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imposing financial penalties on highway authorities
if roads remain closed for too long. I am not sure that I would go along with that, because that is imposing a financial penalty on a body that should already be complying with a requirement to look after its customers.
What would happen? That would just deprive the Highways Agency of money. That is one of the ironies of trying to impose financial penalties on tax-funded organisations. If the highway authority or the police authority fails in its duties, heads should roll, as the saying goes. That could be done through public naming and shaming, and the use of accountability, which would be facilitated by ensuring that information on the causes of those delays was made available, as it would have to be under clause 1.
Mr. Knight: In fairness to the Government, could they not argue that they have thought of a way of dealing with congestionnational road user charging? Of course, that involves taxing the motorist, but that is not surprising coming from this high-taxing Government. If one examines that policy, one finds that it could have a beneficial effect on congestion if the road charge was nil at non-rush hour periods. Has my hon. Friend thought whether he would entertain that provision in his war on congestion?
Mr. Chope: I am glad about that. I must have misunderstood what my right hon. Friend was saying. So, a penalty would be incurred by the authority that would otherwise be receiving income from road charging in the event of there being congestion.
Mr. Knight: No, I was making the point that under the Governments scheme the motorist would be the one who would have to pay a fee. If the Government introduced a scheme whereby the fee was nil during non-rush hour periods, would that not have a similar effect of reducing congestion, while not involving the fining of highway authorities?
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): On that particular issue, the Government have just authorised Greater Manchester passenger transport authority to introduce a congestion charge that operates only at peak times
Mr. Chope: The Bills long title gives plenty of scope for it to be amended in Committee, for its terms to have more precision and perhaps for it to include references to incentives or disincentives that might be available to any authority that had introduced so-called congestion or user charging. If one wanted to cite an example of an existing situation, one might choose the toll bridge on the M25. Under the terms of my Bill, it would be reasonably practicable for the highway authority to allow the traffic to flow through the toll booths without the need for payments to be made in order to deal with congestion. As a result, the highway authority might lose some income, but such an approach would ensure that the traffic would keep flowing. That could be done by working with the grain of the recommendations in clause 2.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my hon. Friend for interrupting, but I have a point of order to make. The Irish people have turned down the treaty of Lisbon. You will know that there is a Bill before the House to ratify that treaty, and it cannot now come into effect by treaty law, which is unfortunately superior to the law of this House. Is it in orderis it within the vires of this Houseto proceed with legislation that, by treaty law, cannot come into effect? If the answer to that is no, have you had an intimation from a Minister that they will come to this House to explain when they will withdraw the ratification Bill?
Madam Deputy Speaker: I have not had any such indication from a Minister, but of course the legislation to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is currently before the other place. Further, the points he raises are points of law, rather than points of order for this House.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has a Bill before the House, and it is clearly to do with minimising congestion and delays caused by collisions and other incidents on the highway. It does not go wider than that.
Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker. All I wonder is whether I made the right decision earlier in relation to my other Bill. I shall not pursue that topic. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) to his place, and assure him that what we are discussing at the moment is also of great significance to our constituents. I had to make a hard call as to which Bill should take priority today,
and I decided that the Road Traffic (Congestion Reduction) Bill was more important than the other Bill, because at the time I did not have access to the news wires
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member and I am sure that he knows full well that he must now concentrate his remarks on his Billof his choicewhich is now before us.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): May I say on behalf of the Department for Transport that we are delighted by the choice that the hon. Gentleman has made this morning. We are always grateful for the opportunity to subject the Governments transport record to the scrutiny of this House, so we welcome his choice.
Mr. Chope: I am delighted to have the support of the Minister on this matter. As a former Transport Minister myself, transport has always been a top priority for me, and that is reflected in my decision today.
Mr. Chope: I had not imagined that the Minister would support the Bill. I understood that he was supporting my decision to give the Bill an airing today. I hope that his support will translate into allowing the Bill into Committee so that it can be debated in more detail. If the Department has any problems with the contents of the Bill, they could be ironed out in Committee.
