business men and women--will have an opportunity to appeal.

Mr. Fabricant : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be detrimental if that mechanism took the form of something like a public inquiry ? That might draw out the whole process, with the result that the special event could not go ahead--with all the disadvantages to the local economy that that would entail.

Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend makes a pertinent and important point, which I hope to address in the few minutes available to me. He knows me well enough to be reassured that I shall not deal with that aspect hastily or seek to brush it aside.

No existing powers are being repealed, and the Bill does not provide for new, burdensome regulations.

Mr. Peter Atkinson : My hon. Friend may be interested to know that regulations would follow the Bill. My hon. Friend the Minister will want to cover aspects such as proper consultation--so that the public will have an opportunity to make their views known about a particular decision. I support my hon. Friend's remarks concerning Sefton borough council. I frequently stay in Lord street in Southport. Almost two times out of three, I receive a parking ticket. Hotel guests and the business community are harassed by Southport's new traffic regulations.

Mr. Banks : I know of the event that my hon. Friend attends. Although it takes place just outside my constituency, it is important and popular with local hoteliers. When it is held, it is difficult to book a hotel room in Southport. I accept that not every right hon. and hon. Member agrees with the Waterloo cup, but it is popular with many, and valuable in attracting trade to Southport. Some of the events that I shall give as examples are similar to that to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Malone : It is envisaged that le tour en Angleterre will not be limited to the passage of the cyclists but will extend two to three hours before and after. Does not my hon. Friend agree that that reinforces the need for consultation ? That event will set aside almost a whole day of the city's commerce, so it is important that it is properly organised.

Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend makes a particularly important point, which touches on one of my greatest concerns. It is entirely right that we should legislate, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) pointed out, it is not just a question of closing

Column 1205

roads for a short period. Planning some events takes considerable time. The traffic division of Merseyside constabulary, which so ably looks after my constituency, has police officers working almost exclusively on matters associated with planning special events. When hundreds of thousands of people visit one small geographical area, which is a good description of my constituency--where as soon as the houses stop, the fields begin and there is a high concentration of small roads that a high volume of vehicles would find difficult to use-- roads will be closed some time before the event begins, during the event and afterwards. There will be consequences for businesses that abut the road and for their customers, or for businesses reached by the road in question. It is vital that proper consultation occurs before decisions are made and that those affected have an opportunity to appeal against any conclusion that the local traffic authority reaches.

Mr. Butler rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Mr. Peter Butler.

Mr. Butler : I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Southport is the venue for famous motor cycle sand dune races that are held annually--although I have never participated in or spectated at them. How will they, and the road traffic preparations made for them, be affected by the Bill ?

Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend is right. I am pleased that Mr. Phil King, my local authority's director of tourism and attractions, whose office is in Southport, is doing an excellent job--in so far as my hon. Friend is aware of many events held in Southport. The popular motor cycle endurance race is held on Southport beach and is attended by people from not just the north-west but the whole of the United Kingdom. Motor cycle enthusiasts travel to it by not only motor bike but car. That is why it is vital that those who are affected by road closures should have an opportunity to comment. I refer not just to residents but to those who attend events.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) is a keen triathlon participant--or used to be. That is another example. Triathlon participants do not just run to Southport, or whatever may be the location, but travel by car. In many parts of the United Kingdom, not least Southport, that creates a serious parking problem.

The more events we stage, the better it is for my constituents and the local economy. The way we are heading, tourism is not just in the top 10 of economic activity and employment in Britain but is fast approaching the number one spot.

Mr. Butler : I am not sure what is involved in a triathlon, but, to preserve my reputation, I invite my hon. Friend to repeat that outside the House, without the benefit of privilege.

Mr. Banks : Perhaps I should explain. A triathlon is a three-part event, in which an athlete swims, rides a bicycle and runs.

Mr. Butler : I cannot swim.

Column 1206

Mr. Banks : Perhaps my hon. Friend could manage one or two. I hope that that is sufficient explanation and now perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can make progress.

