Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Amos: My Lords, in answer to the first question of the noble Baroness, yes, the reports have been published. I am afraid that I did not hear the second point of the noble Baroness. She spoke about promises, but promises to whom?

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, a commitment was given to Sinn Fein/IRA that the on-the-runs who were responsible for the Enniskillen outrage would be offered the opportunity to return home, to give themselves up, to go through a minimal judicial process and then to rejoin their families in a happy way. That was my second point. I hope that the noble Baroness understood my third, which concerned the commitments given to the IRA about "the disappeared".

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am still not entirely sure about the point that the noble Baroness is trying

1 Apr 2004 : Column 1529

to make. I shall write to her and I shall put a copy of my letter in the Library of the House. I shall look at Hansard carefully.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, in failing to rise to my feet I should not be construed as in any way disagreeing with my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and my noble friend Lord Brooke. A number of the murders to which the reports refer occurred during my time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—the tragic killing of Patrick Finucane and the brutal murders of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan.

The argument that the Minister adduced—that the findings are only provisional—seems only to underline the point that has been made; namely, that Justice Cory himself is accepting that his is not the final determination. Other facts may come to light and, in the mean time, a number of people will be represented in an unfavourable light—maybe an unfair one.

I entirely understand the difficult position that the Government are in. They insist that wrongdoing cannot be tolerated. It is a pride of our country that we have sought to fight terrorism at all times under the law, and a number of brave people have lost their lives in seeking to preserve that principle at all times. However, the last paragraph of the Secretary of State's Statement that the Minister has repeated says:


    "Northern Ireland needs greater reconciliation between the communities. That is where all our attention needs to be directed".

Events will now proceed and claims will undoubtedly follow from many other people who have a genuine grievance that they think is equally worthy of attention. The hope that all our attention will be devoted to reconciliation is a pretty vain one.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord King. There is no hierarchy of victimhood. I totally understood that some families will be concerned that attention has been given to particular cases and not to their own. In the context of questions about a possible truth and reconciliation forum, we must try to work with all the key players in the Northern Ireland community. Neither the British Government, the Irish Government nor the key players in Northern Ireland can solve the problem alone. We need to work together for the good of the people of Northern Ireland while recognising the deep historical sensitivities that will dog us along the way.

Business

Lord Grocott: My Lords, before we start the Second Reading debate, I remind the House of the timings for the rest of the day. If Back-Bench contributions were around eight minutes, allowing for the Second Reading debate, the order and the Unstarred Question that follows, the House would rise by about half past eight. That is rather later than we would normally rise

1 Apr 2004 : Column 1530

but is none the less acceptable to everyone with whom we have discussed the matter. I hope that that helps noble Lords.

Traffic Management Bill

5 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This a Bill to cut out the unnecessary congestion that motorists and other road users encounter. Decades of under-investment coupled with rising prosperity and mobility mean that the pressures on our road network are greater than ever before. The Government are committed to improving the reliability of journeys for business and individual road users. Some 180 billion of public and private money is being invested in transport over the 10-year plan period. That is 45 per cent more than over the previous decade. But we cannot build our way out of all our problems. The financial, social and environmental costs would be too high and, in some places, there simply is not the space for new infrastructure.

The Bill will help the Highways Agency and local authorities to manage existing road space more effectively, so that, for all the investment, the public gets value for money. Turning the Bill into action will give the Highways Agency and local authorities the powers that they need to manage roads in the interests of the people who use them—clearing up quicker after accidents and managing roadworks better, to give just two examples. There will be a sharper focus on reducing congestion. Local traffic authorities will have a new duty to secure the expeditious movement of traffic. Ministers have tasked the Highways Agency with becoming a network operator, managing traffic and responding quickly to incidents.

On trunk roads a quarter of congestion is caused by incidents, but that is only one part of the picture: 65 per cent of it is a result of lack of capacity. We are investing in more capacity where the need is greatest, widening motorways like the M1, M6 and M25, and completing 17 new trunk road schemes last year. With the right safety procedures in place we will also be piloting hard-shoulder running, and new powers will help the agency to minimise the disruption caused by works.

