Clause 16 - The network management duty

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 126, in

clause 31, page 13, line 33, after 'Wales', insert 'or Transport for London'.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

The amendment would remove from the Bill the additional powers reserved to the Secretary of State over and above those reserved to him under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 by removing the reference to the GLA and the Mayor.

I do not intend to press the amendment; I want to find out the Government's thinking in respect of the GLA's devolution settlement. The 1999 Act sets out those matters that were considered appropriate for devolution, and transport and all that goes with it was a major part of the settlement. The Act makes clear the division of responsibilities between the Mayor, the GLA, local authorities and the Government.

The amendment would effectively remove the GLA from the clause, but I want to know whether the Government are intentionally looking at what was settled on the GLA and seeking to draw it back out of the settlement, or whether it is a precautionary measure by officials to accrue power, which they do as often as they can. My suspicion is that it is not deliberate and intentional. I suspect that the Government do not intend to reconsider the devolution settlement for London; rather, the Bill takes a belt and braces approach to try to reserve as much power as possible to the Secretary of State.

Having looked into the matter of reserve powers, I can find no precedent for such a move in other legislation or by other Departments. That raises an important point of principle. I therefore ask the Minister whether there is a deliberate desire to pull back powers that have been devolved, or whether it is thought to be good to get the powers back. If it is the latter, I wonder whether that course of action has been checked through, whether it has been discussed with ministerial colleagues with responsibility for London, and whether it fits within the devolution settlement.

The point that I am seeking to address is whether a deliberate move is being made to reduce the devolutionary powers and return them to the Department, or whether it is not specifically intended to do that. Since, in the latter case, the clause does do

that, I wonder whether it is appropriate that it should be done in that way.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Beard, for the first time I think, and I look forward to serving under Miss Begg when she is with the Committee.

I draw hon. Members' attention to a document about the guidance notes and statutory instruments that will follow if all the elements of part 2 are passed, and that, as we promised, is a short road map on such matters. I hope that that is of some assistance to the Committee.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for speaking to the amendment, although I am not entirely sure how to respond, given that its key thrust is to ask whether the provisions are a deliberate attempt to affect the devolution settlement in the way that he described. I rather hope that most of the things that we are doing in the Bill are deliberate and informed, and have been thought through, but I take the hon. Gentleman's underlying point. The provisions are in no way designed to unpick the devolution settlement. The amendment seeks to exclude Transport for London from the general duty to manage its road network and to remove its strategic role for co-ordinating street works across London.

The Government's proposals are quite deliberate—that will come as a great relief to my hon. Friends. The clause places a duty on every local authority to manage its road network, to secure

''the expeditious movement of traffic''

and to work with other authorities to facilitate the movement of traffic. That duty is especially important in conurbations, not least London. TFL is particularly well placed to ensure effective co-ordination across the city. There are 35 highway authorities in London, 32 boroughs, the City of London, TFL and the Highways Agency. Without attempting to disaggregate or unpick the devolution settlement, it is right and proper, given the thrust of all that we seek to do in the Bill, that all those authorities are afforded the chance to have the statutory duty in question. The provisions are intended to hold TFL and the boroughs accountable on their statutory duties to manage the network and keep it flowing. That is important, not least because although TFL's clearly defined responsibility is for 5 per cent. of the strategic roads across London, those roads account for 30 per cent. of the traffic. Given the Bill's broad thrust, excluding TFL and its role as a highway authority from all the duties and responsibilities in part 2 and in clause 16 would be nonsensical.

I expect to hear today the general mantra that any given highway authority is not necessarily responsible or that the causes of congestion are beyond its boundaries in the next-door borough or authority. If so, some co-ordination and liaison are, equally, important. There are swings and roundabouts. I do not want to pre-empt future discussion, but we say later in the Bill that the balance of network management duties between TFL and the London boroughs should be reconfigured. We intend to afford

TFL greater powers to revisit the strategic network, because a number of important roads, not least some key bus routes, bus priority network routes and red routes, are outwith the current strategic network. Excluding those from TFL's overarching role would be nonsensical. The provisions are not intended to unpick the devolution settlement. TFL must deliver on its statutory duty to manage the strategic network, and it must therefore be included in the Bill's scope. TFL's role will be enhanced rather than diminished. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 126 is inappropriate for the same reason. Given all that the Bill is designed to address, to remove TFL's role as a local traffic authority from the equation would do nothing to address congestion and network management in London. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, although I take the import of and thrust behind what he said about the devolution settlement.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am grateful for that explanation, which will certainly be helpful, particularly in the context of other, more specific amendments that we shall reach later. I am also grateful, as I am sure others are, for the guidance notes relating to part 2 that the Minister drew to our attention. I am sure that they will help our consideration.

I am certain that the actions taken by the Minister and his team were deliberate. Not for a moment would I suggest that they were not. I was really trying to discover whether the consequences of the actions were as deliberate as they might have been. However, I shall not pursue the proposal at this stage, as I should like to consider more carefully what he has said. It is probably correct to say that some of the more detailed questions that will be raised under later amendments are the proper way to test what he has said. For the moment, I am content to leave the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 146, in

page 7, line 8, after 'the', insert 'safe'.

No. 147, in

page 7, line 10, after 'the', insert 'safe and'.

No. 33, in

page 7, line 11, at end insert

'; and

(c) securing compliance with provisions of the Highway Code and road traffic legislation'.

No. 98, in

page 7, line 11, at end insert—

'(ba) improving safety on the authority's road network both for vehicular traffic and for pedestrians

(bb) enhancing the environment on and around the authority's road network in terms of reducing the levels of noise and pollution

(bc) facilitating overall transport policy objectives set out in relevant Local Transport Plans and Regional Transport Strategies

(bd) facilitating overall transport policy objectives set out in relevant Local Transport Plans, in London the Mayor's Transport Strategy and Local Implementation Plans, and Regional Transport Strategies;'.

No. 148, in

page 7, line 14, after 'the', insert 'safe and'.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I return to the questions of safety and of the environment. I shall speak first about safety. In considering part 1, we discussed whether it was appropriate to give traffic officers a specific duty in respect of safety. The debate was helpful, and I was broadly persuaded that a specific duty at the point at which I sought to introduce it was not appropriate and might have given too much weight to instructing traffic officers to have regard to safety, as opposed to their having a general regard to safety.

