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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the law allows a court to deprive a convicted person of ownership of an animal for any period. It can order the disposal of an animal, appropriately, if the court is satisfied that to leave the animal with its owner would expose it to further cruelty. In respect of the particular chimp, Trudy, officials have checked today. She is now living at Monkey World in Dorset. She and her fellow chimps have 40 acres in which to wander. The leader of the

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group is called Rodney, aged 30. The adoptive mother is Peggy, aged 15. Plainly, the age of consent in that particular context is what the Commons are suggesting.

Baroness Trumpington: She is better off than me!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It shows that if employment in this House passes, there may be alternatives available.

Local Authorities: Road Maintenance Budget

3.24 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, as indicated by a survey by the Refined Bitumen Association published on 1st March 1999, there is a £1.5 billion shortfall in this year's local authorities' road maintenance budget, and whether this shortfall has increased by 25 per cent. over the past year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, while it is generally accepted that road maintenance has suffered from past underfunding, there is no agreed estimate of the size of the backlog of maintenance for local roads.

Local government in Great Britain has substantial discretion in setting expenditure priorities and full information on local highway condition is not available. But we are now committed to restore the cuts in maintenance of English principal roads.

After devolution the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly will be responsible for funding local authorities in Scotland and Wales to discharge their functions in respect of local roads.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is he aware--of course, he will be--that particular reference is made in the White Paper to better maintained roads and increased resources, both locally and nationally? Therefore, what will the Government do about this growing shortfall in what is, after all, 95 per cent. of our roads; namely, local authority roads? The White Paper also proposes the transfer of some 40 per cent. of government trunk roads to local authorities. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that money for maintenance will also follow that transfer, and that that money will be ring-fenced so that it has to be spent on road maintenance and not used for other purposes?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in answer to the first point, the Government have clearly shifted resources, as compared with the previous administration. We have allocated a further £276 million over the three-year period of the CSR. The capital settlement for local roads has been allocated a 34 per cent. increase for next year. Therefore, we are very substantially moving towards our

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commitment to restore spending on maintenance for local roads. As regards detrunking proposals, there will clearly have to be a financial arrangement between the Highways Agency and the local transport authorities. That will involve adequate financial resources, both on current maintenance and future capital spending on major road maintenance programmes.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, does a contractor who repairs a road have to guarantee that the road will remain in good condition under normal usage for a specific time? If the road fails to stay in good condition, does the contractor have to return and restore it to a satisfactory condition?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, within certain constraints, penalty clauses are involved in maintenance contracts. Many such contracts run for a number of years and are adjudged between the local authority, or indeed the highways authority, and the contractor. However, penalty clauses are involved.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, will the Minister accept that those of us who have been involved in this matter at a local level do not find surprising the figures referred to in the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara? It has been said that there is no way of measuring the shortfall. Is the Minister aware that in many counties the life expectancy, if I may use that phrase, of the roads in the care of the counties has been steadily declining for at least 10 years? As far as I know, that trend has not changed; the figure is still decreasing.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness is clearly correct. A substantial problem is involved here and the responsibility for that is quite clear. Indeed, the report to which the Question refers indicates that there was a substantial deterioration over the period of 10 years to 1998. That is because the previous administration froze current expenditure allocated to local authorities and dramatically cut the capital expenditure for local authorities. As I indicated in my previous answer, this Administration reversed that situation on both fronts and, over the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review, will be moving towards restoring it to the level which existed up until the early 1990s. There is a backlog, and we are tackling it.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, is the Minister aware that last year local authorities had to pay out £33 million as a result of successful claims for accidents or damage to vehicles caused as a result of the state of the structure of roads? Does he consider that the steps which the Government have taken are adequate to begin a trend of reducing that figure, which has shown steady growth now for a number of years?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I have indicated, we are only beginning to reverse a serious decline in resources. However, I believe that local authorities have recognised their responsibility in that respect and are improving the

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maintenance of the roads not only for the convenience of traffic, but to avoid the kind of incidents to which the noble Lord refers.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, what is the purpose of, and justification for, detrunking?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the intention, which is welcomed by local government generally, is to ensure that Highways Agency roads provide the country's strategic network. Detrunked roads will henceforth be assessed in terms of regional and local priorities and will be managed, along with local roads, by local authorities as part of the overall local and regional transport system. They are, therefore, roads which are more important for local and regional purposes than for national purposes. Nevertheless, they will remain as principal roads. As I have already said, the financial arrangements made for them will reflect that status.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister clarify a small budgeting point arising from his announcement? A number of statements have been made about the Government's projected expenditure for the next three years. When does a "year" commence and end? Are we talking about a complete fiscal year or about a running period of time whereby a "year" can commence at any point during the fiscal year?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as is the convention in such cases, the amounts allocated over the next three years relate to the financial year. The year therefore starts on 1st April.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, as the Government tell us every day that they are putting more money into something, does the Minister appreciate that if the Government continue to ring-fence the money that they give to local government, they take away the possibility of local government deciding its own priorities, which may well be roads? We heard this morning that many millions of pounds will be spent on reducing class sizes for children below the age of seven, but as that money is ring-fenced the local authorities cannot reduce class sizes in their own way but must do so precisely as instructed by the Secretary of State. That is not the way to improve the roads.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the subject of class sizes is slightly beyond the scope of this Question. However, the usual criticism about road maintenance is that we do not ring-fence enough. Indeed, the SSA does not statutorily require a local authority to spend that money on roads and it is generally assumed that local authorities underspend on road maintenance. In fact, the actual expenditure tends not to be severely different from the amount allocated. As I said earlier, local authorities have substantial discretion with regard to the current expenditure which is not ring-fenced.

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3.32 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, after the Second Reading debate on the Water Industry Bill, my noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on trade sanctions (USA).

European Parliamentary Elections (Gibraltar) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Bethell: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to provide for electors in Gibraltar to vote in elections to the European Parliament. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Bethell.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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