Part 1 of the Bill will help to reduce the amount of congestion that incidents cause. Before the end of this month, there will be a uniformed traffic officer service helping to keep the network clear, working with the police to get traffic moving again after incidents, so that people are not held up any longer than necessary. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, traffic officers will be able to do more, such as divert traffic away from incidents. The service will be developed in tandem with new regional control centres, which will manage on-road resources and provide motorists with more accurate information to help plan their journeys. In time there will be 1,200 traffic officers—additional, dedicated resources freeing up the equivalent of 540 police officers. Police forces will be free to redeploy that officer time to focus on tackling serious crime.

1 Apr 2004 : Column 1531

On local roads the challenges are slightly different. Capital funding for local transport authorities has more than doubled in the past five years. We announced another 1.9 billion in December: a package including funds for new roads, such as the A354 Weymouth relief road and the A509 Isham bypass, as well as major public transport schemes such as guided busways in Cambridgeshire and Luton. We are providing both new capacity where that is sensible, and attractive, sustainable alternatives to the private car.

In our cities, it will be recognised that there is little space for new roads. But our cities are thriving centres of economic activity, attracting lots of people and traffic. Existing capacity has to be managed properly. There are many potential obstacles to free-flowing traffic on local roads. The new network management duty, together with the new powers elsewhere in the Bill, will help authorities to identify and tackle those obstacles, such as roadworks, inefficient junctions, skips, drivers ignoring box junction rules, and so on.

Desperately needed powers will help authorities to manage road works better—an issue that the House has addressed on a number of occasions. Utilities provide vital services, but the disruption that their works can cause creates a very significant cost for the wider economy. Works need to be co-ordinated effectively, and completed as quickly as possible, at less disruptive times. In 1985, the cost to the economy of the disruption caused by street works was about 35 million. Now that cost runs into billions of pounds every year. Authorities have a duty to co-ordinate all works, including their own, but, until now, legislation has not even allowed them to tell a utility not to carry out its works on a particular day.

Parts 3 and 4 will put effective powers in place. Those carrying out works will comply with stricter conditions to limit the negative impact on road users. There will be longer digging embargoes after major works to help co-ordination and protect the public from endless disruption. A tougher enforcement regime will ensure that the new measures are taken seriously. Much of the detail will be in regulations. Working groups are looking at what form those regulations should take. They will report to us in the summer, after which there will be public consultation, so that key regulations can be in place as soon as possible.

In Part 6 there are new civil enforcement powers to bring more aspects of traffic management under the control of local authorities. Minor offences can cause congestion and safety problems: people blocking box junctions, making banned turns, or driving into pedestrianised areas. These are all offences, and have to be enforced if roads are to work well for the people who use them. But the police, understandably, have more obvious priorities. It is quite understandable that many forces are focusing more and more acutely on serious and violent crime, including serious traffic offences, such as drink-driving.

If we are clear that traffic offences should not be committed, then we have to be clear that they should be enforced. Part 6 allows for that, giving local

1 Apr 2004 : Column 1532

authorities powers to enforce parking, bus lanes and a range of moving traffic offences. These powers will be used sensibly. Authorities will be expected to comply with guidance. To take the example of yellow box junctions, it may be that in many places an authority will want to enforce only one or two key junctions. But doing that might be an important step towards keeping traffic moving. London authorities have these powers already and will be piloting them soon. We will learn from what happens in London before extending the powers to other authorities.

But we are not just creating new powers. Often the right powers are already in place. They need to be used effectively. So many activities can affect traffic flows: management of junctions; public transport; winter maintenance; on street parking; roadworks; and street works. The new duty to keep traffic moving can be a stimulus for authorities to revisit some of those activities. We are working with local authorities and others to develop the guidance on the network management duty, and will make a draft available in Committee.

Authorities will identify the causes of congestion or disruption, now and in the future, and find appropriate ways to respond to them, minimising or preventing adverse effects on road users. Local authorities are well placed to know what is happening on their network and can use the additional funding that they are being given to implement the right solutions. Many authorities are doing this already and we have been pleased to see more authorities adopting this kind of approach, even with the Bill before Parliament. In future, we expect all authorities to meet the standards set by the best. But it would not be prudent to take this for granted. The Bill contains powers for government to intervene if faced with a clear case of an authority that was failing local road users and unable to turn things around.

