First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 19 November 2002
[MR. ALAN HURST in the Chair]
Draft Functions of Traffic Wardens (Amendment) Order 2002
The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Functions of Traffic Wardens (Amendment) Order 2002.
The draft order has been laid in consequence of section 44 of the Police Reform Act 2002. Its approval is an important part of taking forward our reform agenda to ensure that the police can focus efficiently and effectively on their core functions.
Section 44 of the Act removes the existing restrictions on the power of traffic wardens to stop vehicles. The provision relates solely to traffic wardens employed by police authorities—not, for example, local authority parking wardens. Together with the Act's provisions for community support officers and accredited community safety officers, it will come into effect on 2 December. Although the Act enables CSOs and ACSOs to perform certain functions, traffic wardens can exercise only functions prescribed by the Secretary of State in a functions of traffic wardens order. The draft order amends the Functions of Traffic Wardens Order 1970, as amended, to enable them, from 2 December, to use their extended powers for two specified purposes.
Article 2 of the draft order provides that, for these purposes, references to a constable in sections 67(3) and 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 include references to a traffic warden. Those sections deal with the power to stop vehicles specifically for testing purposes and the general power to stop vehicles. Currently, traffic wardens' powers to stop vehicles are limited strictly to the regulation of traffic. Article 3(2) prescribes two functions for which traffic wardens can use the powers. Under the Police Reform Act 2002, CSOs and ACSOs—who may be, for example, local authority employees—will also be able to fulfil those functions.
The two functions are, first, that traffic wardens will be able to stop vehicles for roadworthiness and emissions tests under the provisions of section 67(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988; and, secondly, that traffic wardens will be able to escort abnormal loads authorised by the Secretary of State under section 44(1)(d) of the 1988 Act. At present they cannot, because they do not have the general power to stop other vehicles that might be required. Only a constable in uniform can stop vehicles for the conduct of tests. The police are not always in a position to assist in that way, and we recognise that police involvement in such checks may not be seen as the most effective use of police resources. The measure will help to reduce demands on the police and benefit the vehicle
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inspectorate and local authorities by enabling them to have more reliable service provision.
The movement of abnormal loads is controlled by orders made under section 44 of the 1988 Act. Hauliers moving abnormal loads must notify each force through which they pass, and the force then decides whether an escort is necessary—although there are no statutory obligations. The police have been pressing to be relieved of that non-core function. The Association of Chief Police Officers issued new guidance last year to reduce their involvement, and it has been reduced by more than 20 per cent. with no reported problems. In some cases, however, the exercise of police powers to direct and stop traffic is needed. For example, it may be necessary to instruct other vehicles to stop or to move aside while a load passes, or to instruct a load to go the wrong way round a roundabout.
Traffic wardens already have the power to direct traffic; enabling them to stop vehicles, too, will allow them to undertake escorting duties or to work in teams to facilitate the movement of abnormal loads that would otherwise require an escort. That will help to reduce police involvement in escorting abnormal loads. It will also provide a more guaranteed service for hauliers, who have to wait until each force through which they pass is able to provide an escort.
Moreover, as I said, the Police Reform Act will make it possible for CSOs and ACSOs to have a limited power to stop and direct traffic for escorting purposes. It will be for individual chief police officers to decide whom to appoint as CSOs and whom to accredit and for what purposes to use them. I should add that the Department for Transport and ACPO are working with the haulage industry on the best arrangements for the management of abnormal loads on the roads, including the possibility of self-escorting. Any new arrangements will take full account of training needs, health and safety issues and good operational practice in the context of issues such as relations with other agencies and road users.
The final part of the draft order removes the existing prohibition on traffic wardens directing traffic from a moving vehicle, which is no longer appropriate if traffic wardens are to be used as escorts. The draft order increases the number of roles in which traffic wardens might be used. That supports our other measures, such as the introduction of CSOs and accredited community safety officers, which enables chief police officers to reduce the burden on their officers of work unrelated to crime and public order. Police officers are then free to attend to their core functions, which facilitates the enforcement of other legislation, promotes road safety and provides a better service to the public. Such improvements are an essential part of our police reform programme and I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and I apologise if I caused him a moment's qualm that I would spoil his opportunity to give it. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is here. I shall leave others to judge
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whether he would have made constructive comments at this point.
