HOUSE OF COMMONS
Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
SPECIAL GRANT REPORT (No. 18) (GRANT TO THE RECEIVER OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE DISTRICT) (HC 239)
Wednesday 13 March 1996
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: Mr. Edward O'Hara
Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North)
Clark, Dr. Michael (Rochford)
Cox, Mr. Tom (Tooting)
Deva, Mr. Nirj Joseph (Brentford and Isleworth)
Dicks, Mr. Terry (Hayes and Harlington)
Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow)
Hodge, Ms Margaret (Barking)
Hughes, Mr. Simon (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Keen, Mr. Alan (Feltham and Hestori)
McLoughlin, Mr. Patrick (West Derbyshire)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Mitchell, Sir David (North- West Hampshire)
Onslow, Sir Cranley (Woking)
Redwood. Mr. John (Wokingham)
Scott, Sir Nicholas (Chelsea)
Spearing, Mr. Nigel (Newham, South)
Timms. Mr. Stephen (Newham, North-East)
Watts, Mr. John (Slough)
Mr. D. W. N. Doig, Committee Clerk2 3 Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Wednesday 13 March 1996
[MR. EDWARD O'HARA in the Chair]
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): I beg to move That the Committee has considered the Special Grant Report (No. 18) (Grant to the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police District) (HC 239) This special grant report will enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make payments to the receiver of the Metropolitan police district. The payments will be for the police to purchase new equipment to aid the enforcement of the priority red route network. Payments will be phased over three years and the total will not exceed £2.8 million. The grant reflects the commitment of the Government, the traffic director for London and the Metropolitan police to proper enforcement of traffic in London. Proper enforcement is the key to the success of the red route initiative. The grant also recognises the essential part played by the police in keeping traffic moving in the capital. I welcome the joint approach by the traffic director and the police to enforcement; they will not only agree appropriate levels of enforcment on the red route network, but how those will be monitored and measured. That is a new departure for London. The Metropolitan police commissioner has confirmed that the police will be able to enforce red routes effectively within existing police resources, subject only to an additional capital sum not exceeding £2.8 million being made available by the Department of Transport. That resource is the subject of this special grant report. It will pay for new equipment, mainly a wider range of vehicles and hand-held computer terminals for the issue of fixed penalty notices. The money will be made available from within the Department's existing resources. Red routes form one of the Government's major initiatives for improving traffic conditions in London. They will bring benefits to all road users including buses, cyclists, pedestrians and people with a disability. To enable them to operate effectively, it is essential that the enforcement is carried out efficiently. The purchase of new equipment together with improvements to the working practices of the police traffic wardens will help achieve that aim. The formal agreement between the police and the traffic director will ensure that the effectiveness of the enforcement is 4 closely monitored and that value for money is obtained for the grant. I commend it to the Committee.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. It is good to see you in the Chair and it is also pleasing to see that the Minister is not only with us, but on time. I read a little snippet in the Sunday Mirror—required reading for all hon. Members—under the heading of "Late Travel News": "Roads Minister John Watts was an hour late for a Stoke-on-Trent press conference about reducing jams after he got stuck on the M6". So, we are pleased that he made it here this afternoon. The Opposition support measures to improve the enforcement of parking restrictions within the priority red route network and welcome the steady evolution, after a somewhat uncertain start, of red routes into green routes. We have some concerns, however, which I would like to raise with the Minister, not only about the way the Government have implemented the concept but the way in which they have failed to implement a wider integrated system for London—although I understand that the Secretary of State for Transprot has had something of a death-bed conversion in terms of a strategy for transport in general and for London in particular. We welcome that and hope, even at this late stage, that that strategy can extend to your city and town, Mr. O'Hara, just as it should extend to everyone else's city and town outside London. The measures should be seen in the context of a wider approach and not in isolation. Paragraph 3 of annex B states: "If the Priority (Red) Route Network is to be successful it is essential that it be properly and efficiently enforced". The measures before us help to that end. The redirection of the grant to equipment for the police and traffic wardens will enable them to cover larger areas and to do so more quickly. However, we are concerned that the special grant is not part of a strategy but a piecemeal implementation of the network. The original purpose of the network was to improve traffic flow, allowing cars and buses faster and more reliable routes in and out of London. The fact that almost no parking is allowed at peak commuting times reflects the importance placed on those roads for commuters. Another aim of the network was to avoid encouraging car commuting into or across central London. If that is to be achieved, it is imperative that any space cleared by better parking enforcement is used not only for the benefit of motorists, but for buses, cyclists and pedestrians, as originally set out in the aims for red routes. I welcome what has happened in that direction, but much more could be done. No one benefits if parked cars are simply cleared away to make way for yet another queue of traffic. It has to be part of a wider package of measures. The Opposition have always stressed that greater weight should be given to the users of public transport, cyclists, pedestrians and local residents and businesses. 