The Bill will not repeal any powers. Present legislation is considered adequate for small events and will continue to be used. The new powers contained in the Bill are for regulating major events, which will involve the closure of main routes and are likely to generate much traffic. More specific orders will, therefore, be required to cover surrounding streets ; that was the heart of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. It will not merely be a case of closing streets before, during or after an event. Obviously, I hope that the police will be able to open roads fairly quickly after an event.

As I said in an earlier intervention, certain roads in Kent and Sussex will have to be closed for several hours to allow cyclists to pass through. If those roads have to be closed for several hours, how long will roads in rural areas have to be closed--perhaps a large stretch of road, where the traffic cannot simply be stopped at both ends because of the many side roads ? That will take a long time. It takes several hours to close roads for the tour de France and to open them again afterwards.

Mr. Malone : Substantial costs will be incurred when major events of that type take place and there have to be closures of that magnitude. Might it not be sensible for the people who benefit economically from such events to be obliged to contribute towards their cost ? I know that there is likely to be a profiterole millionaire at the end of "le tour" and that sponsorship and merchandising contracts are involved. The new and complicated arrangements will cost money and those who benefit should contribute, so that that money does not have to come out of the public purse.

Mr. Banks : That is a valuable argument.

Town and county councils in the south of England will spend at least £500,000 for the two-day tour de France event in July, which is an awful lot of money. Let us not forget that the events will not be confined to the tour de France. As I said, the local authority spends money to promote some events in my constituency. It is important that local authorities in the south of England affected by the tour recognise the enormous economic benefits of special events, and their sheer attraction. The fact that local authorities want to promote them shows what they can do for the local economy. Those areas are also affected by tourism and, as each day passes, there are more and more tourists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is right to say that those who benefit should also contribute. However, although that is an important matter, I must make progress.

The Bill will insert section 16A in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to allow traffic authorities--usually the local authority--to restrict or prohibit traffic for a major

"sporting event, social event or entertainment",

but not for motor racing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East referred to, albeit obliquely. I think that another hon. Member mentioned the TT races in the Isle of Man. What is most important is that the powers will facilitate the holding of a "relevant event", will enable members of the public to watch and will reduce the disruption to traffic

Column 1207

that is likely to be caused. I am especially concerned about the latter, as road closures can cause widespread disruption in my constituency.

Section 16B allows an order under section 16A to be in force for only three days in one year, but the Secretary of State can extend that time by another three days. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham for mentioning that fact. I do not think that he would want major disruption for too long, and three days is a long time for roads to be closed.

As a result of the privatisation of the water companies, the necessary £85 million has finally been found--as it could not have been when North West Water was in the public sector--to build a new sewage treatment system in my constituency. The system will ensure that beaches pass European Community tests for bathing water standards. Ainsdale and Formby pass the tests, but Southport does not and Blackpool has some way to go. Major engineering work is required in a considerable part of my constituency and is already causing widespread disruption to road traffic. Some of the main streets in Southport have had to be closed and will continue to be closed for some time. Lord street is the Mecca for shoppers in the north-west of England and the closure will significantly affect the local economy. Although there has been a steady decline in the number of people out of work in my constituency during recent months, between 100 and 200 people are now out of work in Southport because of the nonsensical pay- and-display parking system that has been imposed on us by the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties. If one starts messing around with traffic regulations and does not properly consult--as my local authority did not consult before it imposed the system--one ends up getting into difficulties. That is why it is important that we ensure that there is adequate consultation before we start closing roads.

Mr. Peter Atkinson : As I said earlier, I sympathise with my hon. Friend over the imposition of Sefton borough council's new parking regulations. They have been a complete disaster. When the sand races take place in Southport, I believe that the Bill, if it passes into law, will be a considerable help. As I recall, the sand races also affect the promenade ; the shrimp fishermen therefore have enormous difficulty in crossing the promenade and getting down on to the sands to catch shrimps--Southport shrimps, of course, being famous. The Bill would enable the shrimp fishermen's needs and requirements to be properly taken into consideration.

Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend demonstrates considerable knowledge of my constituency and I am grateful to him for drawing attention to the difficulties of the shrimp industry in Southport.

The event to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has just referred is one example of many. I have mentioned the air show and I shall mention others before I have finished. Those events often take place on the coast road and the specific event to which my hon. Friend refers directly impinges on more than the promenade. If my hon. Friend recalls, the promenade is inland from the coast road and there is a large marine lake between the promenade and the coast road.

If one starts messing about with traffic regulations and does not adequately consult, one botches things up, as sometimes happens in my local authority, when the Liberal

Column 1208

Democrats and the Labour members of the council get together and do not listen to what the Conservatives are saying. The Labour party of course does not have any councillors in Southport, yet it will insist on making a mess of our traffic regulation. That is why, as my hon. Friend rightly mentions, we get into problems.

If the traffic builds up in an area along the coast road, it makes access difficult for people going about their lawful business, whether it be shrimpers or people who want simply to go for a walk, or to attend the event that my hon. Friend mentioned or any other similar event. Difficulties are caused and they need to be tackled. The Bill goes to the heart of that problem.

I referred some moments ago to section 16A. I shall now discuss section 16C. Section 16C will allow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make regulations concerning those powers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic will give some more detail, when he replies to the debate, of what the regulations will contain, and say whether he might publish the regulations, if he can, at an appropriate stage, for consultation. The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) Yes.

Mr. Banks : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can hear him answering me positively in that respect.

Consultation and local accountability are the keys to the Bill and I hope that the procedure that will be set out will be used by the traffic authorities--usually the local authorities, as I have mentioned--when making an order. I also hope that the traffic authorities will try to include a specific period of notice prior to the event during which consultation must take place. It might be eight or 12 weeks--I would not want to set a hard and fast number of weeks--prior to the making of an order, in which consultation can take place. However, it is important, as we proceed, that local authorities consider representations.

I know that most, if not all, local authorities, would want to consult, although, as I mentioned in answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham a moment ago, I should have thought that most local authorities would want to consult before they started changing a system of traffic regulation or imposing car parking charges ; but, apparently, the Labour and Liberal Democrat members of Sefton borough council wanted to impose those regulations on my constituency last year. Frankly, the local economy of the town has not recovered yet.

Perhaps after May, when--contrary to what some Opposition Members might think--there are some Conservative gains in Southport at the forthcoming local elections, the scheme will be abandoned. Councillor Leslie Byrom, the leader of the Conservative group on the council, has said that if the Conservatives once again control the council they will scrap that scheme.

Mr. Butler : I have a worry, and I would appreciate my hon. Friend's comments. He has spoken about a number of events and activities that take place in what he loosely terms "the resort of Southport", and he refers to the ways in which they can be affected by the Bill.

The traffic authority under the Bill has to be satisfied that the traffic should be restricted or prohibited, but that can arise only if the relevant event is any sporting event, social event or entertainment that is held on a road. In other words, that does not permit traffic control regulation to be

Column 1209

discarded or changed for an event held adjacent to, near to, or somewhere near a road, but only if the event is actually held on a road.

I am not a shrimper, but I find it hard to believe that they thrive in puddles, even on roads badly maintained by Sefton, in view of its political climate ; nor can I believe that the sand dune racing to which I referred earlier takes place on roads, even after storms. I wonder whether my hon. Friend would tell us whether any of the events to which he refers--the flower show, for example--are held on a road.

Mr. Banks : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Before I answer his question, I must take issue with his suggestion that there is anything wrong in describing my constituency as a resort. "Loosely" was the term that my hon. Friend used. It is not a question of loosely. My constituency is a delightful Victorian seaside resort. It is a great honour to represent it in this place. I know that some of my colleagues further up the coast in Blackpool think that Blackpool is rather good. It may well be the premier resort to them, but Southport has attractions of its own. I would not

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is all very interesting. I know Southport and Blackpool very well so the hon. Gentleman has no reason whatsoever to continue plying the virtues of both of those two towns. Will he stick rigidly to the Bill?

