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House of Lords

Tuesday, 3rd November 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Lord Brookman

David Keith Brookman, Esquire, having been created Baron Brookman, of Ebbw Vale in the County of Gwent, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Paul and the Lord Davies of Coity.

Walking in Cities: Policy

2.42 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures to encourage walking in towns and cities, in accordance with the policies set out in the recently published Transport White Paper, can be implemented immediately.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, since the Government came to power they have encouraged local authorities to place provision for walking high on their list of transport priorities. Action to encourage walking forms the core of the forthcoming walking strategy that will be published shortly. Forthcoming guidance to local authorities on the production of the new local transport plans announced in the integrated transport White Paper will notify them that they should use the strategy to inform their transport planning and provision.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting and lucid Answer. Does he agree that people are put off walking in towns and cities by the length of time they have to wait for traffic lights to turn green for pedestrians? Outside your Lordships' House one has to wait only 15 seconds, but outside the office of my noble friend the Minister one has to wait a minute to get across the road. Most people do not wait; they just jump the lights. Will the Minister include in the guidance to local authorities instructions to reduce the time that pedestrians have to wait so that they are less inclined to jump the red lights and risk being killed?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the department does issue guidance to local authorities on timings at traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. Research is currently being undertaken into the adequacy of that guidance. The general conclusion is likely to be that in most circumstances the current guidance is correct if it is followed by the local authorities.

In addition, there have been developments such as the introduction of the PUFFIN crossing. As your Lordships will know, a PUFFIN is an intelligent pelican.

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A PUFFIN crossing is one which is capable of altering the length of time allowed for pedestrians to cross the road, particularly in difficult circumstances. Some 300 such crossings are in operation.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, leaving aside the issue that a government encouraging a walking policy might smack slightly of the nanny state, will the noble Lord accept my congratulations on the decision to increase the fares on London Underground by up to three times the rate of inflation and on London buses by up to four times the rate of inflation? That is a sure fire way to get more people walking, at any rate in London. Is not that a clear-cut case of the Government putting the public's money where the Government's mouth is?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord asks several questions. The noble Lord's knowledge of nannies may be better than mine: my understanding is that nannies push you about rather than allow you to walk. We are now encouraging the liberating process of walking in our cities, which sometimes has not been easy.

On London Transport, the fares announced the other day have met certain criteria. We regret any increase in fares, but that is required to meet the operating costs of London Transport, the investment side of which was so sadly neglected by the party opposite when in government.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, does the walking strategy apply to escalators on the London Underground? Is the Minister aware that the escalator at Pimlico station has been out of order for months? There are 83 steps to negotiate to get out of the station. Is not that disgraceful?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as it happens, I am well aware that the escalator at Pimlico station is out of operation. We hope that the resources that London Transport has available for improving its stations will ensure that the situation is remedied as soon as possible.

Lord Renton: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is much more important to provide for those who cannot walk because they have been disabled in war or peace?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct. It is also very important to improve access along pavements and into buildings for those who cannot walk and are disabled. The Government intend to ensure that that takes place and will seek to persuade local authorities to make such provision.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, following the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, does the Minister know whether, when the traffic lights at Talgarth Road and North End Road are working again, it will be possible to make sure that pedestrians can cross the road? I use the station there; I live on the other side of the road. It is virtually impossible to cross the road. One minute is certainly an underestimate of the time that one normally has to wait.

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I note the concerns of the noble Lord. I have no doubt that the traffic control systems unit for London will look at those particular problems. I cannot say in detail that I have experienced the same problems, but no doubt we can look into the matter.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that owing to the increased volume of traffic in our major cities--I refer not only to London but also to the provinces--there is need for more zebra crossings? Will the noble Lord bring that need to the attention of the relevant authorities?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree that the increased volume of traffic in our cities causes many problems, one of which is that faced by pedestrians trying to get from one side of the road to the other. Whether all such circumstances are best met by zebra crossings is primarily a matter for the local authorities concerned. We shall be addressing such concerns in our new process for local transport planning.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware--

Lord Quirk: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Cross-Benches!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: They had their turn a moment ago. Is my noble friend aware that one of the greatest deterrents to people walking is the illegal use by cyclists of footways? It is extremely dangerous. A number of people are injured, and even killed, by that illegal practice. Is my noble friend further aware that pedestrians have little redress against cyclists as they are not compelled to be insured? Will my noble friend pay some attention to what is an urgent problem?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thought it would not be long before we got on to the subject of cycling. It is certainly the case that there are problems with cyclists using pavements and colliding with pedestrians in some of our towns, and, indeed, in some rural areas. However, I must emphasise again to the House, as I did only last week, that the vast majority of accidents to pedestrians are not caused by cyclists. They are caused by motorised transport, the proper control of which is a priority for this Government.

The Millennium Bug

2.50 p.m.

Lord Razzall asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are confident that the private sector has the structures in place to be millennium compliant by 1st January 2000.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, awareness of the year 2000 problem is now pretty universal among companies but latest research for Action 2000 shows

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that action, particularly among firms employing between 10 and 250 people, is lagging behind. We will continue to encourage the private sector to make this a top priority.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, can he, first, confirm recent newspaper reports which state that the bug-busting campaign launched by the Prime Minister in March 1997 aimed at medium-sized enterprises has attracted very few of them? Secondly, can he also confirm that the concern of Action 2000 leads to a demand for significantly greater funding from the Government? Will he confirm that concern and tell us whether that extra funding will be available?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the bug-busting campaign which was indeed announced by the Prime Minister is at a very early stage. As the noble Lord knows, £30 million has been allocated to it by the Department for Education and Employment. However, it really only started in July of this year and much of the early effort had to be spent in establishing satisfactory quality standards. Indeed, it would not have been any good introducing it en masse until we had done so.

As far as concerns the noble Lord's second question, I can confirm that I had seen newspaper reports about additional money for Action 2000. Money has, of course, already been increased for the latter, and if any further applications for money come to us we will consider them sympathetically.


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