HL Deb 05 July 1999 vol 603 cc618-58

5.7 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 199.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 288C: Page 106, line 38, leave out ("Greater London") and insert ("the Greater London area").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2888D. These amendments are proposed to Clause 199 which deals with the appointment of the London Transport Users' Committee.

The first amendment proposes that rather than simply and precisely "Greater London" being the area relevant to the use of transport facilities and services, the area is described as the "Greater London area".

It is in the nature of transport that one cannot set a political or administrative boundary. The term "the Greater London area" is used in the Railways Act 1993 to define the area with which the current committee—the LRPC—is concerned. We believe that there should be a similar provision here and that membership of the committee should be able to cover the whole area.

When the matter was raised by my honourable friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton in another place, the Minister said that she was prepared to consider the issue further and return to it at a later stage. On that basis, he withdrew the amendment. I hope that the Minister may have some news for us about that.

The second amendment seeks to exclude the mayor from membership of the new committee. That is because of a concern on our part about a possible conflict of interest. Members of the assembly, Transport for London and the staff of those organisations may not be appointed. Of course, the mayor falls within one of those categories.

In response to this amendment in another place, the Minister said that it was unlikely and unacceptable that the assembly would appoint the mayor in such a capacity. She said: As it is inherent that, although it is unlikely, there may be criticism of the mayoral transport strategy as well as Transport for London, the amendment is unnecessary".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 2/3/99; col. 885.] It seems to me that by saying that it would be unlikely and unacceptable for the assembly to appoint the mayor to the new committee rather makes the point that the amendment is necessary and desirable.

On the Bill, the Government's response to amendments has been that such and such is inconceivable. We take the view that our role is to say, "What if?", and to ask that question of the Committee. The amendment was tabled in that spirit I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We have similar difficulties with these amendments as with Amendment No. 288B. Amendment No. 288C seeks to define the geographical area covered by the LTUC. Noble Lords will recognise—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said—that the boundary of LTUC in its role as a rail users' consultative committee is much wider than Greater London or indeed the outer boundary of TfL services. However, the assembly is not prevented from selecting people from outside the boundary of the Greater London Authority, and it is important to recognise that the rail regulator has the opportunity to contribute to the process of appointments. If the noble Baroness remains concerned on the issue of boundaries, I am prepared to consider whether the geographical area covered by the LTUC may be more clearly defined in the Bill.

We do not believe that Amendment No. 288D is necessary. Decisions about appointments are taken by the assembly in consultation with the rail regulator. A basic purpose of the committee is to assist the assembly in the scrutiny of the mayor's policy and the performance of TfL. It would clearly be perverse for the mayor to participate in the proceedings of the committee as its chair while his or her policies were under debate. We believe that that is so obvious that the assembly does not need an express provision in the Bill to point it out.

I am conscious that the noble Baroness, in speaking to her second amendment, was commenting on the strength of the language. I hope she feels reassured by the clear expression that it would be perverse for that to happen and will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

On Amendment No. 288D, I believe that it is the job of this Committee and the House as a revising Chamber to exclude any possibility of perversity. Nevertheless, I shall admit to an argument that the noble Baroness has not used against me. We have sought all the way through the Bill to give the assembly as much flexibility as possible vis-à-vis the mayor. Perhaps there is logic in my accepting the rather odd situation with which we are presented on that amendment.

I am grateful for the comments of the Minister on the first of the amendments. It would be useful to provide for what we are agreed upon. On the basis that the Government will consider returning with an amendment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 288D not moved.]

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 289: Page 107, line 2, at end insert (", or (e) any officer or employee or member of a company having business with the Authority or with Transport for London, or any company in which Transport for London has an interest, which generates revenue in any twelve month period (measured according to generally accepted principles of accounting) in excess of £10,000, or any officer or employee of any company under the control of such a company, or which is controlled by a company which also controls such a company").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 289, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 290, 292 and 293. This group of amendments is concerned with the transport users' committee. Amendment No. 289 seeks to add to the list of those who may not be appointed to that committee—assembly members, members of TfL, members of staff and so on—those who have a business interest with Transport for London, or with the authority, in excess of a certain amount of money. I am prepared to be flexible about the sum of money. The principle is that those who have business interests with the authority should not be members of the users' committee because there could be a potential conflict of interest.

Amendment No. 290 requires that, The Assembly shall appoint and fix the remuneration of external auditors"—

and that it shall conduct, an annual audit of the finances of the Committee and submit an annual report on such finances to the Assembly". As I understand it, the transport users' committee has no requirement to be externally audited. We are dealing with fare-payers' money—those who use the London transport system—and we believe it is right that an audit should be carried out by external auditors and a report made to the assembly.

Amendment No. 292 deals with public sessions of the users' committee. The amendment merely suggests that the committee should give three days' notice of such meetings. At the moment I can see no requirement lo give notice of such meetings. Unless the public is given notice—we suggest three days—there is little value in having public sessions of the users' committee. I understand that local authorities are obliged to give three days' notice and that would be a good principle to apply here.

Amendment No. 293 deals with business taken at the meeting from which the public should be excluded. We have no objection to the fact that it may be necessary for the public to be excluded from some items, but we are suggesting that if such an exclusion is to take place, the public should be told what items are involved and given a brief reason why their attendance is not allowed. That seems a perfectly reasonable requirement to put on the committee.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

These amendments cover a range of matters concerning LTUC, including provisions on membership, on audit and public accountability, and on the actual subject matter to be considered by the LTUC.

Amendment No. 289 is similar, as the noble Lord acknowledged, to one we debated last week in relation to the independent bus permits appeals body. The Government wish to see public bodies, such as LTUC, representing the full diversity of the communities who use the services. Yet the effect of this amendment would be to debar a significant number of people from applying for membership of LTUC. For example, the amendment would disqualify those working for firms providing office supplies, financial services and catering contracts to TfL, none of which is directly linked to transport provision, and many of which could easily be in excess of the £10,000 threshold contained in the amendment. On Thursday, the noble Lord acknowledged that the figure of £10,000 was perhaps too low.

At present, members of the London Regional Passengers' Committee, in common with members of the other rail users' consultative committees, are asked to disclose financial interests in the transport sector, and may be asked to divest themselves of such assets prior to appointment. That non-statutory method of managing conflicts of interests has worked effectively. We see no reason why the same practice should not be followed.

Moreover, it is the assembly which is to appoint members of LTUC. The assembly will want the LTUC to be independent, and will no doubt make appointments accordingly. We believe that the amendment is disproportionate, and that this is a matter for common sense rather than one requiring legislation.

Amendment No. 290 would require the assembly to appoint external auditors for LTUC. The Government plan to bring forward technical proposals of their own at a later stage to ensure that the audit provisions for LTUC fit within the overall structure for the Greater London Authority and its constituent parts. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord in that respect. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Some of the amendments are proposed with the best of intentions but can cause practical problems. Amendment No. 292 is such an example. I am sure that, as a public consultative body, LTUC will strive to give timely notice of its meetings. However, the amendment would prevent LTUC meeting to discuss issues within a shorter timescale. A consultative body such as this should be allowed the flexibility to react to events in a timely way.

Amendment No. 293 would require the committee to give notice to the public of items from which they may be excluded. It would cause administrative difficulties. Although the confidentiality provisions in the Bill permit some items to be taken in private session if provided in confidence by the rail regulator or franchising director, other items can only be held in private session if the committee formally resolves to do so. Such decisions can only be taken at the relevant committee meeting.

I should perhaps add that it is the LRPC's normal practice for confidential items to be taken together so as to minimise inconvenience to members of the public who wish to attend the relevant meeting. That is not always possible and it would be inappropriate to limit LTUC in this way. I hope therefore that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

These are small points but if things went wrong they could cause a great deal of trouble. Have the Government thought about this? Three days is a very short time in which to give notice of a public meeting. Would it not be a good idea to have something on the face of the Bill.

We all know that there will be occasions when a body such as the new London Transport Users' Committee will want to be able to say it has held a public meeting but is not keen on too many people expressing their views at that meeting. Putting a minimum period of notice on the face of the Bill is certainly desirable, and I cannot imagine that less than three days would ever be required.

In relation to Amendment No. 293, will the agenda containing the items to be discussed in private be publicly available, or will the agenda of those items also be private? If the normal access to information applies, the agenda will explain what the items are. If the public know what the items are, then the chairman will have to give an explanation in order to get the members of the public to leave the meeting. One can trivialise this matter a little too much. Trouble could easily arise at these meetings.

Baroness Hamwee

When similar issues were raised from these Benches in connection with meetings of the assembly and public meetings, we detected—without commitment—a little sympathy on the part of the noble Baroness that they require careful attention. I hope that we can return to those earlier amendments at a later stage and that the Government will be prepared to agree to some minor alterations of the Bill simply in the interests of the good working of the new authority.

The points made in this current debate are very much in the same category. No ground is lost if this matter is conceded; it simply enables the Bill to provide what it should provide for the right sort of regulations. Will the Minister be prepared to consider these aspects of this part of the Bill with the equivalent provisions relating to another part of the new organisation?

Lord Avebury

Before the noble Baroness responds, can she give the Committee some idea of what matters are likely to be of such an emergency nature that it would be impossible to give three days' notice of their discussion at a meeting? Presumably, meetings will be held on a regular basis at fixed intervals and there would be no problem in giving the three days' notice provided for in the amendment. The Minister says that if we write this into the Bill it will prevent the committee having special meetings to discuss some item which requires prompt consideration. Can she tell us what kind of items might be likely to be taken at such a meeting?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

A matter of public safety would be an example. I cannot think of another example off the top of my head. If a restriction was placed on the committee, it would not be able to convene in a situation where there was that nature of urgency. I am happy to give the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the assurance that we will give careful thought to this matter when we come back with amendments on the issue of guidance to LTUC from the assembly.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Can the Minister tell me if the agenda will be public, even if some of the items are private? Will people know what the private items are if they come to a public meeting?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

That is a matter to which we can return in terms of guidance. Obviously, there would need to be enough information for people to be aware of the decisions being taken. I am sure the noble Baroness can remember from her distinguished days in local government that there was always enough information on an agenda to be able to tell that the nature of the business being taken had to be taken in private.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

That was because of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act, which I do not believe applies here.