At this point, however, a different case applies, in that traffic managers should have a fairly specific duty with regard to safety. Unlike traffic officers, traffic managers will not be on the streets undertaking actions to unblock congestion, but will be more concerned with overall planning, strategy and objectives. It would be more than appropriate, therefore, for safety to be one of their paramount considerations.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) put it to the Committee on Tuesday that safety is inherent in any form of management. At the time, I said that that was true, but there are many examples of management for which safety, and particularly health and safety, are drawn out from overall management and made a specific duty because of their importance. I know that I share with many Government Members my concern about health and safety legislation for the workplace, which is extremely important.

Anyone who serves on any board of any company will know that health and safety appears as a specific item on the agenda. In a plc board, reference is made to it. It is one of the things that are looked for in proper and good corporate governance. There are clear precedents to show that safety is so important that it can be taken out of general management duties and referred to specifically. In considering the role of traffic managers, I believe that it would be appropriate to do so. I see no reason why, in asking traffic managers to perform all the roles that are required of them, we should not underline the importance of road safety. After all, many things can be done at the planning stage to enable our roads to become safer, an objective that we all share.

A similar argument pertains to environmental duties. In recent years, in every area of life, particularly in Government, we have, rightly, paid increasing regard to the environmental consequences of our actions. One of the greatest benefits of reducing congestion is that it reduces pollution, and that has the tremendous knock-on benefit of reducing the incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases in our cities.

That is why I am so much in favour of the principle of the Bill.

Like safety, good environmental practice is so important that the Bill should emphasise that traffic managers, in planning how best to achieve the free flow of traffic in their areas, should do so in such a manner as not to conflict with it. My point is the same with regard to both safety and the environment: I seek to lay a specific duty on traffic managers to have regard to both in drawing up plans and seeking to unblock congestion.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I tabled some of the amendments in the group. They are all about safety and safe movement, like some of those of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). I tabled similar amendments in relation to traffic officers. Given that the number of accidents has been reduced in my constituency, where one of the key features in road design has been the promotion of safe driving, I believe that there is a role for local authorities in ensuring that driving is safe. As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, that is implicit in the Bill. However, I am concerned that the free movement of traffic should be considered with explicit reference to safety. Going by the number of complaints among my emails about my Lib Dem-controlled council and the problems caused by yesterday's slight dusting of snow, perhaps my view has weight. I accept that there are implicit recommendations for safety but, given the importance of the issue, would the Minister consider making them explicit?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This large group of amendments goes to the heart of the clause and to the duty of network management. I hope that the Minister will explain more about the justification for the network management duty and the elaborate legislative provisions in part 2 of the Bill. As the regulatory impact assessment makes clear, some networks are operated efficiently, with authorities actively involved in their management. They are above reproach, and nothing needs to be done to change the situation.

As a layman, I am bound to ask why, if some local authorities can do it without additional legislation, others cannot. The old principle of local authority accountability was that that was a matter between the electors and their elected councillors. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) has just made a party political point about the fact that his council is run by people who do not seem to be capable of so managing things that a light dusting of snow does not prevent the traffic from snarling up. I shall come later to an example from another local authority under different political control—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister will have to wait until I give the details.

The justification given on page 2 of the regulatory impact assessment is that failure to legislate would preserve the status quo. If there were ever an obvious

statement, that is it. I am not sure that the Minister has justified the proposed changes to the status quo.

The Bill's objective is apparently to raise the standard of network management across all authorities. According to the regulatory impact assessment, the Secretary of State will be able to issue statutory guidance on the execution of duties. We do not have a draft of the statutory guidance, merely an indication of the areas that it might cover. Under clause 16, the ''network management duty'' seems to include every responsibility, legal or otherwise, placed on a highway, street or traffic authority. I do not know whether the Bill will prove more succinct than the existing law, or whether there will be an agreed hierarchy. Surely a hierarchy and prioritisation are issues that should be dealt with by the elected local authority and its councillors rather than by imposed guidance from the centre.

I want to test the Government's proposition against a local authority that is, according to the Government, manifestly failing: Northamptonshire county council, which has for the past 10 years been under Labour control. The council is underspending on its highway maintenance.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford 9:45 am, 29th January 2004

Order. The amendment is limited to the objectives of safety and the environment. The hon. Gentleman's remarks might be more suitable for the clause stand part debate.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I was going on to say that the council's underspending on highway maintenance has serious road safety implications. I am sorry if it has taken me a long time to get to that point, but I am sure that you, and the Minister, will agree with that, Mr. Beard. Underspending on highway maintenance increases congestion and leads to a waste of resources. In 2002–03, Northamptonshire county council paid £1.7 million in compensation because of defective highways. Much of that was as a result of claims made for injury, damage and loss caused by unsafe highways.

The Department for Transport wrote a letter to the county council on 19 December 2003 giving details of the local transport capital expenditure settlement. The letter stated:

''Capital allocations to reduce the maintenance backlog are also a major part of the local transport capital settlement. However, the allocations do need to be accompanied by appropriate levels of day-to-day maintenance.''

It continued:

''Our interest is in outcomes rather than inputs.''

I am sure that we all agree with that—

''However, the fact that your spending in Northamptonshire on maintenance over the last four years has been substantially less than the total of the county's standard spending assessment and allocations for this purpose leads us to question how the county council proposes to get maintenance standards back on track.''

During the four years in question, between 1999 and 2003, Northamptonshire county council had a standard spending assessment of more than £105 million, but its expenditure on highways was some £30 million less. In the current year, budgeted expenditure on highway maintenance in

Northamptonshire is £11.5 million, which is 35 per cent. below its formula spending share.

Bad maintenance leads to dangerous roads, pavements and cycle ways. It causes injuries to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. It results in potholes not being repaired, overhanging shrubbery not cut back, traffic lights not maintained, and white lines not painted. Not much is more fundamental than having white lines on the roads painted properly. A special pressure group has now been set up to ensure that highway authorities paint their white lines, which is an extraordinary indictment of the management of many of our highway authorities.

Safety signs and street lighting are not kept in good condition, poor skidding resistance on roads is allowed to continue, and there is a failure to grit roads in icy weather in a timely fashion. There is also an issue about the safety of pedestrians, as the poor pedestrian is too often expected to struggle along because clearing ice and making pavements safer is the highway authority's last priority. That can result in many injuries and enormous suffering. The accident and emergency departments of our hospitals are filling up with people who have broken their hips or other parts of their limbs after falling in snow and ice.

