Clause 48

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 pm ar 18 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Trunk road picnic areas

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Committee has made such rapid progress that we have caught up with a clause to which the Opposition tabled an amendment this afternoon. I am not sure about the status of that amendment, but perhaps I can describe it.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

I announced at the beginning of our proceedings that we do not debate amendments so lately tabled, so I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment has no status whatever.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield

Order. I want to be helpful to the Opposition. I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of man, and particularly of the hon. Gentleman, to weave into this stand part debate a reference to what he wanted to do.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was most helpful advice, Sir Nicholas, and I shall try to follow it closely.

The Government’s idea of having rest areas is interesting. We have received a briefing stating that a significant number of road crashes are caused by people going to sleep. I think that the figure is 17 per cent. We are not convinced that this measure is the right way to go about things, however, and we disagree quite strongly with the clause. There are better ways of skinning this cat.

Photo of Rosemary McKenna Rosemary McKenna Llafur, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

Perhaps that is the point. Roadside service stations are quite often skinning people, instead of skinning the cat by providing service areas that are pretty much free, where people do not have to spend much money.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was an interesting intervention. I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) has joined us. We hope that the Liberal Democrat party had an enjoyable Easter as well.

We are not happy with the clause. The idea has been picked up from the continent. I was in France recently, looking at how the motorway system is run there. It is entirely different from the system here. The French have sold the lot; they have raised about €16 billion by selling off the right to maintain, manage and expand their motorway system for the next 50 or 60 years. The private companies have the finance and the staff to patrol and manage properly their rest areas.

That system is quite unlike ours. The measure would create substantial public expense; the Library said that it would cost £3 million to set up one of the proposed areas, and a further £300,000 for maintenance. We have doubts about whether it is wise to create areas that cannot be properly policed. If they do not have 24-hour CCTV coverage, the danger is that they will attract ne’er-do-wells, and they could rapidly become dangerous places at night. We should concentrate on improving existing services, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) said.

There is also a disadvantage in creating too many exits and entries on our crowded motorways. We already have enough, and many traffic studies show that any exit or entry point creates traffic problems. Substantial amounts of traffic will be disrupted while the areas are built, and there will be yet more entry and exit points. We are also not at all convinced that without proper, 24-hour surveillance, such areas will work. They will need CCTV that operates all the time, and regular patrolling. If they are to have any refreshment facilities at all, they will become a sort of shadow area—possibly even worse than those with which the hon. Lady is unhappy—and they will be costly for the public purse. We do not want them to become attractive areas for rapists, thieves and burglars.

The answer is to improve existing motorway service areas. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about that. Our suggestion, on which the Minister might like to comment, recognises the merit of allowing the existing service areas to have picnic areas. We already have entry and exit points, 24-hour CCTV coverage and private money available to staff.

Photo of Rosemary McKenna Rosemary McKenna Llafur, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

May I make it clear that I was not particularly attacking existing service stations? There should be alternatives where those with families can go without experiencing the pressure young children put on them to use the facilities and go to the various food outlets. There should be an alternative place where people with young families—or anyone else—can go to picnic without feeling pressurised into purchasing something.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was a most helpful point and I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. I am proposing outdoor picnic areas on the sites. She might like to know that the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 exclude the ability to have adverts for picnic areas in motorway service stations, which seems a complete anomaly. That would be a much cheaper solution, because private money is involved, and a much safer one, because such areas will be properly patrolled and looked after. On that basis, my party is  not prepared to support clause 48, which we think is well intentioned but wrong.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern that the type of picnic areas in question, which are modelled on the French aires, may not be suitable everywhere. Clearly, if not managed correctly, they would be a problem. However, this is an enabling power. It does not require us to open such sites up or put them all over the place. It is simply a power that will allow us to create picnic areas where we think them an appropriate way to provide an opportunity for motorists to have a break.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that motorway service stations are privately operated, but that motorway service operators do not necessarily want to build very expensive service stations everywhere. Might it not be possible that there are parts of the motorway network that currently do not have service stations? People often have to drive too far along those parts of the network because of the long distance between service stations, and where operators are not interested in investing in service stations, such a picnic area might be a cheaper way of providing people with the opportunity to take a break. It is intended that they will have 24-hour CCTV and basic facilities such as toilets and washrooms, which will be regularly cleaned and inspected, and there will a minimum level of security in these areas.

Is it possible that people might be able to use these picnic areas for nefarious purposes? Yes, I expect that that will be possible in certain circumstances. We need to design such areas accordingly, with that in mind, but I do not see what harm we can do by giving ourselves the power to create them where we think they will benefit road safety. I suspect that that process will be fairly limited; I would not have thought that very many of these facilities will be constructed at public expense, but I think that, where appropriate, they could be a good place for families to stop.

I note the hon. Gentleman’s idea about picnic areas associated with motorway service stations. I think that some motorway service stations already have them: I seem to recollect having a cup of coffee and a sandwich at a table outside a service station at various times during the summer months when I did not want to sit among the crowds inside.

I am already discussing the signage for motorway service stations with motorway service operators, and if it is necessary for us to think of some way of indicating that a picnic area is available at a service station, I am by all means prepared to consider such an idea. I am open-minded about that, as long as the signs do not distract drivers and have a negative impact on road safety.

However, as far as the clause is concerned, I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman would be fundamentally opposed to our creating such areas where they seem to be practical. I hope that he has not allowed himself to be nobbled by motorway service operators, who might view them as competition and therefore might have suggested to him that they should be stifled at birth. I am sure that that is not the  motivation for his amendment, and I am equally sure that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Ceidwadwyr, Macclesfield 5:30, 18 Ebrill 2006

Order. We are not debating an amendment. We are debating clause stand part.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful to you, Sir Nicholas, for reminding me of that. Opposition Front Benchers have been moving slowly on several fronts today, and this is one of them. Clearly, it is my view that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not entirely convinced by the Minister’s reply, but perhaps I can do a deal with him. If he will agree that he will seriously consider amending the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 to allow picnic area symbols to be put on service signs 2919.1, we will not oppose the clause.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

It will probably stun the hon. Gentleman to learn that I do not keep traffic sign regulations in my head, and the particular traffic sign to which he refers is not springing to the front of my mind. Therefore, I am not prepared to give him a specific assurance about that sign, but I can assure him that I am open-minded about issues around signage for motorway service stations. I am already discussing such matters with the industry and my officials, and if we can add value by making it clear that a picnic area is available at a service station, I am prepared to consider it as long as it can be done in a way that will not have a negative impact on road safety by distracting drivers.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sure that you are aware, Sir Nicholas, that sign 2919.1 is the sign that indicates a motorway service area ahead—it is very simple. At present, it is not legal to announce that it includes a picnic area, but if the Minister is seriously prepared to consider that and amend the regulation, we will not oppose the clause.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will look at the sign, and I will have an open mind when I do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.