I beg to move amendment No. 174, in
page 8, line 16, after 'period', insert 'not exceeding 3 months'.
I hope that the Committee will not end up watching dawn rise over the Thames before we reach the point the Minister wants us to get to.
Amendment No. 177 makes the same point as amendment No. 174, only it is expressed differently. I will speak to amendment No. 174, but I hope the Minister accepts that my comments also relate to amendment No. 177, because that will save me from repeating myself.
Both amendments seek to impose time limits. A report must be produced within a specified period not exceeding three months. I accept that I have plucked three months out of the air for the sake of debate, but it is a reasonable period and the principle is more
important than the figure. I do not care whether the Minister would prefer two or four months. Like the Minister, I have been in local government and suspect that he, too, may have found that work can take some time to be completed if there is no means of persuading people to pull their finger out. A three-month period would do just that.
Amendment No. 177 says the same thing about giving an authority time to make representations. If we say, ''You must have time to make representations,'' it could mean any length of time. I have had cases in which someone said that we could not proceed until someone else had commented, which meant that those cases lasted for ever and a day. There should be a cut-off point wherever the Bill says that something must happen. I may table amendments to that effect to other provisions. However, for the purposes of this debate, the cut-off point should be three months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) makes a good point, although his period of three months is rather generous.
Before I entered the House, I worked in the private sector. At all levels, until someone becomes the ultimate boss, one is asked for information in the normal course of the business that one is conducting. If at any stage I had said to my bosses that I would deliver the information in three months, I would have been out of the door or pensioned off to a very early retirement because they would have decided that I was not up to it. If I had offered to send them the information in three weeks, I would also have been out of the door. If information is required and it is connected with, and collected for, the purpose of the authority or the business, it should be made available more rapidly.
I understand that the public sector works to different time scales compared with the private sector. It can take six months to get enough of the 550,000 civil servants to answer a letter that a Member of Parliament has sent to a Minister or a Department. None of us find that satisfactory. I always say to my constituents that they will get an answer from me by return because it is just my secretary and I, but that when we need an answer from the Government it takes six months because there are 550,000 people helping to give it.
We must move on from that culture. One month would be a more sensible time frame. It is still three or four times as long as it would take anybody in the private sector to produce information for their boss or higher authority. It is, however, right that my hon. Friend should ask the Minister to initiate better habits in the public sector in the timely provision of needed information, as it has to collect that information anyway.
While we are playing at macho toy soldiers in the battle between public and private, I assure the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and the hon. Member for Spelthorne that I will be harsher than the two of them put together. The Bill does not specify an arbitrary three
months, two months or whatever the right hon. Gentleman suggested, but clearly says, ''within a specified period.'' That means that if the Secretary of State or the national authority deems that the information is required in a week, the period will be a week. If the information is required in two or three months because the work is substantial, the period will be two or three months. What he and the hon. Gentleman are trying to achieve is already in the Bill, which is far harsher than either of them would have it.
I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Spelthorne recognised that he was being utterly arbitrary in plucking the figure of three months from the sky. That is not good enough. If the relevant national authority requires information, and if there is a good reason why it is required—it will be not simply to employ someone at a local level, but the pursuance of the local authority achieving its national statutory duty as outlined—if it takes two days, four days, two weeks or two months to provide that information, that is what will the specified time will be. I will cling to that flexibility with every breath in my body, because it is utterly important to ensure that the information flow is right for the benefit of the centre and the local level, as well as for the achievement of the national duty. In that context, the Bill is twice as hard and firm as the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman urge, so I ask them to withdraw the amendment.
That was not a particularly good lesson. The trouble is that I cannot help warming to the Minister, especially when he is wrong, as he is now. My amendment does not say that information must be produced within three months. It says everything that the Minister says, plus a little more. All it says is that the specified period, which the Minister warmed to, should not exceed three months. He is absolutely right that that period might be a day.
The Bill says that the person concerned can specify how long things will take and can make a judgment about whether providing the information is simply a matter of looking something up in a file or doing a little research. In effect, my amendment says that however much the word ''specified'' is used, under no circumstances can the period extend beyond three months.
The Minister's enthusiastic response to ''specified'' did not state a period beyond two months, so he appears to accept that everything could be done within three months, otherwise he would have said that it might take six. He did not, however, so he seems to accept that three months is a long stop. In the circumstances, because he said how important it is to be quick, I am not prepared to withdraw my amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 7.
The amendments all raise the same point. One of the weird things about this place is that, to trigger any explanation or debate, we have to try to delete something. The amendments are designed purely to get the Minister to say a little more about why the Mayor of London has to have things sent to him. I have nothing against the Mayor of London—well, I have, but if I went down that route, you would rule me out of order, Miss Begg, because it is not wholly to do with the Bill. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the Minister explained in more detail why the Mayor has to be involved, as well as the London boroughs. The amendments are merely a means of launching the debate.
I was going to be churlish and call these the ''Oh dear, Norris will never be Mayor'' amendments, on the basis that the Conservatives will never win the mayoral election and therefore want to remove any reference to the Mayor. However, I understand and appreciate the manner in which the hon. Member for Spelthorne made his case.
Transport for London is responsible for 5 per cent. of the roads across the boroughs, but 30 per cent. of the traffic. TFL has told me that it fully supports the network management duty and recognises that there is a two-way flow not only between TFL and the Government, but between TFL and the boroughs. There is already a co-ordination and liaison role for TFL, but if we are imposing a specific duty in that regard, it is incumbent on us to give TFL the scope to receive the information that it may need subsequently to carry out that co-ordination. That is all that clauses 19, 20 and 21 are designed to do.
If this clause remains unamended, will it allow the Government to find out from the Mayor in advance whether, for example, he wanted to take out all the lumps, bumps and humps but put in speed cameras on every street? We hear that that is his policy. Does the Minister currently have the power to find out whether that is true, and will he have the power under this legislation?
That relates to the relationship between TFL and central Government, rather than that between TFL and the boroughs, which is what many of these clauses are about. As I understand it, the Government have the ability to be informed regularly by TFL about whatever it is doing in the more general sense. I see TFL in three or four different capacities on a monthly basis. That includes a specific group on London's roads and street works. With regard to the tube, there are also regular meetings with the Mayor and with Bob Kiley, so there is discussion at the centre.
Much of this debate is about the interplay between TFL, the boroughs and what notification or otherwise comes back to us at the centre. Matters have to be referred to the Mayor and TFL as well. It is essential to underpin that co-ordination and liaison by building on the strategic role in respect of traffic that the Mayor and TFL already have. It is therefore appropriate and not terribly burdensome that there is the flow of information alluded to in clauses 19, 20 and 21.
If the amendments were accepted, there would be a significant gap in respect of notification and an inability for the boroughs, TFL and the centre to intermesh in quite the way envisaged in the Bill at national, regional strategic and local level. For those reasons, I urge the hon. Member for Spelthorne to withdraw amendment No. 175 and not to press amendments Nos. 179 and 182.
In future, when people want to see what was the thinking behind the legislation, it will be helpful to have that explanation in the Hansard record. I am grateful to the Minister for putting that information in the public domain and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.