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Simon Hughes: There are not many of those. The regular offender should not simply be given a ticketa fine that is not enforcedhis vehicle should be held, not just until the fine is paid but as a punishment. That is an appropriate punishment and should be used more often.
Eighthly, road closures in the community on bank holidays and at weekends for local events should be more frequent and easier. At present people have to go through a long and complicated process and they would be grateful for temporary pedestrianisation for community activity, and I hope that that can be encouraged.
Ninthly, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East made the strong point that I had not heard before about the nonsense of having the red ways for cycles in Milton Keynes that cannot be funded. There should be, as there is in many countries, the separation of cycles and pedestrians wherever possible. That is clearly safer and should be the case much more frequently in London, but we will have to sort out the funding stream for that.
Lastly, I do not go as far as the right hon. Member for Wokingham in saying that we should allow more frequent movement through red lights for left or right turns, although I think that he specified left turns, arguing from the presumption of the United States. I am not yet persuaded about that, although it is done there. But there is certainly a case for having traffic lights that are much more sensitive to traffic flows so that when there is nothing in the other lane one is not waiting.
Some of those measures can be achieved through the Bill and some at a local authority or London-wide level; others can happen already. It is clearly a good thing that we have a Bill through which some of those changes can be achieved, but I hope that the Government remember that safer traffic and environmentally sound traffic is as important as speedier and better managed traffic, and that they will all be equally high priorities for the
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I would not quite describe the last four or five hours as a rollercoaster, but we have certainly been on something of a journey, not least with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and his 10-point planI think that it was 10 points; I may have switched off after 10including going through red lights when he is turning left, with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) and his campaign with the News of the World to scrap as many speed cameras as he can, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) as we drove around the west midlands together for 15 minutes or so.
Unfortunately, my contribution will not be as exciting. It will be short and focus on one specific area that has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White), because we are anoraks to a degree when it comes to technology.
First, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. The Bill fundamentally concerns congestion on our roads, but it will affect other areas as well, one of which is the telecommunications industry. I am secretary of the all-party group on telecommunications and a member of Connect, the union for professionals in telecommunications.
The industry has some concerns about aspects of the Bill, which I am sure will be fleshed out in Committee, although I hope that the Secretary of State's remarks earlier will help the industry to realise that some of its fears are not necessarily matters for concern. Many of the powers involved have been around since the Transport Act 2000.
Before dealing with the telecommunications aspects of the Bill, it is worth highlighting the three main aspects of the debate. First, there are the principal causes of congestion. Secondly, there is the question of which of those can be addressed through legislationmany aspects of congestion cannot be so addressed, although it can help. Much of the problem concerns people's mindset and their desire to drive cars, to own more cars and to drive vehicles in which they are the only occupants. The third issue is how we can measure effectively the success of the Bill's proposals.
Let us take a closer look at the principal causes of congestion. I have received some statistics that have been widely circulated; I know that Opposition Members have also received them. The Secretary of State talked about statistics on congestion and delays on trunk roads that showed that 65 per cent. of traffic congestion is caused by traffic volume or the number of cars on the road, which is linked to people's desire to have more vehicles and use cars rather than to travel by rail, bus, bicycle or on foot. According to those Government figures, 25 per cent. of congestion is caused by accidents and incidents, and 10 per cent. by street
It is right for the Bill to focus on the management of motorway incidents, traffic management, the control of street works and the civil enforcement of measures on driving and parking offences. One problem that has not been commented on concerns the fact that many roads in our constituencies, including mine, have become a patchwork quilt of repairs after utility companies have dug up the road. I welcome the £5,000 fines that can be levied on utilities that do not repair the roads properly. That causes not just the inconvenience of congestion but discomfort from the bumpy rides that people have to endure. Barnwood avenue in my constituency is a good example of that.
We must take great care to ensure that measures intended to reduce congestion do not have negative consequences on other public services such as the telecoms industry, which other hon. Members and I have mentioned. Britain's roads provide a thoroughfare, not just for the telecoms industry but for many other essential services. The maintenance of high standards in services such as gas, electricity, water and telecommunications requires street works if their infrastructure is to be improved.
Broadband targets have been mentioned. I hope that the assurances given by the Secretary of State will make a difference to the telecommunications companies that have lobbied hon. Members, including me, but the detail of the Bill's proposals remains to be fleshed out in Committee. If there is a trade-off between regulatory measures to reduce congestion and the effective provision of services to consumers, we must strike the right balance. Problems will arise in many of our constituencies as a result of regeneration programmes, which require street works if new housing, including social housing, and retail outlets are to have enhanced communications, energy and water services. I hope that special consideration will be given in Committee to the regeneration programmes that are under way, and the intensive work that is done by the utilities.
