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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Road Safety Bill

Road Safety Bill

Standing Committee A

Thursday 20 January 2005


[Mr. Kevin Hughes in the Chair]

Road Safety Bill

9.25 am

The Chairman: The programme motion agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday appears on the amendment paper. I remind hon. Members that the debate on the programme motion may continue for up to half an hour. I call the Minister to move the motion.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I beg to move, That

    (1) during proceedings on the Road Safety Bill the Standing Committee (in addition to its first meeting on Thursday 20th January at 9.25 a.m.) shall meet—

    (a) at 2.30 p.m. on Thursday 20th January,

    (b) at 9.25 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday 25th January,

    (c) at 9.25 a.m. on Thursday 27th January,

    (d) at 9.25 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday 1st February and Thursday 3rd February;

    (2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order, namely, Clauses 1 to 4; Schedule 1; Clauses 5 to 8; Schedule 2; Clause 9; Schedule 3; Clauses 10 to 32; Schedule 4; Clauses 33 to 41; Schedule 5; Clauses 42 to 46; Schedule 6; Clauses 47 to 51; new Clauses; new Schedules; any other proceedings relating to the Bill;

    (3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.30 p.m. on Thursday 3rd February.

This is a special occasion, Mr. Hughes, because it is the first time that I have been in a Committee under your chairmanship. That is not bad fortune on my part, as I believe that it is the first time that you have chaired a Standing Committee. We wish you well in this venture over the next couple of weeks. I am sure that, with Mr. Pike, you will keep us very much in order.

May I also say what a pleasure it is to be sitting here with hon. Gentlemen who are almost friends nowadays, the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), as well as their colleagues on the Opposition Benches, and of course my colleagues on the Government Benches? I hope that we will have a productive time scrutinising the Bill.

The Bill contains many good measures and I think that it will have widespread support inside and outside the House; indeed, I know that it does. There are issues relating to how far we go in certain areas and whether we should put more into the Bill, but I am sure that we will cover those matters adequately in the time available.

We had a good and full debate on Second Reading, and I am pleased to see in the Committee so many hon. Members who contributed so well to it. The tone of the debate was very constructive and largely consensual, and I hope that that will continue into our debates in the Committee.
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Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hughes. I know that you come here with massive experience. Although you are only newly qualified, you have got rid of your L-plates and do not need any P-plates. I am sure that we will all benefit from your adjudications during the proceedings.

I also thank the Minister for his kind remarks. There is indeed now a bit of a team on the Government, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches. What the Committee shares with other recent Committees dealing with transport issues is a lack of interest in what is going from among the other parties, particularly the nationalist parties. However, we probably do not need to come back to that, as none of them is represented on this Committee, apparently at their own request.

The Minister did not make it clear that the programme motion was not approved unanimously. We voted against it because we do not see the need for such prescription as it sets out. We welcome the Minister's assurance that, if we need more time, the Government will be flexible about that. If the Minister were not under pressure from others in his party, he would probably have agreed that the Committee could sit without the benefit of timetabling. However, we take at face value his commitment to ensure that the Bill is properly scrutinised.

Conservative Members have tabled a number of amendments, as well as some new clauses. I hope that, because this is a miscellaneous Bill, there will be enough time to discuss the new clauses. I know that the Bill has been criticised by some road safety interests as a bit of a hotch-potch, but, because it is so wide-ranging, it gives people an opportunity to put forward their own ideas for changing and improving our road traffic law. I hope that we will have a chance to discuss some of those ideas in the debates on new clauses.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): May I, too, welcome you to the chair, Mr. Hughes, and say that we look forward to deliberating on this Bill under your benign tutelage? I thank the Minister for his kind words. As the hon. Member for Christchurch said, we have become something of a team in transport matters, and our deliberations have been characterised by some sensible debates, which have enabled us, on occasion, to improve the Bill under consideration, and certainly to find out what the Government are proposing. I thank the Minister also for the briefing that he arranged with his officials, which I and other Opposition colleagues found useful.

