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Would what the council did be considered reasonable, subjectively or objectively? Subjectively, the council thought it was reasonable. Councillors told the local newspapers, radio stations and anyone who would listen that it had done everything in its power. The grit spreaders had gone 5,928 km, chucking out more than 1,220 tonnes of rock salt. That sounded reasonable to the council. The fact that it did not work was just one of those things.
The Bill only requires that such steps as the council thinks reasonable are taken; it would not create any further liability on the city of Liverpool arising out of the accidents caused in the chaos of 27 and 28 December last year.
Although I appreciate and support in principle the idea of reimposing some liability on the highway authority in respect of accidents caused to people such as Mr. Goodes, I do not believe that the provision, long-standing though it is in Scottish law, is necessarily adequate. There should be a more objective test.
Mr. Forth: Would the hon. Lady go as far as to say that a measure that places an obligation on someone simply to do what they judge to be reasonable is otiose, and that one ends up with a rather unproductive circularity? Does she agree that if we simply left the clause out, matters would proceed in a perfectly acceptable way?
Maria Eagle: I have a great deal of sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman says. As I said earlier, the clause reduces a duty to a power. It tells the authority with the statutory duty, "Do what you think is right." To the extent that it imposes a duty, it is good, but the duty is then watered down.
The Bill lacks ambition in that it simply attempts to put right a very small matter that has gone wrong. While we are at it, surely we should try to improve the law. Many elderly people in Liverpool have suffered falls on minor roads and pavements. Is the hon. Gentleman open to the idea of extending the range of people who ought to be protected by the duty on local authorities? The clause refers to
Maria Eagle: If that is indeed the case, it is most welcome. I wonder whether the Minister will interpret it in that way. I am not an expert on the Highways Act. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to tell us more.
I have probably said quite enough about snow and ice, so I shall move on to clause 2, which deals with speed limits. Conservative Members have discussed the provision mainly in relation to rural areas. I am aware that the hon. Members for North Wiltshire and for Ryedale represent rural constituencies. I represent a city, where
The current law is inflexible in respect of changing speed limits. Conservative Members have explained the hoops through which a local authority has to jump in order to change a speed limit, and have given us some estimates of the costs involved. It seems nonsensical that a local authority cannot quickly and easily move a 30 mph speed limit 100 yards down the road to protect children in a local school. It is ridiculous that that should take 12 months and cost £5,000, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire told us. I therefore welcome clause 2 to the extent that it places a duty on local authorities--I stress that it is a duty, not a power--to prepare a review of all the speed limits in the area and set out what they are and what they should be. That is a good thing. However, it is regrettable--this is why I said that he might have got out of bed the wrong side this morning--that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire should say that local people should not be consulted on such issues. He expounded a view of local democracy which seemed rather paternalistic in respect of the involvement of local people.
I do not accept that voting in parish council elections, council elections and parliamentary elections every year or every four or five years is adequate in respect of community involvement. I should like people to be much more active in their communities in respect of issues that affect them such as speed limits on local roads. I should like them to be included in the provision as statutory consultees.
In that context, I am concerned about the flexibility of the measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting referred to zone parking, and related instances of his constituents complaining bitterly. He waved huge wads of correspondence indicating that people were most annoyed at not being consulted on matters that affected the streets outside their houses.
When local authorities carry out the reviews in clause 2, prepare an area draft order and propose changing speed limits in a swifter and easier way, it is important that local people should know what is happening, be asked for their approval and have the chance to make an input.
Mr. Gray: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I promise not to intervene again as I have had my say and would not wish to delay the House unduly. I did not get out of bed the wrong side this morning; I just got up rather early and I meant the hon. Lady no discourtesy. I am strongly in favour of involving local people in discussing these matters, but, equally, we must avoid delaying things by using excessively formal, complicated, expensive and difficult procedures to consult local people. Of course local communities must be fully involved in discussing exactly where speed limits should go.
Maria Eagle: The hon. Gentleman has obviously woken up now and is in a slightly better mood. I am grateful for his clarification that he is perfectly happy for local people to be consulted. It is important to allow flexibility, however, and I find clause 2 quite prescriptive. It suggests that the review and draft order should be prepared and a decision taken whether or not to
Let me give one example from my constituency which has caused huge upset and an enormous surge in community activity, if I can put it that way. It all arose out of speed limits and traffic-calming measures that were introduced in Gateacre drive and Barnham drive in Woolton in my constituency. Gateacre drive is just south of the main dual carriageway that takes most traffic around the south of Liverpool. It has become a bit of a rat-run because anybody who wishes to travel across the city and does not want to use the main dual carriageway can cut across Gateacre drive. Those who live on Gateacre drive did not like their street becoming something akin to a racetrack as people drove down it very quickly--as I have seen--and so were keen on traffic calming. It just so happened that the millennium cycle track was also sited along that street, so the council took the opportunity of obtaining additional funds to introduce some traffic-calming measures. The traffic-calming scheme that the council chose to use was excessive. It included not only speed humps, or sleeping policemen, but pillows and chicanes--which not only made the road look more like a racetrack than it had, but almost forced cars on to the wrong side of the road to get round them.
The scheme seemed to be intended to force drivers to slow down. However, one could argue that its real intention was to protect cyclists on the millennium cycle route by removing traffic from the route, not slowing it down.
The council consulted on the scheme, as it usually does, and included all businesses and residents on the street. The residents said, "Great. That's exactly what we want. We want cars to go slower, or not to be here at all." However, the council did not consult people on neighbouring streets, although traffic-calming schemes displace traffic to other streets. Traffic does not disappear in a puff of smoke, into thin air.
