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It is almost an urban myth that Parliament is not subject to health and safety law. Sometimes we forget that, although there are 650-odd Members, Parliament is the workplace for hundreds more people who work to support us. Laws such as the 1974 Act and associated legislation do not apply to Parliament. However, I wish to give an assurance that the parliamentary authorities undertake to comply with relevant health and safety
legislation to ensure the health and safety of Members, visitors and staff in the precincts. Parliament is not a Crown body, so its position is different from the immunity that some Crown bodies, such as Departments, have.
A couple of points were made about proposed publicity if the Bill is enacted. Of course, it must go through the other place first. I may be speaking out of turn, but I believe that my right hon. Friend has identified an eminent Member of the other House to pilot it through[Hon. Members: Himself.] I hope not, because that would cause all sorts of complications. Assuming that we give the measure a fair wind shortlyI believe that we willI am sure that the other place will agree that the Bill is worth while.
On publicity, I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham that we will not put the measure on a shelf and dust it down every so often, with only the 10 or 15 or so people who have been actively involved in its progress knowing about it. The Government intend to spread the message about the Bills implications. It will underpin the work of the HSE and local authorities in ensuring that employers take health and safety management seriously and act to keep people safe and healthy. Department for Work and Pensions and HSE officials are drawing up plans to publicise the new Act and the increased penalties.
We will maximise press interest because the Bill constitutes a significant change in response to judges and those who sit on the bench in our various jurisdictions. The HSE website, which is well used, especially by small and medium-sized employers, will specifically refer to it.
Meetings and discussions will take place with key bodies, such as the Sentencing Guidelines Council, as I have already said, the Ministry of Justice, the Courts Service, the Judicial Studies Board, the Magistrates Association and the Justices Clerks Society, as well as similar organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There will be meetings with key HSE stakeholders, including the CBI and the Small Business Trade Association Forum. Perhaps more importantly in relation to targeting the information, there will be articles in relevant magazines and journals. Our inspectors will be updated on the guidance and our advocates, such as solicitors agents, local authorities and others, will be well aware of the new situation when they take cases through the courts and will be able to advise magistrates appropriately.
Throughout the progress of the Bill, I hope that I have set out clearly the fact that the Government welcome it. It has been supported by the trade unions and the CBI, although the CBI has raised concerns about the opportunity to imprison. However, I hope that I have also drawn the CBIs attention to the fact that the situation is not unusual. There are other regulatory regimes where imprisonment is on offer to the courts when sentencing.
Again, I am unstinting in my praise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, who has taken forward the Bill with gusto. I knew that he had gusto when I was one of his Whips in the Government Whips Office, but his energy and commitment throughout these proceedings, as well as the patience that he has shown in talking us through some of the detail, are exemplary. I do not wish to use that old Scottish expression, Heres your hat, whats your hurry?, but we may not have another
formal occasion to comment on his extensive parliamentary career. He will be remembered as the Member of Parliament who piloted a significant change in our health and safety legislation and brought our sentencing policy into the 21st century. For that, I wish formally to congratulate him.
Keith Hill: With the leave of the House, I shall forgo my opportunity to respond at length. My dear and hon. Friend the Minister has dealt with all the points raised during the debate. I merely thank her and other colleagues for the praise that has been showered upon me. I have not done all the work alone, however, so I thank all those who know the contributions that they have made. I hope that we have made a piece of history and that peoples lives will be better for it.
I count myself fortunate to have any time at all to debate a Bill on a Friday that I have drafted, or which has been drafted, with minimal assistance from me, by officials of the House, who have also given me guidance, for which I am eternally grateful. It is relatively unusual to have a Presentation Bill debated in the House in this Session.
The reason why I asked to put the previous Bill back to next Friday is that I already have a Bill dealing with the European Union on the Order Paper for that day, so I thought that I should regard today as providing an important opportunity to talk about an equally significant issue for our constituents and citizensnamely, road traffic congestion reduction.
