Previous SectionIndexHome Page


7.46 pm

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): I am happy to have this opportunity to speak on an important Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) said earlier, I shall—unsurprisingly—concentrate on matters to do with London—[Hon. Members: "Why?"] The Bill includes a lot about London so it is appropriate that there should be at least one London-centred speech.

I want to endorse three points that have received wide support from both sides of the House. First, there should have been a draft Bill. We now have a good system for pre-legislative scrutiny and if it had been applied to the Bill we should have avoided some of the problems that we have already run into.

Secondly, it is imperative that the Bill sets out responsibility for safety, especially in relation to the duties of those responsible for network management. To be fair, I think that there was a misunderstanding between my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). In part 1, under the duties of the traffic officers appointed to work for the Highways Agency, there is, correctly, a reference to activities that assist in avoiding danger on the roads. However, there is no provision to make it the responsibility of a local traffic authority to improve safety. Such a provision could easily be added to clause 16 and it is important that it should be.

Like many colleagues, I have stood alongside constituents who have lost relatives because of bad driving and because of deaths resulting from road collisions. I think particularly of the Bradfords, a couple who lost their only son, aged 14. They have since become active in RoadPeace, as have many others. Sadly, RoadPeace receives no Government support or funding—I stand to be corrected by Ministers—even though it is probably the best recognised of the groups that campaign on behalf of the victims of accidents and collisions on our roads. We have a duty to people such as Brigitte Chaudhry and many others who have fought

5 Jan 2004 : Column 90

to put on the agenda the fact that speed and bad driving continue to kill and injure many, many people—as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) pointed out. Everyone involved in improving traffic management should have a safety responsibility.

Thirdly, there should be a duty to ensure that we manage our traffic so as to improve the environment and not to harm it further. That should also be included in the Bill.

Road users have a long list of current problems. We could all compile such lists. Mine includes 10 bugbears about London traffic that people have raised with me or that I have experienced myself. The first, which is addressed in the Bill, as legislation has sought to address it before, consists of the unnecessary roadworks, the repeated roadworks, the long-drawn-out roadworks, the roadworks that are happening in theory but people never see anyone on the job and the roadworks that are not completed properly and cause not only for cyclists but for others the problems that we all know about.

The second is people who jump traffic lights, which happens increasingly frequently in London as a result of the slowing of traffic light changes, and those who block box junctions. I see more and more people in cars and vans, as well as cyclists, jumping traffic lights, regularly causing danger to themselves and others, and I shall return to why we need to deal with that increasingly dangerous problem.

Mr. Redwood: I agree that that is dangerous, but is not one of the reasons for it the all-red phases and the fact that vehicle drivers have therefore learned that there is not so much danger as they originally thought? That is very dangerous in itself. I do not commend that behaviour, but that is why it is happening.

Simon Hughes: I accept that, and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made a thoughtful and considered speech. I agree with many of the specific points that he made, and I shall return to some of those proposals.

The third bugbear is inconsiderate parking, often of single vehicles. As I was coming from Bermondsey this morning, a vehicle was parked just after 7 o'clock in the inner of two lanes, so everyone had to go from two lanes to one for about 200 yards. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) says that I could have gone by bus. I do so often, but I was going on other journeys today, so I did not do so on that occasion. I have been by bus—and by tube today, too. It is very frustrating when a whole lane of traffic is lost because one person parks inconsiderately, often on a double-yellow or red lines, reducing three lanes to two, or two lanes to one.

The fourth bugbear is the failure to know what parking rules apply. We arrive in a place, we want to do the right thing and we look for a sign, but there is none. Once in Camden, near the British Museum, I remember looking along the whole length of the street to discover what the rules were—not a sign to be seen. People cannot be expected to comply with the law if they cannot find the signs. In London, where borough boundaries are often difficult to determine, people do not necessarily know which borough they are in and therefore cannot know which rules apply. That is clearly nonsense.

5 Jan 2004 : Column 91

The fifth bugbear is indeed the rephased traffic light that holds us on red when nothing is coming in any direction and makes people increasingly angry and impetuous. Indeed, that is another reason why people shoot red lights when they have just turned red; they know that they will be held back for a very long time if they do not.

The next is the over-zealous parking warden. A television series featured Southwark parking wardens, and one in particular who delighted in his work. The over-zealous parking warden may be fine, but the over-zealous parking warden who clearly does a bit more than is objectively justified is less fine, and the over-zealous parking warden who does that when everyone thinks that there is a clearly an incentive or commission for the number of catches made in a day is less fine still. There is a serious issue about commissions for trying to catch people out. A friend of mine was caught the other day, although he was sure, as were his family whom I trust as well as anyone, that he had not parked on a yellow line. He had parked just the other side of the yellow line, but a ticket was put on the car before it was picked up.

The next bugbear is fewer traffic police. There are fewer people around to do the policing and the monitoring, and so on.

The next is unnecessary empty bus lanes. We are trying to get one changed on Jamaica road in Bermondsey. It is justifiable at rush hour, but there is almost nothing in it during the middle of the day.

The ninth is that sometimes the bus lanes are not unnecessary; it is just that they have unnecessary buses in them with no one on board. In the middle of day, there are often buses back to back along Oxford street with no one, or just a few people, on board. It is wonderful to have more buses, but not at times of day when people do not need them.

The last bugbear—this was raised quite properly by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White)—is the inconsistent application of the badge for disabled drivers. People do not have the freedom that they are intended to have because of that lack of consistency. We need to answer those frustrations, and we should seek to do so in the Bill if they are matters for national legislation.