The Bill will see effective management of our roads by all local authorities and by the Highways Agency. Reducing congestion and making journeys more reliable is at the heart of our transport objectives and policies. The Bill will put the right powers in place and create the right environment for these policies to be delivered. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

5.10 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. There is much in it that we welcome and support. However, like many Bills that arrive in this House, there is still more work to be done—more work to be done so that the Bill does not become a greater burden for those it affects but brings about improvements. We are pleased with the few changes that were made in another place, where the Government did listen to the concerns of the Opposition and promised to come forward with changes in this House. I am always prepared to give the Government credit when it is due, but it does not happen very often.

1 Apr 2004 : Column 1533

Sadly, this Government have not been a friend of the motorist. In their first Parliament they cancelled new road building, cut road spending and cut road improvements. They have only just begun to concentrate on how to catch up with the vital work needed to maintain our road network. But today we hear that the Highways Agency has admitted that 10 major road improvement schemes are under threat due to cuts as the money will have to be diverted into the rail network. Only last year, the Secretary of State Alistair Darling announced the revival of the road projects cancelled by John Prescott. I wonder whether the Minister will tell us if they have been cancelled again.

The Bill is about traffic management and easing congestion. Congestion does not just irritate the motorist; it has far more serious implications. Congestion has economic and environmental effects. It raises costs for industry, it delays those involved in road haulage, it makes us less competitive and it increases pollution. The motorist in this country is unloved by the Government, overtaxed, harassed and often abused. A revenue of 45 billion is raised every year from the British motorist.

Let me turn to the proposals for the Highways Agency to take over responsibility for getting traffic moving on the motorway network. There is a risk that this new army of enforcers will end up competing with the AA and the RAC. The result will be that motorists who break down will be charged twice, once by the Highways Agency to shunt them off the motorway and then charged again by the breakdown services to get them to a garage or to get them home. Why not use the existing service providers rather than create a new bureaucracy?

Traffic officers should be directing, not being operators. The Bill as it stands creates a monopoly roadside recovery service, funded by charges levied on the motorist. There will be 1,200 traffic officers who will theoretically free the police from some of their duties but who will come under the police. As most incidents on motorways are the result of accidents, the police will still have to be there taking evidence. They will need to be at the scene of the accident anyway. In the proposals, there are therefore recipes for further delay rather than improvement. They could result in doubling up of resources. We will want to examine that in Committee.

As the Minister said, congestion is largely caused by road traffic use. In the Government's transport plan, published in 2000, they foresaw a drop in car use; in fact, car use has grown and road spending has not kept up. The Transport Research Laboratory report shows that 66 per cent of all congestion is caused by road traffic, a figure that has increased every year that the Government have been in office. Accidents cause 24 per cent of congestion, a percentage that has remained about the same during the period, and 10 per cent of all congestion is caused by roadworks, split equally between local authorities and utilities. That figure has halved in the period.

1 Apr 2004 : Column 1534

We are all amazed, however, when we see how often streets round us are dug up—it is sometimes almost weekly by different operators. Just as they have finished, or sometimes half-way through or before they have started, along comes a local authority and resurfaces the road. Then one again wonders when the next person will come along. We welcome the idea behind London Works, a database of all work by local authorities and utilities, which we hope will improve planning and management of our capital's roads. However, it costs money for utilities to dig up roads and provide the services that most of us take for granted. Utility companies do not dig up roads for fun. The longer the job takes, the more it costs them. Very often they undertake the work because of an emergency or problem with their utility.

The question that we must address is whether the proposals in the Bill will make a difference for the better. Will additional costs to the utilities be passed on to the consumer—to you and me? The jury is still out. In the pilot schemes operated in Camden and Middlesbrough, in spite of the charges made on utilities, delays were just as bad. We all want improvements. Local authorities are as responsible for the delays as the private sector. Should they not also be brought under the charging scheme, or at least suffer the same penalties? That is something that we will want to examine in Committee.

We shall also wish to see draft regulations and guidance that the Government intend to issue. The devil is always in the detail, and in this case the details are particularly important. Various groups have also raised concerns that the regulations will be accepted without proper consultation. Therefore, I expect that the Minister would welcome the chance to calm those fears by saying that he will be able to publish the draft documents in time for Report in this House at the very latest, enabling scrutiny and discussion to take place on the details.

A particular concern is the charging element, and we want to ensure that local authorities can charge only reasonable fees and not use the new regulations as a way of gaining extra revenue. We fear that it could become another stealth tax, as the costs will be passed on to the consumer. It could cost every household 55 million, a total of 1.2 billion a year.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page