Lord Berkeley

Another example of when a meeting might have to be convened at short notice is if a major bus operator suddenly went into liquidation. There may need to be quick discussions taking place in such a situation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, as to whether that Act applies.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who felt able to support at least the principle of two of the amendments. I shall read with interest what the noble Baroness had to say in relation to the first amendment. It may be that the provisions for disclosure of information will satisfy me.

In relation to the second amendment, I look forward again with interest to the technical proposals on audit which the Minister intends to bring forward. On the matter of allowing three clear days' notice, the explanation that there might be a matter of urgency which would need less than that is difficult to accept. Frankly, there will be up to 24 members on this committee plus the chairman, and I feel it would be difficult to organise a meeting of that number within three days in any case. It is not easy to arrange such a meeting at short notice.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, gave an example of the possible liquidation of a London bus operator. I would have thought that was more a matter for Transport for London than the new London Transport Users' Committee. It might be something with which the LTUC will have to deal, but I doubt that it would need to do anything immediately. It would be for Transport for London to produce an alternative operator if that was required. The reasons therefore for not allowing three days' notice are pretty thin. As I understand it, local authorities are required to give that amount of notice and I cannot understand why the LTUC should not be able to do so also.

The explanation to be given to the public as to why they are being excluded from the meeting relates to a very small request. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, it could lead to trouble if people find themselves being thrown out of a meeting without being told why. However, I shall not pursue the amendments at this point. Nevertheless, I shall study the Minister's response with care and reserve the right to return to such issues. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 199 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 290 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Schedule 14 [London Transport Users' Committee]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 290A: Page 236, line 33, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment deals with a small point and I have tabled it in order to probe a little a matter which was discussed in another place. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 14 provides that the assembly, may after consultation with the Rail Regulator make arrangements for the Committee to be provided with office accommodation". Our amendment proposes that the assembly "shall" provide such accommodation. That is not because we believe that it should or should not do so but in order to ask the Government to explain why it is that the provision needs to be here at all.

In another place, I understand that the Minister said that the objection to this amendment was that it would prevent funding to provide offices for the committee; in other words, saying that the assembly "shall" provide accommodation would disqualify it from providing funding as an alternative.

I am concerned about the detail of the provisions in Schedule 14. One has to be so careful over this sort of provision. There is a provision in paragraph 5 of the schedule which allows the assembly to provide for the "expenses" of the new committee. Would that not be adequate to cover arrangements for office accommodation, which is the subject of paragraph 7? Moreover, as a subsidiary point, why should this apply to the rail regulator? He has many functions and sensible things to say, but does he really need to be concerned with this decision? I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

This amendment is unnecessary and could impose undue restrictions on the provision of accommodation for the committee. It is unlikely that the assembly would not provide accommodation for the committee that it had just appointed. However, there could be a situation where the committee is provided with accommodation in which the assembly had no hand. The assembly is already under a duty to provide the committee with funds for expenses incurred, and these could include accommodation costs.

Under Schedule 14, the assembly is under a duty to make funds available for expenses which could cover accommodation. The committee may want to make its own arrangements with funds provided by the assembly. Therefore, there is no need to make it a duty for the assembly to make arrangements for accommodation.

The rail regulator is involved here because of his role as sponsor of the rail users' consultative committees, of which LTUC would be one. With those explanations, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

Perhaps my amendment should have sought to delete the paragraph. By tabling an amendment in the same form as it appeared in another place, I now realise that I tempted the answer I have received, which I fear does not deal with my concerns. However, they are not the most major issues in the Bill.

I see that the Minister is looking puzzled. It seems to me that paragraph 5, which talks about the assembly providing the committee with funds to "defray" expenses, should be all that one needs to provide for accommodation. However, I shall not pursue the point at this stage. As I said, it is not the most important issue in the whole scheme of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 290B: Page 237, line 5, after ("sub-committees") insert ("or officers").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment relates to paragraph 10 of Schedule 14, which allows the committee, to delegate the exercise and performance of any of their functions to … sub-committees". Our amendment would allow for delegation to "officers" as well as to sub-committees. In another place, the response to a similar amendment was that this would be inconsistent with the regulations applying to other rail users' committees. However, whether or not it is inconsistent, we believe that it should be allowed if it is a sensible arrangement. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Officers of a committee such as the London Transport Users' Committee are responsible for much day-to-day activity and integral to its success. It is indeed right that it should work without the risk of possible legal action. However, the right level of protection under the law comes from acting within the broad framework of committee policy and considering representations accordingly. The officers are able to do so under the Bill without the proposed amendment. We are not aware that any problems have arisen under the present arrangements to which LRPC is subject. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

Before my noble friend decides what to do with her amendment, I should point out that this issue was also debated in another place. In the course of the argument that took place, the Minister said that the amendment would make LTUC's arrangements inconsistent with those for other rail users' consultative committees—indeed, an argument which the Minister used when dealing with the other amendment that we have just discussed. I find that quite an interesting way of putting things. To my way of thinking, it takes us back to the previous amendment which was directed at trying to ensure that the new representative organisation represents the interests of public users of transport rather than the users of all transport. It is as though the Minister was saying that it will be like a rail users' committee; but it is not. It is going to be a different sort of committee. The Government must make up their mind as to what sort of committee we are talking about.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Reverting to the previous amendment, the answer is that in this case the rail users' consultative committee for the area is LTUC. The other answer is that, although it is that, it is that plus; in other words, it has a value added over and above that. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hamwee

We are used to being not quite as satisfied as we would wish. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth moved Amendment No. 291: Page 237, line 5, at end insert— ("() The Committee shall appoint a sub-committee whose sole responsibility shall be to deal with complaints about door-to-door transport.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has been tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. In moving this amendment, I should like briefly to speak to Amendment No. 294B which is grouped with it and stands in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

The aim of Amendment No. 291 is to ensure that in the new arrangements whereby the London Regional Passengers' Committee is replaced by the London Transport Users' Committee, there is a body capable of dealing with the specialised area of complaints from disabled people about door-to-door services. Door-to-door services are a new, expanding and specialised area. The London Accessible Transport Alliance feels that the users of these door-to-door services will require a body dedicated to dealing with these complaints, probably a sub-committee of LTUC which will still deal with accessibility issues regarding mainstream transport. But it must be an adequately resourced body purely dedicated to dealing with this complicated area. The majority of members should be disabled people and users of the door-to-door services because they have the required expertise in these matters.

Amendment No. 294B would leave such matters to be dealt with by the main committee. I look forward to hearing what other Members of the Committee have to say on both these amendments, and particularly to the noble Lord's reply. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Manchester

Again I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for tabling Amendment No. 291, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for moving it this afternoon. She did so with all her customary persuasiveness. I welcome the amendment and underline the importance of her point about ensuring that the body helping users of door-to-door transport is adequately resourced and dedicated to dealing with this complicated area of provision. I will not detain the Committee further except to say that this is an important amendment to which I know that my noble friend the Minister will want to reply as helpfully as he can.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I rise briefly to support Amendment No. 291 and to refer to our Amendment No. 294B which states that the functions of the authority that relate to transport should include transport for those with mobility impairments. The Minister has already told us that he is prepared to have a meeting with those who have taken a great interest in this matter. For that reason I do not propose to discuss this amendment in further detail.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I believe that the concerns which lie behind these two amendments could perhaps be dealt with in the meeting, as the noble Baroness suggests. It is our view that these amendments are unnecessary. Of course it is right that LTUC should be able to consider representations from all transport users, including in particular those who use door-to-door transport. The Bill already provides for LTUC to consider representations from the users of such services directly provided or funded by TfL, including Dial-a-Ride. However, there is no need to spell that out on the face of the Bill.

The reference in Clause 200(1)(a) to the transport functions of the authority and TfL includes precisely those functions relating to the provision of transport services to disabled people. The mayor will of course have a duty to include in his or her transport strategy proposals for the provision of accessible transport and TfL will be responsible for implementing those proposals. LTUC will be consulted and will be able to comment on those proposals. These activities are therefore clearly functions which LTUC can consider.

As regards Amendment No. 294B, clearly what I have said about the provisions in Clause 200(1)(a) relating to transport functions already provide for this matter to be covered. As to prescribing a sub-committee, I believe it would be rare to include provisions on the face of a Bill describing how an organisation should divide itself into sub-committees. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, may be thinking of something rather more than a sub-committee, although Amendment No. 291 refers to a sub-committee.

Paragraph 10 of Schedule 14 already provides LTUC with the power to form sub-committees and to co-opt people on to them who are not members of the committee. The assembly will have to ensure that LTUC truly represents all users of transport in London, including disabled people and so on. I think it would be an unhelpful precedent for us to specify how bodies set up in statute should organise themselves in terms of sub-committees, especially as in this case it is clear that what the noble Baroness seeks is already covered by other provisions in this Bill. Nevertheless if there are remaining anxieties I shall discuss them with those interested, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, suggested.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for his welcome support. He stressed that this is an important amendment and that it is important to get it right. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for her support. I welcome very much indeed what the Minister has said. I find it greatly reassuring. I think that the matter of the expert body of people is exactly the kind of matter that we could pursue further in the meeting. I am most grateful for the offer of a meeting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 291A: Page 237, line 19, after second ("the") insert ("Authority, Transport for London, the").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 291A I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 291B, 294C and 294D. Amendment No. 291A seeks to enable the committee to exclude the public not only when discussing items of business that already fall within paragraph 13(2)(a) of Schedule 14—that is, when discussing information that is furnished in confidence by the rail regulator or the franchising director—but also when discussing information that has been furnished by the authority itself or by Transport for London.

Amendment No. 291B would provide that only commercial, legal or personnel information from the various bodies to which I have referred will be dealt with on the basis I have mentioned. In another place in response to similar amendments it was argued that the committee should be consistent with other rail user consultative committees. As I said on a previous amendment, it seems to me that it is more important to be right than to be consistent.