If Northamptonshire county council carries on as it has done, will it be in breach of its network management duty?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Yes, but we are debating whether there is any purpose in giving such a council a network management duty in addition to the other duties that it already has and is in breach of. The Labour county council has had a rap over the knuckles from the Labour Government, but where are the sanctions? If we are going to approve the establishment of a network management duty, people in Northamptonshire will want to know what difference it will make on the ground in their authority, which on any objective assessment is failing on highway maintenance.

What objective criteria will be used to assess compliance with the network management duty? The process appears to be subjective. Subsection (2) refers to the highway authority taking

''any action which they consider'',

which suggests that the authority will be the final judge of what is reasonable.

The Under-Secretary can use the example of Northamptonshire county council to demonstrate how the situation will be different with a network management duty and why the Government cannot act without additional legislation under the present rules and regulations and given their powerful position as the provider of resources under Northamptonshire's local transport plan.

The state of the local road network is still declining, not just in Northamptonshire. That was the clear conclusion of the latest survey by the Institution of Civil Engineers. We also know from recent reports by

the Automobile Association and the RAC that many local authority highway departments are in a state of crisis, because they are not clearing the backlog of maintenance that the Government are intent on ensuring is cleared. Why, though, do we need part 2 of this Bill, and clause 16 in particular, to address those problems? Why are the Government not addressing them using their existing powers?

If the Under-Secretary can illustrate what will happen differently in Northamptonshire when clause 16 comes into effect, he may be able to persuade my hon. Friends and me that the clause is a worthwhile additional piece of legislation. However, when I read in the regulatory impact assessment that good authorities will be fulfilling the duties anyway, I wonder why additional duties have to be imposed on them and why the Under-Secretary feels unable to ensure that the less good authorities fulfil their duties.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Without going fully down the road suggested by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) because that would require almost a Second Reading debate on all the clauses in part 2, rather than specifically on clause 16, let me say that many of the answers he requires will unfold as we discuss part 2 and his point is fair. When my Department formulated the Bill, similar arguments and philosophies were expressed. How can we reach a position in which all citizens can expect a high standard from all local authorities, regardless of where they live? How can that be balanced with as little intervention as possible from the centre, with local democracy and accountability prevailing? One route, as implied by the hon. Gentleman, is simply to look for failure and come up with criteria that state broadly what local authorities should do and what we should do if they fail.

The importance of network management is such that every authority in the country should live up to a particular standard and every citizen should expect that standard from their authority. That is implicit in the rest of the paragraph in the regulatory impact assessment, to which the hon. Gentleman failed to refer. Of course, if the phrase

''a failure to legislate will preserve the status quo''

was on its own or the end of the sentence, it would be at least a truism if not an absurdity. However, a comma follows, and the sentence continues:

''in which the Government believes that there is insufficient demand made of highway authorities to ensure that they manage their networks in a holistic way, with the interests of road users in mind.''

The full sentence carries the import behind the Bill. We are determined that network management will be best achieved by the duties outlined in clause 16, which is what the amendments would change. We will return to the general thrust of some of the early amendments, particularly amendment No. 97, in the context of how much in the Bill should define network management duties.

This situation has a touch of déjà vu, as it reminds me of the passage of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill last year, in which we were trying to provide for a statutory duty on planning. The question is whether we take a shopping-list approach and

include everything in the Bill or frame the legislation sufficiently broadly to encompass all that is required. If I seriously believed that including safety and environmental considerations in the definition of the network management duty would improve the Bill, I would find it easy to say that it was a lovely idea and that we would include it. However, I am told that we would then suffer from ''undue specificity''—I do not know whether I have made that phrase up or whether it is a legalistic one. We all agree that safety and environment are important but, ironically, the more specific detail in the Bill, the weaker the duty becomes.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

So far, the Under-Secretary's remarks have carried Opposition Members with him. I accept his point that if the words ''safe'', ''environment'' or ''considerations'' happen to be missing, it would be ludicrous to suggest that local traffic authorities would start to pursue environmentally noxious schemes that were unsafe. Does he consider the duty to provide adequate road signs to be part of the traffic authorities' responsibility? Many motorists find that when they travel to an unfamiliar city centre, their journeys are lengthened by not knowing which exit to take on a ring road. More could and should be done on road signage to improve traffic flows.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In the context of better flows, network management and the relief of congestion, experts are catching up with ordinary people and starting to understand that signage, especially early signage, is important. I hope that road signage, among other things, will be included following discussions with local authorities and other stakeholders—I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for using that word, but I cannot think of a better one, so it will have to do for now.

I assure hon. Members that the network management duty will have environmental and safety issues at its core. At the Department for Transport level, key Government public service agreements are all about road safety and congestion, with all that those imply in terms of local duties. Local transport plans and regional transport strategies are drawn up in the context of road safety and environmental issues. The sustainable development framework, which will overarch the entire planning system when the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill becomes law, will be at the root of regional spatial strategies, within which regional transport strategies will have to be formulated.

The issue of undue specificity is therefore very real, and I urge hon. Members not to fall into the trap of feeling comfortable about amending the Bill in a way that would ultimately limit the duty. It is far better to have a comprehensive duty that is codified in guidance. As I said, we have started consulting—I almost said negotiating with—local authority and other organisations that have an interest in precisely defining the duty.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I can certainly give that assurance. As I have tried to make clear, the new planning system will mean that a range of duties have to be taken into account in the context of safety, environmental and other issues, and the statutory duty must be seen in that context. I can also give an assurance that there will be consultation during drafting and the subsequent phases of the guidance, and that is right and proper.

In that context, we must consider how to strike a balance and secure the duty at local level. The same understanding underpins much of the Bill in terms of the interface between central and local government. That is why, later in the Bill, we introduce a range of options and discretionary powers that authorities may use in carrying out the duty.