The Bill is timely and worth while, if for no other reason than it gives me the opportunity to say on behalf of my constituents that what has happened on the A31 Ringwood road today is unacceptable and intolerable. The only way to prevent further such incidents
Mr. Knight: Does my hon. Friend accept that if his Bill became law it might be necessary for the House to revisit some decisions in the light of evidence presented to us in the reports from the highway authority and the police? For example, it might be necessary to have a national review of speed limits or of traffic-calming policies, which sometimes appear to play a part in causing congestion.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is correct. However, my thinking was that we should try to make private Members Bills relatively tightly confined as they then have a greater chance of getting on to the statute book. My right hon. Friend seems to have more in mind a 100-clause transport Bill. I would be delighted to work with him to draft such a Bill, which we could bring in as soon as we get into government. However, in
the context of recognising the limitations of the private Members Bill procedure and its vulnerability to the Government and the Executive, that would probably mean going a bit wider than I would have thought reasonable in the circumstances.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I start by congratulating my hon. Friend on his success on achieving at least some debating time today, even if the Bill does not proceed any further. I am listed as one of the sponsors of the Bill, although I played no part in the drafting of it, but my only criticism, which is minor, is that I do not think that it is drawn widely enough. The title to the Bill states that it is:
To place a duty on highway authorities and police forces to minimise congestion and delays caused by collisions and other incidents on the highway.
Had I been drafting the Bill, I would have worded it, to minimise congestion and delays caused on the highway for whatever reason. Why should we only tackle congestion when it is the result of collisions and other incidents? Why should we not consider the whole matter of why our roads are congested at times and what we can do about that? If the Minister is not going to support the Bill, I hope that he will lay before the House a list of measures that he is considering to reduce congestion that will, in turn, show why the Bill is not necessary. It seems to me that far more could and should be done to improve traffic flows.
On the subject of congestion, if my parliamentary duties permit me to do so, I intend later today to visit Marlborough in Wiltshire, where there will be an international weekend for the Jensen Owners Club. It might be that there will be congestion in the vicinity of Marlborough as Jensen motor cars, built in West Bromwich but from all over the world, descend on Alexandra house for their international weekendI hope that that helps the House.
I hope that the Minister will tell us, if he will not support the Bill, what he intends to bring forward to help to reduce congestion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has pointed out, the present situation is far from satisfactory. I am constantly frustrated and annoyed when I drive away from this place in non-rush hour periods to my address, which is 1.3 miles away, to be stopped several times at traffic lights for absolutely no vehicles or no pedestrians seeking to cross. I then find myself in a queue with half a dozen or so other motorists on a main road being stopped for no purpose at all at traffic lights that deal with a minor road. In the spirit of the Bill, I ask the Minister why we cannot have a system operating in the UK like that in America where, in non-rush hour periods, certain traffic lights flash amber in all directions. In effect, that says to motorists, Cross this junction with care, but you dont have to stop if there are no other vehicles or pedestrians in the vicinity.
I hope that the Minister will tell us, if he is not supporting the Bill, what further measures the Government will take to give motorists adequate long-distance warning. There is nothing more frustrating than being on a motorway, passing an exit that could have been used as a detour and finding suddenly that the motorway is
closed and that the gantry warning signs, which could have warned motorists of the congestion and closure, had not been switched on to relay that information to motorists earlier on in their journey. It does seem sometimes that there is no joined-up thinking between different regions of the Highways Agency. I hope that the Bill will tackle that issue, if the Minister is not able to say that he is already considering such measures.
Another way of minimising congestion, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has in mind, is the device in America that allows drivers to turn left on a red traffic light, if it is clear to do so.
The Government started trials with flexible speed limits, but only flexible speed limits in a downward direction. Why is the Minister not being bold? Why does he not announce a policy whereby, when the roads are dry and the weather is fine, we could have a flexible limit in an upward direction on motorways, perhaps to 80 mph to bring us in line with France and some motorways in Germany?