Amendment No. 294B seeks to place a duty on Transport for London or the authority to provide information to the committee. This again was an amendment proposed in another place for the obvious reason that the committee will need information in order to carry out its duties. I accept of course that this amendment was lost in a Division in another place. The Minister there said that the amendment was not necessary because the committee, will inevitably not be able to carry out its function without access to information".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Cttee A, 2/3/99; col. 895.] The Minister here has alerted the Committee to amendments which the Government propose to table at a later stage which deal with guidance. Can this matter not be dealt with in guidance, if not on the face of the Bill?

Amendment No. 294D seeks to provide for Transport for London or the authority to give reasons to the committee for any decision that it reaches in response to the committee's recommendations. That seems to me to be almost a matter of natural justice. That is perhaps using too technical and "highfalutin" a term, but to give reasons must be more than simply sensible. It cannot be appropriate for reasons not to be given when a decision is made. In another place the Government said that this measure was not necessary because there was a statutory requirement for the committee to be notified of decisions. It was further stated in Standing Committee A in another place that: Neither the authority nor Transport for London is likely to supply a decision with no reasons attached. Including an explanation of a decision is a matter of good practice, not a matter for legislation".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Cttee A, 2/3/99; col. 900.]

We are in danger of being criticised for being over-prescriptive but that is in response to what we see as the over-prescription of the Bill. We believe that giving an explanation for a decision constitutes a little more than simply good practice. It is important to the good functioning of the bodies concerned. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

As the noble Baroness has indicated that she does not accept my main objection to the amendments as drafted—namely, that they would clearly make the London Transport Users' Committee operate under a different system from that which applies to the Rail Users' Consultative Committee—I am not sure that I will be able to convince her totally of my position. Nevertheless, as I think she recognised at various points, these amendments would be much more suitable to guidance than on the face of the Bill. For example, Amendment No. 291A would place TfL in a rather odd position. It would give information imparted by TfL the same status as that imparted by the regulatory bodies, whereas TfL is, in this sense, a service provider.

Apart from the fact that it would be inconsistent with the provisions on other rail user consultative committees, Amendment No. 291 B seeks to limit the kinds of information provided by the franchising director and the rail regulator which are subject to being heard in private. If that were restricted it could well hinder the flow of information between the regulatory bodies and the committees, which would be undesirable.

As to Amendment No. 294C, while it is understandable that the committee would wish to have access to information held by the GLA—and, in nearly every case, also by Transport for London—it is equally clear that a constructive relationship is a better way of achieving this than by putting it on the face of the Bill. If there is any difficulty it is, of course, open to the LTUC to approach the assembly to ask for assistance; the assembly will have powers to require TfL to provide information. We hope to avoid that situation if we follow the noble Baroness's view that this is more appropriate to guidance.

As to the final amendment concerning reasons, clearly we would normally expect reasons to be given. If reasons are not given, again it would be open to the LTUC to raise the matter with assembly members in accordance with other provisions in the Bill; they can always question the mayor and obtain answers at that point. Again, we hope that this will be a matter where good practice and a constructive growth of relations will ensure that in most cases the mayor or TfL would automatically give reasons. If that requirement were to be on the face of the Bill, one would have to bring forward an amendment which recognised that there would be certain circumstances where the mayor or TfL were constrained from giving reasons; for example, because of on-going legal proceedings, privacy and so on. It would be a more complicated amendment. I feel that this should be subject to the organic growth of good relations, perhaps subject to guidance, as the noble Baroness has suggested. I therefore request that she withdraws her amendments.

Baroness Hamwee

I do not want to damage the chances of matters we would like to see in the guidance by starting on a path of commenting on what seems to be in the Bill and what seems to be left out—with not, to our eyes, huge distinctions between the two. We should be very happy for quite a lot of the prescription around this subject to go into guidance. I am happy to wait until I see the Government's amendments on guidance.

I, among others of your Lordships, have been lax and have failed to ask when the draft guidance might be available for consideration. The Minister might have thought that he was going to get away without being asked that question. He might like to respond now.

Lord Whitty

We are referring here to guidance by the assembly rather than by the Secretary of State. Although that is normally the question, it is not appropriate at this point.

Baroness Hamwee

I deserved that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 291E to 293 not moved.]

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 294: Page 237, line 39, leave out paragraph 14.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 294 standing in my name and the names of my noble friends. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has also added his name to the amendment. That is a first for this side of the Committee.

The amendment seeks to strike out that the consent of the Treasury should be required for any determination or approval by the assembly under this schedule. We feel that on the principle of subsidiarity the: Treasury has no right to veto the assembly on the matter of the committee's remuneration and structure. It should be a purely London matter and it would be petty to give the Exchequer the right to interfere. I should very much hope that officials in that great department of state, the Treasury, would have better things to do than to deal with this kind of matter. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, is absolutely correct. At one stage I had thought of making a dramatic concession on the floor of House. It is a matter on which we all clearly agree. Unlike its predecessor, the LTUC is not a government NDPB. Therefore, in those circumstances, it is not appropriate that the Treasury should be involved. I agree with the noble Lord.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 200 [Representations to the Committee]:

[Amendments Nos. 294A to 294C not moved.]

Clause 200 agreed to.

Clause 201 [Recommendations and reports etc]:

[Amendment No. 294D not moved.]

Clause 201 agreed to.

Clause 202 agreed to.

Schedule 15 agreed to.

Clause 203 agreed to.

Schedule 16 [Hackney carriages]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 294E: Page 240, leave out lines 37 to 40 and insert— ("(5) A fee of such amount (if any) as Transport for London may determine shall be paid to Transport for London—

  1. (a) by any applicant for a licence under this section, on making the application for the licence;
  2. (b) by any applicant for the taking or re-taking of any test or examination, or any part of a test or examination, with respect to any matter of fitness, on making the application for the taking or re-taking of the test, examination or part; and
  3. (c) by any person granted a licence under this section, on the grant of the licence.
(5A) In paragraph (b) of subsection (5) of this section "matter of fitness" means—
  1. (a) any matter as respects which Transport for London must be satisfied before granting a licence under this section; or
  2. (b) any matter such that, if Transport for London is not satisfied with respect to the matter, they may refuse to grant a licence under this section.
(5B) Different amount may be determined under subsection (5) of this section for different purposes or different cases. (5C) Transport for London may remit or refund the whole or part of a fee under subsection (5) of this section.").

The noble Lord said: We now come to Chapter IX of the Bill, which deals with taxis and minicabs. With the indulgence of the Committee, before I turn to the amendments it might be appropriate to record a few words about Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, although he attended the Second Reading of the Bill.

Your Lordships will know that he had a number of diverse interests but in the House he was well known as a champion of the London taxi trade. He drove a black cab himself, which could occasionally be seen in the forecourt, and was engaged in many charitable aspects of the London taxi trade—including accompanying cab drivers taking less affluent children to Disneyland and leading a convoy of lorries to Algeria. The noble Earl's work was well appreciated in the House and probably even more so by the London taxi trade. I regret his passing, particularly before seeing the full passage of the Bill. He will be much missed in discussing the current amendments.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

With the leave of the Committee, I would like to thank the Minister very much for what he said about our much-cherished colleague, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham. He was not only a man of many interests, which included a profound love and knowledge of jazz, but was the dearest, kindest colleague that anybody could have. I never heard him express a cross word or saw him to be anything except smiling and delightful. He will be greatly missed, not only for his contribution to our debates but for his charm and personality.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I would, from these Benches, like to be associated with the remarks of the Minister and the noble Baroness.

Lord Whitty

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord.

Earlier in the passage of the Bill in another place, my colleague Glenda Jackson gave an undertaking to take away and consider an amendment to provide for Transport for London to be able to charge fees on application for the grant of a taxi driver's and vehicle licence. That undertaking recognised the considerable support from the taxi trade, members of both Houses and others that the measure has attracted.

The current position is that taxi drivers pay fees only for the grant, including renewal, of drivers' and vehicle licences, but the work involved in the lead-up to the grant of a licence can vary greatly from case to case. For example, some would-be taxi drivers pass the knowledge of London test fairly quickly. Others require a number of tests, with the resources that involves, before they pass—if they pass at all. The effect of the current charging system is that people have no incentive properly to prepare themselves or their vehicles before going forward for a test.

The result is inefficiency because the resources of the Public Carriage Office are wasted on testing people or vehicles that are not ready. The result is also unfairness. People who have prepared properly are undoubtedly kept waiting. People who pass the test and gain a licence are in effect paying in their licence fee for people who did not prepare adequately and have failed. That cannot be right.

Amendments Nos. 294E and 294F address that anomaly by providing for TfL to charge for the initial application for a taxi driver and vehicle licence, and for any test or re-test arising from the licence application. The amendments fulfil the Government's undertaking in another place and I commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

The taxi community asked me to bring forward such amendments but it is so good to see that the Minister has done so. I strongly support them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 294F: Page 241, leave out lines 29 to 32 and insert— ("(7) A fee of such amount (if any) as Transport for London may determine shall be paid to Transport for London—

  1. (a) by any applicant for a licence under this section, on making the application for the licence;
  2. (b) by any applicant for the taking or re-taking of any test or examination, or any part of a test or examination, with respect to any matter of fitness, on making the application for the taking or re-taking of the test, examination or part; and
  3. (c) by any person granted a licence under this section, on the grant of the licence.
(8) In paragraph (b) of subsection (7) of this section "matter of fitness" means—
  1. (a) any matter as respects which Transport for London must be satisfied before granting a licence under this section; or
  2. (b) any matter such that, if Transport for London is not satisfied with respect to the matter, they may refuse to grant a licence under this section.
(9) Different amounts may be determined under subsection (7) of this section for different purposes or different cases. (10) Transport for London may remit or refund the whole or part of a fee under subsection (7) of this section.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 204 agreed to

Schedule 17 agreed to.

Clause 205 agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment 294G: After Clause 205, insert the following new clause—


(" . The duty of the Secretary of State under section 16 of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Various Powers) Act 1885 to work a ferry-boat across the river Thames is transferred to Transport for London by this section.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment provides for the Secretary of State's duties to operate the Woolwich ferry to be transferred to Transport for London. The ferry is an important river crossing and is a link in the road network that the Government propose should be the responsibility of TfL. The new clause will permit the use of powers in Part XII of the Bill to transfer the property rights and liabilities associated with the ferry from the Secretary of State. It will allow the replacement of the Secretary of State's powers, to make orders on the use of the ferry with by-laws made by TfL and permit any existing orders or by-laws made by predecessor bodies to be treated as by-laws made by TfL.