Amendment No. 33 refers to compliance with the ''Highway Code'' and road traffic legislation. On the face of it, that seems entirely appropriate, but the code is principally for road users, not the highway authorities. Authorities carrying out the network management duty would, therefore, end up in the faintly ridiculous position of being responsible for a range of duties over which they have no control, which cannot be appropriate. For example, issues such as the phasing and location of traffic lights in much of London are controlled from the centre by the transport operational command unit. At its broadest, however, the amendment would mean that each London borough was responsible for a range of matters relating to traffic lights, even though they have no immediate control over traffic lights. Similarly, it would mean that authorities had responsibility for, but no control over or legislative duties in respect of, compliance with the ''Highway Code''. I do not want to focus on the ridiculous, but ''Highway Code'' code compliance for the road user could involve issues such as the herding of animals, clothing for horse riders, the flashing of headlights, driving in fog and a host of other things that would be inappropriate in the context of a network management duty. We cannot impose a whole series of criteria on a highway authority and judge against them when that authority has no legislative control over them.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister intend to respond in the clause stand part debate to my more general points about Northamptonshire? If he is, I will not press him now.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In my limited time as a Minister, I have learned not to be so presumptuous as to read the Chairman's mind. There may well not be a clause stand part debate, so I cannot promise to elaborate on matters then. The hon. Gentleman reasonably asked me to elaborate on what the word in Northamptonshire will be after the Bill is passed. I would happily do that over a cup of tea, but I cannot elaborate on that in the context of these narrow amendments, because I would have to spend about

another hour on my feet, cross-referencing any number of other elements in the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman cogently made the case for there to be such a duty in Northamptonshire or elsewhere. It cannot be right that we simply hope on a wing and a prayer that every highway authority lives up to best practice and the best model in the country, which may well be Conservative, Labour, or Liberal Democrat—I am not sure. Funnily enough, when one is a Minister, and sometimes it is not terribly enjoyable, one must at least pretend to be above the partisan fray and be terribly ministerial and non-partisan. That is difficult for me, as the hon. Gentleman will know, but I make up for it in other ways outside Committee.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We certainly know that the Minister has a reputation for being non-partisan in this House, and when we talk about Labour control of Northamptonshire county council, I can understand why he particularly wishes to be non-partisan. Will he explain why the Government cannot do anything at this time about the manifest failings of that council? Surely they already have some powers that they could use, perhaps under the local transport plan process.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Order. The hon. Gentleman is again trespassing into an area that will be a legitimate part of the stand part debate. This debate is confined to safety and the environment.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

If we do have a stand part debate, we can elaborate on the philosophy behind the duty. During the genesis of the Bill, we discussed whether there should be a blanket statutory duty that all should aspire to achieve, or simply focus on failure. It was felt that the universal approach was more appropriate.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am completely convinced. The clarity of the Bill in having that single duty rather than lots of subsidiary but obvious duties is wholly admirable, and I am glad that the Minister intends to carry on with it.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

In the spirit of being non-partisan, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's comments, although I am temporarily stunned. It is always good to be surprised so early in the Committee stage. I hope that we can forge links throughout the rest of the Bill.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, I say simply that the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 placed a new duty on local authorities to grit their roads; safety was a key reason why we felt that that duty was necessary. This is probably the first cold snap of weather that we have had since then, so we will see what happens.

The hon. Member for Christchurch left the impression that the Department for Transport, or its agents, will impose the definition of ''a hierarchy'' of roads on every local highway authority. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will insist, in the network management duty, that ''a hierarchy'' be identified locally and agreed with us. That is not using a Stalinist sledgehammer to crack a nut: it is about working with local government to secure a network

management duty, which, I hope we all agree, is worthy of achievement, as hon. Members will see when I stray into other areas of enforcement and intervention, which I shall not do now, Mr. Beard. We see that intervention, and the imposition of a traffic director, as the last stage in a long process: we want to work with local authorities to secure network management. These amendments all, in various ways, imply undue specificity. I am satisfied that the wider definition in the Bill is appropriate, and there will be further definition and specificity in the guidance notes. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to withdraw the amendments.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

I am grateful for that comprehensive explanation. We understand and concur with the necessity for clause 16, and the amendments sought to probe the Government's thoughts on safety and the environment. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East mentioned the problems that his local authority has had with the light dusting of snow, and the hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned problems caused by the light dusting of snow in Northampton. To complete the picture, I walked in from Pimlico this morning, where there is a Conservative-controlled council, and there were problems there too. To paint the picture completely, my constituency is in the independent Highland council area, and I understand that it has managed to clear the streets of Thurso.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

There are not, but the truth is that we get occurrences of snow far more often and are prepared for it every winter.

I am fascinated by the concept of undue specificity—a wonderful new word to enter the lexicon. I understand what the Minister was driving at, and have some sympathy with him. I have undertaken commercial negotiations and have inserted specific clauses to invalidate other points, but that was certainly not my intention here. I am grateful for the assurance that the Minister gave on consultation and the assurance that our points will be taken in the guidance. That is obviously welcome, and on the basis of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 83, in

page 7, line 20, at end insert—

'(2A)(i) The local traffic authority shall not reduce the width or number of carriageways or introduce any permanent restriction on motor vehicle traffic flows on their road network without first conducting a consultation exercise thereon to ascertain that any measures proposed have clear majority support amongst local residents, shopkeepers and those businesses likely to be affected.

(ii) The manner, nature and period of such mandatory consultation shall be determined by the Secretary of State.'.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 24—Carriageway restriction (consultation)—

'(1) The local traffic authority shall not reduce the width or number of carriageways or introduce any permanent restriction on motor vehicle traffic flow on their road network without first

conducting a consultation exercise thereon to ascertain that any measures proposed have clear majority support amongst local residents, shopkeepers and those businesses likely to be affected.

(2) The manner, nature and period of such mandatory consultation shall be determined by the Secretary of State.'.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have had some dangerous talk from the Minister this morning—dangerous for him. Perhaps I should warn him not to announce too often that he likes to be ministerial and non-partisan: when Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, if she ever heard one of her Ministers making such a comment, she took the view that he had gone native and he was very soon relieved of his ministerial duties. I give the Minister that friendly warning.

Amendment No. 83 and new clause 24 seek to cure what I believe is a widespread problem, arising from the conflict between the stated aims of the Bill and the current behaviour and attitude of many local authorities. There are a number of reasons for that conflict. Some councillors seem to hold a misguided view that removing traffic makes city centres more popular. Across England and Wales, roads are closed in city after city; one-way systems are introduced; traffic lanes are narrowed; pavements are widened. We are told that that is in the interests of making the city centre more desirable. However, at the same time, the number of shoppers going into city centres appears, in some cases, to be on the decline: the public prefer to visit out-of-town shopping centres, where they can drive up to the entrance of the shopping mall, park their car for nothing, and do their shopping with ease.