A specific problem relating to the telecommunications industry has not yet been mentioned. We need to bear in mind the practical problems associated with completion of the network. Construction has been completed on much of the network, and work now needs to focus on connecting particular customers. Such work is inevitably conducted with little forward notice, which restricts the scope for extensive planning and co-ordination. Companies involved in such work already have a commercial imperative to carry it out as quickly as possible, but if we introduce legislation that makes that more difficult and
After close inspection of the Bill, I believe that measures to tackle those responsible for problems arising from street works have been in place since the Transport Act was passed in 2000. The Bill will result in a single, more cohesive response to those problems. In Committee, I hope that we will look in more detail at the needs of big regeneration projects and the issues that affect the telecommunications industry, particularly as the network is close to completion. If we manage to get those provisions right, particularly given all the other measures in the Bill, we will make a significant difference to reducing congestion on all our streets.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): In deciding whether to oppose the Bill, my tests have been quite simple. Will its provisions make a genuine difference to road safety across the country? Will they make a genuine difference to the economic performance and success of our country? Will they make a difference to the road safety figures and economic life of my constituency? Will they make a difference to the quality of life of people in Salisbury who endure daily gridlock as they try to get to work? Will they make a difference to people in the villages in my constituency who find it increasingly difficult to get into Salisbury and park there, and whose local authorities are frustrated in their pursuit of perfectly sensible plans agreed with the Government to alleviate traffic management problems and do what is required of them under clause 16? I shall return to that later.
I have come to the conclusion that I shall not oppose the Bill because, as I said to the Secretary of State earlier, it includes many commendable provisions. However, I am happy to sign up to the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others, because the Bill fails to address the most serious causes of congestion. A key problem is the fact that there is no longer enough road capacity for our level of economic activity in this country. The local transport settlement announced in a written answer on the last day on which Parliament sat before Christmas was a serious setback for effective traffic management in my Salisbury constituency, as I shall seek to explain.
I accept that the Department of Transport was born of necessity and died of exhaustion in 1997, when it became part of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Department for Transport has been born again, and I wish it well. The Bill includes some fundamental provisions that have not been properly explored, although they have been touched on, including the novel concept that someone who is not a constable may stop traffic on the public highway. That is a very important power, and the public need to understand what is about to happen. We are all familiar with the lollypop ladyan example of a civilian employed by a local education authority who has the power to stop a vehicle for a very limited and specific purpose. The Police Reform Act 2002 contained provision allowing the police to direct certain employees of local authorities to stop traffic on a public highway in certain circumstances, but the scope of that power was
Last autumn, however, I came across the London Local Authorities Bill, which came to this House from another place, and noticed clause 9, which is entitled "Vehicle emissions testing: stopping of vehicles". I was unhappy about that provision. A decade ago, when I held the office now occupied by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), and was Minister for Roads and Traffic, there was a fierce debate in the then Department of Transport about all the issues that we are discussing tonight. That included discussion about the extent to which the police could be left to do better things and the suggestion that civilians could perfectly well take on certain functions such as stopping vehicles to check them.
At that time, on the basis of representations received from a number of different authorities and people, including the police, the Department decided not to proceed. The reasons were straightforward. We were told that the public had confidence in the police and were used to the police stopping them and instructing them to go to the side of the road, whether to direct them around an accident or whatever else. For a very long time, there has been a presumption in our country that no one except a constable has the right to stop people on the public highway. It was put to me and my Secretary of State that there were genuine fears that burglars, thieves, rapists and even terrorists would take advantage of such a power and dress up in a uniform that appeared to be a security officer's uniform, and that that possibility was very dangerous and a risk not worth taking. I find it strange that, a decade later, when the risks from terrorism are so much greater, it should be decided that the danger of abuse is not very serious after all.
On the question of uniforms, as part of the debate in the Department of Transport a decade ago, I was taken to visit the Dartford bridge, or "Le Crossing", as we now have to call it under French ownership. Those who made the visit saw the security officers employed by the bridge company, who looked just like Metropolitan police officers. They had little silver numbers on their shoulders and wore black ties and blue shirts. People driving over the bridge obviously thought that they were police officers and were inclined to do what they said. Of course, they were not police officers; they merely gave the impression that they were. I am not saying that anyone was trying to do anything illegal or underhand. Indeed, the arrangement was made with the full co-operation of the police forces either side of the bridge, who thought it a good idea that they did not have to do the job. Nevertheless, the answer at that time remained that applying that policy to the public highways was a risk not worth taking.