As the Minister said, this is a Bill that all sides of the House generally support. It has some good measures. However, there are areas where it can usefully be strengthened, and we will see whether the Government look favourably on some of our suggestions. Some clauses may have consequences that need to be teased out, and we hope that the Minister will put on record exactly what the Government's intentions are.

We are content with the programme motion. We believe that there is sufficient time, and we hope that we will be able to get through the business and thoroughly consider the Bill in the time available.
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Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I join the welcome given to your chairmanship, Mr. Hughes. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch referred to the absence of the nationalist parties from this Committee, but I did not understand his point, because he and I were recently members of the Committee on the Railways Bill to which a nationalist Member had been appointed, and apart from one brief appearance he did not bother to turn up. It does not make much difference whether nationalist Members are nominated to serve in Committee.

The programme motion is not needed, and I rise to register my objection to it. We have on this Committee two experienced Whips, and having had experience of the Government Whip and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) on other Committees, I have found that they are fair, professional and experienced, and can well deal with business matters through the usual channels without the necessity of this motion.

I know that Government Members sometimes get bored and irritated by the Opposition regularly opposing programme motions on the Floor of the House. Perhaps it is appropriate that I explain why I join my colleagues in voting against such motions and why I am not happy to see this programme motion today. As you will know, Mr. Hughes, during the term of the previous Conservative Government I was the Government deputy Chief Whip, and the time came when we decided that some changes were necessary to our procedures. We asked a team of people to examine them, and the Jopling report was produced. I was asked to see the then Prime Minister, John Major, who made it quite clear that he wanted to implement the report, but gave me clear instructions that no part of the report was to be implemented unless it had the consent of the then Labour Opposition. I then embarked on discussions with Don Dixon, now Lord Dixon, who was at that time Labour's deputy Chief Whip, and over a period of months we agreed what parts of the Jopling reforms would be acceptable to the Opposition. Only the acceptable parts were implemented.

The problem with programme motions, and the reason that Government Members must go through the Lobbies week after week to support them while we oppose them, is that the current regime has been imposed without consent. I think it was the now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who introduced those provisions, and they did not have the consent of the Opposition. It is right and proper that we continue to register our objection to a system on which we have not been consulted and that we do not agree with.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I, too, welcome you to the Chair of the Committee, Mr. Hughes. It will be a pleasure, and I hope that it will be fun for you too. I will save time by not making a point of order, as I usually do because I got my knuckles severely rapped by the Chair a long time ago for taking my jacket off without asking for permission. So, when you call a vote, if you say whether you are prepared to tolerate the sight of Wilshire in his shirt sleeves, I will
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be eternally grateful. [Interruption.] My ties crop up regularly in debate. The reason for this tie is that yesterday certain members of the Labour party told me that they did not believe that I had such an awful tie as the one that I was wearing, so I found this one, which is, I think, even worse.

At the outset, Mr. Hughes, I also ask whether you will accept a general apology from me. There is a sense of deja vu about our proceedings. On Tuesday, we were talking about railways, and on Thursday we are talking about road safety. So, if I start talking about the railways, point out that I am out of order, but forgive me, because I have not got my mind round this job yet. I hope that there will not be a third subject.

Some people have heard me say that the Opposition are opposed to the motion in principle. The unfortunate thing for those who have heard me talk about the subject before is that some members of the Committee have not done so. It is therefore necessary to put on the record why the Government are being undemocratic—wearing their jackboots and stamping all over the democracy of the United Kingdom. I believe that the matter is serious. Every time that they ask us to approve a programme motion, the Government are saying that they could not care less about the quality of legislation or about providing a reasonable voice for those who disagree, but want their legislation by a set date come hell or high water. We can say or do what we like, but they will have their legislation even if it has not been discussed properly. In my book, that is not democracy. That is why we will always oppose such motions in principle.