The staff who operate the Woolwich ferry are employed by the London Borough of Greenwich, which has an agency agreement with the Secretary of State. TfL will inherit the current arrangements when it takes over responsibility and staff will continue to be employed by the London Borough of Greenwich.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the new clause. I only wonder how the Woolwich ferry could have been forgotten for so long, until the Bill reached a Committee of this House.

Does the Woolwich ferry make or lose money? I suspect that it loses money. If so, presumably it currently receives a subsidy from the Secretary of State. If that is the case, will that subsidy be paid by Transport for London? Will the Secretary of State therefore make a special grant to TfL? If the Woolwich ferry makes a profit, all well and good. Presumably the TfL will enjoy that profit. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

While scribes are scribing in other parts of this Committee, perhaps I may simply rise to welcome the amendment—which is thoroughly sensible and a delightful example of not exactly devolution but, at any rate, devolvement of power. It is most satisfactory.

Lord Avebury

Why was it decided to transfer the powers this way, rather than by the tidier method of repealing the 1885 Act and conferring the powers directly on TfL?

Lord Whitty

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is correct. The present provisions for the Woolwich ferry arise from the 1885 Act, but we felt that, rather than make an amendment to that statute, it would be appropriate to insert an explicit clause.

As to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, I believe that the requirement is to run a free service. If I am wrong, I will write to the noble Lord. The annual running costs are paid directly by the Secretary of State. Henceforth, the money will form part of the GLA transport grant and be included within that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment 295: After Clause 205, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) A person shall not smoke or carry lighted tobacco in a London taxi where passengers are by means of a prescribed notice informed that smoking is prohibited.

(2) For the purposes of this section, "prescribed notice" means a notice or marking of such type, and displayed in or on a London taxi in such manner, as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe.

(3) A passenger who contravenes subsection (1) may be required by the driver to leave a London taxi and, where the passenger refuses to comply with that requirement, may be removed by the driver or, on the request of the driver, by a constable.

(4) Nothing in subsection (3) shall be taken to relieve a passenger from the obligation to any pay fare and where a passenger is required to leave or is removed from a London taxi in accordance with that subsection before reaching his destination he shall be liable to pay the fare up to the point where he is required to leave or is removed from that taxi.

(5) A person who—

  1. (a) contravenes subsection (1),
  2. (b) refuses to comply with a requirement made in accordance with subsection (3), or
  3. (c) resists lawful removal in accordance with that subsection, is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(6) Notwithstanding the provisions of any enactment requiring certain hirings to be accepted, it shall be lawful for the driver of a London taxi bearing a prescribed notice to refuse to carry a passenger who is smoking or carrying lighted tobacco.

(7) In this section "London taxi" means a hackney carriage licensed under section 6 of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869.").

The noble Baroness said: It is clear that taxi drivers, having had such success with their last amendment, have not managed yet to persuade the Minister on the issue of smoking—which is why they have asked me to table this amendment.

Amendments Nos. 295 and 296 are much the same. The first covers black London cabs, which always like to be differentiated from any other form of car transport because they are such an exceptional service, to which we pay tribute. Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham would certainly have done so, had he been here. The second relates to other vehicles, to what were previously called minicabs and are now termed private hire vehicles. These new clauses would give drivers the right to choose whether passengers may smoke in their vehicles. They would not oblige drivers to designate their cabs non-smoking—after all, some taxi drivers themselves smoke—but they would increase the individual rights and freedom of choice of drivers of London taxis and also of passengers. More importantly, it would enable drivers to work in a smoke-free environment.

When we go into a restaurant, we are entitled to choose the no-smoking area. When we travel on the tube or by bus, no smoking at all is permitted. The only form of public transport in London where smoking is permitted, unless the situation is different as regards the ferries, is a taxi. It can be very unpleasant for people to travel in a cab after someone in it has been smoking heavily. This provision would not eliminate all smoking in cabs. People who required a cab in which they could smoke would either be able to specify that if ordering by telephone or wait until a cab came along in which smoking was permitted. But it would mean that if a driver had chosen to place a no-smoking sign in his cab, it would be enforceable.

The proposal is set out in considerable detail, and therefore requires little explanation—whereas many amendments that merely propose to replace two words require a long explanation. I shall therefore not go into detail. The new clauses are self-explanatory.

In a letter to the London Taxi Board, which has led this campaign in a most professional way, the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation commented that: Drivers should be able to work in a smoke-free environment and passengers should have the right to hire a smoke free cab, for everyone's safety, comfort and health". Irving Yass, of London First, states that: If legislative provision to govern smoking in cabs is not introduced now it could be some years before there is another opportunity". The Government have accepted the position in principle, committing themselves as far back as July 1998 that the change would be introduced "when parliamentary time permits". The Minister may say that this is not the parliamentary moment. But if it is not, I should like him to tell me when is. It is important with an issue such as this to bring it forward at a time when it can be fitted in and is appropriate. Surely, when we are dealing with transport in London, this would seem to be the moment. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I strongly support the amendment. I particularly support the noble Baroness's previous point. We have just welcomed government Amendment No. 294G, which could have been achieved in a different way; namely, by amendment of another Act. The Government's response was that they felt that this was the more suitable place to introduce the provision. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, has made precisely the same point. This is a good opportunity to put forward this new piece of legislation governing taxis in London.

Lord Berkeley

I cannot resist the temptation to support the noble Baroness's amendment. As a keen anti-smoker, I believe it is right to enable drivers to ban smoking from their taxis. It is rather a long amendment; however, the noble Baroness has provided a ready explanation for that. Perhaps her next move will be to change some of the custom and practice in this House so that we have rather more non-smoking activities here. It certainly seems a good idea.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am neutral in my response to the amendment. As a recent convert, now a non-smoker, I see the force of my noble friend's arguments. I do not have much sympathy for the drivers of black cabs. They can shut the glass window between themselves and the passenger and smoke in the front of the cab, which they frequently do.

In principle, we can give some support to the amendment. The only point that slightly concerns me relates to the statement in subsection (3) of the first proposed new clause that a passenger who refuses to comply, may be removed by the driver or, on the request of the driver, by a constable". The second part is fine, but I am not certain that removal by the driver will necessarily be easy to achieve. It could give rise to more trouble than is envisaged. That is particularly the case in regard to the second amendment relating to private hire vehicles. I wonder what would happen if someone got into a cab late at night after being at the pub and lit a cigarette and the driver tried to eject him. I leave that for the Minister to comment on.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

This was an area of high policy that was subject to an enormous amount of discussion in another place. More broadly, as the noble Baroness said, my honourable friends in another place indicated that, in principle, we were quite strongly in favour of such a proposal. But there are serious problems in regard to how it is done and what the consequences might be. It is therefore the Government's view is that we need the widest possible consultation before we can consider bringing forward legislation; and that legislation should be on a national basis rather than specifically a London basis.

That commitment to consult on a national provision still stands. A consultation document is being prepared. Our aim is to issue that document during this summer. It should set out all the issues and options, their merits and problems, and will give all concerned a chance to have their say.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, hinted, there are some serious difficulties. There is the problem of evidence. There might be substantial trouble with the driver or police constable ejecting people from the cab. By the time the police arrived, if passengers were quick enough on their toes, they would presumably have thrown away the cigarette, and there are unlikely to be other witnesses. Would the police or the Crown Prosecution Service take up those new tasks?

Safety issues are also involved. In the kind of situation referred to by the noble Lord, the passenger might be a young woman, possibly slightly drunk late at night. If she insists on smoking, what does the taxi driver do? Does he have a legal right to throw her out anywhere? There are serious complications as regards the enforcement of such a provision: for example, how soon the taxi driver has the right to throw someone out and how the police become involved. All those are difficult issues.

At present, a taxi driver can request someone not to smoke in the back of the cab; 99 per cent of the time that occurs and there are relatively few problems. With this provision, I can see the possibility of some quite nasty problems. They may be resolvable. If there is overwhelming public support for the proposal, clearly it will be the Government's intention to legislate in the light of that consultation. However, the consultation should take place first. The views of the enforcement authorities as well as taxi drivers and consumer interests should be taken into account. I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise the weight of that argument.

Lord Avebury

The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is making is that this is the legislative opportunity. If we miss the cue, there is not likely to be another chance for several years.

Lord Whitty

If everyone were agreed that this was the way to go, and if the difficulties that I have spelt out and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, hinted at could be overcome, there would be a strong argument for legislating for London now—although, strictly speaking, there is no reason why this provision should apply only in London. Given that there are uncertainties and difficulties with the implementation of such a scheme, I do not believe that we are on firm enough ground to legislate at this stage.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I thank those who have supported the amendment. They brought forward very good points and I wish to reply. My noble friend said that those in a black cab can close the glass screen; they are not too worried about the driver. That is true, but there are between 40,000 and 80,000 minicabs in London which do not have the glass screens. I hope that the day never comes when we have to have them, as in New York, for the safety of the driver. That protection would be of no benefit for the driver of a private hire car vehicle, unless it were a luxurious limousine.

I understand the point on subsection (3). Perhaps it is too onerous and there is some other way of doing it. I believe that if taxi drivers had the right to say, "Mine is a non-smoking cab", the majority of people would abide by it and consider it law. The cases that arose would not be so many as to cause the degree of difficulty that the Minister suggested. The taxi trade is distressed that, having been told that it had a commitment from the Minister in the other place, Glenda Jackson, to an immediate consultation exercise, it has heard nothing since. I am pleased to hear the Minister mention today that consultation papers are being prepared, but the summer is too late for London. We are dealing with this matter now. Therefore I shall come back to it. We now have a legislative opportunity. Lord Winchilsea was mentioned: when I took a minicab Bill through this House he strongly opposed it at Third Reading. It was about 10 years before we got the minicab legislation, and the last time, when it became law, he was strongly supportive and everyone had come around to thinking how necessary it was.