We have no challenge to make on matters of principle, but I should like to have some details clarified. The first is the legality of, or necessity for, the order. A few months ago—it seems like mere days—we enacted a piece of primary legislation, the Police Reform Act 2002, yet we are now amending old secondary legislation. It seems odd that that primary legislation did not automatically supersede the secondary legislation of over 20 years ago. Can the Minister explain that?
My second point concerns[Interruption]. There is a noise that sounds like Star Wars. I am concerned about the similarity between the powers being given to traffic wardens and those given to community support officers. The Minister will be aware, as will the Committee, that when we debated clause 44 of the Police Reform Bill, we did not oppose that principle[Interruption]. I have been distracted and heckled on many occasions, but never by what sounds like the theme music for Doctor Who. Some might read a moral into that, which I would not dream of doing.
My point concerns the powers that go beyond, to use the Minister's words, ''roadworthiness and emissions tests''. Paragraph 11 to schedule 4 of the Act concerns the power of community support officers to stop a vehicle for testing, and paragraph 12 concerns their power to control traffic for the purpose of escorting a load.
I particularly want to discuss paragraph 13, which is about the carrying out of road checks. I am aware that all the powers are at the discretion of the chief constable. Nevertheless, the Act empowers the chief constable to allocate to the community support officer the power to stop a vehicle for the carrying out of a road check. The very fact that that is phrased differently from paragraph 11, which concerns the power to stop a vehicle for testing, implies that there is a significant difference between a road check and a test. It is not clear to me whether we are extending the power of the road check to traffic wardens as well, or whether we are prolonging the situation whereby there is a distinction between the powers of a CSO and those of a traffic warden. Although I have been advised that the order does extend that power, I must admit that I cannot see where in the order that happens. I hope that the Minister can respond to that.
On the issue of the vehicles, if traffic wardens will now be able to escort oversize vehicles, they will obviously require vehicles themselves. What can the Minister say about the resource implications of that? Does he intend to issue any guidance about those vehicles and their distinctive features? At present, if traffic police are escorting a vehicle, it is abundantly clear to all and sundry that that is the case. I should be interested to hear what the Minister foresees will happen when traffic wardens escort a vehicle. Will they use traffic police vehicles, with all the appropriate logos? If so, some people, including me, would question whether that is wise. Alternatively, will they use a vehicle that is in some other way distinguished as a traffic wardens' vehicle?
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Finally, I turn to the issue of training, to which, I grant, the Minister made reference. I am concerned about the amount of training that will be given to traffic wardens. The Minister will recall the long debates about the training to be given to community support officers. As I understand the matter, the amount of training, if any, that is given to traffic wardens is entirely at the discretion of every chief constable. I say ''if any'', because I was concerned when a very wise source—the House of Commons Library—brought to my attention the fact that, in answer to the question of what qualities traffic wardens need, the Metropolitan police civil staff recruitment website states:
''Traffic wardens must be honest and observant and, working alone most of the time, they must be able to work unsupervised. The general public are often hostile towards us and sometimes violent, so the ability to deal with this and not to take things personally is a great advantage. Self-confidence and good communication skills are also helpful.''
I am sure that we would all agree with that.
The website then moves on to the question of whether there are any formal entry requirements. The answer is given in the first four words: ''In most areas, no''. That is slightly worrying. Finally, there is the question, ''Any training?'' For the record, I shall read the answer, as I think that it is important:
''Mostly it is on the job from police officers or experienced colleagues. In the major cities, traffic wardens attend a course at their local police-training centre, which includes traffic regulations and how to give evidence.'
That answer is from the Metropolitan police—I have not looked at all the individual constabularies. However, the level of training seems vague.
We are to give traffic wardens increased powers to stop vehicles, which will interfere with the flow of traffic. Given that their reasons for doing so will not be to do with the flow of traffic, but for some other reason to do with the vehicle or how it is being driven, I think that we need further assurance about the training that traffic wardens will be given. That is especially so, given the debates that some of us attended on the issue of training for community support offices, in which I recall a general agreement that they would receive at least three weeks' off-the-job training, which is not specified for traffic wardens.
In responding to the Minister, I have no issues of principle but I do have concerns about the detail. I hope that the Minister can answer my concerns about the legal necessity for the order, the training, the vehicles, and the issue of road checks versus road tests.