Road Safety Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:21, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Road safety grants]:

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

Perhaps I may begin by saying what a pleasure it is to be before your Lordships' House and, indeed, the Minister once again to discuss this important piece of legislation. An earlier form of the Bill was discussed in another place prior to the dissolution of Parliament. We now have a valuable opportunity to scrutinise it at some length in this House and to improve it whenever and wherever possible.

Before I turn to the first set of amendments in this group, I declare an interest as the leader of Essex County Council, a local authority that, I can assure your Lordships, takes road safety very seriously.

This set of amendments tries to probe the Government a little further on road safety grants. Amendment No. 1 is merely an enabling amendment that allows the following amendment in this group to be incorporated into Clause 1. Amendment No. 3 is a probing amendment that is designed to elicit from the Minister how this clause will work in practice. Clause 1 enables the Secretary of State or the National Assembly of Wales to,

"make payments to any local authority or body for meeting the whole or part of the running costs of any measures for promoting road safety".

That extended fund replaces existing road traffic legislation provisions and will impact upon the work of local councils. There is no firm indication, as yet, as to the size of the grant, whether it will be top-sliced from existing funding sources, or how it will be delivered—whether it will be ring-fenced, for example.

Local authorities are, therefore, keen to see further details of this grant and how it relates to routine funding of road safety infrastructure for local transport plans. Amendment No. 3 would, therefore, ensure that local councils were involved in the planning and implementation of any road safety-funded infrastructure on local road networks.

Amendment No. 4, in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, would require the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly to report to Parliament on the grants given and any assessment that had been made as to their effectiveness. Again, we are trying to tease out how the grant would work in practice, what size it would be, and, particularly, how it would be measured and who would assess them.

Finally, Amendment No. 5 would allow a national transport authority—the Secretary of State in England or the National Assembly for Wales—not to provide payments to any organisation that formed part of a safety camera partnership. In essence, we are seeking an explanation as to why the safety camera partnerships that have been set up in almost every area of the country—comprising local authorities, police authorities and others—would be unable to spend their resources on road safety in a manner in which the clause states that money can be spent. If the partnerships were able to spend money on road safety without constraint, there would be no need for this clause.

The partnerships have a lot of money. One estimate suggests that they reap £60 million to £100 million per annum from speeding offences. It seems to me that that figure is increasing all the time. It was about £600,000 in 1966 and the current figure is about £4 million. The partnerships have an enormous income and many people might ask why some of that money cannot be reinvested in speed indicator signs so that people are warned that they are exceeding the speed limit. There is no penalty if one does not comply with the signs, but they have a good impact in improving road safety and ensuring that people reduce their speed.

The trouble is that all these measures and signs cost money, and many local authorities say that they do not have the resources for them. Therefore, this amendment makes certain that this money is diverted to road safety. The Government should reinvest the money from fines coming through safety camera partnerships into the area of road safety. It should not be sent to the Home Office. That is the purpose of this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has in one sentence encapsulated what I was going to say on my Amendment No. 4. However, I shall expand on it very slightly. Amendment No. 4 requires the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly to report on grants given and any assessment that has been made of their effectiveness, as the noble Lord said. This would allow greater scrutiny of the grant scheme and ensure that grants are being appropriately used.

The grant-making powers under Clause 1 are very positive and would make it easier for innovative projects to be funded. In particular, the grants could be used to fund projects that aim to tackle the greater incidence of road casualties in disadvantaged communities, such as the neighbourhood road safety initiative. Children in the lowest socio-economic group are five times more likely to be killed as pedestrians than their counterparts in higher socio-economic groups. The Government have adopted a PSA target to address the significantly higher number of road casualties in disadvantaged areas. Road safety grants for projects aimed at dealing with disadvantaged areas could be used as one means of achieving this.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I also put my name to Amendment No. 4. It is difficult to add to what the two previous noble Lords have said. While welcoming this road safety grant proposal, I and, I am sure, the many other noble Lords who have tabled amendments, have been submerged by papers and lobbying from credible and committed people with different interests. They all have particular points of view, some of which we may agree with and some we may not. It is desperately important that as these things go ahead not only should the national transport authority publish an annual report, as has been set out in this amendment, but it should also analyse the effectiveness of the grants. As my noble friend Lord Simon said, it is very easy to come up with one's own prejudices in these matters. The only solution is to have proper statistics and analysis that can be used as the basis on which to go forward and make any changes necessary in the future. I support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