Earlier this week, I was privileged to attend a dinner in Wandsworth town hall to celebrate 30 continuous years of Conservative control in Wandsworth. During the course of that dinner, the former MP for Henley gave us an updated version of part of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which he felt moved to provide because we were in the presence of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. The former MP for Henley thus said:
Where there is congestion, let there be free flowing traffic.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that his Bill is defective in its drafting and that it could have been a much better Bill if he had drawn its terms rather wider? He is seeking in the Bill to
Place a duty on highway authorities and police forces to minimise congestion and delays caused by collisions and other incidents on the highway,
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend makes a point that could be dealt with in a separate Bill. I am grateful to him for supporting my Bill on the basis of its long title. If it gets into Committee, there will be every opportunity, within the scope of the long title, to deal with some of his concerns.
Place a duty on highway authorities and police forces to minimise congestion and delays caused by collisions and other incidents on the highway.
congestion on the authoritys road network,
action to remove expeditiously obstructions caused by collisions
contingency plans to ensure that traffic is directed to alternative routes when roads are temporarily closed or obstructed.
a local traffic authority should publish, on an annual basis, information regarding closures or partial closures of roads in excess of a specified duration, including details of...the duration and cause, and...the action taken to minimise the duration of such closures.
Hon. Members will be aware that recent years have seen an increasing number of total closures of motorways, trunk roads and other highways by the authorities following collisions and other incidents. The duration of those closures has increased significantly. I have tabled written parliamentary questions, the responses to which have been depressing reading for the travelling public.
include in its local policing plan a requirement that, in attending collisions and other incidents on roads, the police should, so far as is reasonably practicable, minimise any congestion and delay for road users and, in particular, only close a road as a last resort and for as short a period as possible.
If anyone is in any doubt about the relevance and topicality of the Bill, perhaps they will change their mind when they hear about an incident in my constituency reported on the Transport Direct website this morning. In the Live travel news section, which I last checked at 9.38 am during a Division, there were severe delays on the A31 eastbound at Ringwood road because the road was closed between Ashley Heath junction and the M27 Butchers Bush junction for accident investigation work. That closure began at 5.24 am, and it was still in force at 9.38 am, when the rush hour was over. I am delighted to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) seems to be expressing surprise and dismay that such a thing has happened. Let me tell him that that is just one incident today in my constituency. I do not know whether it has yet been resolved. The delay was not due to the accident itself, but to accident investigation work. Surely there must be a better way of dealing with accident investigation work than closing important arteries and forcing the travelling public to take alternative routes.
Mr. Knight: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, but does he not accept that one has to acknowledge that when there is a fatality, a highway will often have to be closed to enable the police to collate evidence? We should be considering ways of speeding up that process.
Mr. Chope: Absolutely; I agree with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, the Highways Agency is talking about doing just that. I have with me its latest annual report, published last July. I imagine that the next one will be published next month. There are paragraphs on journey reliability, an important objective for the Highways Agency; perhaps the Minister can talk to us about that later. The report contains a statement about the agency
putting additional measures in place to tackle unreliable journeys, including...trials of collision investigation equipment to speed up accident investigations.
I do not know whether one of those trials was taking place on the A31 this morning; I hope not. The travelling public in my constituency would probably have been
much better off if such investigation equipment had been available this morning to prevent those unwarranted delays.
A scan of my local newspapers shows that the A338, which goes from the Ashley Heath roundabout to Bournemouth through my constituency, has been blocked completely on several occasions in recent months, not just for 10 minutes or half an hour, but for hours at a time. Traffic has been blocked solid on that road because there is no way of moving off it. In those situations, there is a strong case for the highways authorities providing alternative routes. That may mean opening up emergency exit areas that might normally be accessed by the police and emergency services only. On the A338, that would make it possible for some of the traffic to go elsewhere. Otherwise, if traffic builds upoften there are many miles of delaysthe frustration for the travelling public, the cost to the Exchequer and other problems are disproportionate.
Let me offer a press report as an example. It stated that a crash had caused 10-mile delays on the M6, and that Lancashire police had said that a Land Rover Freelander had overturned between junctions 34 at Lancaster and 35 at Carnforth, spilling fuel on to two lanes. That was not, therefore, a fatal accident; instead, a relatively modest-sized vehiclea Land Rover Freelander, not a great lorry carrying fuelhad, as a result of an accident, spilled fuel on to two lanes of the carriageway, and those lanes were then closed and the result was delays of 10 miles. Three lanes of 10-mile delays is equivalent to 30 miles of queuing traffic, and that was caused by a Land Rover Freelander with a split in itsdiesel, I imaginetank. That is a disproportionate consequence of such an incident. We must be able to find a better way, through the police and the highway authorities, to prevent the travelling public from being inconvenienced to such an extent.
