|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): The Bill has much to commend it, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to emphasise road safety. As someone who cycles regularly, including this morning at 7.15, I know that it is a major problem for cyclists when a road surface has deteriorated and a trench has been put along it. It is frustrating to know that nobody will do anything about that under current legislation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill at least offers the possibility that where the standard of work has deteriorated, something will be done about it by the local authority, either by carrying out the work itself or by drawing the money back from the original undertaker?
John Thurso: As an occasional cyclist, I concur with the hon. Gentleman that holes in the road and troughs that have been badly filled are a nuisance. The point that I am addressing is not that the road should be resurfaced, but the way in which the Bill sets out to charge utilities or others that have dug up the road in the past, rather than at the time. In terms of balance sheet accounting, the utility will have to try to guesstimate the liability it may be asked to pay in the future, and carry that through its balance sheet year. That is an immensely complicated way of dealing with charging for the problem.
I am addressing not the need to resurface, but the manner in which authorities may retrospectively charge, and the fact that there is no straightforward fee. There is a provision in the Bill that would allow the utility to buy its way out by making an upfront payment. My suspicion is that that may well be the option that the utility chooses, in order to have a clean balance sheet at the year-end. That will then become the norm and it will become revenue-raising in excess of what is required, rather than raising the revenue necessary to resurface the road.
Mr. Drew: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Is not the problem that too often the answer is to backfillto put a trench inrather than to resurface the road? That is a false economy. We all accept that those trenches will result in the road quality deteriorating much more quickly than if it had been resurfaced. I hope the Bill will make resurfacing the first response, not the last one.
John Thurso: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but I do not believe it is correct that installing a trench may later result in the utility incurring a cost that is unquantified and that it does not know about for some time into the future. I am
I understand that approximately half of all roadworks are attributable to utility companies, but the other half are attributable to road authorities. Would it not be more appropriate that there should be similar policing of road authorities as is proposed for the utility companies? It seems rather unfair that the entire burden should be imposed on the utility companies, and not on all the others that may be digging up the road.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) pointed out, IT companies need a different type of access to roads from that required by traditional utilities. I hope the Government will consider those genuine differences and make sure that they are provided for as the Bill goes along.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): My hon. Friend touches on a sore subject as far as Cornwall is concerned. IT contractors were allowed, one after another, as the Minister knows, to dig up major roads, with no attempt at co-ordination or liaison between them. They have all admitted to me and to other hon. Members that had the Government of the day persuaded them to do so, they would all have taken the same trench and the same channelling.
Broadly, the provisions in part 5 for better strategic roads in London are extremely sensible. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is attempting to catch Madam Deputy Speaker's eye, so I shall leave it to him to comment on that, for whatever reason he may have for doing that. The one point that I will make is that for London particularly, traffic directors make no sense whatever.
In part 6, there are some sensible provisions regarding the change to civil penalties, but one extremely worrying concept, which has already been raisedthe requirement on traffic wardens and others to police moving offences, especially in respect of box junction offences. I have no problem with the use of cameras to police box junctions, bus lanes and so on. At least the camera provides pretty clear and incontrovertible evidence that can be examined and challenged. Those are important offences and, as we all know from driving around in London, unclogging box junctions will make a tremendous difference. However, to ask one single traffic warden to make a snap judgment, possibly, on what may be a borderline infringement, is surely a recipe for disaster. It does nothing for congestion, motorists, pedestrians or traffic wardens, and in all probability it will prove unworkable. I hope very much that the Government will look again at that idea.
As I said at the beginning, there is much that the Bill seeks to achieve that is laudable, hence our support on Second Reading. Equally, there is much in the detail, some of which I have outlined, that not only can be criticised, but that requires careful scrutiny. I hope the Government will listen to the constructive suggestions
Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Lab): May I say how pleased I am to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whose experience in the House and whose knowledge as Chairman of the Transport Committee were so evident in her speech? Were it not for the fact that debates in this place are planned according to time, I would be satisfied that all the relevant questions had been covered, at least in part, in her speech.
In principle, there is much to be welcomed in the Bill. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) has left the Chamber. I am pleased that the proposals cover both England and Wales, because transport, like pollution, does not respect boundaries, and an event or problem can have an impact on areas a great distance away. As a Welsh MP who travels 250 miles to Westminster every week, I can testify to that personally.
The declared aim of the Bill is to reduce congestion on Britain's roads, and that is vital for economic reasons. Like other speakers, I have some questions about road safety issues. I caught the train to get here this morning, and the Minister will be pleased to hear that it was on time. My journey bore no resemblance to those described in today's Evening Standard. I sometimes drive here, and the main part of my route is on the M4. Congestion along the eastern part of the motorway often affects the length and nature of my journey between here and Walesparticularly congestion between Heathrow airport and Reading and in central London. Such congestion can add between an hour and a half and two hours to an already lengthy journey. The Severn bridge is halfway between London and my constituency, but the area that has the greatest impact on the overall length of my journey is inevitably the busy section between Swindon and London. I am tempted to say that that demonstrates the need to rise above the parochial view that Welsh transport problems can be solved entirely in Wales, but I shall avoid doing so.
I welcome the Government's moves to regulate road works and create a mechanism whereby traffic can be kept flowing as freely as possible, but I am curious that clause 20 raises the prospect of failing traffic authorities facing an intervention notice. That point has not been mentioned in detail. The Bill contains no definition of what would constitute failure, and I would add that to the list of points that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich.
Tackling congestion and keeping traffic moving is important to individuals such as myself who frequently face long journeys. However, it is even more important for UK business and productivity generally. The Freight Transport Association estimates that road congestion costs the UK economy more than £20 billion a year, which is the equivalent of £450 for every man, woman and child in this country. Like many statistics, that
It is not difficult to see why tackling congestion on the UK's roads is so important to companies such as Mansell Davies. It is already a considerable distance from markets, and controls on drivers' hours and unexpected delays as a result of congestion can have a big effect on its ability to transport perishable goods and on its running costs. I spoke today to the company's managing director, who raised the issue of the criminal element of road traffic accidents, and the fact that motorway accidents are increasingly causing delays of four or five hours, which can knock the company's schedule out completely and considerably increase its running costs. Pembrokeshire values that company as one of its major employers, and we need to act to keep it competitive.
Tourism also forms a major element of our economy. The Bill will enable local authorities in areas such as mine to plan roadworks so that they do not have the adverse impact on our tourism industry that we so often see at the moment. Unfortunately, this country does not have good weather for the majority of the year, and in Pembrokeshire, all the utility companies dig up the roads during the summer months, which hinders free movement and can put many tourists off.
Work on the M4 should be co-ordinated with work in the Severn rail tunnel. Such work projects have conflicted on days on which rugby matches have been held, which has made getting in and out of Wales extremely difficult at peak times. I hope that the Minister will take on board the need not only to consider the strategic managing of roadworks but to link it to major rail works in Wales.