HL Deb 14 July 1994 vol 556 cc1970-5

3.32 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rodger of Earlsferry.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 38 [Roads]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 33, leave out lines 17 and 18.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 80 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 81 to 87, 87A, 88 to 93, 93A, 94 and 95. This group of amendments paves the way for the more important amendments on transport. These amendments all seek to enforce the powers of local authorities who will be responsible for local roads after the Government have made many of their roads trunk roads.

Amendment No. 93A is a technical amendment relating to the proposed register which roads authorities will have to keep under the terms of the New Roads and Street Works Act. The register shows each road for which the authority is responsible and information relating to proposed or executed works on the roads. The amendment will allow the islands' councils to avoid having to subscribe to a proposed computerised register which could cost up to £1 per head of the population per year. Instead they propose to keep paper records. Roads advisers have welcomed the amendment.

This group of amendments comprises a long list of amendments. I repeat that the grouping contains Amendments Nos. 80 to 87, 87A, 88 to 93, 93A, 94 and 95. As I said, the purpose of the amendments is to clarify the position of local authorities who have responsibility for some roads but not trunk roads. In the transfer of local roads to the trunk roads authority, the identification of property and other non-fixed assets which transfer to the Secretary of State should be the subject of an agreement between the Secretary of State and the local roads authority. Should no agreement be possible between the parties, any dispute should be the subject of arbitration as specified in the Bill.

Property and equipment are generally used on an area basis and are not necessarily dedicated to a particular element of the road network. The transfer of property and non-fixed assets should certainly be the subject of an agreement between the relevant parties and should not be mandatory or done solely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State may own the bulk of some plant and equipment—for example, snow clearing equipment that may be used at certain times of the year. However, one would hope that there would be an agreement that that equipment would be made available to local authorities to enable them to keep their local roads open.

Amendment No. 94 seeks to prevent the Secretary of State from removing traffic management control from a local authority without its agreement. We know that the Secretary of State must have subsidiary powers for the whole country which would apply to Scotland, but at the same time we hope that he would be tactful enough not to use those powers unless he had the agreement of the local authority concerned. In Amendment No. 95 we hope to remove certain restrictive powers of the Secretary of State in respect of local roads. We would hope that the Secretary of State would not use his restrictive powers undiplomatically.

Amendments Nos. 97, 95D, 96 and 96A all seek to provide that all fines imposed in the district courts are payable in full to the relevant local authority, and should not be paid —as is sometimes the case at present—in whole or in part to the Exchequer. The next amendment seeks to highlight the specific powers of local authorities in regard to the roads. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Amendments Nos. 93 and 93A stand in my name and I wish to speak briefly to them. I think it is quite possible that the amendment may receive a sympathetic response from the Government Front Bench because we are giving the Secretary of State more power. However, in this case, I hope we are giving him power to do good. I believe that the authorities on islands such as Orkney know everything about their roads in any case. A central register would be enormously expensive and quite useless on those islands. In small communities simple registers are much easier to keep and are all that one requires. I believe the figure involved—I suppose it may be plucked from the air—is an extra £17,000. That may be considered peanuts in some circles, but in Orkney £17,000 is a useful sum.

The purpose of the amendment is threefold. First, it seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to exclude from a central register the three island areas. Secondly, it seeks to require him—assuming that he nevertheless insists on including the island areas in the register—to set the contributions to the costs of it which are required to be paid by the islands at a level which reflects the fact that the use of the register there will be lighter than elsewhere, if it is used at all. Thirdly, the amendment seeks to make the Government recognise that the high capital and revenue costs involved in installing and maintaining a digital system compatible with a system for the exchange of electronic information, are not justified when a manual system, aided by computers, can be as effective.

I hope that we shall receive a decent reply to the amendment, of a practical nature, from the Government Front Bench.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I shall begin with Amendment No. 93A, with which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, began followed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. I am happy to be able to welcome the principle behind the amendment. The points in its favour have been explained by the noble Lords. It was not appreciated at the time when the New Roads and Street Works Bill passed through the House that there could be circumstances in which the provisions could be unreasonably burdensome for certain authorities. In those circumstances it seems appropriate to make some provision.

There are one or two issues, such as the matter of consultation, which we wish to consider adding to the kind of clause which is envisaged. Perhaps the noble Lords will be content to withdraw the amendment on the basis of an undertaking that I shall bring forward a similar clause at Report stage which includes consultation requirements.

Perhaps I may treat the other amendments in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. He dealt first with Amendment No. 93. That amendment relates to the control and use of equipment and other property which has been used on roads which are made trunk roads by the Secretary of State. I acknowledge that property associated with new trunk roads may also need to be used on local roads and that safeguards as to the continued use of that property should be available to protect the local roads authorities.

