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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it is reputed that Her Majesty herself has expressed concern about the new traffic arrangements. Will the noble Viscount tell me whether Westminster City Council undertook its proper statutory duty of consulting the Queen as a resident of that area?
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am happy to tell the noble Lord that Her Majesty the Queen was consulted about the plans to pedestrianise the area in front of Buckingham Palace. We have recently been monitoring the traffic at each of the junctions. We have no evidence of lengthy delays occurring. The maximum waiting time for one change of lights is 65 seconds. Even if a motorist has to wait for two or three changes of lightsthat is not generally the norm even during the rush hourthe delay would be just over three minutes. I realise that some noble Lords may have had to wait slightly longer. However, the worst build up of traffic has generally occurred when guard changes are taking place and the horse guards pass through the area. But that was the case previously, before the recent arrangements.
Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that when the six months have elapsed, due consideration is given to all those who in exasperation have written or telephoned concerning the difficulty they have experienced in reaching your Lordships' House via the Palace?
Viscount Astor: My Lords, we shall obviously take account of all views. However, there are supporters for the changes which, I remind your Lordships, follow a recommendation by the Royal Parks Review Group, chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, in May 1993. The alterations are part of a scheme to provide better
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his original Answer indicates that he never travels along that route? Is he further aware that those of us who have to do so regularly consider that there has been a great deterioration in traffic conditions since the changes were introduced?
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I travel by that route every morning on the way to work. I must point out that the arrangements are not finalised; they are temporary. The roadway is narrower than it will be when finished. We must wait for the full work to be completed and then consider how it is working.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance to the House that the next time his driver takes him around the area he puts his newspaper down and looks at what is happening? Will he convey to his right honourable friend that on all sides of the House there is great anxiety about the matter? Simply to say that the arrangements are generally working well is completely contrary to the opinions of the overwhelming majority, not just of those in this House but of all users of the area. The sooner it gets back to what it was the better.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, the scheme was drawn up following wide-ranging consultations with bodies which included English Heritage, Westminster City Council, the traffic director for London, the police and the Army. Planning approval was given by the council. I appreciate your Lordships' anxieties and merely point out that the works are not yet completed. It is a site; it is not the final plan. I reiterate that we shall review the traffic arrangements within six months of the work being completed. I can give that assurance to your Lordships' House.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the pedestrianisation of the area immediately outside Buckingham Palace is not part of a secret agenda on the part of the Royal Parks Agency for the whole of the St. James's Park area to become pedestrianised? That would in effect create a theme park in which tourists would reign supreme.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I can confirm that there is no secret agenda. Indeed, there have been wide-ranging consultations. There have been a number of serious accidents in the area and it is important that we get the
Viscount Astor: My Lords, the estimated costs are £2.4 million, including fees and VAT. In addition to the new pedestrian area in front of the palace, the scheme involves replacing crash barriers with bollards and railings, repairs to the balustrade wall, reinstatement of the terraced walk, re-landscaping of the memorial gardens, and new permanent flagpoles.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, the proposed regulation will lead to the availability of harmonised national accounts statistics for all member states. The implications for UK contributions to the Community budget will depend on the final form of the regulation. The costs of statistical developments will be met from within running cost limits for the departments involved. Any increase in compliance costs on business is expected to be small.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that the regulation to which I referred is no fewer than 543 pages long? That is roughly 50 times the length of the average Council regulation, decision or directive. Is the Minister aware that there must be some cost to the Exchequer on rendering, in accordance with Community rules, the statistics set out in Appendix B to the regulation? Will he particularise in a little more detail as to the cost beyond the vague generalities to which he has so far treated the House?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, on compliance costs, I have nothing to add to the point I made that the cost to business is expected to be small. Many of the statistics are already collected by the British Government. The point at issue is that statistics collected around the Community should be gathered on the same basis so that harmonisation will lead to an ability to compare GNP statistics and other statistics between member states on a fair and equitable basis.
Lord Peston: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware how deeply embarrassed I am in saying how much I agree with everything he has just said? Does he accept that it is obvious that this is exactly the kind of area where the
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am happy to agree with the noble Lord in both those sentiments. He rightly points to the advantage of harmonised statisticsan advantage accepted by the Court of Auditors' report in 1993. The report said that:
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that standards of accounting practice throughout the 12 member states vary considerably? Although accounting standards in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany may measure up to those that we normally expect in the United Kingdom, the professional standards in preparing accounts throughout the rest of the Community areI put the word in quotation marks"dodgy". Is the noble Lord aware that the task of assembling the total results of the accounts, which are dealt with in the first part of the regulation, and of translating them into national figures for central assimilation must involve hours, weeks or even years of work? In view of that, will the Minister reconsider his vague estimate as to the cost? I ask that irrespective of the view of my noble friend on the Front Bench that the whole exercise may be well worth while.
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