If a local traffic authority suggests the introduction of road narrowing, pavement widening or traffic restrictions, a duty should be imposed on it to consult people living and businesses operating in the locality to see whether that is what is wanted. In too many cases, weak councillors and in-house officers, who, frankly, should be contracted out, advance new traffic schemes in order, one feels in some cases, to justify their employment. Too many of those decision makers equate car use with pollution. We know that that is not necessarily the case. One thing on which we can commend the Mayor of London is the fact that drivers of non-polluting cars—electric vehicles or vehicles powered by liquefied petroleum gas—are exempt from paying the congestion charge. The Opposition welcome that.

The amendment and new clause would provide a duty to consult residents. I assume that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is not present, would welcome that provision, in the light of his comments the other day about the introduction of unwanted and unnecessary speed humps in his constituency, against the wishes of local people. The provision would also enable local businesses to have a say.

Many years ago, I used to live in the city of Leicester, and part of that city was an area called Lee Circle, a prosperous and thriving area. A few months ago, I happened to visit Lee Circle and it was deserted, with many factories and properties unoccupied. The reason was that the people who at one time would have gone into the city of Leicester to shop prefer to

use one of the city's out-of-town shopping centres because of the anti-car, anti-motorist policy that the council has pursued for a number of years. For far too long, in too many cities, motorists have suffered from unnecessary meddling, which has affected their ability to travel freely.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 10:15 am, 29th January 2004

Is the hon. Gentleman not confusing a chicken-and-egg question? The building of out-of-town shopping centres causes the decline in the town centres, rather than the decline in the town centres giving rise to the out-of-town shopping centres.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That would make an interesting study, but I do not think that it is the case.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

That kind of study has been done, and the point has been made over a number of years through the Royal Town Planning Institute and similar organisations.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should put in for a debate in Westminster Hall, in which we could explore that matter in far greater detail than the confines of the Committee allow. I do not accept his point. I believe that, by and large, shoppers prefer the greater range of goods and shops available in city centres, if they can get there without difficulty, and if they can park their cars with ease, and without having to pay too much for the privilege.

I referred earlier to the city of Leicester. One would have thought that if Leicester wanted to attract back some of the customers who go to out-of-town shopping centres, the council would have given the public some incentive to go back into the city. However, it has recently decided that every on-street car-parking place in the city must be paid for, so there is now no free on-street parking in Leicester. That is unlikely to entice people back into the city centre because, for the moment, they can park free at an out-of-town shopping centre. Even if the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East contains some merit, I do not see that it would necessarily lead him to oppose the amendment or new clause, because all we are saying is, ''Let's consult.'' What is wrong with that?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My right hon. Friend has made some powerful points. Under Governments of both political persuasions, planning permissions have been given in large numbers for out-of-town retail centres. Such centres now exist, and I do not believe that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East is suggesting that they should be closed down. We have to live with them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is right to say that, given the choice, many of our constituents would choose to drive to a convenient out-of-town centre and park in a free car park by the door of the shop, rather than battling with the difficulties of many town and city centres, which are created by traffic restrictions and inadequate and costly parking. Many local authorities have decided to create an artificial scarcity in parking in the centre of the town or city, enabling private operators to charge extremely high prices. There is therefore both a price deterrent and a physical limitation. The physical limitation greatly increases

congestion and pollution because many motorists circulate, desperately trying to find a car park that still has some spaces, often involving long detours and unnecessary journeys.

My right hon. Friend is right to suggest that there should be some democratic and popular constraint on road closures, diversions and the reduction of carriageways. An unhealthy process is under way in many parts of the country. It usually begins with the objective of reducing speed and flows on a main road so that extra lights, chicanes and carriageway reductions or narrowings go in on the main highway. Frustrated motorists then seek alternative routes, and a series of rat runs develops and becomes much more popular. They often go through residential areas, and people living along the rat runs are naturally unhappy. They often campaign for greater restrictions on the rat run route than there are on the main route that people are trying to avoid. They are often successful, and then we have a further reduction in the capacity of the local road network alongside the capacity reduction of the principal highway. It becomes a vicious spiral resulting in much more congestion, pollution and frustration.

Rarely do the local authorities undertaking such projects put in a good public transport alternative to give people a chance to use a bus or train for their journey instead of having to battle with the restrictions in road space. While I welcome and support my right hon. Friend's amendment, I suspect that it will be only a partial answer. It may be the case, where the restrictions are to be imposed on a local road used as a rat run, that they will be popular if the consultation is limited to those who live along it. Any of us living on such a route would obviously like to see the traffic restricted. The issue is how wide the consultation should go.

My right hon. Friend's amendment highlights and would tackle the problem. It would work in terms of principal routes. As my analysis has shown, the cycle of road restriction and increased congestion often begins with attempts to reduce and limit the use that people can make of the principal highway where proper consultation in the whole surrounding area might produce a counter balance. My right hon. Friend and I, in proposing the amendment, need to ask how the legitimate aims of the Highways Authority can be met without imposing such restrictions. It has one important, legitimate aim: the promotion of safety. Instead of restricting the carriageway space on main routes, the local authority should encourage more segregation between different types of user and more segregation of traffic moving or turning in different directions. Far from narrowing carriageways, we need wherever possible segregated right and left-turning lanes and segregated areas for cyclists, not on the main carriageway, to avoid conflict between more vulnerable and less vulnerable road users.

I am a strong believer that we need much safer roads, and better design, particularly at junctions, could make an important contribution. Many the

so-called safety schemes that I see around the country increase the dangers; certainly the type that involve artificial chicanes, which encourage a game of chicken between dangerous drivers, are undesirable. We cannot rely on the common sense and goodwill of all drivers when approaching those chicanes, sometimes priorities are less than clear and some of the narrowing of carriageways is also dangerous because, on a busy road with two or more lanes, if the lane is too narrow, a motorist behaving himself can be horribly squeezed by a bus or large articulated lorry that finds it genuinely difficult to stay within its tram lines; indeed, in some cases, it is impossible because of the artificial narrowing of routes.

Local authorities should therefore be under a greater duty of care. There is a strong safety reason for encouraging better design of highways and, where possible, widening rather than narrowing principal routes.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Thank you, Mr. Beard, for privately clarifying why amendment No. 83, which refers to traffic flows, was to be taken on its own, whereas new clause 24, which refers to traffic flow, was originally to be taken with the previous group. I am enormously grateful for your explanation of that mystery.

The right hon. Members for East Yorkshire and for Wokingham made several comments with which we have some sympathy. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire does Leicester a slight disservice. It is in the middle of developing an extremely elaborate park-and-ride scheme that is supposed to be the other half of the equation that he described. I do not know where it will go, but Leicester is working on it. The right hon. Gentleman's characterisation was therefore unfortunate.