On the other hand, the amendment would restrict the matter to circumstances where there is agreement between the authority and the Secretary of State. That provision could lead to disproportionate difficulties and to impasse. Instead, we have in the Bill a provision that the Secretary of State must make arrangements with the local roads authorities as to the use of such property. As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, pointed out, the Bill includes procedures as to arbitration to safeguard the position of authorities which consider particular arrangements unacceptable. I believe that that is a perfectly workable scheme. In the light of that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw that amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, also spoke to Amendments Nos. 94 and 95. These relate to the results of the introduction of a number of smaller local authorities. In that connection it will be necessary to have a greater degree of co-operation and co-ordination, particularly in urban areas, between road and traffic authorities, which for that purpose would include the Secretary of State. That would be necessary if they are to achieve the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of traffic on their own roads.

In relation to Amendment No. 95, in reaching that goal it is the intention that the Secretary of State should issue guidance on the exercise of powers which may affect roads and traffic in adjoining areas. The Secretary of State will naturally consult the local authorities and the emergency services before issuing that guidance. As a matter of common sense it is anticipated that authorities will recognise the practical need to comply with the guidelines. However, should they fail to do so then it is right that there should be reserve powers in place to ensure that the Secretary of State can intervene where one authority pursues its traffic and roads policy to the detriment of another authority and to the overall proper arrangement of traffic.

Amendment No. 94 would also require the Secretary of State to reach agreement with traffic authorities which had failed to make satisfactory joint arrange-ments to secure a system of traffic control extending across their roads. That agreement would need to be reached before he could use his reserve powers.

Were the amendments to be carried there would be no means available by which to ensure that two adjoining traffic authorities co-ordinated traffic control across their boundaries. That seems wholly undesirable. For that reason it seems inappropriate to amend Clause 42 in that way.

I hope that with that explanation the noble Lords will accept that it is reasonable for the Secretary of State to have reserve powers in order that any conflict between the authorities may be resolved fairly and therefore will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

I listened with interest to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. It was noticeable that he did not apply himself to the implication in the amendments and the clauses to which the amendments are addressed should the Secretary of State decide through the executive roads agency to increase the trunk road network.

Throughout we have been told by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, that the purpose of the Bill is to give more power to the local authorities. However, the purpose of the clauses as they stand in relation to the road network is to take power away from the local authorities and give it to the Secretary of State. For example, every time a road is upgraded to a trunk road that comes within the powers of the Secretary of State.

Perhaps I may give a simple example. An old lady in West Calder in Lothian wanted a pelican crossing in order to be able to go to the post office to collect her pension. Because the pelican crossing was on a trunk road the application had to be made to the. Secretary of State rather than her dropping in to her local councillor's surgery.

If the Secretary of State were to increase the trunk road network it is clear that he would be taking powers away from local government.

There is also the question of capital and revenue costs. If the trunk road network is increased and the executive roads agency is given the powers proposed in these clauses in the Bill, then it follows as surely as night follows day that the capital resources made available to local authorities will be reduced. Those projects which have been proposed by the local authorities will be incapable of implementation because under the clauses we are discussing at present the powers are being taken from local authorities and transferred to the Secretary of State.

I was encouraged by what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate said to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. It is only on that basis that we are prepared to withdraw the amendment, but again with an indication that after further consideration we may wish to return to the amendments at Report stage.

The Earl of Balfour

Perhaps I may raise two points. First, if a road is taken over by the Secretary of State, surely the expenditure on the upkeep of that road is borne mostly by the Secretary of State rather than out of council tax in the ordinary way.

Secondly, so far as I can see under Section 12F, the provisions appear to apply only for a three-year period, which allows for the transition between the old and the new authorities.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My noble friend is absolutely correct. If a road is made a trunk road the responsibility for its upkeep will indeed be transferred to the Secretary of State. It is not at all unknown for local authorities to be only too happy to have a road "trunked". Members of the Committee will notice that there are also powers in the clause, not referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, to "de-trunk" a road. Therefore the power can work both ways.

My noble friend is correct. The provision applies only for three years after 1st April. That, of course, ties in with the whole point of the powers. New Section 12A(1) states: where … it is necessary or expedient as a result of, or in connection with, the establishment of new local government areas on 1st April 1996". That is within the context of reorganisation. In the Roads (Scotland) Act there are other powers relating to the trunking of roads.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Before we conclude the debate, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate indicate to whom the fines for parking offences will go? Under these proposals will they go to the local authorities or to the Treasury?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

There is no intention to change the present arrangements. As the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, is aware, the present arrangements are that in Scotland, district court fines are kept by the district courts except for certain fines including road traffic offence fines. By contrast, in England all magistrates' courts fines go to the Treasury. There is no proposal to change the position in Scotland.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 81 to 93 not moved.]

Clause 38 agreed to. Clause 39 agreed to.

Lord Annaly

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Back to
Forward to