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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not think that that is right. The matter will be dealt with by the Portuguese authorities, not here. I have already made it plain that although some may wish that my honourable friend had expressed himself differently, the import of his comments was clear.
Is there not a similarity, in essence, to cases in Northern Ireland where public officials, given inadequate protection against terrorism and having had to employ pragmatic measures, can find themselves charged with offences that would not in themselves merit a criminal conviction? Otherwise, these "fall-guys" would not be held over for periods well in excess of a year, so that more dubious evidence can be accumulated out of time and certainly out of context. Is that justice?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps we could remain within the context of this Question. The Portuguese authorities applied the rules. Your Lordships will know that in this case the defendant had an opportunity, if he so chose, to postpone the hearing for 30 days. He chose to have an expedited hearing. It was a valid process within the meaning of the Portuguese law.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in this case government policy was communicated to the population with great clarity? Could she urge her ministerial colleagues throughout government to communicate government policy with equal clarity on all other matters, so that it can be just as easily understood?
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the fact that a very senior
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government Minister can make remarks of this kind which areto put it at its lowestambiguous, is a very clear demonstration of why it is important to have and to retain in the Cabinet a senior judicial and judicious figure who can seek to preserve his colleagues from these unfortunate errors? Does she also agree that noble Lords not cognisant of this point would do well to bear it in mind when we come to debate the Constitutional Reform Bill?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have to say to the noble Viscount that I am surprised that he should suggest that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was "ambiguous" in any way. I think that the reverse is true.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think that it is common ground between us that congestion is a nuisance and a source of irritation and expense. It may surprise the Minister to learn that I am ready to applaud the Government for bringing forward what seems a sensible Bill. I would welcome it even more warmly if the Minister, in replying to this very modest amendment, which I shall explain in a moment, could assure me that he was satisfied that the new powers given to the Highways Agency and the additional powers given to local authorities would be used. I am far from satisfied about that at the moment, because my own observations lead me to think that the highway authorities and the Highways Agency are extremely dilatory in some of their operations and thereby contribute considerably to blockages, which are a nuisance to us all.
This is a very modest and crude amendment. I do not for one moment expect the noble Lord to accept it; it would shock me if he did. But I seek an assuranceI hope that I have the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. I realise now that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, is to reply. I am glad that his attention is riveted on what I say.
In the past there has been a large measure of just going along with congestion as an inevitable fact of life. There has been no will on the part of government, local authorities or the Highways Agency to take steps to promote movement. When I was the Minister responsible for transport many years ago, I developed the rather old-fashioned idea that highways were
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for movement. I would be grateful for a generous acknowledgement by the Minister that he and the Government whom he represents rate highly the idea of freedom of movement, and that it ought not to be sacrificed in the way that it has been in the pastthat is all that I expect today.
Both the Highways Agency and local authorities can be blamed for the irritating habit of coning off large sections of road and leaving the restrictions in place in the pious hope that something may happen in their absence. It does not.
My attitude to the whole Bill will depend on my getting a satisfactory answer from the noble Lord that the desirability of movement on the highways will not be lost sight of and that it will be secured only if the measures in the Bill are accepted by those who give them an opportunity, with pleasure and determination. I beg to move.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I had the unworthy thought that perhaps there is just a small element of mischief in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, because much of the Bill is concerned with easing movement, getting rid of congestion and dealing with traffic disruption.
Given that the noble Lord's amendment is based specifically on Clause 1 and the duties of the traffic officer, surely it will not have escaped his attention that in Clause 5, which sets out the special powers of the officer, the phrase "movement of traffic" appears at least twice. Clause 5(3) refers to the duties of the officer to maintain or improve the "movement of traffic". It also refers to,
Later on, when dealing with the highway authorities, the Bill is drafted in the same vein. Surely, there is no disagreement between Ministers and the noble Lord on the essence of what is being said about the need for the relevant authorities to ensure proper movement of traffic and to avoid congestion. I shall be amazed if the Minister disagrees with that, and if he wishes to accept the amendment.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for welcoming the Bill. He asks for reassurances; I hope that I can give them to him. He seeks a generous acknowledgement that the Government have taken on board his amendment. But I underline the point that my noble friend Lord Borrie has just made: the main purpose of the Bill is to keep traffic moving. The point was made over and over again in Committee in the Moses Room, where, I know, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, finds the acoustics dreadful. But there is no question but that keeping traffic moving is the fundamental point that underpins the Bill.
The use of the expression "management of traffic" is broad, encompassing the core activities that we intend traffic officers to undertake. It accurately captures the essence of a traffic officer's function and is also well understood by all stakeholders. Although a primary objective of traffic management is to help to keep
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traffic moving, traffic management may at times involve stopping or delaying traffic. For example, in the event of a road accident, it may be appropriate and necessary to close a road or part of a carriageway.
Traffic officers will have the power to stop traffic and may use that power to avoid danger to persons or other traffic. In such cases, the traffic officer's duties and powers are used, not to keep traffic moving, but to protect people and property. Another example would be their powers to stop and direct traffic at traffic surveys. That would inevitably delay traffic, albeit for a very good reason.
We therefore consider that "management" is a more apt word than "movement", particularly in the light of the underlying principle that we wish to keep traffic moving. I will hold my breath in the hope that the answer that I have given the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, satisfies him. If it does, I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.
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