As a consequence of the scheme, speeds on Gateacre drive decreased from more than 40 mph to 20 mph--which is very good--and traffic volumes fell by more than half. However, rat-running began in neighbouring streets which were formerly much quieter. The people who were now suffering from traffic had not been consulted on the scheme or asked whether they thought that traffic calming was good idea in that particular part of the world. They woke up one morning to discover that much of the traffic that formerly used Gateacre drive was going down their street. They were not happy about that.
The neighbours complained to the council and to me. There was a local authority area meeting which was attended by about 200 people. The issue caused a huge surge in democratic participation in local community activities. It also caused some local residents to block off one of the streets with the purple wheelie bins that the council had recently introduced. I must say that to me, as a mere observer, the bins seemed to be very useful for blocking off streets, although of course their main purpose is to hold rubbish.
Rather than ensuring that it had had a well-designed scheme in the first place, the council was faced with having to placate local people. It did that by removing, at great expense, the chicanes and some of the other traffic-calming measures that it had just installed. It has also had to install, without any planning, traffic-calming measures in other main streets and side streets. Those were the consequences of a badly conceived traffic-calming scheme. Six months later, there are still problems and irate local people demanding that something be done about the fact that their street has become a rat-run. There have also been accidents in streets where there were never accidents before.
I do not want to deal with the case in too much deal, but I think that it demonstrates that local people have to be asked whether traffic calming is appropriate, and if so, what type of traffic calming is appropriate. Local people know better than council officers where displaced traffic will go and which streets will become rat-runs, and the potential problems on those streets--if a lot of young children live on them, for example. The ideal is to ask those people in advance, up front, before implementing traffic-calming measures.
I think that there should be such consultation whenever any type of speed restriction is being considered. I therefore approve of the concept, suggested in clause 2, of a strategic review of speed limits in the whole city or local authority area. However, we have to ensure that, once a draft order is produced, everyone--not only police and local authorities--is consulted. Local people can spot problems that council officers have not even dreamt of, and they will be very quick to point them out. Moreover, they will usually be right. If that happens, the overall plans will be much better.
I am not quite sure--the hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire has popped out of the Chamber, so he cannot tell me--whether the draft orders will be amendable. I think that they will have to be amendable. In the process of consultation after draft orders are produced, problems will arise and issues will come to the fore. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will be amenable--I shall have to ask him later--to accepting an amendment that makes it clear that the draft order and review process will be a flexible beast and not incapable of change. Subject to those concerns, I should be very happy to support the hon. Gentleman's intentions in clause 2.
I really am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in the Chamber, because I do not want to be unpleasant to him when he is not here. However, I should like to deal with one or two of the points that he made in his speech. He said very emphatically that he favours cutting speed limits. Cutting speed limits, whether on rural or city roads, is clearly a major contributor to saving lives. The Library's very interesting research paper on the Bill mentions some research done by DETR and other bodies
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire made it clear that his Bill aims to reduce speed limits. However, he went on to say--I hope that I am not misquoting him--that he was not very keen on additional signage or traffic calming.
The hon. Gentleman did not refer to speed cameras, and he would not let me intervene to ask him about them. They are very effective, but they are much more expensive than signs. In the constituency example that I gave, it would, in my view, have been much more effective to stick a camera on one side of the road and prosecute and fine a few of the motorists who drove too fast. That would have solved the problem of chicanes, but of course the council said that doing that would be much more expensive.
I am intrigued to know how the hon. Gentleman, who wants to make it easier for local authorities to cut speeds and therefore cut deaths in their area, intends to ensure that that wish can be translated into practical effect if he is not willing to put up signs or have traffic-calming measures. We may have to wait until the Bill is in Committee or on Report to find out. I do not think that exhortation works. We can exhort drivers to drive more safely and stick to the speed limit all we like, but if there is no enforcement or practical way of ensuring that drivers comply, we will not necessarily see the results that we want.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be amenable to considering this practical aspect of ensuring that his Bill, if it becomes law, works. There is nothing worse than putting a Bill on to the statute book if it has no effect. We are not here to put declaratory hopes on to the statute book; we are here to make law and to ensure that it is enforced and has the desired effect.
I want briefly to discuss clause 4 on the use of mobile phones. This has already been raised not only by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire but by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, who made some passionate remarks. He is clearly very keen on banning the use of mobile phones in cars. I can see the point of that.
I, too, have seen people driving not as well as they might, whether on a motorway or in an inner-city area in London or Liverpool. I have seen them clutching mobile phones or, as my hon. Friend said, having a mobile phone under their chin while holding a cup in their hand and therefore not being in control of their vehicle. That is indicative of a driver's complete lack of willingness to ensure that he or she is driving safely. There is no doubt that such a sight shows that the driver does not care whether he or she is in charge of the vehicle and is either underestimating the risk of accidents or does not care. It is certainly reckless, as we would say in the law, and such activity could result in a crash, injury or damage.
Such behaviour must be seen for what it is--recklessness. However, the question then arises as to whether the law needs to be changed. It has already been pointed out that using a mobile phone in a car is not unlawful. It may bring into question whether one is in control of the vehicle, whether one is driving without due care and attention and, in certain circumstances, whether one is driving recklessly or even dangerously, but it is not unlawful. However, I know--as will anyone else who is aware of these matters--that the police can and do stop drivers when using mobile phones and charge them with driving without due care and attention.
I welcome the hon. Member for North Wiltshire back to the Chamber. I am afraid that he missed some of my questions, but I will speak to him outside at some point. I do not blame him for leaving briefly--let me make that clear.