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"GUIDANCE AS TO EXERCISE OF TRAFFIC OFFICERS' POWERS
(1) The appropriate national authority may
(a) publish guidance as to the exercise of any powers conferred on traffic officers by or under this Part, or
(b) approve for the purposes of this Part any such guidance published by another person.
(2) A traffic officer shall have regard to any such guidance in exercising any such powers to which the guidance is relevant.
(3) Before publishing or approving any guidance under this section, the appropriate national authority shall consult and have regard to any representations made by
(a) such bodies representing the police,
(b) such persons who exercise functions as undertakers in relation to street works or apparatus in streets, and
(c) such other persons,
as the authority considers appropriate.
(4) In this section
"undertakers" has the meaning given by section 48(4) and (5) of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c. 22) (streets, street works and undertakers), and
"street works" has the meaning given by section 48(3) of that Act."
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this amendment would ensure that guidance issued to traffic officers also deals with how to handle street works activity, and that the undertakers of street works are consulted on the guidance. The utility companies have argued that the objective of traffic officers of keeping traffic flowing must be tempered with the additional objective of paying due regard to the need to provide and maintain other essential services.
The Minister has indicated that traffic officers will operate primarily on motorways and major trunk roads where there are proportionally fewer street works. It is none the less important that guidance issued to traffic officers should also deal with how to handle street work activity. Indeed, at an earlier stage, the Minister indicated that guidance would cover this point. Perhaps I may give an example. Where a permit has already been issued, traffic officers should have the power to stop street works only under limited and agreed conditions.
The Minister in another place confirmed that the Highways Agency is already in the process of introducing a system of governance to guide traffic officers in their existing duties and powers. However, he also indicated that there would be clear guidance on how officers should operate in connection with those carrying out work on
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roads for the Highways Agency or the utilities. It is therefore right and proper that the utilities should be included in the consultations promised by the Minister. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Davies, could repeat that assurance.
In our debate in Committee the noble Lord indicated that there was merit in the arguments I put forward, in particular in support of this new clause. But in his reply he also stated that he thought the new clause unnecessary because the national authority can issue guidance. However, the purpose of the new clause was not only to ensure that new guidance could be issued, but also to ensure that any guidance issued takes account of the consultation held with all interested parties, specifically including the statutory undertakers of street works.
In his reply the Minister focused on motorways where, as he rightly indicated, there are severe restrictions on statutory undertakers carrying out works. However, he neglected to refer to trunk roads where many street works take place and where traffic officers will perform their duties. Given that, is the noble Lord able to give me the assurances that I require? I hope that he will be able to do so and that he will realise that I am trying to be helpful in this process, enabling the Government to clarify what will and will not be included in guidance. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the arguments put forward by the noble Viscount, but he will recognise that his new clause is exactly the same as that which we debated in Grand Committee. Although I understand the intention behind it, I have to report to the House that our views have not changed on the desirability of the proposed clause. It is unnecessary because the appropriate national authority may issue guidance already and does not need a specific statutory power to do so.
Indeed, formal guidance would normally be appropriate only where an authority is providing it to a third party carrying out functions on its behalf. However, the traffic officer service will be provided by the appropriate national authority, so it is not necessary to have a statutory power, and certainly not a statutory duty, for the publication of guidance to be set out on the face of the Bill.
In practice, and this is where I come close to the arguments articulated by the noble Viscount both today and in Grand Committee, operational guidance is a necessity. I acknowledge that what was sought in Committee was a reassurance in relation to such guidance. As most noble Lords will be aware, traffic officers, albeit without the powers proposed in this Bill, are already operating in the West Midlands. I can assure noble Lords that they are following a comprehensive set of working agreements, procedures and guidelines drawn up by the Highways Agency and the police that are already in place. These arrangements are working well, but will remain under review and will be subject to change when traffic officers are able to use the powers that this Bill seeks to provide.
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I can assure noble Lords that these documents have been prepared by working closely with the police. There has also been consultationaddressing the burden of the noble Viscount's remarkswhere appropriate with other stakeholders, including local authorities, maintenance contractors and breakdown recovery service organisations. This consultation and liaison will continue.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I think that he has given me the assurances I require. However, I was not quite clear whether he said that the utilities would be included in the consultation. He mentioned a number of bodies, which I think included the utilities, but it would be helpful if he could confirm that.
"( ) In any regulation made under section 9(1), the Secretary of State shall not remove the right of a person present whose vehicle is to be removed pursuant to section 99(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27) (removal of vehicles illegally, obstructively or dangerously parked, or abandoned or broken down) to choose who shall remove the vehicle unless it would, in the reasonable opinion of the traffic officer, be unreasonable to do so due to an imminent danger to persons using the road or because the vehicle is causing an obstruction on the road."
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this amendment also refers to the perennial problem of this Bill in that so much of it is to be left to secondary legislation and guidance. We have to accept the assurances of the Minister that his department will deal with this in a way that noble Lords find satisfactory. As a result I have to come back to the Government on this because they have gone some of the way, but not all the way. I seek two specific assurances, which I hope that the Minister will be able to give, that will certainly satisfy those involved in the rescue of motorists who break down.
This amendment would put on the face of the Bill an undertaking that the Government will not interfere with the right of individuals to choose who should rescue them, assuming that they are not obstructing traffic on the carriageway or posing a danger. We had a lengthy discussion about this in Grand Committee which resulted in two simple questions that I want to pose to the Minister. I hope that he will be able to give me satisfactory answers.
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First, in the secondary legislation, will the Government ensure that a motorist who breaks down on the hard shoulder of the motorway but does not cause an obstruction is to have the right to choose who will rescue him? Concern has been expressed by motorists and the rescue services about the risk of double charging. The Highways Agency will immediately ring a local contractor who will move the car off the motorway, but will not do anything more than that. The result will be a charge of just over £100, while the motorist will still have to call one of the other services to which he belongs, incurring a second charge. If the Minister can give me that assurance, it would be most helpful.
Secondly, we are concerned that unintentional muddles could be caused, ultimately resulting in motorists incurring higher costs. We want to make sure that traffic officers will not intervene if a vehicle is not obstructing traffic or posing a danger unless specifically asked to do so.
We have accepted the Government's assurances that they do not want to set up their own breakdown service. But we are concerned that the Highways Agency will use local contractors who could, in effect, re-charge the motorist. I know that the Minister's department has been in discussion with the rescue services, so I would be enormously grateful for his assurances. It will enable us to move on from this issue. I beg to move.
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