The climate in terms of such incidents has changed so much over recent years that motorists almost feel that the authorities are trying to penalise the motoring public for the actions of fellow drivers that result in collisionsor, as they are now increasingly called, incidents. Why should people be penalised in this way? Last year marked the centenary of the scouts, and I remember that I was due to go to an event west from my constituency in Dorset, but the entire road network for tens of miles was completely clogged up because of an accident. It seems that the level of priority that the police, the Highways Agency and the highways authorities give to clearing such accidents and removing the debris is not as great as it should be.
I received some comfort from looking at a couple of the route management strategies that are being established. The A2/M2 and A249 route management strategydrawn up, I think, jointly by Babtie Group Ltd, now Jacobs, and the HAputs near the top of the strategy matters such as delay minimisation, provision of real-time information, installation of electronic signing, improved performance in respect of accident clearance and provision of emergency access between junctions 5 and 6 of that motorway. It makes it clear that there should be an objective of reducing not only the number of accidents, but the impact of the delays caused by those accidents.
However, the statistics in the HA annual report reveal a sad story in respect of the target of increasing journey reliabilityof improving reliability to ensure that average
vehicle delay on the 10 per cent. slowest journeys is less in 2007-08 than in the baseline period of August 2004 to July 2005. Monitoring up to the end of March 2007 showed a slippage of about 8.7 per cent. against the targetin other words, things were going in the wrong direction. The HA report states that that
appears to be related to a higher impact of traffic growth than originally anticipated.
I do not think that that is good enough, and I do not think the HA thinks it is good enough either. My Bill would make it clear to the HA and the police authorities that they would have a statutory duty to act in this respect, rather than just using such good endeavours as they might think appropriate at any particular time.
Policing and traffic management are, as in so many other walks of life, issues of priority: to what extent should priority be given to a particular activity? On too many occasions, the police and the highways authority do not give sufficient priority to clearing the roads and allowing free-flowing traffic.
Mr. Knight: My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way again. He referred to his wish to put a statutory duty on highways authorities and the police to ensure that congestion is dealt with as soon as possible, but his Bill is silent on this point. Should his Bill become law, what would happen if a highway authority was clearly in flagrant breach of that duty? Would a motorist stranded in a traffic jam that was totally avoidable be able to sue the highways authority for compensation, particularly if they were a business man who had suffered losses due to missing an important meeting?
Mr. Chope: As a solicitor learned in the law, my right hon. Friend knows that it is possible to sue in civil law for breach of a statutory duty. If we put a statutory duty in this legislation, anybody who alleges that there has been a breach of it resulting in a loss to them would, prima facie, have a course of action. That, in itself, would be a deterrent to highway and police authorities not complying with this duty. Unlike the Bill in the previous debate, where all the emphasis seemed to be put on penaltieseven to the extent of imprisonment and high finesthis Bill creates a framework that would encourage people to proceed on the basis of common sense, and to make sure that they were acting in the best interests of the motoring public.
Because we do not have that much time, I will conclude by referring briefly to a pamphlet published under the Conservative Way Forward imprintan organisation of which I have the privilege of being chairman. The pamphlet was written by Malcolm Heymer, a retired former principal transportation engineer in the London borough of Havering. He takes a great interest in what is happening on our roads and has produced an effective blueprint. I hope that our Front-Bench spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), is taking this forward as part of Conservative manifesto planning for the next general election. In that document, Malcolm Heymer refers to dealing with accidents:
Severe disruption can occur when roads, especially trunk roads and motorways, are closed for long periods following
accidents. As well as the costs resulting from these delays, traffic diverting to other, less safe routes can lead to additional accidents occurring elsewhere.
Some disruption is inevitable during rescue operations and the removal of vehicles, and the safety of emergency services personnel at the scene must be paramount. Once the location has been made safe, however, traffic must be allowed to flow as soon as possible and traffic managers should ensure that this happens. Extended closures or restrictions while the police gather evidence...must be curtailed.
Some of the delays that have occurred in and around my constituency, to which I referred earlier, have arisen because the police chose not to deploy resources at the scene in time and, in a sense, made the motoring public sweat it out, often in very unpleasant conditions and circumstances.
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