Before the Minister replies, the expenditure that local authorities are able to make on road safety and transport schemes is not clearly earmarked in the block grant so it is not easy to see what money is being expended. It is part of the block grant that covers many things and I understand that, if they wish to do so, local authorities may chose to spend the money on things other than road safety.

Secondly, is the Minister aware that local authorities have huge queues of road safety schemes? They all have a queue of schemes under such examples as Better Ways to Schools and skid resistant treatment on the approach to roundabouts, which are known to be effective in reducing road casualties. For minor road works, such as improving sight lines and junction alignment, most authorities have large numbers of schemes. They prioritise them according to the money available, which is very little so the schemes get no attention.

I could go on and tell the Committee about the number of zebra and pelican crossing schemes and other desirable safety schemes which cannot be funded—indeed, even schemes for marking roads properly are not being funded because no money is available.

Money is being raised, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, reminded us, through the speed camera partnerships. It would be much more acceptable to motorists if the money raised from such partnerships were clearly expended on road safety schemes, so that people could see that the fines they pay, albeit reluctantly, result in some benefit locally.

At Second Reading the Minister drew attention to the fact that our safety record is good. It is better than most European countries. But I would suggest that a great deal of that betterment has come from the better design of cars.

If the Government are to achieve the targets they have set, they will have to look a bit harder and a bit further. As we go through the Bill, we will suggest ways in which the road safety target will be met if they adopt some of the amendments. But if they go ahead on the present basis of not allowing sufficient money to be spent locally on road safety, and if they refuse various amendments, which we will discuss later, achieving the targets will be very much in doubt. We shall reach the end of the period with yet another failed target because the Government have not taken timely action. Certainly, the proceeds of speed camera partnerships represent a ready source of money which most people would applaud if it were devoted to road safety.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:30, 27 June 2005

I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I want to emphasise to the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Hanningfield, that of course the main purpose of Clause 1 is to clarify the scope for funding large-scale demonstration projects. We want to provide, as I think both noble Lords were seeking, uncomplicated funding arrangements for the local authorities who undertake such projects and we want to improve the administrative arrangements. So I am at one with them when they press for the need for clarity in this area and improvement in that respect.

I want to clear up again that canard which refuses to fade away and which was referred to at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, gave me credit for having made a valiant attempt at Second Reading to do so. He reiterated the question so I shall reiterate the answer. Under the rules we apply to the safety camera partnerships, money is available to them to fund safety camera operational expenditure through camera revenue netting offer arrangements. They cannot use these funds for any other purpose. Where authorities wish to undertake road safety measures to complement the cameras, there are existing funding mechanisms through capital allocations and rate support grants. So we are quite clear about the specific nature of the moneys that are raised through the safety camera partnerships on the question of camera revenue and it is toward specific ends.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 5, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, would amend Clause 1 so that a national transport authority—either the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales—could not provide payments to any organisation that forms part of a safety camera partnership. I should explain that a partnership is a voluntary grouping that enables police forces and highway authorities to operate safety cameras effectively. Almost all highway authorities are involved in such partnerships.

In addition to that problem, the amendments would mean that any authority associated with a safety camera partnership would be disqualified from seeking funding for a large-scale road safety project, whether entirely unrelated to safety cameras or whether safety cameras were just one small constituent part of a whole package of measures to address a specific road safety problem in an area.

I assure the Committee that I understand the noble Lord's search for clarity; that is an objective that we all share. But I am sure that he would not want to press his amendments, which would have such a detrimental effect on the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, described his Amendment No. 3 as a probing amendment. It would mean that a national transport authority—the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales—could not provide payments to any organisation that is not a local authority without prior consultation with the relevant local authority or authorities.