I would hate to think that we might wait years before this provision was passed. If the proposal introduced a prohibitive ban, I could understand the objection. But not all taxis would be obliged to be non-smoking, so the case is quite different and we should come back to the matter. Between now and Report stage, I hope to persuade the Minister that he could find a way round the problem and bring forward a permissive amendment which would allow the provision to be brought in for London easily without new primary legislation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 296 not moved.]

Clause 206 [Introductory]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 296ZA: Page 109, line 30, at end insert ("outside the City of London").

The noble Earl said: On behalf of my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon, I wish to move Amendment No. 296ZA and it may be convenient if I speak to Amendments Nos. 297YA, 297ZA, 297XGA and 297XGB.

Among other things, Clause 206 amends Section 1 of the Highways Act 1980 and inserts a new subsection, so that TfL will be the highways authority for all GLA roads. Amendment No. 296ZA prevents TfL's authority from extending into the City. Thus it retains the spirit of Section 10(9) of the 1980 Act which provides that no highway within the City shall be a trunk road.

No doubt the Minister will describe the amendment as a wrecking one because there is no consequential amendment to make any other person the highways authority. However, all I seek is some understanding as to why TfL powers will extend into the City. The other amendments in the group cover the same points. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My noble friends on the Front Bench, supported by many behind, have been carrying on this debate during the Committee stage and have earned my undying admiration. I thought it right to leave them to it; they have done it extremely well.

However, at Second Reading I mentioned the concerns of the City of London about the Bill's effect, in Clause 206 in particular, on the powers which the City has hitherto had and under which the authorities introduced the ring of steel. The Committee will remember that following the bomb outrages in the City, particularly following the second Bishopsgate bomb, profound concern was expressed, not least by the representatives of some of the overseas banks and financial institutions in London, that unless the authorities took pretty drastic action to protect them from the outrages they would have to reconsider carefully where they maintained their European base. I do not need to labour the point about the City. As a financial centre, in many aspects of the financial world the City is pre-eminent.

That threat was real and, accordingly, using its traffic powers contained in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, the City Corporation introduced as an extreme emergency the ring of steel. It was so christened, notwithstanding that all the physical features that created it were made of red and white plastic. But the ring was manned and then enforced strictly. Every vehicle that could not account for itself was stopped and investigated. Nowadays, the ring is not manned; instead there is a sophisticated system using television and other electronic devices which have enabled security to be maintained.

The powers that the City authorities use are not specific to the City, but the fact is that the City retains its own dedicated police force and has its own local authority provided through the City Corporation by the Common Council. Those facts have undoubtedly facilitated the introduction of what became known as the "ring of steel". However, under this Bill without the amendment, once the GLA is established, Transport for London will become the highway authority for GLA routes. They will include the arterial routes passing through the City which my noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned. Those have always been excluded from administration by other authorities. The Bill would mean that the City Corporation would no longer he able to proceed with any traffic management scheme unless Transport for London were agreeable. The initial introduction of the ring of steel was quite controversial for the reason that it was felt to be giving in to the threat of terrorism. However, within almost days it was recognised that it was an extremely valuable feature, widely appreciated. Within a few weeks, it was recognised that the environmental impact of steering large quantities of traffic away from the City of London was appreciable. Therefore, there is no doubt that it is a good thing.

The question must now be asked whether that would be able to continue under the Bill. An organisation like TfL, with its close links with the mayor of London, with the assembly may well find it much more difficult to introduce a controversial measure of this nature at short notice, whereas the City Corporation was able to do so. It earned great praise for its initiative.

The City is untypical. It is primarily a place for doing business rather than living in and it has its own arrangements for local authority and police services. In those circumstances, it seems to me that it is highly desirable that the Bill should be amended. The amendment is a probing one and if arrangements could be made under the Bill, that kind of operation could remain within the sole control of the City of London.

There are other aspects, which no doubt will feature in future debates on amendments, about the extent of GLA roads. How far down side roads will TfL's powers extend? It has been suggested that those powers may extend as far as 100 yards, or even 200 yards, down side roads as a necessary concomitant of designating roads which are the responsibility of the GLA. It means that in the City of London pretty well every road would become the responsibility of the GLA and TfL, and the City Corporation would have almost no jurisdiction. Anyone who walks, drives or bicycles round the City of London recognises it as a mesh of roads, courtyards, lanes, places and so on. If the powers extended 100 yards or 200 yards down each side road the traffic powers of the City Corporation would be rendered totally nugatory.

Therefore, for those reasons I believe that there is a strong case for excluding the City from these powers. There has never been a strategic authority with power over the City's roads, and there are some fairly powerful arguments as to why this Bill should not now introduce one. Having said that, I have no doubt that the City Corporation and the traffic committees that deal with these matters will want to consult very widely with the GLA and TfL before any of these powers are exercised. But in the last resort I believe that the City should retain these powers, and this amendment allows it to do so. Under the Bill it cannot do so. I have every wish to support the amendment as strongly as I can.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Tope

I support the intentions behind the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, has explained fully the importance of this matter to the City and all Londoners. Whether or not this amendment is the right way to deal with it I do not know. I await with interest what the Minister says. That it is a very important issue I have no doubt. I hope, therefore, that if the Government are not about to accept the amendment they will at least address the concerns that have been raised so well by the mover of the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in supporting it.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I support this amendment. However, while my noble friend Lord Jenkin has put the City's case very well I do not believe that the amendment goes far enough. I believe that the whole of the London road system will be completely confused. Under Clause 206 Transport for London will be the highway authority for all GLA roads, and under Clause 208 London borough councils will be responsible for all other roads. There is, thus, a dual responsibility and road users will not necessarily know who is the highway authority for a particular London road.

As a highway authority Transport for London will be responsible for issues such as maintenance, street lighting, signing and so on. That may cause problems. When road repairs must be reported and carried out the public will be confused. Westminster City Council understands why Transport for London should as part of its strategic functions be the traffic authority, but not the highway authority, which deals with local issues.

The proposals to extend the boundaries of GLA roads down borough side roads which connect to GLA roads will cause the public further confusion and lead to inefficient and bureaucratic operation of highway responsibilities. This is an important issue, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he will be looking at this matter.

Lord Whitty

I am afraid that I cannot accept the intent of this amendment, which in part misunderstands the situation. The central issue here is that the GLA road network will be the strategic network for the whole of London. Following a lengthy period of consultation with the London boroughs and the City Corporation, we have announced the routes that will form part of the network. To exclude the City of London from that network does not make sense in terms of transport strategy. TfL should have direct control of this key network of roads.

However, some of the observations of noble Lords imply that we are handing over virtually all of the streets of the City to TfL. That is not so. The routes that have been designated as the GLA road network are: the existing red route from Bishopsgate to London Bridge, together with the Tower Hill gyratory and Tower Bridge; the route along the north bank of the Thames; and the A201 northern route which crosses Blackfriars Bridge. Only one of those, the red route, crosses the ring of steel; the others, while in the City boundaries, are outside the ring of steel. There is, therefore, only one route which is already a red route that crosses the ring of steel. Given that it was already a red route and the direct responsibility of the Traffic Director, the situation has not dramatically changed.

When the City introduced the ring of steel and the two crossing points it had to do so in conjunction with the Traffic Director. If there were any recurrence of the unfortunate situation that gave rise to the ring of steel the same would apply to TfL; in other words, there is no change in the balance of responsibilities between the City and the other authorities. All the designated roads were either red routes or other routes where the Traffic Director had a role. The City never had absolute control over the roads now designated.

As to the issue of side roads to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, made reference, there are some short stretches that need to be taken into the GLA network to ensure that the main roads are operated safely and efficiently. In the wider context referred to by the noble Baroness, we are aware of the concerns of the City about the practicality of that proposal. We shall consult upon and consider further the best way to address that during the summer. But that is not a particular problem for the City. Certainly, there is no implication that the power will extend down side roads any further than anywhere else. It would probably be less far in the City given the network of roads to which the noble Lord referred.

As to the ring of steel, we are not changing the position; nor do we wish to do so. The proposal would affect only one road and two crossings, which are already the responsibility of the Traffic Director for London, to be taken over by the GLA.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I understand the Minister's observation on the ring of steel, but he must recognise that the designation of the red route came after the ring of steel was instituted. Therefore, one must ask whether the Traffic Director would have been prepared to agree that given the controversy at the time. It is no secret that it was very unpopular with Ministers in the previous government for the reasons I explained: it appeared to be giving in to the IRA. Would be have done that? The City Corporation, in recognition of the security aspects, was able to do it on its own initiative. While I accept the Minister's point about the two crossings, they came after the system was established.

The more important point, which I believe will give rise to difficulty unless we have a clearer view, is how far down side roads TfL's authority will extend. If one is talking of 10 or 20 yards—equivalent to the frontage of two or three houses—perhaps it is justifiable. However, it has been suggested to me that the powers might extend as far as 200 yards down roads leading off GLA roads, in which case in the City the powers would extend to virtually the whole highways network. Before we leave this amendment I believe that the noble Lord must give a clearer indication of what the Government have in mind in this regard. The problem of the side roads impinging massively on the boroughs' positions as highway authorities in their areas was raised by my noble friend Lord Bowness on Second Reading, but in the City there would be nothing left. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten the Committee on that point.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I also wonder whether the Minister would consider placing TfL under an obligation to offer contracts for highway maintenance. In the past, it has been common for the Department of Transport to contract out the maintenance of local roads to the local authorities. Does the Minister agree that TfL should be placed under an obligation to offer a contract of highway maintenance functions to the relevant local authority, with appropriate funding of course, so that a seamless service could be provided to local road users? Would that be an answer? Will the Minister think about that before we get to the next stage of the Bill?

Lord Whitty

I am not at all sure that I can bring any further enlightenment to this issue. Clearly the contracting arrangements will be a matter for TfL when established, and it is not immediately obvious that the best value would be achieved on strategic routes by extending a contract that related to local authority roads.

The objective of extending the function a small way down some of the side streets would be to ensure that the junctions were safe and appropriate to the traffic coming on to the GLA strategic road. In some cases, that would be more than 10 yards, but in most cases it would not be significantly more than 10 yards. I suspect that there are not many places in the City in which it would be significantly more.