Mr. Banks : I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could see you moving in your seat. Indeed, I was just about to say that, before I trespassed any further on your goodwill, I would return to the particular and specific points with which I have been dealing and which directly relate to the Bill.

Before I go further, I should answer the pertinent argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. The Bill will relate to special events. That is why the term "special events" is in its title. It is not a question whether the event takes place only on the main road or off the road. The Bill seeks to deal with traffic regulations that need to be made for a short period to prevent vehicular access along a particular route.

However, my hon. Friend's argument is important, because, even though an event may not necessarily take place on a given stretch of road, with major events such as the tour de France, road closures often have to take place to effect what is necessary for that event to occur.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Bill covers many events such as air shows. For heaven's sake, Harrier jump jets do not come down on the marine road in Southport, but it is necessary to consider where visitors who wish to observe the event should park. Public safety is of paramount importance in considering the Bill. I mentioned earlier that 350,000 people came to my town to see the air show. At such an event, people concentrate not on how much traffic may go from A to B but on what is happening in the skies. That is yet another reason why it is important to regularise those powers and ensure that the police do not stamp around in the dark. It is, therefore, appropriate to seek to legislate to allow road closures to take place.

I have, rather unwillingly, been diverted from my speech in answering my hon. Friends' specific questions, although some of them have been directly related to the

Column 1210

Bill. Section 16C is particularly important. I shall not press my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham too hard today, but will he try to ensure that the Bill includes an appropriate period for planning and consultation, perhaps eight to 12 weeks ? Those who will participate in, observe or be affected by an event should have an opportunity to have a say during an appropriate period of consultation which roads will be closed or cease to be one-way.

The Bill is, I think, intended to make it easier to take the necessary steps to enable special events to take place. Nevertheless, those powers should be used only in exceptional circumstances. That issue goes to the heart of my concern, given that I represent a seaside resort. Many of my hon. Friends have the same concern. If roads are closed, trade and business will be affected, so I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham to assure us that those powers will be used only in exceptional circumstances.

One can almost set one's calendar by some events in the tourist industry. For example, the Chelsea flower show takes place on a particular weekend and we know well in advance when that will be. Given the average speed of traffic in London, which drops yearly, it is difficult to move about at the best of times. As there are no tube stations near the Chelsea flower show, the only means of public transport is the bus. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many gentlemen and ladies who regularly attend the event, as well as casual visitors, often try to go by car and must fight to find an available parking meter. If everybody tried to park as close to the Chelsea flower show as he or she would like, there would be chaos in and around the Royal hospital. That is just another example of where chaos can ensue.

Mr. Peter Atkinson : May I reassure my hon. Friend that the Bill will be used sparingly, but will have considerable advantage in certain difficult situations ? He may not know Lewes, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) will know of the Lewes bonfire. It is a major celebration which has been growing in size in recent years, to the point where the police are considering stopping the whole event because of the danger of managing the traffic and crowds. If the Bill is passed, that event could continue because it would enable the police to divert the traffic and manage the crowds properly. But those are exceptional circumstances, whereas the majority of the events in Southport will continue to be dealt with under existing regulations.

Mr. Banks : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reassurance. Those are important points.

I do not wish to detain the House for too long. Although I am only a tiny fraction of the way through the points that I had hoped to make, I realise that the House wants to make progress and other hon. Friends wish to speak, so I shall shortly draw my remarks to a close. In so doing, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that I welcome the Bill, which provides an enormous boost to tourism and the local economy. I hope that it commands the total support of local authorities and the police, as well as local traders who will be directly affected.

It would be misleading to suggest that the tour de France will be the only event to gain from the Bill. It will not. My constituency will benefit considerably and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and the

Column 1211

Minister will take on board what I hope have been my pertinent points. I have no hesitation in congratulating my hon. Friend and wishing the Bill best speed.

