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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Darling: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then press on, if I may, as we seem to be in something of a traffic jam at the moment.

Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. One of the problems when an accident takes place and a fatality occurs is that the family of the deceased person will rightly want to know that every course of inquiry has been pursued. Will he give an assurance that that process is still in the proper control of the police officers investigating the accident and that nothing will be done to prevent them from carrying out necessary inquiries? At the time of an accident, inquiries may not automatically show that a major incident or crime has occurred, as that can be established only by proper investigation. Will he give that assurance today?

Mr. Darling: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are not proposing anything that would curtail the powers and duties of the police to investigate an accident, report any criminal activity that they feel has occurred and otherwise ensure that everything else is attended to in the way that he described. What we are concerned about is ensuring that, once the police have completed their duty as quickly as possible, any vehicles involved are removed so that the traffic can flow as quickly as possible.

The first phase of what we propose will be introduced on the M42 in the west midlands later this year, with powers—if the House grants them—enabling traffic officers increasingly to take on the duties that I have described. Part 1 allows the traffic officer service, which will be uniformed, to take over the duties that I have set out so as to help keep traffic moving and speed up response times to incidents. Traffic officers will be able to deal with all the problems that we have discussed so that they can get the traffic moving as soon as possible.

I should like to deal now with one point that I dare say will arise later in the debate. In relation to the removal of vehicles, the Royal Automobile Club and others have asked whether it is the Government's intention to usurp their functions; the answer is no, it is not. People who are members of the RAC, the Automobile Association and other organisations join them partly so that they can be taken off the motorway if they need assistance. We have no problem with that, but we are concerned that several hours should not elapse between an accident occurring and the removal of a vehicle simply because nobody is

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on hand to remove it. I believe that the measure will help to improve things and, as I said, the first phase will be introduced in the west midlands later this year.

Clause 6 sets out specific powers enabling traffic officers to stop and direct traffic similar to those used by the police, so they will be able to divert traffic away from problems and manage traffic flow. The police will remain responsible for investigating serious accidents and other incidents, as we have described, but the two organisations will be working together. The new traffic officer service will also enable us to manage the motorway network better, making better use of road space, because the officers will be on hand quickly to deal with any source of delay, which, it is to be hoped, will avoid delay for road users.

We are putting in place measures to transform the way in which traffic is managed on the trunk road network, making journeys safer and more reliable, but more effective management of the local road network is also essential. It is worth bearing in mind that more than half the journeys made in this country are local trips of less than five miles. Part 2 provides for more effective management of local road networks. We are already giving councils more money to tackle the backlog in investment and maintenance on roads by providing some £30 billion over 10 years; indeed, the local transport plan settlement that was announced last December gave local authorities £1.6 billion. But money is only part of the solution. We also need a change in culture and approach to ensure that the road network locally is managed in the interests of road users.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Part 2 gives central Government the power to replace traffic authorities and give them general directions. How can my right hon. Friend assure the House that that is not a centralising measure, given that the regulatory impact assessment gives no figures for costs or benefits? I would expect the Government to show the House that the Bill will have a genuine, measurable benefit.

Mr. Darling: The main thrust of this part of the Bill is the requirement on local authorities to appoint traffic managers. That is not a centralising measure: the best people to manage a local road network are those who know it and can see what happens from day to day. The Bill is intended to deal with a situation that arises in every town and city from time to time: roadworks that cause great congestion because the knock-on effects of digging up or blocking off a road are not properly thought through. Roadworks start, the contractors go away, and nothing happens; or the roadworks are not properly laid out. That can lead to many difficulties, sometimes to chaos and gridlock. Hon. Members will be familiar with what happened in London at the end of 2002, when large areas of the city ground to a halt because of the volume of roadworks, the consequences of which had not been fully thought out.