5 I command the hard constituency work done by hon. Members of whatever political party in London, which has brought about some changes to the original rather constrained proposals for the red route network. If a scheme is to work, it must be part of a strategic overview of transport management. In London today, that is still sadly lacking. The first symptom of that lack of strategic transport management is the fact that the transference of money needs to come to Parliament at all. I am the first to welcome parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive, but originally that money was part of the traffic director's budget and was issued by the Department of Transport for the improvement of traffic signalling. The money is now needed by the Metropolitan police to issue traffic wardens with equipment similar to that used in local authorities. Parliamentary is involved because of the transfer to the Home Office. The very fact that we are sitting in Committee this afternoon is a sign that implementation was not properly thought through. The problem also shows itself all too clearly on the streets. Since the decriminalisation of parking offences on routes under local authority control, parking attendants can issue tickets for parking offences on those roads, but not on red routes. Conversely, the police can issue tickets on red routes, but are constrained as to the number of tickets that they can issue elsewhere on surrounding roads. They tend to leave them to parking attendants. A parking attendant, therefore, could be standing next to a car that is blocking a whole lane of traffic—perhaps causing a tailback of a mile or so—yet be unable to stick a ticket on the offending driver's vehicle. I know that the Minister is concerned about that. I hope that he will take steps to inform all Committee members whether we can produce a system whereby the nearest person eligible to issue a ticket—a traffic warden or a policeman—can do so, regardless of the type of road on which the vehicle is parked. Congestion does not take account of any jurisdiction; neither should those seeking to prevent it. I accept the difference between decriminalised parking offences and other traffic offences that are not yet out of the domain of the police and traffic wardens. Surely, however, common sense would suggest that, if we want red routes to work effectively there should not be a severe demarcation between who can and cannot issue tickets. I would appreciate the Minister's views about that. Even if the level of control needed to keep routes clear is available, it does not necessarily mean that red routes are a success. Paragraph 2 of annex B of the report states that the aim of priority red routes "is to make better use of the existing road system. This will be done by reviewing all of the existing traffic restrictions on the Network and considering the needs of all users of the roads—residents, businesses, pedestrians and cyclists, as well as traffic." That is a commendable idea, but the three-year delay in completing the network—I believe that completion will be held over from 1997 to 2000—could potentially create as many problems as are being solved by the network. If the project does not function as a network, but is an amalgamation of separate parts, its value in 6 solving transport problems will be substantially reduced. For the network to be effective, there needs to be co-operation under the current arrangements between the Government, the traffic director, the parking director and local authorities—just the type of co-ordination for which a strategic body for London would be ideal. The delayed funding awarded to the traffic director is at least relatively stable for the next few years and is protected from the funding lottery to which London local authorities are subjected on an annual basis. Such a bidding system makes it nearly impossible for councils to plan into the future and to finance, for example, large-scale networks of traffic calming measures, which are essential to capitalise on the possible benefits of the red route network. Without effective co-ordination with London local authorities, parking enforcement by Metropolitan police traffic wardens could simply move the problem from red routes to nearby residential streets and have a significant effect on the people who live and work there as well as costing substantial amounts of money. If motorists want to park illegally and know with certainty that there will be a problem if they do so on a red route, they might well choose to move the problem on to the nearest local residential street and take a chance—especially if traffic personnel cannot pursue them, so to speak. Parking regulations must be well-enforced to be meaningful, but those regulations must be planned very carefully in the first place if we are to avoid problems such as the ones I outlined or problems with deliveries to shops. Equally, those measures must be coupled with the necessary public consultation to undo some of the damage done by the appalling way in which red routes were first introduced. I am sure that London Members have their own stories about the annoyance, irritation and, indeed, financial loss suffered by local businesses because of the way in which red routes were first introduced. I hope that we have learnt the lesson of those early problems and that there will be better consultation, especially with the director of traffic whose work I commend. The director is striving hard to overcome earlier problems and I hope that we have entered a new and better era of public consultation. Without that, residents and local businesses might well continue to oppose plans that they do not understand and that they feel are imposed on them. That is a certain way of enraging people, even when the project has much to commend it. It is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for want of a little sensitivity, common sense and, above all, consultation with local people and businesses. In addition, we need measures to enhance the environment for users of sustainable transport—users of buses and cycles, as well as pedestrians. There are still too few such measures. The Government have chosen the stick of red routes while dragging their heels on the carrots that will extract maximum benefits from priority red route networks. The carrots, quite simply, are the 500 miles of bus priority lanes and the 1,200 miles of cycle