In the time that I have been a Whip on Bills, many have run into the sand. It is possible that we will. Although there were 39 sittings of one Committee, we considered less than half the clauses. Some people say, ''Well, if there is no timetable, the Opposition will take advantage of the situation.'' It takes one to know one; I remember sitting in this very Room as a member of the Standing Committee considering the community charge legislation. We were here for about four months, not because of anything that I and Government Back Benchers said but because of the endless ramblings of the then Opposition, which, as they were not ruled out of order, were just about in order. I assume that the great worry that the Government have when introducing programme motions is that we might behave as they used to. Perhaps they are criticising themselves rather than us.

It seems to me that the important thing to consider about the programme motion, which was the argument that the Government used when suggesting to me the number of sittings that we ought to have for the Bill, is whether the time will be sufficient. I will return to the point that the Minister made in a minute. If one adds up the number of hours made available, then, working on the assumption that we finish at about 5 o'clock—that may not be the case, I know—we are likely to sit for about 25 hours. When I first came to the House, there was a convention that a guillotine could not be asked for in Standing
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Committee until the Committee had been sitting for about 100 hours. That gives an indication of the truncation of debate that is taking place.

I will turn to the specifics of what is being suggested. Although I object in principle, I intend no criticism of the usual channels. We have a good working relationship and, despite the constraint that the Government cannot agree to what I want and I will never agree to a programme motion in principle, we talk to each other. I cannot speak for Government Members, but I assure you, Mr. Hughes, that although I object to what they are doing, I will try to make the process as pain-free as I can. I do not want anybody to think that there has been a breakdown in the usual channels of communication before we start.

When the Minister introduced the motion and told us that it was okay, he said that we will cover all the Bill in the time available. If he is that good at predicting the future, could he please tell me the winner of the 2.30 this afternoon, at whatever race course they are racing at? I would make a fortune. It appears that he knows before we start how we are going to get on. I dispute that. Issues could arise that will take longer than we think, or we could finish earlier. There are those who think that my business is to ensure that we take as long as possible, and I am afraid that I upset those people. The Minister nods. He takes the view that, just because I stand up and speak, I am determined to see that the Committee runs its time. If only he had bothered to read the Hansard report of Tuesday's sitting of the Standing Committee on the Railways Bill; he would have discovered that although I was the Whip on that Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) were there as well—we finished with a sitting in hand. As it turned out, it was not necessary to continue, but we did not know that when we started.

It is possible that, in this case, we may finish before 3 February, but it is equally possible that we may finish on 3 February only because of a guillotine that insists that we do and that there will be unconsidered business. It ought to be possible in grown-up politics for the Government to be prepared to be reasonable about democracy and reasonable with the Opposition. On 6 May, they will be in opposition and they will discover that some of the rules that they have made to try to silence us will cause them great difficulty. If I were them I would, if nothing else, learn from other people. They should have some idea of what is in this for them in the future.

There is one other thing. In the Programming Sub-Committee last night, the Minister, to whom I am grateful because I know that he was genuinely and sincerely trying to help us, said that we could overcome the difficulties of lack of time by sitting late—that from the party that wanted to modernise this place so that we did not sit late. The best that he can do is to say that we will keep on sitting. I will be interested to see how he votes next Wednesday in the debate on the sitting hours.

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Your co-Chairman, Mr. Hughes, said that he wanted to make it clear that if we were still at it at about 5 or half-past 5—as the Minister seems to think we ought to be on occasion—he would want a break. I take the view that, given the great spirit of modernisation and clear thinking on the part of the Government, sitting from half-past 9 till half-past 11, then from half-past 2 to half-past 5, and then, if there are issues, expecting us to go on again into the evening, or all night, does not make for good legislation.

On principle, the motion is wrong because it tramples on democracy, and in practice, it means that, in certain circumstances, if we were to do justice to the issues raised, the Minister would want us to sit into the evening or all night. That cannot be sensible and it certainly cannot be democratic. I hope that you will allow a Division, Mr. Hughes.

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Prepared 20 January 2005