Central Government are not very good at sorting such problems out—it can be done only by local authorities. We want them to appoint a traffic manager with the statutory duty set out in clause 16 and subsequent clauses and then to ensure that that person has the responsibility of planning matters so that traffic

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is kept moving. I should have thought that most people would agree that it makes sense to change the focus and culture of councils to ensure that they concentrate on getting traffic moving. Unfortunately, roadworks are a fact of life, but we can manage them much better. The Bill is not centralising; it tells councils that they have a duty to get on with it, because large numbers of them could do better.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): I speak as a cyclist, as well as an occasional motorist. Will my right hon. Friend consider additional clauses to give the new traffic managers powers to move on people who are inappropriately parked? That not only causes congestion for motorists but can create huge dangers for cyclists—for example, if someone is parked across a cycle way.

Mr. Darling: The duty to deal with people who park in the wrong place lies with traffic wardens or, in some cases, policemen. The job of the traffic manager, who is an official of the council—not necessarily a new person, but someone specially designated—is to ensure that the council organises matters so as to give priority to keeping traffic moving. Too often, that does not happen. I agree that many other things need to be done and that councils should pay attention to the way in which people park, which can cause great difficulty not only to cyclists but to pedestrians and others.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): We support the Bill because it is a devolutionary measure. The National Assembly, with local authorities, will decide what happens in Wales. However, does the Secretary of State share the concern of many people that the traffic management duty in clause 16 may be too narrowly focused in terms of taking into account wider community concerns? Two of the purposes of traffic management should be safety on the roads and, ultimately, wherever possible, traffic reduction that integrates with other schemes such as increased cycle access or pedestrianisation. Would not the Bill be improved if it addressed those wider sustainable developments, as well as safety issues?

Mr. Darling: Strangely enough, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to make sure that the wider implications are taken into account, but I do not agree that we should extend the duties of the traffic manager. If we add more and more duties and take more and more matters into account, the whole exercise becomes pointless. We are making sure that someone has a statutory duty to do everything possible to keep traffic moving. That is new and provides a single point of accountability and responsibility. In time, it will change the culture and approach of councils. Unfortunately, there are councils that have not paid enough attention to that, and it is one of the main causes of congestion in our streets.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): Like many others, I broadly welcome the Bill, but can the Secretary of State explain the criteria for intervention that would allow him, for example, to replace the Mayor of London as the person looking

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after London transport, or to replace the traffic manager in any London borough so that they would not have to heed what the Mayor of London was doing? The Government took powers to intervene in local education authorities and appointed private contractors in Southwark. They were hopeless and withdrew because they were not making enough money, and the whole thing fell apart. Have we learned the lessons of that?

Mr. Darling: I cannot imagine why the hon. Gentleman should be worried about the Bill taking powers away from the Mayor of London. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends unkindly remark that that is unlikely to trouble him in future, either. I am glad that he mentioned London, because the situation there is slightly different. Not only is there Transport for London, but there are 33 boroughs. He will have seen that there are powers in the Bill to ensure greater co-ordination across the boroughs without work in one borough disrupting transport for a large chunk of London.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, if the local authority is judged to be failing, there are powers that can be used to order the appointment of a traffic director. That is appropriate if the local authority refuses to do anything about the matter. In London there has been a history of people not working as closely as they should. Interestingly, the evidence so far is that TfL, the police and the boroughs have been working a lot more closely over the past few months. One example is the work done to the Hammersmith flyover last August. All the usual predictions of chaos and confusion were made but, if I remember rightly, work was completed early and the project was well managed.

There are other examples, too. Towards the end of 2002, once people began to focus on the problems being caused by the work at Vauxhall cross, Trafalgar square, round Westminster and so on, it was amazing how the flow of traffic could be improved. The powers in the Bill allow that to happen. Yes, there are reserve powers that would allow us to step in if that was thought necessary.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's broad welcome. It is unfortunate that most of the Conservative party have taken a slightly different view. One wonders what their solution to the problems might be. Since the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has been in charge of both transport and the environment, the only thing that is clear is that she does not have a policy on anything. Perhaps we will find out more this afternoon.

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