I give some praise to the Minister for supporting a policy of hard shoulder running. I have long thought that we should introduce such a policy to alleviate congestion, particularly now that we have gantries at regular intervals, so that if a car broke down and was forced to move over to the hard shoulder when that hard shoulder was in use for vehicle running, the gantries some miles before could warn motorists to return to the main carriageway of the highway. I hope we will see hard shoulder running introduced fairly soon.
Mr. Knight: I am obliged to my hon. Friend. The tidal flow mechanism works well in Birmingham, and in Lincolnthe constituency of a former Transport Minister. Why are we not encouraging highway authorities to roll out tidal flow systems in many other towns?
For the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, we are talking about a series of lanes of traffic without a central reservation, which allow, for example, four lanes inward to a city in the early-morning rush hour and only two coming the other way, with a reversed flow in the evening, so that when the majority of the traffic wishes to leave a city centre, four lanes can be outward and only two inward. The tidal flow is announced by lights above each lane. As far as I know, there is not an unacceptable risk to motorists' safety by using that system, because it tends to be used on roads where the speed limit is 40 or 50 mph and not 70 mph. One might have difficulty in introducing such a scheme on a motorway because one would need to remove the central reservation. But certainly on roads where the running limit is lower than motorway speeds, it seems to me that we should be making far greater use of tidal flow systems.
Sharing information is another thing that the Department for Transport has not yet grasped. If the Minister is not prepared to say that he is considering it, I hope that we might get a chance to debate it if the Bill goes into
Committee. It seems to me that congestion should take no one by surprise. I suspect that 90 per cent. of motorists have in their car a mobile telephone that is switched on, or are accompanied by a passenger who has a mobile phone that is switched on. The mobile phone companies will know the whereabouts of that phone because of the signal it emits, so the telephone companies must have knowledge of where congestion is likely to occur because they will know where the vehicles are. If suddenly on their screens it appears that a lot of their customers are near Hemel Hempstead in the vicinity of the M1, it should be possible for the Highways Agency to use that information to flag up to motorists who are heading towards that congested area the message, Avoid. There is heavy congestion". I wonder whether the Minister or his Department have been in discussion with any telephone company about using that information better to inform the Highways Agency, the police and thereby motorists of such congestion.
I hope my hon. Friends Bill will also cover 24-hour bus lanes. I have never understood why we permit 24-hour bus lanes when we do not have 24-hour buses. That road space is therefore denied to other road users for public transport that is not running. Once the bus service of a district ceases on a certain day, unless a contraflow lane is involved, the bus lane should be turned over to general use. That could be done easily without the Bill; the Minister could issue guidance on that matter.
Mr. Chope: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recommendation made by Mr. Heymer in the pamphlet, Stop the war against drivers that all existing bus lanes should be reviewed to determine whether they add to the passenger carrying capacity of the network, that those that do not should be removed or their hours of operation reduced and that all new bus lane proposals should be assessed on the same basis?
Mr. Knight: I was not aware of that. My hon. Friend very kindly gave me the booklet by Mr. Heymer a few moments ago, and the more that I read what he has to say, the more that I like him. I do not know what the booklet costs. I see on the back that the price is £12.99. If my hon. Friend is feeling in a generous mood and is willing to
Mr. Knight: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was seeking not to advertise the booklet, but to encourage my hon. Friend to send a free one to the Minister. I hope that he will do so, because the Minister may be better informed after he has read the booklet than his policy appears to indicate.
Another developing problem is the Governments desire for 20 mph speed limits, particularly near schools. I have no difficulty with that because, for safety reasons, it could be argued that cars should slow down to 20 mph in the vicinity of schools. That is quite reasonable, but only when schools are in use. I have discovered a flaw in that policy: I understand that, unless the local authority erects electronic flashing signs, the 20 mph
must be enforced permanently. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that, if the Bill proceeded further, that might be an amendment
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be helpful to his hon. Friend, but I remind him once again that the Bill is about minimising congestion and delays caused by collisions, not by speed limits.
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