I pursued my concern about the provision by the simple expedient of exercising my right to object to the London Local Authorities Bill until I was satisfied that the authorities concerned, and indeed the House, had given the matter proper consideration. Of course, the Bill was considered in Committee both in another place and in this House. Some of the issues were discussed, although not in any particular detail, but I wanted to check up some points with one or two people before I withdrew my objection. I wrote to the Minister, and the
I also wrote to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, from whom I have yet to receive a response. If he says that the Metropolitan police are perfectly happy with the measure and see no difficulty, and if the House properly considers this particular matter on Second Reading and in Committee, where the issues can be properly looked at, I will withdraw my objections to the London Local Authorities Bill.
I am not sure that the Bill before us goes far enough to address traffic management issues, as it seems to leave out a lot. For example, it does not have anything to say about motor cycles, but the motor cycling fraternity is very important. I know that, historically, the guardians of public policy in the Department for Transport have been opposed to motor cyclists because they consider them to be dangerous. That was always the case. The Minister shakes his head, and he is right to do so. As the relevant Minister, I went for a few rides on motor bikes and saw the experience from the riders' point of view. Eventually, we came around to encouraging motor cyclists because motor cycles were environmentally friendly and took up so much less space. I am glad to say that we introduced the first experiments and trials in which motor cycles were allowed to travel along bus lanes in certain cities. That was very successful and I wish that it could happen much more; it is a very sensible idea. I would like traffic management to take greater account of motor cycles.
The same is true of cyclists. The humble bicycle is increasingly important. I endorse what has been said about cyclists in Milton Keynes and about the problem of a lack of provision for specific funding. Of course, there is now a presumption in local transport packages that an element will be spent on bicycles. I am glad to say that in Nottingham, I think in 1994 or 1993, I introduced the first ever Government cycling policy; indeed, that was an appropriate city in which to do so. Traffic management and pedestrians, taken together, are also a very important subject. Although we are assured by the road research laboratory and others that it is possible for bicycles and pedestrians to go together, such combinations have to be carefully planned in congested city centres.
Clause 16 deals with network management duties. It is all very well imposing new duties on local authorities, but without adequate resources enabling them to fulfil their obligations, not a lot will happen. The big issue in clause 16 is whether traffic management plans can be properly implemented. I want to stiffen the resolve of Ministers in the Department for Transport, to strengthen their hand with the Treasury, and to encourage them like mad to stick to the agreement on the Salisbury transport package that we had reached, under the guidance of the Government office for the south-west, when the Government, sadly and misguidedly, decided in July 1997 to cancel the Salisbury bypass. Salisbury desperately needs a bypass, and we are now seeing the results of that decision. We agreed to put together a sensible, carefully phased traffic management plan, much of which would conform completely with the Bill. It was an integrated and balanced policy that included five park-and-ride sites, one of which is up and running and two of which are out to tender. Now we find that even the Government office for the south-west is embarrassed because funds have been frozen; and it looks horribly as though we are not going to make any progress and the whole thing will fall apart.
Just before Christmas, I had a word with both Under-Secretaries, who have attended assiduously throughout the debate, and I know that they are happy to look at the matter. Having been in their position, I do not believe in conspiracy theories; but I do believe in cock-ups, and I think that this is a cock-up. [Interruption.] Well, some of us have been there. Seriously, I ask the Minister to consider seeing me, perhaps with some of my councillor colleagues, to consider carefully the problem of Salisbury, because its transport settlement fits so well with what he is trying to achieve in the Bill. If we fail to deliver for the people of Salisbury, that will be a failure for the Government, for it was they who made the proposal and my councillors who courageously put party prejudice aside and said, "Yesgulpwe'll sign up to this because it is in the interests of the whole community of Salisbury". I hope very much that we will not fail at this late stage.
Another issue is that of mobile safety camera units and the enforcement of speed limits through cameras. As an experienced motorist, I believe that one is either breaking the speed limit or one is not. It is idle to argue, "It was a perfectly clear road, officerthere was no traffic about, it was late at night, and I was sober; but, darn, the cameras were flashing." That is not a rational argument. There is a reason for speed limits and for imposing the law. In my judgment, speed cameras have undoubtedly done far more good than harm. Yes, they can be a real menace to people, but I hope that the Government will not weaken. They should be sensible, however, where it can be shown that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) explained earlier, cameras have been sited in the wrong places for the wrong reasons. We can all agree with that. If there is evidence of the indiscriminate placing of those cameras, that will break the trust between the public and the police, which is very damaging and should not happen.
