asked Her Majesty's Government:
When they will issue guidance to local authorities in respect of quiet lanes designated under the Transport Act 2000.
My Lords, the guidance is being finalised and will be published as a Department for Transport circular as soon as possible, in parallel with some associated regulations.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in July 2002, in response to a Written Question in the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary gave an undertaking that the guidance would be published by the end of that year? Does the department occupy a sort of parallel universe in which a single year stretches into infinity, or does the Minister have some guarantee that when he says it is this year, he means it? Does the Minister think that it is acceptable for the provisions of primary legislation to take six years before they come to the House?
My Lords, I mean 2006. If the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, is suggesting that the delay over the regulations is causing widespread national concern, all I can say is that the concept of quiet lanes is a local issue par excellence, for local authorities to define and act on. They can already act in those terms without the regulations. Whether they are acting or not is a question for the local authorities, and I wonder why the House is concerned about the issue at this stage.
My Lords, the Question is about quiet lanes. In view of the congestion statistics that the department published yesterday—congestion has gone up by 11 per cent in the past seven years and is now the worst ever by far, with no hope of declining—is every road not shortly to become a quiet lane, with traffic at a standstill? Perhaps the Minister could comment on yesterday's figures.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on moving off quiet lanes. Congestion is a national issue, but I do not think that the noise factor is crucial to it; rather, the effect of congestion on our economy is crucial. The noble Lord will recognise that the Government are investing heavily in roads and seeking ways to facilitate traffic. He will be aware, for instance, of the widening of the M25, which has increased traffic flow around the crucial area near Heathrow Airport.
There are measures in hand. The noble Lord will have seen the investment projects for the extension and widening of roads in this country. We are investing in transport, but we recognise that the congestion question is one of how we shift to alternative forms of transport, not just roads.
My Lords, the Government legislated for enabling legislation for quiet lanes. We thought that we might then enjoy a quiet time and that local authorities would recognise the opportunity to identify the limited areas of road space that could be used for horse riders, pedestrians, cyclists and absolutely minimal forms of road traffic; designate them as quiet lanes; and encourage their use by those more benign road users. We did not think that it was a national issue.
My Lords, we have experienced the issues that my noble friend raised in her Question several times. The guidance on the licensing laws was a long time in coming. The Minister knows that the guidance on the use of cameras in bus lanes has been put off year after year. Is it not time that, when the Government come before the House with legislation promising to bring orders and statutory instruments, they should be produced at least within two years, otherwise the Government should have to come back to the House to renew their promises?
My Lords, government legislation is meant to last for a considerable number of years. It often contains clauses that will be enacted according to demand, but they are there because we are a far-sighted Government and can recognise that the need might occur in the future, when it would not be appropriate to introduce fresh legislation. I merely maintain that the regulations will marginally enhance local authorities' powers on quiet lanes, but authorities that want to provide them can do so now.
My Lords, I have always looked on the noble Lord as being at the forefront of technology and progress.