I am of course grateful for the noble Lord's explanation of his desire to use the amendment to tease out more clearly the Government's intention. The national transport authority already has the power to make grants to bodies other than local authorities under Section 40 of the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998. In 2004–05, a total of almost £340,000—worth of small grants were made under the road safety challenge fund to charities and bodies other than local authorities with innovative proposals to improve road safety and reduce casualties. The grant process is carefully regulated and quite transparent. To receive grants of up to £20,000, applicants must meet specific, published criteria. Grant funding is allocated to proposers with a national rather than local impact.

The effect of Amendment No. 3 on existing arrangements for allocating grants to bodies other than local authorities is significant. It would mean that central government would need to consult all local authorities within an area to provide a grant to another body in that area, regardless of whether that body or grant-funded project had significant links in the area. Grant funding made to bodies other than local authorities is for projects with a national impact and it would not be appropriate to consult local authorities prior to allocating such grants. That is why the clause is drafted as it is. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will feel that he has probed successfully and elicited from me a clear response.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

As I said, these are all probing amendments. We all support the idea of better road safety, but if we are to achieve it, we need more money. There is no doubt about that. I repeat that I lead a large local authority that could easily save about 40 lives a year if we improved our road safety measures, but we need more money to do that. Local authorities will mainly be the bodies to do that, not others. I was asking the Minister where the money for local authorities indicated on Second Reading was coming from. He gave no indication of any extra money for local authorities in his answer just now. Where does that money come from? We raised the issue of speed cameras because that money now goes into the Home Office but it could go towards road safety. From where will the Government get the money to do some of the things that we are talking about?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

We are not talking about the road safety budget at the moment. I am debating with the noble Lord not the allocation of resources but the process by which any such allocation should occur under Clause 1. The noble Lord's amendments are tests of process.

I agree that we could improve road safety by spending more money. On a range of extremely meritorious projects that are mentioned regularly in the House a case is made for additional expenditure, and the Government recognise that case frequently. However, we are confined by the limit of national resources that we can make available. Like many other demands for measures with benign effects on citizens, those for road safety resources are almost limitless.

I am not talking about the desirability of spending more money. The noble Lord will find no keener advocate of that than me. We are talking about the process by which decisions should be reached. I was responding to the noble Lord's amendments in that measure, indicating how the process by which decisions should be reached is envisaged in Clause 1. That process is entirely reasonable, although I recognise noble Lords' right to press strongly on the matter. It would be unfair at this stage for me to become involved in great debate about the allocation of resources for road safety.

My noble friends Lord Simon and Lord Berkeley, together with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, spoke to Amendment No. 4, which would amend Clause 1 so that a national transport authority would be required to publish an annual report setting out certain information about road safety grants. I share their objective to have as much information as possible in the public domain. It helps everyone to judge the effectiveness of the resources devoted to road safety.

The information requested in Amendment No. 4 is already available, so it would duplicate what we are already doing. Every year, the Government publish a breakdown of road safety Challenge Fund grants allocated and the purpose for which they are allocated on the Department for Transport's website. Criteria for receiving that grant include outlining arrangements for proper monitoring and explaining the road safety outcomes expected.

The Government provide grants to local authorities for road safety demonstration projects. Unlike the road safety Challenge Fund, those are longer-term projects and do not involve an annual bidding round. Details of grants received by authorities involved in our demonstration projects and the purpose of those projects are available on the website. The Government have let an evaluation contract for each project to monitor its effectiveness. One of the key aims of the projects is to disseminate good practice, so it is important that we have a robust understanding of their effectiveness. We intend to meet what I think is the thrust of the amendment: to make available as much information as possible.

In the case of demonstration projects, which last more than a year, it is not always appropriate to feed back annually the information requested in the amendment. Definitive assessments of road safety evaluation often require the collection of information over a longer period—three years of accident data, for example—and rarely can the effectiveness of a road safety grant be evaluated in the same year in which it is made. I am sure that noble Lords will recognise the validity of that point.

Full results evaluating the effectiveness of those projects will be published when they become available. Annual reporting lacks the responsiveness of the existing process for dissemination of information, which we put on the website. An annual report could provide information about grants up to 12 months later than under the existing system. So we maintain that we are open and more effective with our present arrangements.

