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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Before the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, decides what to do, I should point out that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee made no objection to this regulatory power.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am aware of that, but that does not prevent me having an opinion on the matter. However, I shall study with care what the Minister said, though I believe I shall disagree with him. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 136 agreed to.

Clause 137 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 151 not moved.]

Clause 138 [Information about bus services]:

[Amendments Nos. 152 and 153 not moved.]

Clause 138 agreed to.

Clause 139 agreed to.

Clause 140 [Bus information: supplementary]:

[Amendments Nos. 153A to 153C not moved.]

Clause 140 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 154 not moved.]

Clause 141 agreed to.

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Clause 142 [Power to obtain information about local services]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 155:

    Page 85, line 40, at end insert--

("(7) If information is disclosed in contravention of subsection (4), the local transport authority which required its provision shall be liable to compensate the operator which provided it for any loss suffered by that operator as a result of its disclosure.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 142 deals with the collection of information on services. It gives local authorities, of necessity, the power to collect information which may be commercially sensitive.

That of itself is not a problem. If we go through the Bill, we find that under certain circumstances it permits the disclosure of that information. But there is nothing in the Bill which compensates a commercial organisation if it is financially disadvantaged as a result of either the improper or inadvertent disclosure of information which it had been required to provide. There is an important principle of commercial justice behind the words such as "inadequate though they may be" that local authorities are used to acknowledging--in general very well and with the greatest propriety. There have been occasions when the usual high standards have slipped. Where that happens, the operator who is disadvantaged as a result should be entitled to compensation.

Such occurrences may be rare but when dealing with legislation one has to anticipate difficult situations. One hopes that they will never occur, but they might. So it is necessary to incorporate the right of redress. The amendment has that intention. Even if the wording is not appropriate, I hope that the Minister will at least consider the principle. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Clause 142(6) already makes the unlawful disclosure of information obtained by an authority a criminal offence. Moreover, a statute does not change existing common law unless it expresses an intention to do so. The Bill expresses no such intention. There is a well-established right of action at common law in cases where information known to be confidential comes into the possession of a person who unlawfully discloses it to a third party in breach of his duty of confidence. Incidentally, the third party is himself placed under a duty of confidence in such circumstances. He may also be sued and cannot simply plead that the information was in the public domain.

Information obtained under statutory powers is subject to such a duty of confidentiality. It would be open to an operator in such circumstances to take action in the courts to restrain wrongful disclosure by means of an injunction--a remedy not mentioned in the amendment--or to obtain compensation. Then it would be for the courts to decide whether to grant an injunction or order that compensation should be paid.

However, it is not the case that any disclosure of that information would always be unlawful or actionable. In some instances the court may consider that it was in the public interest for the information to be disclosed. The court is able to exercise its discretion in the matter. The amendment would appear to make all cases of

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disclosure actionable--except in so far as they were consented to or allowed under subsection (4). That cannot be right. The general common law rules are preferable and should continue to apply. A provision of the kind proposed is not needed when a civil right of action already exists. I hope that the noble Lord agrees and will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: The Minister says that I have got it wrong, that existing legislation has got it right and that the principle behind the amendment is covered. I am sure that the situation that the noble Lord describes is correct, because we can rely on what he says. None the less, I am sufficiently sceptical of everything that I am told to check. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 142 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 not moved.]

Clause 143 [Civil penalties for bus lane contraventions]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 157A:

    Page 85, line 43, leave out ("approved").

The noble Baroness said: I shall try to be quick and straightforward in moving this amendment and speaking also to Amendments Nos. 157B and 159A. These amendments all refer to the new clause which provides civil penalties for bus lane contraventions, which we welcome, and specifies which local authorities may operate the scheme. The clause was introduced by the Government in Grand Committee. At that time, I questioned what criteria would be required for a local authority to be "approved" for the purposes of this clause. The Minister replied that such "approved" authorities would be those which have a "decriminalised parking regime". He said that the provision for approval is there,

    "primarily to ensure that schemes can be checked to ascertain whether appropriate regimes are in place to ensure that the schemes are operated fairly".

He then added that the provision,

    "might also allow a degree of flexibility in relation to decriminalised parking regimes as far as the national authorities are concerned".--[Official Report, 27/6/00; col. CWH 34.]

I have tabled these amendments not only to make the point again that I should like to see every local authority able to deal with bus lane contraventions, but also to question the Minister about the "degree of flexibility" that he mentioned. I take the point that schemes should be fair, though whether it is necessary for central government to judge whether or not they are fair is another matter. But if they are also to be flexible, I wonder how that equates with fairness. Perhaps the Minister could spend a few minutes on the description of the criteria for approval and tell us how the system will operate. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I believe that I may have slightly exaggerated the degree of flexibility in these arrangements. Although the provisions in the Bill imply a degree of flexibility, in the present circumstances the intention is to ensure that only local

10 Jul 2000 : Column 93

authorities with decriminalised parking enforcement powers may be approved under the system. There are a number of reasons involved. First, we must ensure that those powers will only be exercised by authorities that have the means to do this properly; in other words, they will already have in place an administrative system on the basis of the decriminalised parking regime.

Secondly, we must avoid the anomaly that local authorities without decriminalised parking enforcement powers would be able to enforce moving offences in bus lanes but not at the same time be able to enforce parking offences in bus lanes, which would be the case in those circumstances. Thirdly, there is the question of the appeals system. The existence of a decriminalised parking regime would allow motorists who dispute penalty notices to make use of the National Parking Adjudication Service, membership of which is limited to authorities that have taken on decriminalised parking enforcement powers.

Therefore, although it is conceivable on the first criterion that an equivalent regime could be established, there would still be problems as regards the second and third. In practice, we are limiting it to those local authorities that are, or will be, operating a decriminalised parking regime. Authorities outside London that have not taken on decriminalised parking enforcement powers would need to establish their own separate adjudication system which would simply not be practical.

In Grand Committee I said that the vast majority of local transport authorities within England are now moving towards decriminalised parking enforcement powers. Therefore there would be a relatively small number, certainly in the urban areas, which would fall outside this provision once all those authorities come through the pipeline. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: Before I do not press the amendment, I hope that I may ask a further question for clarification. Clause 143(2) provides that a local transport authority is an approved authority if it has decriminalised parking enforcement powers and if an order has been made approving it. The Minister has explained that an authority needs to have decriminalised parking enforcement powers before it is approved. Does he envisage that all authorities that have decriminalised parking enforcement powers will be approved, or are there other hurdles to be cleared before approval is given?

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