Without analysing the precise design of every junction on every GLA road, I am not sure that I can give the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, an authoritative assurance that the provision would not affect the City as dramatically as he suggests. However, it is the intention only to take that part of the road that would affect the junctions and the flow of traffic on to and from GLA strategic roads. I do not know whether that is any guidance to the noble Viscount, but I hope that he would recognise that that is as far as I can go tonight. We will consider the issue farther over the summer.

Lord Bowness

Perhaps I could ask the Minister to recognise, when he considers the issue further over the summer, that he has just articulated the problem. One cannot address it without a detailed analysis of every road junction. The fear is that what will happen is that a blanket, overall policy will be applied that will affect every junction whether it is relevant or not. That is one of the problems that will lead to untold delay in the two-tier highway system that the Bill will establish.

The problem goes further than the City of London. When we come to later clauses, the whole question of highway authorities for non-GLA roads taking decisions that, in the words of the Bill, "may affect" GLA roads will have to be considered carefully. We will have to be much more specific than we have been so far this afternoon on the question of the City's roads.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have supported the amendment: it was more successful than I thought it would be and we have widened the debate. I had intended to keep the ring of steel argument for the next group. I do not know whether I am right to do that, and perhaps I should have paid more attention to the management of the groupings. In view of that, I might drop Amendment No. 296AA because we have covered it in such detail.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin talked about the extension of GLA roads. I also intended to speak to Amendments Nos. 296CB and 296AC. which would cover that point.

My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked who was the highways authority, and that is a very good question. I have an interest to declare, because I am president of the Heavy Transport Association. One of the association's problems is that it has to notify the highways authorities when it wants to move something and it is often difficult to find out who the highways authority is. That can apply especially if the load will cross a design, build, finance and operate motorway and it is not known whether the bridge belongs to the DBFO operator or to the local county council.

The Minister said that only one GLA road crosses the ring of steel. However, GLA roads can be designated in the future, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin mentioned red routes, so the problem could expand in the future.

I am grateful to hear that the Minister will reconsider the issue over the summer. I accept that the amendment as drafted might not be perfect and I am sure that we shall return to the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 296A not moved.]

Clause 206 agreed to.

Clause 207 [Designation of first GLA roads]:

[Amendments Nos. 296AA and 296AB not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 296AC:

Page 110, line 14, at end insert— ("() An order under this section may be made solely in respect of a road which is considered in itself and on its own merits to be of strategic importance in determining an integrated transport policy for Greater London. () In making an order under this section, the boundary of any road to be designated as a GLA road shall lie at the edge of the carriageway and shall not extend to any side roads connecting with the road in question and neither shall this section confer any authority on Transport for London over the facia of or any fixtures to any building or structure in the vicinity of any GLA road. "").

The noble Earl said: Clause 207 inserts a new Section 14A into the Highways Act 1980 to define a GLA road. The amendment picks up on a suggestion by the Association of London Government that the boundaries of GLA roads should be clarified, and would make it clear that the boundaries would not extend to side roads. They would be confined to the roads themselves. That issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Jenkin.

The amendment also provides a definition of what a GLA road is supposed to be. When TfL got a road, it would be simpler if it also got the bridge underneath it. I appreciate that some bridges are not owned by boroughs, but belong to other organisations such as Railtrack.

Lord Tope

I am very glad that the noble Lord moved this amendment, because it is worthy of a slightly wider debate than we had just now, with particular reference to the City of London and the possible problems. All of us hope and believe that the mayor and the London boroughs will work co-operatively together, and we are all realistic enough to know that there are some policy areas that are likely to be more sensitive than others. Planning is an obvious example. However, as far as all London boroughs are concerned, this issue is probably the most sensitive of them all.

As I understand it, as the Bill is currently drafted, the mayor will have responsibility for what are known as side road returns. They may extend as little as 10 metres down a side road to as much as 100 metres, perhaps more. Whichever they are, I believe—with some experience—that they are likely to be the greatest and most common cause of conflict between London boroughs and the mayor, and the greatest cause of confusion among the public.

In his previous reply, I understood the Minister to say that the Government have recognised that it is a controversial issue. I am not surprised to hear that. I speak as vice chair of the Association of London Government. For some months we have sought to convince Ministers that it is an area of considerable concern, although it received no attention in another place. If the Minister is to consider this further over the summer, and continues with the useful discussions held to date, I am sure that that will be extremely useful.

First, we need clarity not only for the highway authorities, but for the public. If the mayor has responsibility for a side road return, the mayor also has responsibility for all the related matters—broken lamp-posts, broken paving stones, possibly planning applications, and so on. It gets very difficult. I have not understood why London, uniquely I think, has side road returns whereas I understand that elsewhere in the country the boundary in such matters rests at the edge of the carriageway of the strategic road, as is suggested in the amendment. That seems so sensible and obvious that, despite discussions with the Minister, I have not understood why it is taking so many months to get even as far as an assurance from the Minister that he will consider the issue. Perhaps I may urge him to do so, and favourably, in the interests of public clarity and considerably less bureaucracy and administrative inefficiency.

I support most strongly the intention of the amendment and urge the Minister to give it most favourable consideration over the summer.

Lord Bowness

I support the amendment and the arguments adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I do not propose to repeat them. However, the clarity sought is vital in this issue. If there is a planning application, where one has a relatively average property abutting a road return, to which authority will a mundane planning application be referred for statutory highway purpose consultations? The fear is that it will not be referred to the London borough or the local planning authority alone but also to Transport for London as the highway authority.

These matters go much further than the apparent administrative convenience of ensuring that TfL can deal with the junctions to the side roads.

Lord Jenkin of Boding

My noble friend Lord Bowness has made the speech that I would have made. I add only one point. If there were one single issue that caused the maximum ill will between the London boroughs and the GLC it was the overlapping planning powers that had grown up over the years between those two tiers of the authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, used the phrase "may even" extend to planning applications. The most serious aspect is the impact that the measure will have on planning applications on these road returns for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Bowness explained eloquently.

During their further consideration, I urge the Government to recognise that if they do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, this clause must be amended.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

Over the past few weeks, I have received several documents from councils in which one sentiment is repeated again and again. If the Minister is to consider the matter over the summer, perhaps he will consider this one sentence: that a continuing lack of clarity makes us wonder what is actually going to happen. After the Minister has considered the issue over the summer, perhaps the local councils will then be able to say: "I know exactly what is going to happen and I understand".

Lord Whitty

We understand the concerns to which the noble Lord, Lord Archer, refers. We shall be considering the matter over the summer. I do not believe that some of the implications are as wide ranging as has been suggested. Nevertheless there are serious concerns. My colleague, Glenda Jackson, will discuss the matter with the ALG. A meeting to discuss this issue is arranged for, I think, 12th July. It is to be hoped that we can obtain greater clarity, as the noble Lord, Lord Archer, requests.

We did not envisage this as the great problem suggested in this House and by some of the boroughs. We had some experience on the red route designation for side roads. It may be that that raised more complex issues. Nevertheless, we believe that the matter can be sorted out with the London boroughs. There is no blanket-imposed solution, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, suggested in an earlier intervention. We are looking again at the issue over the summer. We shall do so in conjunction with the London boroughs. I hope that at this stage the noble Earl will withdraw the amendment.

Earl Attlee

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to the possibility of confusion and disagreement between authorities. I am sure that the Minister will not want that. The Minister said that he will give the issue careful consideration over the summer. He also said—I am relieved to hear it—that Ms Glenda Jackson will also consult the ALG over the summer. We shall return to the issue at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 207 agreed to.

Clause 208 [Orders by the Authority changing what are GLA roads]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 296B: Page 110, line 17. after ("London") insert ("and the London Assembly").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendment No. 296C, which seeks to achieve the same purpose: to give the assembly, in addition to the mayor, the duty to keep the highway system in London under review. It is an important issue. The highway network in London will be one of the major issues of public interest and concern; and therefore of interest and concern not only to the mayor, quite properly, but also the assembly.

I understand, I think as well as most, the separation of powers and the scrutiny role of the assembly. The assembly will not be able to carry out effectively its scrutiny role in relation to the highway system unless it is keeping it properly and effectively under review. Therefore it will be as well to make it clear and explicit in the Bill by giving it a duty so to do. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Clause 208 provides that the mayor shall keep Linder review the system of roads other than trunk roads in Greater London. If he or she so decides, any borough roads in Greater London can become a GLA road; and any road can cease to be a GLA road, in both cases by order of the mayor.

The purpose of the amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, is to give this responsibility to the mayor and the assembly. We have given this important power to the mayor and only to the mayor because we see it right and proper that a new and powerfully elected mayor should be able to take an overview of London's roads and, if he or she thinks it right, take a decision to alter the existing road network. We do not believe that it is appropriate for the assembly to have a say in this. In asking the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment, perhaps I may say that the process whereby the mayor may reach such a conclusion and take a decision will be covered in the next two amendments.

Lord Tope

I am grateful to the Minister, and I am of course aware of that. I think that we have a straightforward difference of opinion about this issue—and not for the first time. I will not pursue the matter now and we shall consider it further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 296C to 296CB not moved.]

Clause 208 agreed to.

Clauses 209 and 210 agreed to.

Clause 211 [Exercise of powers so as to affect another authority's roads]:

7 p.m.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 296CC: Page 112, line 33, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (11 A) below,").

The noble Earl said: It may be convenient if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 296CD to 296CH and to Amendments Nos. 297XMA to 297XMD.

I will explain briefly the effects of each amendment. Amendment No. 296CC makes consultation unnecessary if it is irrelevant. For instance, the impact on traffic safety of a road crossover footbridge might not be relevant to a GLA main road. However, it would of course be relevant locally in the borough. The Committee needs to know where the need to consult will stop.

Amendment No. 296CF raises the question as to how far the GLA/TfL will be able to interfere in local decisions through their control over GLA roads. Clause 212 inserts a new section into the Highways Act 1980 giving the GLA a veto over local decisions in respect of roads. Therefore, this appears to be an appropriate place to peg back GLA power by clarifying the basis upon which it can act.