Parking schemes and strategies will be included in the local transport plan process. Authorities are rewarded according to their plans for parking. That may not have been done very much in the past, but I certainly envisage the LTP process, with its rewards and recognition of failure, as being part of the way in which we can try to influence local authorities. The two amendments—one amendment, save for an extra ''s''—aim to place additional duties on local highway authorities. They are unnecessary, or rather, the composite amendment is unnecessary, and would affect three types of scheme that require new or amended traffic regulation orders. Those are: schemes that require new or amended traffic regulation orders and include the introduction of banned turns, bus, cycle and similar lanes, waiting restrictions and loading restrictions; schemes that include works such as narrowing, build outs and chicanes that are implemented for traffic calming purposes; and road-space allocation schemes that are not regarded as calming—for example, where traffic lanes are being narrowed or removed to provide wider pavements. That is broadly what the two right hon. Gentlemen suggested.

The consultation requirements for the first type of scheme are laid out in the Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996, which make provision for consultation,

publication of orders in draft to allow for objections to be made and, if necessary, a full public inquiry. It is possible to make experimental orders to test schemes of traffic management that do not involve allowing for objections, but such orders can cover a period of only up to 18 months.

Consultation requirements for traffic calming schemes are set out in the Highways (Traffic Calming) Regulations 1999. They include a requirement to

''consult such persons or organisations representing persons who use the highway or who are otherwise likely to be affected by the traffic calming work as the highway authority thinks fit.''

That could cover the local residents, shopkeepers and businesses mentioned in the amendment, although ultimately that judgment is a matter for the local traffic authority.

Road-space allocation can often be part of a more significant traffic management scheme, and it would be good practice for the local highway authority to consult inclusively with affected parties, including local residents, traders and businesses. The local highway authority, usually elected members, must then take a decision while balancing the scheme's objectives against its local adverse impacts.

It is not usual procedure to require majority support for any local authority work. I was a councillor for 11 years, and would say that whenever one consults on a road traffic scheme, whether a chicane or barrier, the guaranteed result is 50:50, or a third that says yes, a third that says no and a third that could not care less. The notion of traffic management and tweaks and changes to the network management by plebiscite is not therefore appropriate.

Fuller and more substantive consultation than that already provided for may be worth considering as and when we consider the guidance notes for the network management duty. I am more than happy to broach the subject of consultation as a part of that process, but we feel, for the reasons I have set out, that the range of consultative processes already more than adequately covers those referred to in the amendments. I ask the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:30 am, 29th January 2004

I heard what the Minister said, and it is superficially attractive. Will he address the question of temporary closures? As he pointed out, it is possible to have a temporary closure of up to 18 months without consultation. The amendment would deal with that issue, which is well worth addressing. I have an example from my own constituency, from Golf Links road in Ferndown. There was pressure from residents of that road for a road closure. The county council was about to carry the closure through when people in the wider Ferndown area, including shopkeepers and other interested people, got wind of it. They panicked and sent me a petition, which arrived here by recorded delivery on the day that the county council was due to meet. I had to phone the county council and fax the petition. As a consequence, the

council realised that the idea was not as popular as it had thought. An enormous amount of time and effort was wasted because the county council thought that the matter could be dealt with by the cheap and easy option of closing the road for 18 months and seeing what happened, but that would have exacerbated congestion on other roads in the area. That was not done with proper consultation, the consequence of which was a lot of ill feeling and expressions of bad faith by my constituents. All that could have been avoided if consultation had been required, even on a temporary closure of up to 18 months, as set out in the amendment and new clause.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I suspect that I am unable to help the hon. Gentleman. However, I am glad that he is no longer lost in Northamptonshire but has returned to his own constituency.

I suspect that a fundamental review of the assorted consultative processes would need at least some element of provision for the experimental and the temporary. That is right and proper. When it comes to the hon. Gentleman's example, although roads can be closed without consultation for up to 18 months, best practice as followed by the better highway agencies is to consult and go through the process as though a permanent change was proposed.

If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to exhort highway authorities to utilise all the consultative duties that they already have in a far more robust fashion, I am with him. If he is saying, however, that we must absolutely get rid of any notion of temporary closures or temporary orders that experiment and see whether something works, I cannot help him, as that degree of flexibility is necessary at local level. In the broad scheme of things, given the statutory and other consultation procedures for the three different types of orders that I have explained, I think that it is unnecessary to go down the road of the amendment, and I ask that it be withdrawn.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for his response. To go back to his point about the city of Leicester, perhaps I should put on the record that I am very fond of the city. It is a place that I like to visit. However, if any authority develops and expands a park-and-ride scheme, what should come first: the park-and-ride scheme or the traffic restriction? Most people would think that the scheme should be put in place first. However, the motorist who visits Leicester has the pain, but is still waiting for the relief. That was my point. Under such circumstances, no wonder people decide to shop in out-of-town shopping centres.

The Minister's heart was not in his response. He appeared to be saying that he felt that if best practice were pursued, local authorities would consult widely. He said his view was that that should happen. All the amendment would do is make it compulsory for that consultation to take place. How can anyone who believes in the democratic process be against that? I therefore invite all members of the Committee who believe in the exercise of democracy to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Division number 11 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 16 - The network management duty

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

It will be convenient also to discuss new clause 1—Street and road works undertaken by local highway authorities—

'It shall be a duty on every local highway authority to have regard to the need to keep traffic flowing when undertaking street and road works. They will be treated the same as other bodies and companies carrying out works that include street and road works.'.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

It was not clear to me when reading clause 16 whether the traffic manager and the network management would deal with one of the big problems that I observe in the United Kingdom today, which is the street and road works undertaken by local authorities and highways agencies.

When I travel around this congested island on the complex and difficult journeys that a Member of Parliament needs to make to carry out his or her parliamentary and political duties, frequently having to go by car because there is no obvious public transport alternative, I often discover that my journey is impeded by street and road works. My random but, I am sure, entirely representative sample in recent months has shown me that around half those difficulties are created by local and national highways authorities; the works are not being done only by the statutory gas and electricity companies.

I am all in favour of the measures in the Bill that would expedite street works undertaken by the utilities, and I think that I can live with the rather bureaucratic system that has been designed to achieve that worthy aim. As one who is not noted for liking bureaucratic answers, I am on this occasion prepared to forget that obstacle in the hope that the scheme outlined in the Bill will have the better desired effect—namely, reducing disruption to the local and national highway network created by statutory undertakings entering roads or streets for legitimate purposes to carry out street works.