The public often do not realise how far ahead of us the police have got in detecting and deterring crime through the use of cameras. Last summer, I spent some time with the special constabulary in my constituency, who are particularly useful in assisting the regular constabulary in traffic enforcement matters. Operating in conjunction with the Wiltshire constabulary, the specials manned a white van mobile safety unit. I was hugely impressednot only by the technology, but by the approach and attitude of the policemen and women who carried out those duties. What is achieved by those vans would be unimaginable even a decade ago. I learned that in Northamptonshire, which has been pioneering in this respect, overall crime detection has soared to hitherto unheard of levels. The cameras in the van can identify a vehicle that is coming towards its rear, and a signal is transmitted via a satellite up-link to the police national computer. The response is either to give the all clear, so nothing happens, or to set off an alarm that immediately tells the police on the ground that the vehicle is wanted in connection with a crime, a robbery, a speeding offence, lack of insurance, lack of tax, or whatever. That has undoubtedly given a degree of security to communities around the country that was not there before the so-called dreaded speed camera was introduced. The surveillance does not stop there. It is quite noticeable around the Churchill way in Salisbury, the inner ring roadthe sad temporary fix for a proper bypass that was constructed in the 1960swhere one sees the Highways Agency cameras tracking the whole of that route and able to read the vehicle number plates and more.
In the control room at the headquarters of the Wiltshire constabulary in Devizes, I have seen the CCTV cameras operated by the district council in Salisbury, Amesbury and Wilton, which can pan in and read the tax disc on a vehicle that is driving along a road, to see whether it is out of date. The technology is remarkable. There is one thing that astonishes me: if a Conservative Government had done that, we would never have got away with it, because of all the civil liberties arguments"How dare you? Human rights!" We would not have done it. We could not have achieved it. Whether the public do not know the level of surveillance they are under, or whether Labour is no longer old Labour and is new Labour and does not mind about civil liberties, I am not sure. I leave that judgment to others. Although there is always a balance to be struck in terms of civil liberties, the use of cameras not only in traffic management, but in policing techniques and security has come on apace, to the advantage of the community as a whole.
I was delighted to hear what the Secretary of State said about road accident clearance. I hope that the point, which was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), about the role of coroners can be addressed, as that is a sticking point.
In conclusion, the way in which hazards have been engineered out of our roads is remarkable. As usual, it is a combination of common sense and good design. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and others said about that. Of course, designing roads is hugely important and has developed remarkably and must continue to do so, in conjunction with the enormous advantage that we have
Engineering out the hazards is one aspect, and the Bill should ensure that more attention is given to that, through the appointment of local authority traffic officers. Perhaps the biggest thing of all is our attitude to speed as road users. Anyone who has driven in the United States of America will know that there is a completely different and relaxed attitude to driving there. One does not bother to change laneswhat is the point with a seven-lane highway, a big car, a 55 mph speed limit and traffic cops with guns at every turn on the highway? One just does not speed or change lanes. One behaves more sensibly.
That is the sort of attitude we need to encourage in this country. It does not profit us very much if we drive at 80 mph on a motorway for a few miles. If we had kept at 70 mph, we might have got there 30 seconds later. When we come to the end of the motorway, we will have got there quicker and will have longer to wait to get through the bottleneck that was caused.
That is another point in favour of speed cameras. People wonder about the purpose of a speed camera on a straight road without any congestion. One purpose is to ensure constant traffic flows along roads, because that makes the best use of the capacity of the road. If we think differently about speed as drivers, just as we now think differently about drinking and driving, and just as we tend to think differently now about smoking, that will be the most effective way in which we can improve traffic management and road safety. It comes back to human behaviour. There will always be tearaways and boom boys. There will always be people chasing each other, as there were when I was on a road near Salisbury last Saturday evening. They were behaving in the most appallingly dangerous manner at only 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Changing human behaviour is the best way in which we can influence traffic management.
The Bill will do no harm, and it might do some good. I suspect, therefore, that although I shall vote in favour of the reasoned amendment, it will get into Committee, where a great deal of work will need to be done on it before it comes back here. I hope that it will really make a difference to my constituents and to the whole country.