Amendment No. 296CG deletes subsections (6) and (7) of the new clause to be inserted in the 1980 Act. These give TfL the power to act if a borough contravenes this clause. This is necessary because the self-help remedy is totally inappropriate. The exercise of highways powers affects third parties, particularly highway users. They should be confident that they know what they are allowed to do. We cannot have a situation whereby TfL staff remove traffic signs and the borough erects them again. If TfL considers that the provision is not being complied with, it should, if necessary, take the matter to court or to arbitration.

The other amendments in this group are similar and raise the same issue. I beg to move.

Lord Bowness

Perhaps it comes as no surprise to the Committee to learn that I rise to support this group of amendments and to express my fears about how these various clauses will work when brought into force. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding referred to the fact that one of the greatest problems under the former Greater London Council administration was the two-tier highway and planning regime. That situation led to an enormous lack of clarity, and to citizens not knowing who was responsible for what, in their eyes, were minor and local matters. That problem arose because many issues were referred to the GLC.

I am concerned about the provisions in the Bill that refer to the London borough councils not exercising any power under the Act: in a way which will affect, or be likely to affect … a GLA road … a road in another London borough". There are similar provisions regarding the workings of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. I refreshed myself about those workings earlier this afternoon in the office and I was amazed how many functions are dealt with under that Act. The Minister will no doubt be glad—as I was—that I could not find a copy of the Highways Act 1980, but it deals with a similar number of issues.

Both the Highways Act and the Road Traffic Regulation Act contain the statement: No London borough council shall exercise any power under this Act which will affect, or be likely to affect". I have no doubt that that statement will be interpreted very widely. I believe that, whatever good will may come to this legislation, those responsible will feel that it is necessary to refer to the other authority. For example, London borough councils will feel that it is necessary to ensure that their pedestrian crossings, their one-way local traffic management schemes or whatever are referred to the mayor and to the GLA in order to ensure that they do not adversely affect a Greater London Authority road. They will fear the powers in the Bill that enable the mayor and the authority to reverse the actions of London borough councils if they have not done what they are required to do in the event that their proposals affect a GLA road.

This process is extraordinarily tortuous. I understand that there must be some provision to protect the Greater London Authority roads from what might be described as the "maverick" actions of a London borough council—if there is such a thing as a maverick London borough council. However, I believe that it would be wrong to enshrine in this legislation this kind of provision that will lead inevitably to duplication and to delay.

Those who remember the time of the Greater London Council will recall that it might have taken two years to establish a pedestrian crossing in a relatively minor street. Members will remember that it took a similar amount of time to lay a few yards of yellow paint to make some road safety provision. Signs—which were commonsense provisions in the eyes of the public—could not be erected without referring to somebody else. The truth of the matter is that, when such things start to be referred, they are referred in profusion. To protect the position, queries and objections are inevitably raised while further investigations are made. That is when the delays set in.

I ask the Minister to re-examine these provisions during the summer. He kindly said that he would consider the provisions that we discussed relating to the City and how far around side turnings the writ of the GLA should go. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, if the public are frustrated with the operation of the GLA, it will do no one any good. We do not want to live in the past, but we must remember the mistakes of the past. This kind of duplication, delay and lack of clarity led to the unpopularity of the former Greater London Council. That sort of thing was much more responsible for its unpopularity than some of its more exotic policies. Businesses and residents became disenchanted with the GLC when they realised that totally local matters were being referred to the county authority.

These clauses contain a recipe for that to happen again. I ask the noble Lord to reconsider the matter during the summer to see how it can be clarified and simplified.

Lord Tope

I support the pleas from the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, who speaks with 30 years' experience as a London borough councillor—and, for most of that time, he was a very distinguished leader of that council and of London borough government. I speak with a mere 12 years' experience as an Opposition leader at the time of the GLC and as a London Borough councillor in the 13 years since then. The noble Lord and I adopted very different views about what should have been the future of the GLC—and I suspect that that is still the case. However, I recognise absolutely the horror stories that he has told of the borough councils' relationship with the GLC regarding matters such as this.

I am sure that the Minister will say to us, and with justification, that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, is not understating his case and that we will not replicate the horrors that all of us in London experienced under the GLC. I hope that it will be the case with the mayor and the London boroughs. If we do we shall have failed massively. All this points to the same issue we raised in connection with side road returns; we need greater clarity about where responsibility lies.

While not necessarily speaking in such extreme terms as my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, I support at least as strongly his plea to the Minister to consider the issue carefully during the summer. If, as I suspect, he rejects this amendment, I urge him to bring back amendments at the Report stage which will provide for much greater clarity or—and I repeat earlier warnings—the issue will be the source of the greatest conflict between the mayor and the London boroughs. We all want to avoid that conflict and at this stage we can largely do so.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I wonder whether the noble Lord would support what might be called "direct action" in pursuing the noble Lord's proposal? Some years ago I was a member of a parish council which decided to move a bus stop as a result of the danger involved. The people in the village wanted it so. We applied to change it and discovered that we needed the permission of the district council, the county council and the transport authority. The procedure went on for months and months. So one night, two of us got up, dug it up and changed it and we heard no more about it!

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I am tempted to follow the noble Lord's great initiative. However, I want to say only that on Second Reading I joined others in supporting the structure if the assembly consisted of representatives of the London boroughs. It is on precisely such an issue that there will be no constraint on what the mayor does from an elected assembly. If the assembly had consisted of borough representatives, I suspect that many of the fears voiced tonight might have been much fewer. However, that is water under the bridge and it i s clear that we shall not achieve that. Therefore, I join in the plea to the Minister, in so far as it lies within human power, to bring clarity and avoid the bureaucratic nonsense which so disfigured the earlier regime.

Lord Tope

My response to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, is that whatever might have been possible or appropriate in a parish area, I view with horror bus stops all over London being moved overnight and the chaos that would be caused. Far be it from me as a London borough councillor to support such action on the record; I would rather have the clarity which made it unnecessary.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I do not want to reopen the issue, but I disagree that a gathering of borough council representatives would sort out such issues. He has given a better illustration than many of why that would be inappropriate. The role for the Greater London Authority is strategic. 'The issues we are discussing here are not strategic in which case they should be clearly and wholly the responsibility of the particular London borough councils. They do not need to meet in an assembly; they deal with it on their own. That is the clarity we seek in the Bill.

Lord Whitty

While it is true that I have expressed some sympathy with the need for us to reconsider certain areas of the Bill, I do not feel the same sympathy for these amendments, certainly as expressed tonight. I would not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in accusing the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, of being an extremist—

Lord Bowness

He said I exaggerated, and I plead guilty to that.

Lord Whitty

I do not accuse anyone of being extremist. I have never accused my noble friend Lord Dormand but now I begin to wonder. However, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and others are exaggerating the problem. We are not talking about a two-tier structure. We are not replicating the problems which I acknowledge existed in the days of the GLC. We are talking about how a borough carrying out works on its roads which are likely to affect a GLA road or the road of another borough should notify the GLA and the other borough.

I cannot see the objection to that. Are Members of the Committee suggesting that boroughs should not notify the GLA or other boroughs when they are undertaking work which affects other authorities' roads? It is bizarre that people have become worked up to such an extent about this mechanism. After all, the provisions are modelled on arrangements with which people are familiar—the arrangements for designated roads and priority route. The concept of "affect or likely to affect" is well established. Indeed, in August 1992 the traffic director for London issued guidelines to all chief executives and borough engineers about the practical arrangements for notification of highways and traffic proposals. That situation already exists and when the mayor is in place he will be able to issue guidance on the operation of the provisions. If modifications are required, they will take place under the guidance. For example, some clauses would allow for minor or emergency use of highway or traffic powers to be excluded from the requirement for consultation.

The amendments seek to change the formulation which has stood the test of time. It is not an innovation or a reinvention of the GLC. We do not believe that any of these changes are necessary or desirable. Indeed, they could be counter-productive to the whole spirit of the GLA and TfL operating in conjunction with the London boroughs. If I have missed something, no doubt Members of the Committee will tell me now or at a later stage, but I believe that the amendment could be counter-productive and that we should keep the formulation as it is. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My noble friend Lord Bowness and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to the problems with the old GLC. Fortunately, those problems occurred well before my time. They referred to problems which inevitably lead to duplication and delay on minor matters. Unless we keep the GLA as a strategic authority, we could fall into the same trap. I am not sure that we could draft an amendment to follow the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. If we could, I am sure that the Clerks would advise against tabling it. We may return to the issue at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 296CD to 296D not moved.]

Clause 211 agreed to.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare moved Amendment No. 297: After Clause 211, insert the following new clause—


(" . The Secretary of State may by regulations make provisions for and in connection with the establishment and operation by or on behalf of—

  1. (a) the Authority,
  2. (b) any London borough council, or
  3. (c) the Common Council,
of schemes for imposing charges on undertakers of street works in Greater London.").

The noble Lord said: I have tabled the amendment because I worry that if for political reasons a mayor were elected who did not want to introduce a road tax, or any form of it, he would have little opportunity to raise money and do many of the things a mayor might want to do in the city simply because he was restricted to the £3.4 billion, which is currently his budget, 95 per cent of which will be accounted for on the first day.

One of the many things that annoys Londoners—and I do not suspect that the rest of Britain is any different—is continually to pass holes in the road and see no one working on them. In any one day now, I have fun travelling through London and counting how many holes I can see. On average, it is 14 and, if you are lucky, two of them are being worked on. There is one famous one outside LWT which has half-a-dozen cones around it. It only stretches into the road 2 feet and 3 inches but, every morning and every evening, the traffic is held up because vehicles have to stop to let each other pass. That hole is remarkable because I have never seen anyone working on it. We are now investigating who is not working on it. If that were not funny, it would be tragic.

Then there is the situation where people ask, "Do you know they are digging the same hole again? Three months ago, they told us it was for the electricity. Now it is cable television and, in six months' time, they will tell us it is for the gas. Does it not seem simple that they might ring each other up and all agree to dig the same hole at the same time?" "No", is the answer. They are all running their own private lives. They are not going to bother to ring anyone else up. There are holes being dug in the road on one side of the Thames. And if you cross the river, there are holes being dug on the other side. They do not even talk to each other on both sides of the Thames.