The road safety demonstration projects are covered in this year's Department for Transport annual report. Given that information on current road safety grants is already available through the Department for Transport website annual report, I do not feel that a separate annual report on road safety grants is required.

I hope that it will be recognised that we share with the supporters of the amendment the desire for openness. We are taking steps to achieve it. I am indicating the limitations of the concept of the annual report referred to in Amendment No. 4. I hope that noble Lords will withdraw that amendment and not move the other amendments.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 3:45, 27 June 2005

Before the Minister sits down, can he make it quite clear that the Government are not prepared to spend any of the money from the camera safety partnerships on promoting road safety? That is my first point. My second point is that, although we are going to have national demonstration projects, the road safety priorities, which are best determined locally, will still be funded through the existing lugubrious method, which may or may not produce the money.

I assure the Minister that county engineers know of hundreds of places where improvements to road safety could be made if the money were available. I feel that in the past few moments the Minister has been relying on references to national demonstration projects and what the national roads authority will do, but the people at the coal face know what needs doing and would put it into practice straight away if, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, the money was available.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

We are in danger of having a debate on amendments to a clause descend into a debate about the resources available. I merely reiterate to the noble Lord that the national demonstration projects have value. There is an openness about the reports on them, and that is the subject of the amendment to which I have sought to reply.

Of course, if there is value in the information contained in the department's annual report—in addition to what we already provide—I am prepared to accept that concept and to look at it further. I was merely seeking to indicate that in the evaluation of the projects and the dissemination of the information, an annual report would not suffice; it would not meet the requirements identified by noble Lords when speaking to the amendments.

I recognise the validity of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that local authorities have schemes as long as anyone's arm which they would like to implement on road safety. They would not be conscientious and intelligent local authorities if they did not have a multiplicity of schemes—not all of which, it is true, can be funded overnight, not even through the munificence of the Department for Transport. However, the noble Lord will also recognise that there are areas in which it is extremely useful to have demonstration projects from which lessons can be learnt across the country. They may not involve huge amounts of expenditure, but they will give a clear illustration of what is best value for money with certain projects. That is what is envisaged for the process in Clause 1.

I hope that, despite the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, the House will recognise that the amendments do not advance the cause advocated and that the Government are fully cognisant of the valid points made in all speeches.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I thank my noble friend for his full and detailed response to Amendment No. 4. That is all I intend to say.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Spokespersons In the Lords, Local Government Affairs & Communities, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Spokespersons In the Lords, Transport

I thank the Minister for his comments on Amendment No. 4, but I cannot thank him too much for his comments on some of the other amendments. However, they are probing amendments. We will certainly think of different wording and come back to the issue as the Bill goes on.

In my local authority, Essex, we prepare a local transport plan each year, which is an enormously thick document. If we are lucky, we get around £30 million a year, which seems quite a lot of money, but it has a lot to do. A little more extra money, particularly for road safety, would make the world of difference. I repeat, we think that we could save 40 lives a year in Essex by further investment on road safety. Whatever national demonstrations or organisations are involved, local authorities will do it because they know where money can be invested to save lives.

My first amendment was to see whether any money would be available in rate support grant or local transport plans, or whether money would be allocated. I agree that this is not the time. The Minister said that it is a process and these amendments are about process. But if money is to be allocated, we need to know that there is a process for doing so. We do not need to know the actual amounts, but we need to know that there might be a process whereby money might come from somewhere.

The other amendment in the group referred to a big surplus. No one is denying or saying that we should not invest money in the camera system, but there is an enormous surplus in it. Certainly, one would not want to stop money being reinvested in it, but why should the surplus go to the Home Office? Why can it not be invested in road safety, which is what it is all about? The amendments were probing amendments to elicit answers from the Government on how money might be recycled or how local authorities might obtain more money through the process. Those questions were not answered at all by the Minister.

We will come back to it. As we go through the Bill, several amendments will cover it. We will have to pursue this because if we are to save lives, which is what it is all about, we will need to know more about it. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.