networks as well as widespread 7 improvements for pedestrians, all of which were promised at the beginning of the red route era, but have been unrolled at quite a slow pace. It is an obvious point to make, but red routes cannot operate in isolation. During the past three years, local authority spending on local transport initiatives has been cut by half. If the local authority's ability to back up red routes with bus priority measures, traffic calming, chicanes and sleeping policemen is cut in half, the viability and effectiveness of red routes will be reduced. The Secretary of State's "Traffic Management and Parking Guidance" for London local authorities—now more than three years old—saw the red route network as a short-term traffic management measure to tackle congestion problems. For the longer term, it envisaged a proper, integrated transportation system. It suggested that, by the end of the decade, a completed rail investment scheme tied in with red routes would bring massive benefits to traffic flow so that local congestion could be avoided. More efficient enforcement of parking in bus lanes is pointless if the parked car merely makes way for faster moving cars rather than buses. I am not being anti-car, but rather pro-transport choice. It is well known that in Germany people have more cars per head than in the United Kingdom, but they choose to use their cars less, because they have alternative ways of getting to and from work and different ways of spending their leisure time and of getting the kids to and from school. Providing such alternatives is the key. We should make red routes a reality and maximise their benefits. We should allow space for buses, even if that means that not every inch of the road can be used for cars. The Minister, the Government Whip—the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin—and I are the only non-London Members present. It is new to me to see the proliferation of bodies in London post the Greater London Council: the director of traffic a separate entity controlling traffic signals and a director of parking as well as the local authorities and quangos. That may be a recipe for confusion and it certainly demands co-ordination and change. We are keen to see the establishment of a London-wide body able to implement a truly sustainable policy, with priority being given to other transport modes as an alternative to the car. On the roads, that will mean priority for buses throughout London and not merely along short stretches. It will mean better co-ordination of traffic on red routes and other routes, supporting local authorities and making long-term improvements to the pedestrian and cycling environment. Above all, it will mean viewing transport in London as the multi-modal network that it is. In consultation with local communities, we should establish an infrastructure that promotes sustainable transport use well into the next millennium. If, after 17 years, the Secretary of State for transport has concluded that it is about time that we had a strategy for transport in London, we welcome that. We 8 hope that even the fag end of this Government realises that such a transport strategy should extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. On behalf of the Opposition, I can say that the greener the red routes become, the more we and the public will support them.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) generously referred to "we" when he spoke for this side of the House: he could only have been referring to me and him. On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, whose representation in the Committee is equal in size to that of the official Opposition, I would like to say that I did not disagree with a word of what the hon. Gentleman said. I just want to make a couple of brief points. Never have I seen such an august bevy of senior Tories for what—if I may say so, although disrespectfully—is a minor piece of secondary legislation. I can spot at least three Back Benchers who do not represent London constituencies. Membership of the Committee includes four Tory political knights, one of whom has not yet appeared. There is a former chairman of the 1922 Committee, a former Select Committee Chairman, a former Minister of State at the Department of Social Security and, although he is not here, a former Secretary of State for Wales. This must be very important secondary legislation and I am honoured to be in such august company. This grant does not amount to a large fraction of Metropolitan police funding and I should be pleased to be able to scrutinise the rest as closely. Some of us hope that that ability, after which we so hanker, will be ours before the next millenium with the recreation of a democratic and accountable police authority for London. I had a useful meeting with the traffic director for London recently at which we discussed red routes. I was persuaded that they are a good idea, provided that they accommodate the needs of other users. Other hon. Members with London constituencies share my anxiety that red routes carry the danger that local businesses, such as newsagents, may go out of business if people cannot stop to visit them. One of the preconditions for red routes is that there are inset bays for loading and unloading, in which people can park while they buy a newspaper or make some other small purchase. Many traditional businesses along the main roads depend as much on passing traffic as they do on local custom. That arrangement has to be secure and we shall closely examine the final stages of the relevant consultation proposals. I took advice on the two proposals contained in the measure. The second proposal is that £2,183,000 will be spent on hand-held computer terminals and printers. I am advised that that will be a good thing, although I am aware of being somewhat hypocritical. Those of us who drive in London will have been the victims of over-zealous traffic wardens and police constables—
Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking): Speak for yourself.9
Mr. Hughes: I do speak for myself, having been the victim more than once. A couple of times, the wardens and officers have been a little zealous and I have complained. If one is parked anywhere near this building for as much as a minute over the limit, the appropriate warden will appear from nowhere. No one has persuaded me that the wardens are not on commission.