I have a simple solution for the Minister, a practical man who, I know, would like the mayor to be able to capture money from these people without having to bother the voters. Would that not be wonderful? I suggest that we tax these blighters per cone per foot. Then they will start ringing each other up. I suggest to the Minister that they will be on the phone to each other all the time saying, "Are you digging a hole to lay your television cable next week because we are digging a hole to put the gas in?" "No, I am filling in another hole where we put in the electricity." If I, or any candidate, or any human being, going for this job were able to say, "I am going to charge them per foot per cone," I do not think you would find many people objecting, whereas the Minister well knows how many people are complaining about the road tax.

Of course, the chairman of BT, the chairman of British Gas, the chairmen of the electricity companies and the chairmen of cable television companies may ring to complain. That is fine. Half-a-dozen of them will be complaining. I have no problem with that at all. I realise that the Minister will not be able to take my actual wording, but I hope he will be able to return in the summer with his own wonderful clause, his own amendment.

I agree very much with President Truman's attitude to these things; namely, that it is amazing what you can get done if other people take the praise. So I say to the Minister that it can be his clause and he can take the praise. I simply want it to be included in the Bill. The Minister is a man who understands how the other place works, and he will have noticed that there was a Bill in the other place to do just this. He will have seen that the Bill failed. He will have seen that the Member who brought forward the Bill made it absolutely clear that the Government approved of it. I would be surprised if the Minister were not able to leap up and say, "This is wonderful, we shall accept this amendment." New York has eight ways of raising tax; this Bill has only three. I say that if anyone who wanted to be mayor removed those three, at least this provision would still exist to bring in the money.

I ask the Minister to take the matter very seriously. I accept that the amendment will not be accepted today. I accept that the Minister will be unable to rise to the Dispatch Box and please me with this small pleasure. But I hope he will be able to rise to the Dispatch Box and say, "We agree and we shall return with an amendment at a later stage." I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

That was a most interesting prefiguration of what the mayor might or might not do in certain circumstances. The assumption that mayors would not be willing to use the powers contained in the Bill to raise taxes for congestion charging or levies on workplace parking is one we are all noting with interest. However, it is impossible not to have some sympathy with the main thrust of the amendment.

When I lived in Richmond, my husband and I decided that the King's Road was the trial area where people were taught how to dig holes and how to fill them in again. In the 10 years or so that we commuted into London, not daily but on a fairly frequent basis, never was there a time when there was not a hole in the King's Road. We thought it was the classroom for undertakers to teach their lads how to dig a hole and fill it in again.

An interesting idea would be to have something approximating to the lane rental charge now levied on people who undertake work on the motorway. I think it could be argued that obstructions on London roads are quite as serious in their effect as obstructions on the motorway. If those mending the roads take longer that they should, they should pay a form of damages to the Highways Agency. That idea perhaps has some merit.

We want people to dig holes only when they really need to; when they are acting in co-operation with each other and with the Highways Agency, and for the minimum amount of time. Nothing is more irritating than to see small amounts of work being done on one day, nothing being done on the next day and then, five days later, they are back again. Meanwhile, the traffic has been held up in the rush hour. There is a place not two miles from here where that is happening at this very moment.

I am a little reluctant to accept what the noble Lord, Lord Archer, says in relation to the role of mayor, but what he has to say in relation to the cost of digging holes in the road has some merit.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I support strongly the principle behind the amendment. We have had so much legislation over the years, each time trying to control the utilities. Of course, they always have the let-out that it is an emergency and therefore they can dig any hole anywhere and at any time without consulting any other utility. The amendment would be a good thing.

The charge might help to bring about some changes. In the United States they resurface a whole road overnight. I saw that in Boston. It is certainly time that there was an incentive for people to invest in more expensive machinery so that work on roads could be completed more quickly. A charging system such as that proposed would create such an incentive.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

We all have great sympathy for the amendment of my noble friend and we all have our own personal experiences of holes in the road. I am somewhat embarrassed by this amendment because the very last piece of legislation I took through this House as a Minister back in 1992 was something called the New Roads and Street Works Act. Part of that Act was intended to cure all the ills of the old Public Utilities Streetworks Act of 1950. Clearly, it has had absolutely no effect whatever, which is most unfortunate. It was the only Act with which I was involved to have befallen that fate. Therefore I was very pleased when, earlier this year, my honourable friend, Mr Christopher Fraser, in another place introduced a Bill to which my noble friend Lord Archer has referred which was going to put this right. My honourable friend was most encouraged that the then transport Minister, Mr John Reid, said that he entirely supported the thrust of the Bill and was willing to hammer out the small print.

Now, according to the Evening Standard: Ministers scupper Bill to end 'hole in road' misery". The reason quoted in the Evening Standard for their having done that is that it is said that Treasury officials are unhappy at the prospect of revenue from fines going back to local councils rather than into central government coffers.

We are about to deal with hypothecation in relation to road user charges and non-residential parking charges. Yet here we have the very same Treasury scuppering that Private Member's Bill because it is frightened that the money will go to local councils or, in the case of this Bill, to the GLA and the mayor rather than into central government coffers.

I hope that the Minister will give us a good explanation as to why that Private Member's Bill has been scuppered and why he can no longer support it.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I am sure that we are all deeply impressed by the bravura performance by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, who I know feels deeply about this issue and reflects the views of many drivers and pedestrians throughout London and many other cities in this country. I accept the mea culpa of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, that the New Roads and Street Works Act has not been entirely successful in that respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, was so impressive that for a moment I thought he was auditioning for the Heineken advertisement on that subject, with which Members of the Committee will be familiar, if he is not auditioning for something else entirely. That became apparent when he explained at the beginning of his remarks the real purpose of the amendment; namely, to raise money which he does not wish to raise through road user charging. That is an interesting indication. I have no doubt that that will feature in future debates which are held more widely than in this Chamber.

As regards the current legislation, the Government have issued codes of practice under the street works Act and are now looking at a pilot project to be run by the Traffic Director for London for an area-wide database in east London—in the vicinity of the Millennium Dome—which will explore the possibility of bringing together all those aspects of information and better provision for the utilities and others which are involved to avoid the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Archer, and others have mentioned.

As regards the Fraser Bill in another place, it is true that my right honourable friend John Reid expressed general sympathy for that provision, but in its existing form it would have pre-empted what we intend to do now; namely, to consult widely on how we can introduce a scheme which will apply not just to London and the GLA roads in London. We shall consult on options for an incentive scheme with penalties to minimise disruption and encourage the co-ordination of street works, as we promised in the White Paper. We intend to undertake that consultation shortly. London will be included within the scope of that consultation. We shall need to consider all the responses.

The promised consultation will seek to clarify the practicability of charging, the best type of scheme, if we decide to go ahead with charging, and whether to use the existing provision or to opt for a solution which would allow charging from the very first day of the works, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Archer, seeks.

Therefore, there is no point in introducing a new regulatory power which would largely duplicate the existing provision in Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 before we have consulted on how to proceed more generally. We need a national provision. London is not alone in suffering from such disruption. If consultation reveals that there are specific problems within London or on GLA roads within London, the 1991 Act already provides that there can be different rates of charges according to the place and time at which the works are executed. Therefore, we already have powers to differentiate. We need to assess how such a scheme would work. We need to consult not only with road users and the utilities but also more widely. We are about to issue a consultative document on that. Therefore, we intend to introduce the powers which the noble Lord seeks for London for the country as a whole. In so far as London is different, current provision would be able to meet the specific needs of London. Therefore, in one way or another, the noble Lord will achieve part of what he seeks, and I ask him to be patient.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Is "the country as a whole" England?

Lord Whitty

In relation to the probable legislation, the country as a whole would be England. However, I should not be surprised if the Welsh Assembly and Scottish executive took similar powers.

Lord Elton

Is the noble Lord saying that the amendment now on the Marshalled List would add nothing to what is available already under existing legislation, or is he saying that we should wait to add whatever may be necessary until the rest of England is ready to benefit from new legislation? I do not believe that many Londoners would be impressed by the idea that we should wait for main programme time to be available for future legislation for the whole of England if the opportunity now exists to provide this sensible provision for London.

Lord Whitty

I am saying that the provisions of this amendment would not enhance substantially the provisions in existing legislation, as the noble Lord's speech suggests they would. Therefore, there may be better ways in which to enhance them which could apply nationally but which could, in any event, be applied differentially to London. Therefore, we should wait for that at least so that we have a scheme which is likely to work. It is not clear that the scheme as proposed by the amendment would work. It certainly needs to be tested by those who must operate it.

Lord Elton

Will the Minister elaborate on the word "substantially"? He said that this will not add "substantially". If the amendment would enable a scheme to be introduced next year which would unblock the potholed surface of the King's Road, for example, then it is "substantial". The amount on paper may be small but the amount in effect would be considerable. I shall not delay the Committee any further but I should like an answer to that.

Lord Whitty

As regards the pothole in the King's Road, that road is in the London Borough of Kensington. I am not entirely sure that that would be affected by the noble Lord's amendment. We are talking about the strategic roadworks in London. I do not believe that the King's Road would benefit. We are looking to introduce a national scheme which will benefit the roads of all local authorities, including the GLA and TfL roads, and not simply GLA roads within London.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

That is a wonderfully ingenious scheme. I was wondering how the noble Lord would reply to my amendment. Where will the money be going? Will it be going to the Treasury or, in the case of London, will it be going to the mayor?

Lord Whitty

The noble Lord may have put his finger on a very important point. That is what I thought lay behind his initial intervention. Under the legislation taken through the House by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, the money would not go to the local authorities. Therefore, using the existing regulatory power, the money would go to the taxpayer, I would prefer to say, rather than the Treasury.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

I put it to the Committee that the Minister has simply stolen my idea, moved it to the whole country and, in addition, has stolen the money. I should tell the Minister that I am not going to bring forward any more ideas for fear that this Government will simply steal them.

The Minister has come to the Committee and delighted us by saying that he has understood the idea and that he is going to go ahead with it. That is robbery of the highest order. Today I shall withdraw my amendment. But, be assured, I intend to table it again on Report and if I fail then I shall go on and on until people realise that the Minister has, yet again, stolen great ideas from the Conservative Party. No doubt, as the next two years proceed and the Government are faced with an election, such an occurrence will become more common. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume. I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.40 p.m.

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

House resumed.