On the London agenda, London has led the way in doing many good things in transport, and the Bill seeks to provide other local authorities and areas throughout the country with the opportunity to do them too. I commend those actions. The old Greater London Council proposed the lorry ban—something that I supported—and it still remains in a residual form. The current Mayor introduced the congestion charge—something that I supported when the legislation went through the House and the Greater London Authority was set up, and in respect of which I made submissions to the present Mayor and the GLA appropriately. The congestion charge is not perfect—changes need to be made—but the principle is good, and I would wish it to continue.

Powers under the London Local Authorities 1996 and the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2003 enable some of the things that the

5 Jan 2004 : Column 92

Government now argue for to be done, particularly those that allow civil enforcement, rather than impose criminal penalty, for traffic offences. I shall return to that, because I support some of those measures but am wary of others.

There are two specific London parts of the Bill—parts 5 and 2. Part 5 is welcome and gives the Mayor the power to specify new strategic roads. Many roads in London are not currently trunk roads, but they are clearly main roads by any definition. Technically, 16 per cent. of London's roads fall into that category, but they carry 75 per cent. of the traffic, and the logic is that they should be brought within the strategic network for common management and therefore that the Mayor and the London boroughs should co-operate in that. That would also have a beneficial side effect, to which the right hon. Member for Wokingham alluded: there would be no road humps on those roads. Sometimes there are road humps on roads that are clearly main roads, which causes inconvenience not just to the London Ambulance Service, which does indeed protest about that in London, but to others, as well as additional wear and tear to many vehicles, which adds to maintenance costs. So clauses 57 and 58 are welcome, including the power to stop other boroughs messing up the strategic plans. It cannot be right that they should be allowed to do that.

There is, however, an unnecessary provision that relates to London in part 2. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and other hon. Members have referred to the proposal that the Government can intervene if local authorities do not do their jobs properly. As other colleagues have pointed out, the powers contained in clause 20 to provide for intervention notices have no objective implementation criteria at all. The clause reads:


the Secretary of State in England, or the National Assembly for Wales—


So a prior notice can be given on the basis of a subjective judgment, and it can be implemented when there has been a chance to make a response under clause 21, which states:


make an intervention order. That is absolutely inconsistent with devolution to local councils or with devolution to the London Assembly. We debated this power two or three years ago, and one of the few substantial powers given to the London Mayor and the London Assembly is to deal with traffic in London, but it is suggested that, on the basis of no objective criteria, the Government can intervene and take back such powers.

Ministers in all Departments would do well to consider the relatively unhappy litany of occasions when the Government wrote such powers into legislation and implemented them. As Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills know, the first Administration of the Labour Government intervened in Southwark to

5 Jan 2004 : Column 93

take over its education authority from a Labour local council. In the end, the appointed private sector contractor—WS Atkins—ran away because it was not making enough money and left everyone in the lurch, and many people now realise that it might have been better to leave things with the local authority after all.

I hope that part 2 will go, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, not least since it also provides for one borough to be able to undermine the Transport for London traffic director as well. That is further nonsense. It also implies, although it does not say, that the Government could appoint a private sector body as the director. That strikes me as being unsatisfactory, as the evidence adduces.

So what could be done? Like other hon. Members, I shall make some suggestions. First, I agree with the right hon. Member for Wokingham that, if we are to encourage people to use public transport more and to drive less, there should be park and ride facilities at railheads, the ends of tube lines and the rail termini on the edge of London that are big enough to take the traffic. Amsterdam does it very well. Oxford does it well and Cambridge is doing it. It is possible to do it, although people require an incentive to use public transport systems. The only effective scheme on the edge of London is near Uxbridge, and that is a pretty half-hearted attempt.

Secondly, I was surprised that the Secretary of State did not say a word about the use of satellite technology—the global positioning system—which could enable traffic management and road pricing throughout the country. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the Government support that and may wish to use it. Some more mischievous people suggest that one reason why they may want the power of intervention is to stop others using it rather than waiting for it to be applied nationally.

Thirdly, we must insist that local authorities provide adequate signs. People should not be penalised if there is no sign within a reasonable distance informing them of the rules. The duty to explain the rules rests with the local transport authority.

Fourthly, the cameras, or fictitious cameras, that are overly used for speeding—although perfectly properly in their rightful place—should be used for dealing with the jumping of traffic lights, the blocked box junction and the bus lane infractions. Cameras used for such purposes are much more reliable and effective than an individual person appointed to give a subjective view. Like my hon. Friend, I am unhappy about the idea that a single official can give evidence about a moving traffic offence that may be disputed and contested.

Fifthly, there is the general matter of principle regarding who has authority to give a ticket or take action as a law enforcement agency which would result in someone committing an offence and having a criminal record. I take the simple view that such people should always be employees of the state or of the local authority. Contractors working for private companies on a profit-making basis should not be able to enforce the criminal law. I have a clear view about that and it should apply on motorways as well as on trunk roads and London roads. If I am responsible for such matters next year there will be no such private contractors.

5 Jan 2004 : Column 94

[Interruption.] The Labour party does not even have a candidate. It is casting around for someone whom it threw out only a few years ago, so it cannot sing too much about this.

Sixthly, it is absolutely right that there should be a permit system. At page 37 of volume 1 of the Transport Committee's report there is a helpful paragraph on the New York scheme that states:


Those permits give all the conditions that apply. That is a proper way to regulate what has become a nonsense. There used to be a dozen utility companies about 15 years ago; there are now about 150. We need a permit system.

Seventhly, we should consider impounding vehicles more often. The regular offender should lose his vehicle. It may or may not be the white van—


Next Section

IndexHome Page