When I travel around looking at what local and national highways authorities do, I find that two things annoy my constituents, and, I suspect, the constituents of many other Members, beyond measure. I often see streets partially or wholly closed for street works at the busiest time of day on busy days of the year. I remember that, at the start of the winter term when all the schools were going back, a number of street works were started in areas near me by local authorities who had decided to start spending money just when parents had to start taking their children

back to school, having missed the opportunity to carry out those street works during the long, hot days of July, August and early September, when none of the schools was in operation.

I also notice the occasions when street lanes or whole roads are closed, and no street works are being undertaken. That, too, annoys my constituents and other frustrated motorists, who are not allowed to use all or a portion of the highway, and yet there is no visible work in progress when they encounter the restriction. We need a figure in authority, such as the traffic manager, with a duty to encourage better network management, who can say these things to the local authority, as well as to the statutory undertaker. The local authority's highways department should be told that it should not normally enter a street or road and carry out repairs or other street works at very busy times of the year or day. They should certainly be told that when they wish to pack up for the day or the evening and go home, they should put a temporary or permanent repair into whatever they are doing and reopen the road wherever possible, instead of leaving it closed and out of use for all the many hours when they are not working on it. It would make so much difference to our journeys around this country, particularly at busy morning and evening peaks if the local highways authority had to behave more sensibly, and was under some restraint to do so, just as it makes sense that statutory undertakers in the private sector should be told to restrict their entry on to the highway and their closure of the highway for necessary works.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My right hon. Friend is making a very powerful case, but does he think that there ought also to be some sort of authority to enforce the timing for the provision of other services? For example, last year I happened to be coming into London from Heathrow at the busiest time, the evening rush hour, and one entire carriageway of what is one of the busiest routes into London was blocked by a refuse lorry, which was emptying dustbins at the height of the rush hour.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. I would go wider. There should be much more attempt to co-ordinate the activities of the highways authority with the statutory undertakers more generally. For example, if the highways authority decided that a particular road or street should be scheduled for substantial maintenance or resurfacing, it would be extremely sensible and prudent to contact all the statutory undertakers and tell them that they were about to dig up the street and ask whether works were planned over the next year or two. If so, then for goodness' sake, they could be done while the authority was opening up the street, and before it put down a wonderful surface.

All too often one sees the opposite happening: the highways authority goes through its process of structural maintenance or resurfacing; there is a wonderful new road or street for a week or two, then the next thing that happens is someone turns up with a pneumatic drill and opens up the street to do some maintenance on a gas pipe or put in a new electricity cable. That is madness, and it annoys not just the motorist but the taxpayer who sees a very nice

resurfaced highway being damaged. However much one persuades or requires the statutory undertaker to put the road back in a reasonable condition, it will never be the same again. A road that has been patched is never going to be the same as a road that has just had good structural maintenance or resurfacing and that has a very good, smooth, sensible surface as a result.

Many works that a local highways authority wishes to undertake can indeed be carried out day by day or evening by evening, and the road can be restored for the times when the men are not working. There has been a lot of edge strengthening in parts of the country that I drive through, and the road is often left partially closed overnight, when no works are being undertaken. It would be very easy for a contractor doing edge strengthening to decide how far he was going to get in his allotted hours that day, then to tidy up and to leave his stocks and supplies by the roadside or in a lay-by and not have to keep the highway closed for the 10, 15 or 16 hours when he is not working on that highway, before the next day when his workmen return.

Resurfacing can be done in sections, so the road can be restored to use very quickly. This happens in best practice local authorities, and it obviously happens where busy tasks are being undertaken, such as, for example, the resurfacing of the main runway at Heathrow. Nobody would expect a contractor resurfacing the main runway at Heathrow to pack up at 5 o'clock in the evening, leaving the runway closed overnight and through the early next morning until he came back. There is a method of resurfacing quickly, so that people are not too inconvenienced, and not many planes run out of fuel over Heathrow waiting for contractors.

If that can be done for the main runway at Heathrow, why cannot it be done for our main roads, local and national? They are equally important to many people and I would like us to apply the same management techniques, so that our infrastructure—I prefer to call it roads—can be used for as much of the time as possible.

The Minister will be interested to know what powers I have in mind, and how they will fit in with his legislation. Helpfully aided by those who decided to group the new clause with the stand part debate, I suggest that local authorities should be under the same restrictions and duties as statutory undertakers, as conferred by this and subsequent clauses. The traffic manager in the highways authority would have a responsibility to include good plans and best practice for the highways authority as well as for others who might enter the road to undertake roadworks. I should like him to have the strong powers that would become inherent were my new clause to be included in the Bill. Then, as the Bill makes clear, if the traffic manager failed to discipline his local authority and that authority was the main cause of congestion in the area because it was restricting the use of the road, the Government would have the power to intervene.

There would be a sanction that, even under my unadorned new clause, meant that the traffic manager had to take his duties seriously and provide restriction on the local authority in respect of damaging the highway. The new clause would also mean that the local authority could be governed by a permit system. Subsequent proposals set out many checks and balances on the permit system, and we might debate them.

I am open to persuasion from the Minister, if he would rather use some other method. I am sure that he and his team could come up with all sorts of technical and consequential amendments that would beautify and improve the simple structure that I propose. Suffice it to say for this debate that it is crucial that the Government, if they are serious about reducing congestion caused by those who enter the highway for the purposes of carrying out works, accept that some of the biggest offenders are local authorities.

Many authorities—I am not making a party political point—do not manage their roadworks well. They manage them for their own convenience, and for cost and budgetary cycle reasons, rather than with a view to the convenience of the road user—the taxpayer, who pays their wages and the bills for the works. We need to legislate to make such authorities aware that we, the users and taxpayers, are heartily sick of the fact that they do not allow us sufficiently to use the assets that we have bought and paid for, because they are often the culprits on temporary restrictions, lane closures and road closures.

I urge the Minister either to accept my new clause or to come up with an even better-drafted proposition that would fit neatly into the structure of the Bill and make sense for statutory undertakers.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 10:45 am, 29th January 2004

I shall, of course, Mr. Beard, take on board your exhortation to dwell on the clause itself rather than new clause 1. I know that you will admonish me should I stray from such a venture.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham and I are in agreement. I am sorry to say that I am broadly in sympathy with what he said; if I say that much more during the next couple of weeks, I shall leave here scarred in some way. That troubles me, so I shall have to dwell on it during the lunch break.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

You will be a much better politician if you do.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

Me or the right hon. Member for Wokingham?