Mr. Allen: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman mistakes over-zealousness for proper prosecution for an offence.
Mr. Hughes: Justice is all about tempering the rigorous application of the law with mercy. Bearing down on people who are a couple of minutes over the parking limit is a little harsh.
Mr. Allen: They know who you are.
Mr. Hughes: That may be true too. Local authority traffic wardens already have personal computer mechanisms for printing tickets and so on, but the wardens who work for the police do not. In the good old fashioned police way, they have to write everything out. That takes much longer and they get around fewer people. So, the new technology should render them more effective. I am more worried about the £617,000 to be devoted to a larger and more diverse vehicle fleet. At the moment, bevies of traffic wardens are dropped like parachutists from a 12-seater or 16-seater van at a spot from which they fan out. That seems inefficient. It has been put to me that mopeds or some similar vehicle would be better than large Sherpa vans for the purpose of making wardens mobile. The use of more appropriate vehicles such as mopeds would mean that wardens who have done their patch would not have to walk to where the van is to pick them up, to take them somewhere else. That is a serious suggestion, and I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee what the fleet is to be. I fear that the vehicles will be Sherpa-type vans rather than mopeds. If we are asked to approve the order, I hope that approval will not be taken to mean that there is no need to find the most flexible form of operation. If we are to ensure that people are used in a time-efficient way, they must not spend a lot of time walking to and from the site of their attack and waiting for the van to pick them up and take them to the next place. With that reservation, and having stated my wish for red routes to be as green as everything else, I shall allow the Minister to respond so that we can all be somewhere else by 5 o'clock.
Mr. Watts: I am grateful for the support that both hon. Gentlemen's expressed for the concept and implementation of the red route network. As they both 10 acknowledged, it is part of the greening of traffic in London. It is true to say that the implementation of red routes has improved since they were started. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, it is important that we do not impose unnecessary restrictions. An essential feature of the implementation of a new stretch of red route is that all existing restrictions are reviewed. Those that are not necessary are removed, so that there is more very short-term parking of the sort that small traders, including newsagents, require to be able to carry on their business. The extension of such powers outside London could well be considered, just as we tried out decriminalised enforcement of parking in the London boroughs before those powers became available in other parts of the country. I believe that such a scheme is due to start in Winchester shortly. Decriminalised enforcement has been a great success. There is more enforcement than there was before and that frees up police resources in London to be concentrated on the priority routes, which are the subject of today's, debate. A recent part of the enforcement scheme is the trial of cameras to ensure that bus priority lanes are kept free. Cameras are on buses and at the roadside, so other aspects are being taken fully into account. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North asked about the powers of traffic wardens away from red routes. As I understand it, they do not lose any powers. If, therefore, they saw a serious obstruction, they would use their powers appropriately or call in the local police. It would be more difficult for local authority wardens to act on red routes because their powers are now civil, whereas enforcement on red routes remains a criminal matter. There should be little fear that there will not be sufficient manpower on red routes to ensure adequate enforcement. I fear to disappoint the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey; the vehicles are not mopeds, but nor are they enormous. They are people carriers somewhere in between the range of vehicles to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Mr. Simon Hughes: Will there be any mopeds?
Mr. Watts: I think not. It is important to be able to move groups of wardens from one route to another fairly rapidly. I should be surprised if we found much evidence of wardens standing idle at the roadside. The debate has been short, but constructive. The proposal has all-round support and I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved. That the Committee has considered the Special Grant Report (No. 18) (Grant to the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police District) (HC 239).
Committee rose at two minutes to Five o'clock.11
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (chairman)
Clark, Dr. Michael
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Marshall, Sir Michael
Mitchell, Sir David
Onslow, Sir Cranley
Scott, Sir Nicholas