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Lord Whitty: My Lords, according to the latest survey, rural roads are among those which have shown the worst decline in conditions. However, how the backlog is dealt with is a matter for the highways authorities concerned. We have provided additional money and are looking to the coming spending round to see whether further allocations are required. It is most important that if funds are allocated it is within a systematic timetable of maintenance, because it has
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the increased money which he claims has been allocated to roads--with regard to my local area I believe that that is probably the case in that the present levels provided by the Government are higher than those of the previous government--will make a real difference to the number of roads the technical life of which is now less than 20 years?
Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. If the maintenance programme is allocated according to priority in the way suggested by the UK pavement management system, which local authorities are now adopting, clearly there would be a reduction in the number of roads with the shortest apparent life. However, I suspect that the noble Baroness knows that serious technical arguments exist as to how we measure the outstanding life of roads and, therefore, the maintenance requirement.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as we spelt out in the road safety strategy which we issued a couple of months ago, among the most important contributors to road safety are the engineering and maintenance of roads. That is stressed in our latest guidance to local transport plans, and local authorities are well aware of and taking note of it. Therefore, clearly safety is mainstreamed into road design and road maintenance programmes.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, for the benefit of the House, can the Minister clarify the Government's position with regard to congestion charging schemes as a means of paying for increased road maintenance, such as has been proposed, I understand, within central London?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Transport Bill, which shortly will be before your Lordships' House, will provide local authorities with powers to impose road-user charging or workplace parking levies in their areas as part of an integrated transport policy, as agreed by the Government through the transport safety plan.
So far as concerns the position of London, a parallel provision was provided in the GLA Bill passed last year. Given the preparation time and the need to make improvements in public transport, it is unlikely that many of those schemes will come into play in as short a period as three or four years. However, they represent important powers for local authorities, 25 of whom have taken them up as well as, so I understand from matters over the past couple of days, the GLA.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the Minister say what percentage of capital spending on roads by central government is spent on maintenance? Does he believe that that percentage is adequate, and should it not be constant?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord with regard to total capital spending. From recollection, total road spending would account for approximately 40 per cent of the Highways Agency spending. That is the only part that central government spends directly. With regard to the amounts that we give to local authorities, the revenue grant to local authorities has increased over the past three years by 11 per cent and the capital grants provided through the local transport plans have increased by 24 per cent. Of course, I refer to England. Noting the noble Lord who asked the question, the situation in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Assembly.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I note that my noble friend says that the Government are allocating funds on the basis of needs. Does that mean that they take no account of net per capita income in different parts of the country? On that basis, for example, London would receive nothing.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I believe that that question raises slightly wider problems than local authority finance devolution and public finances generally. The roads formula is based on a mixture of needs and the general indicators for local authorities. We are examining the basis for the formula and for local government finance in general. However, in principle the money is allocated on the basis of a mixture of general needs and of roads requirements.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are in regular contact with Moscow on a wide range of issues, including Balkans affairs. There have been no recent talks specifically on the subject of Montenegro.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, did the discussions include the effect of the grain blockage that Serbia has imposed on Montenegro? How serious an effect do Her Majesty's Government feel that that has had on Montenegrin stabilities? As EU Finance Ministers are
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the blockade has obviously caused a great deal of difficulty. The FRY Government have imposed economic measures against Montenegro since late last year and the recent imposition of a complete economic blockade is a significant escalation. However, the EU assistance allocated to Montenegro aims to alleviate the pressures that the blockade has exacerbated. Obviously, the UK condemns those destabilising tactics on the part of Milosevic's regime, and we shall continue to be a strong supporter of Montenegro during its difficulties. However, one must remember that it remains an integral part of the FRY.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given the extreme importance of indicating our support for democracy in Montenegro, will the Minister consider further the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, about sending a supervisory team for the municipal elections on 11th June in Podgorica and Novi Herzog? Can she also say whether there is any advance with regard to the suggestion that I raised some time ago about the possibility of establishing an EU office in Montenegro in order to make it clear that we are concerned about the future and the stability of that small province?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly say to both noble Baronesses that we shall look at the matter of sending observers. I cannot give a direct answer in relation to that matter, but we certainly understand the issue.
So far as concerns the second issue, your Lordships will of course remember that Montenegro remains an integral part of the FRY, which obviously creates certain difficulties for us. We have a number of outlets in Montenegro which presently are capable of keeping our bilateral relations alive. That situation will continue for the time being.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any lasting and viable solution to the formidable problems of the Balkans necessarily will involve Russia? Will she therefore confirm that, in the regular discussions between the Government and Russia, the Balkans and the long-term solutions to its problems feature highly?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly reassure noble Lords that the Balkans and its problems are issues which continue to be raised between ourselves and the Russians. They are extremely important and obviously we are all trying to do as much as we can to ensure that the Balkans' security becomes a reality and not merely a hope.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the blockade already referred to is illegal in terms of international law? Can the matter be taken to the International Court of Justice? Will she also confirm that any further attempts by the Milosevic regime to alter the status quo in Montenegro will be firmly resisted, particularly by NATO.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, those issues are causing us great concern. We shall keep them under active observation and consider what best to do next. But the EU has done a significant amount to try to counteract the effect of the blockade by the increase in the assistance which we are giving to Montenegro which is, at present, the most helpful way forward.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, although never formally endorsed by the Department of Health, the Allen report contained many helpful recommendations for a range of organisations. Some of those recommendations are now dated and we are considering whether new guidance is needed.
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