New clause 1 would place on local highway authorities the additional duty to consider the effects of their roadworks with a view to minimising congestion. It also aims, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham said, to place on highway authorities the same requirement to minimise the disruption caused by their works that applies to the utilities. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me to try to persuade him out of his course. That is what I shall do, given that I have some sympathy for his comments.

The Bill already covers highway authority works where appropriate, which reflects the fact that utilities and highway authorities both carry out works on the

highway. Overall responsibility for managing the road network also falls to highway authorities, which necessitates a different approach in some areas of the Bill. Read together, clauses 16(2)(b) and 17(4) cover

''the avoidance, elimination or reduction of road congestion or other disruption''

and the requirements that authorities must identify ''things''—a legal word, apparently—

''(including future occurrences) which are causing, or which have the potential to cause, road congestion or other disruption''

and must

''consider any possible action that could be taken in response''.

Both provisions apply to authorities carrying out their own works, which relates to the purpose of the first part of new clause 1.

Authorities are required under clause 17(5)(b) and (c) to monitor their own performance. They will have to have regard to guidance issued by the appropriate national authority under clause 18, which will cover the management of their own works. They may also be subject to intervention if they fail to fulfil properly their network management duty, so duties and sanctions will affect the way that the authorities manage their own works.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham alluded to the fact that the provisions on permits in part 3 allow for schemes to cover authorities' works. The existing duty under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 already places a requirement on authorities to co-ordinate their works with utilities' works. Highway authorities also have a duty to keep a register of works, which the relevant regulations have provided must include utility works on their streets as well as their own works.

Clause 44 will allow the duties to be widened to cover other activities in the street that can cause disruption, such as the placing of skips and scaffolding. Clause 61 allows for information to be kept on the location of apparatus buried by the authority in the street. That shows that existing powers and those in the Bill mean that authorities will be subject to similar duties as utilities. That covers key areas of co-ordination, keeping records of equipment and registers of work.

There is also the basic duty to exercise power in carrying out work to expedite the movement of traffic. Given the broad sweep of existing legislation, married to the new statutory network management duty, a far better system will prevail for utility and highway authority street works.

That said, I am aware of the concern expressed by some utilities that although their activities are policed, no one polices local traffic authority works. However, the fundamental differences between authorities and utilities mean that different levers yield the same result. In the example of a local authority, none of us would want to underestimate democratic accountability and the power of the local electorate. Furthermore, the Bill's network management duty and the threat of

intervention in poorly performing authorities should allay any fears about an uneven playing field.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wokingham for allowing me to state for the record the fact that the guidance on exercising the network management duty will cover local traffic authorities' works in addition to the wider elements of the duty. I hope that, considering those reassurances, the right hon. Gentleman will not press new clause 1 and that we can continue to work in harmony and agreement.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is good at exhorting local authorities to engage in good behaviour, but, like me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham is concerned about the quality of sanctions. There is no point in having duties unless they are accompanied by sanctions. Local highway authorities have powers, and will get more under the Bill, to order utilities to do something, and if those utilities do not act as ordered, they may be liable to criminal sanctions. However, local highway authorities do not apply the same principles to their activities and are not subject to any sanction whatever, let alone any criminal sanctions. That causes enormous resentment.

Even the sanction that a local authority that breaches statutory duties to keep the highway properly maintained may engender claims against it for damages does not work. Many local authorities pay out millions of pounds each year through their insurance companies, settling claims for breach of statutory duty to maintain the highway in the way that they should. We are concerned that there should be not just an equality of rhetoric, but substantively the same duties with comparable sanctions.

The Minister said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham that there will be an ultimate sanction of intervention, but the part 2 guidance notes, which the Minister supplied to us today, say:

''The intervention powers are only expected to be used in extreme cases''.

That does not surprise me, because they are extremely complicated and bureaucratic. We will discuss them in more detail later. It is not surprising that the Minister says they will be used only in extreme cases, but I do not think that my right hon. Friend has only extreme cases in mind. We have in mind the run of the mill situation whereby a highway authority is not performing to the standard required for it to comply with its basic statutory duties and responsibilities. There is obviously a role for local people through the ballot box with elected local authorities, but some equality of sanction should also be applied to local authorities.

However much the Minister may exhort local authorities to behave responsibly in relation to the highways, he has not yet been able to satisfy me on the point. I take for an example Northampton—I will not go further into detail—which he admits is a failing authority. What can he do to persuade it to perform to a higher standard without going down the road of intervening, which he says would be appropriate only in an extreme case? I do not know whether that particular case is extreme, but perhaps he thinks it is

and he is prepared to intervene. If there is to be an effective duty, surely it should be matched by a sanction that will work. I hope that the Minister addresses those concerns.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and to the Minister. I reassure the Minister that he and I will still find plenty of things to disagree about on the wider sweep of public policy and political philosophy. I would like him to rest assured that we will find plenty to disagree about on higher education, for example, or the conduct of government, but on this occasion I feel it right, within the spirit of the Committee, to be positive and constructive.

I am glad that the Minister understands the different tone that I have been adopting for those purposes: the Bill's intentions are wholly admirable and it is the purpose of consideration in Committee to get them across to those who must obey the law and to ensure that the right people have to do the right things to achieve the objective.

I am pleased that the Minister went so far as to say that he thinks there is a problem with local authority street works and that he wishes to tackle it in guidance. I am pleased that in some respects, as I have seen in the Bill, local authorities will be encouraged to use better practice. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, we are not fully persuaded that there are enough teeth in the legislation, given the other requirements on local authorities and the bad or sloppy practice that we see in highways authorities up and down the country.

I was not moved to table the new clause following a conversation with utilities. My motivation was not that because they are subject to these powers so local authorities should be—that is a rather jealous approach, which is not in my character—but the fact that there is a serious problem with local highway authorities cluttering up the streets without realising what an important asset those are and their not making those streets available regularly enough to the taxpayers who provided them.

I shall not press the new clause at this stage, because having the Minister and his often loyal Back Benchers vote it down will not help my cause. However, the issue needs proper examination, and we might have to return to it when we see the overall balance of the Government's response. So far, Ministers have talked very gently, but they have not given ground, which is beginning to spoil the spirit of the proceedings just a little.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 11:00 am, 29th January 2004

I do not have much to add, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for not pressing new clause 1.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.