11.56 am

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East) : This is my first attendance on a Friday and I have been enlivened by the quality and brevity of interventions and speeches made by my hon. Friends. I welcome this pernicious little Bill, which is clearly drafted along lines that demonstrate a belief in original sin because it shows that it is capable of redemption. In due course, I shall table one or two appropriate, helpful and modest amendments to assist in that redemption. Like many Bills nowadays, it is almost enabling in that, until we see the regulations, we shall not know how effective or otherwise it may be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) declared a number of constituency interests before, no doubt, going off to find the Cafe Monet. I, too, have a number of constituency interests connected with the Bill-- not with the tour en Angleterre because those taking part in it cannot get as far as Milton Keynes by bicycle--but with regard to cycling in general.

Mr. Fabricant : My hon. Friend, who has attended the whole debate assiduously, will know that earlier we discussed how small flocks of sheep, which are covered by the Bill, will be restricted in crossing the road. As the hon. Member representing Milton Keynes, does he know whether the concrete cows will suffer from the same difficulty ?

Mr. Butler : I am unique among Members of this House in that I always take my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) seriously. However, that stand is challenged this morning. I shall simply pass on, except to say that the politics of envy from those who do not represent constituencies with decent,

environmentally-friendly cows is sad to behold.

The only connection with cows that we would claim is the milk race. Although it is not assisted by those cows, it has often come through the centre of Milton Keynes swiftly and successfully because the number of roundabouts and the absence of traffic lights mean that we never have traffic jams. So I am extremely sorry that the Milk Marketing Board--"Milk Co" or "Milk Crate", whatever it is now to be called--has decided not to continue to sponsor that event. The other Milton Keynes interest is a general interest in cycling. I am sure that all of us here were impressed by the figures that were given earlier. If I remember correctly, there are about 15 million bicycles in Britain, of which 1 million are used every day. One can only contemplate whether it is the same million or a different million each day. Bicycles are a little like Bullworkers and exercise machines. They are purchased to be kept rather than to be used. I own a bicycle. Part of my election material featured me and the whole family on a number of bicycles--the same number as there are members of the family. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) referred to drop- handlebar racing machines and sit-up-and-beg bicycles. I have what those with an interest in machinery call a safety bicycle, off which I have fallen on several occasions.

Column 1212

Originally, cycle racing took place on what were known as ordinary bicycles. They are now known in the quaint old English custom as penny-farthings. They followed the hobby horse, which was a bicycle without chain or other means of propulsion. I am not aware of what type of bicycle is used in the tour en Angleterre. I have always hankered after a Dursley-Pederson bicycle. You may have shared that desire in your not-so-distant youth, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will recall, it is the type of bicycle that has the saddle mounted on a cord or chain slung between the front and the rear on the top, on which one sits in great comfort. One cannot sit in great comfort on my safety bicycle, which appears to have a saddle designed by Wilkinson Sword.

In addition to owning bicycles, I occasionally use a bicycle. Sometimes I use it to stand on to reach a high shelf in the garage, but occasionally I go out on a bicycle for exercise and fun. That brings me on to Milton Keynes's main claim to fame connected with bicycles. We have what are called the red ways. That is not a political comment, before my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) leaps to his feet.

Milton Keynes has more cycle paths and bridleways than any town or city in the kingdom can boast. It is possible, and frequently done, to get from one side of Milton Keynes to the other on the red way without having to cross a public highway. We do not have to leap across. We do not have to avoid flocks of sheep, hooligan shrimpers or any of the other obstacles that my hon. Friends seem to suffer in their resorts. We can cycle from one side of the city to the other in comfort--depending on the saddle--in safety and healthily.

Milton Keynes has always been proud of its involvement with cycling and its encouragement of bicycles. It is not the sort of encouragement that we see in Cambridge, where bicycles are given away free by the Labour city council, painted in a particularly garish colour, as one might expect from that institution.

