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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I strongly welcome the requirement on local authorities to secure the expeditious movement of traffic. That is an extremely good idea. I understand how it applies to temporary street works and obstacles, but does it also apply to permanent obstacles imposed by local authorities? Would the traffic manager be required to review the phasing of traffic lights and junction design, which are often the main obstacles to the flow of traffic? That would make me welcome the Bill even more.
Mr. Speaker has selected the reasoned amendment for debate, and I would like to say a word about that before I turn to the third part of the Bill, which relates to street works and permit schemes. The amendment states:
Most of us are aware that roadworks are an increasing source of disruption for road users. In 1985, for example, utility company street works caused about £35 million worth of disruption to road users. It is thought that that figure had risen to more than £2.5 billion by 1992, and I believe that the most recent estimate, which is still being evaluated, will show a further increase. The majority of people who have commented on the Bill have saidand I am in no doubtthat street works are a cause of major concern. We need to recognise that, move on and introduce a new system for regulating them.
In 1991, which was the last time that the Government looked into these issues, there were far fewer utilities digging up roads and providing services. There is now an increasing number of them, which is something that we want to encourage. The utilities and providers of services are an essential part of this country, but we need to provide a far better system for regulating the way in which roads are dug up and the number of times that that can happen. Part 3 will enable us to do just that.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): On that point, does the Secretary of State recognise the public interest that is served by the continuing development of telecommunications networks, as exemplified by the Government's own broadband Britain strategy? Will he assure the House that any regulations introduced under this part of the Bill will not add unnecessary burdens or costs to that essential part of the UK economy?
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right that that is an essential part of the United Kingdom economy and we want to encourage it. However, it should be possible for us better to organise the way in which cables are put under ground and the number of times that a road needs to be dug up during a particular period.
The permit system that we propose is modelled on one in use in New York, where permits specify when work can be carried out. For example, it can be specified that some work can be done only in the evening when it would cause less disruption, rather than during the rush hour, depending on what is being done and where. Provision can also be made there to ensure that the time taken to do the work is divided up so that roads are not blocked for weeks on end without anything actually happening. It can also be a requirement that only one
I am sure that the utilities, local authorities and the traffic manager who will have to regulate these things will be able to put in place a system that is fair to the people who put in the services, to those who want to use them and to road users who often face a great deal of disruption. In most cases, the work could be better organised than it is at present, and the permit system is designed to achieve that. Our intention is not to prevent such work from being carried outfar from it. It is to ensure that it is done more efficiently and better co-ordinated.
The Bill includes a number of other measures. It will, for example, enable local authorities to direct utilities to resurface the full width of a road if it is so badly damaged that that is justified. Part 6 will extend the scope for local authorities to take over the enforcement of certain traffic offences from the police. I would like to say a word about that, as it has been the subject of some comment in the press and other media. Indeed, the hon. Member for Ashford has been quite active on this issue over the weekend. The Bill proposes, in certain cases, to transfer to the local authority the enforcement power in relation to parking offences or offences such as driving in a bus lane or waiting on a box junction. I cannot see anything philosophically wrong with that. The first time that such a transfer happened was in 1991, when powers relating to the enforcement of parking penalties were transferred to local authorities.
When I was listening to the hon. Member for Ashford on the "Today" programme shortly before I went on, it occurred to me that in 1991 someone other than us must have been in government and that someone must have thought this a jolly good idea. I asked someone to peruse the Conservative central office website, as one does, and we happened on the entry for the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who is in the Chamber. Under the heading, "Christopher's Experience", apart from finding out that Christopher was Member of Parliament for Southampton, Itchen from 1983 until, sadly, just 1992, when circumstances intervened, we discover that between 1990 and 1992, which is the material time, he was Minister for Roads and Traffic.
As one does, I then turned to Hansard for 5 February 1991, because I was anxious to find out why the Conservative Government thought it might be a jolly good idea to transfer enforcement powers from the police to local authorities. The hon. Gentleman said
Curiosity considerably aroused because of the vehemence of the attack levelled against us, I looked to see what else the Conservative party is producing. What better could I find than a policy statement from Steven Norris, whom we understand is to be the Conservative party candidate in the mayoral elections? It is very interesting. This, we must assume, is Conservative party
When the police face so many other pressures and have so many other priorities, surely it makes sense that things such as keeping bus lanes clear and trying to dissuade people from going through an amber light, stopping in the middle of a box junction or stopping traffic moving could be left to those who are responsible to a local authority. I would have thought that quite reasonable. Having looked at what the Conservatives did and having listened to what the hon. Member for Ashford has said, he is guilty of indulging in a little humbug over the past few days.
For the sake of completeness, my researches revealed a further aspect to which we shall no doubt return, although perhaps not today. The hon. Member for Christchurch has recently been vocal on the subject of speed cameras, as have others. I was therefore intrigued to find that section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 1991, for which he was responsible, made speed cameras possible. We have in the Chamber the father of the speed camera, sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.