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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Brabazon on having so successfully terminated the excessive period of gestation that the department has gone through in producing the order. Will he also bear in mind that "unreasonably prolonged occupation of the highway" is one of the most bromidic descriptions of an infernal nuisance that I have heard for a long time? As a word of criticism, am I right in thinking that the lethargic highway authorities are not brought within the scope of the measure? They should be urged to practice what I hope they will preach.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord could find a pithier way of describing the problem, but I am not sure that it would be acceptable to the parliamentary draftsmen. In however bromidic a way, the title describes what we intend to do. Local authorities are the highways authorities, so they have
Lord Hooson: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that roadworks are a contributory cause of road rage? As I understand it, the regulations to introduce charges have not been brought in as yet. As those charges will depend on the length of occupation, is it not important that they are introduced as soon as possible?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I tried to explain, they will be introduced from 1st April so far as concerns overstay. Certainly I accept that a degree of irritation is to be found among road users who encounter works, particularly when those road users have encountered similar works only a few days or weeks earlier. Therefore, co-ordination, as well as financial penalty, is an important aspect of this matter.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend see a little irony in this Question? We are talking about Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. Does he agree that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and the previous administration had six years in which to introduce these regulations, yet the noble Lord is saying that six months after the Transport Act received Royal Assent is too long a time to have waited?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I certainly accept some of what my noble friend says. It was necessary to clarify in the Transport Act some of the details of the 1991 Act in order for the regulations to be made fully effective. We acted as soon as possible following the passage of the Transport Act.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, while we are on the subject of the length of gestation of these regulations, can the noble Lord remember telling me not once but twice during the second half of last year that the regulations were due to be published by Christmas? Is not the logic of the situation that the Government could not make up their mind, which I do not believe to be true, that it took longer to consult on the orders, which, again, I do not believe to be true, or that the department's legal section is short-staffed?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, substantial consultation has taken place on this issue with the utility companies and local authorities. It is not a matter of inadequate resources but, first, of the complexity of the orders that are required in order to meet the respective interests of the utilities and the highways authorities. Secondly, in order to get the regulations right, we had to await the passage of the Transport Act.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, West Wales and the Valleys was granted objective one status on 1st July 1999 when the European Commission adopted a series of decisions to allow the rapid implementation of structural funds for the programming period in the years 2000 to 2006. The list of objective one eligible areas drawn up at that time included West Wales and the Valleys. Implementation of objective one programmes in Wales is a matter for the National Assembly for Wales.
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, with regard to the boundaries for objective one status, will there be a measure of flexibility in order to meet changes in circumstances? I am thinking, for example, of the current serious crisis in the steel industry. If Llanwern were to be partially closed, that would result in a loss of jobs in the Valleys, where objective one status exists. Yet such a status does not apply in the area where the works are sited. How do the Government propose to deal with that anomaly, and does it not reinforce the need for flexibility?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I begin by reassuring my noble friend Lord Islwyn that we are currently waiting to see whether any proposals which the unions might bring forward will persuade Corus to amend its plans. Recently, the Secretary of State for Wales and Rhodri Morgan each held very constructive discussions with senior Commission officials. Those officials confirmed their willingness to look at proposals which the Assembly and the Welsh partnership might put to them with regard to more flexible use of structural fund support.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is deep concern in Wales not only about the exclusion of Llanwern steelworks from the objective one area but also about the inadequate involvement of the private sector in the implementation of that status. Consequentially, there is a dearth of qualifying projects in the pipeline. Will the noble Baroness use her influence with the Lib-Lab executive in Cardiff to ensure that the fullest possible advantage is taken of the funds that will become available?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I have great pleasure in reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, that the CBI in Wales welcomed the involvement of the private sector. It considered that the private sector should be actively involved in bringing funding to projects in its ownership. The programme has got off to an extremely good start.
As I said in answer to my noble friend, the implementation of the programme is a matter for the Assembly. However, I could give examples of the Assembly announcing the first £27 million package of projects on 25th October, £8.8 million on 6th November, £2.6 million to the Further Education Funding Council, a third round of projects worth £3 million with objective one funding going to WDA projects, and a £3 million funding package towards the Baglan Energy Park. There is a list of such projects. In addition, Llanwern is within an area with objective three status. If any retraining of the workforce were required, it would of course be eligible for objective three funding.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, although I share the deep concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Islwyn about the crisis in South Wales, will the Minister confirm to me and to the House that the amount of money available under objective one status for Wales will be in excess of £400 million to £500 million, which is good news for West Wales and for the Valleys? Does she agree that it is imperative that that money is used quickly in order to resolve the deep crisis with which Wales, and in particular South Wales, is faced?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There are 1.853 million euros available for objective one and 81,390 euros for objective two funding. A long list of objective two areas are awaiting transition to objective three status. Of course, it is for the Assembly to implement objective one status.
I was questioned at length in the House about the Government's intention to provide matched funding. Therefore, I want to place on record, and I am sure that the House will join me in expressing pleasure, that, for the first time, the Government have been able to provide additional funding outside the Barnett formula in order for Wales to benefit to the full from the work carried out in partnership between the Assembly and the Government to achieve this satisfactory status.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I strongly welcome what the Minister has said to the House and, through her, thank her honourable friend Mr John Battle for the initiatives that he has taken in trying to develop civil institutions in Indonesia. Does she agree that the deepening economic crisis in that country is inevitably having a knock-on effect in damaging civil institutions and creating further communal strife? Does she agree that one useful thing that the Government might do would be to release some of the assets which were confiscated from the previous Indonesian regime and held in this country and elsewhere, and release them to the Indonesian Government? Will she also say what Her Majesty's Government have been able to do to help the people in Ambon and the Moluccas who have been suffering so grievously?
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