Mr. Quentin Davies : My hon. Friend has touched on what I hope that he will agree is an important part of the Bill--the power that will be given to local councils. Unfortunately, some councils are Labour controlled. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no abuse of local authority power of which the Labour party is not capable ? We have had systematic corruption, nepotism, job-rigging in Monklands and

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. What has corruption in Monklands or anywhere else to do with the Bill ? I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman did not reply to that intervention.

Mr. Davies : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise if I have misread the Bill. As I see it, it places considerable responsibility on local authorities, defined in the Bill as traffic authorities, to decide when roads should be closed for the purpose of an event within the meaning of the Bill. That means that crucial consideration

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Bill does not refer to the constitution of local authorities.

Mr. Butler : Turning from Milton Keynes's proud boast

Mr. Clappison : Will my hon. Friend give way on the point about local authorities exercising their power ?

Column 1213

Mr. Butler : Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to conclude my proud boast. I remind the House again--one has to remind again because otherwise it is not a reminder--that Milton Keynes has more cycle paths than any other city or town. If only, as they say in the slogan, all towns were like Milton Keynes.

Mr. Clappison : My hon. Friend has touched on an important point which relates to the scheme of the Bill and the policy with regard to decisions by local authorities. As my hon. Friend will know, much of the Bill is based on the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The Bill follows closely the scheme of that Act. Unlike the Act, which is fairly clear about the tests that local authorities must apply in deciding whether roads are to be closed, the Bill does not set out any test. Can my hon. Friend assist me by giving some thoughts about consistency between decisions taken by different local authorities about what constitutes a special event and about when a road should be closed for such an event ? That is an important point, which needs some explanation.

Mr. Butler : It is traditional to say that I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I am not sure that I am grateful on this occasion. I am not answering for the Bill. I am merely here to welcome this pernicious little thing.

The test is that the traffic authority has to be satisfied. My hon. Friend is a lawyer. Indeed, he is more than a lawyer. He is a barrister. Therefore, he will know the test that is to be discharged on being satisfied. Whether consultation is required has already been debated. I share the concern that has been expressed that one should not get into anything analogous to a public inquiry on each occasion on which the French want to come over with bicycles.

Mr. Quentin Davies : As my hon. Friend says, the traffic authority has to be satisfied in accordance with the Bill. Does he agree that some of the more irresponsible Labour authorities will be satisfied that a purely political event should displace the normal traffic from the roads ? Will not we have all sorts of exotic forms of humanity--socialist revolutionaries, militants, militant homosexuals

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is testing my patience and overcooking the argument altogether. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor did not answer that intervention.

Mr. Butler : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Matthew Banks : I have the advantage that, unlike my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler), I am not a lawyer. Surely my hon. Friend must be worried that there could be some inconsistency of approach from one local authority to another.

Mr. Butler : Yes, of course one is concerned about inconsistency between local authorities. My hon. Friends will have to concede that that is not such a great concern to me because I have the great fortune not only to represent but to live in my constituency, which happens to be within the county of Buckinghamshire, which remains uniquely under Conservative control. Therefore, the traffic authority for my home village and constituency would be a Conservative authority.

Column 1214

Inconsistency is not the monopoly of the Opposition parties. It is possible to have inconsistency between decisions made by Conservative councils or between views held within them. However, if I may answer the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), despite your suggestion to the contrary, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the relevant event has to be--according to the new section 16A(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, with which I am sure that hon. Members will be familiar--any sporting event, social event or entertainment.

Although hon. Members may sometimes find political activity entertaining, it is doubtful whether many of our citizens would agree with us. It is doubtful whether the description of an event as "entertainment" could be used to permit a political rally of the sort that hon. Members are worried about. Whether a political event can ever be a social event is debatable, as we all know from our experience. It certainly cannot be described as a sporting event. So the particular anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is outwith the Bill.

Next Section

  Home Page