HL Deb 10 July 2000 vol 615 cc25-43

  1. (" .—(1) In addition to containing the proposals and policies required by section 107 above, the local transport plan—
    1. (a) shall contain the Authority's proposals for the provision of transport which is accessible to disabled people;
    2. (b) shall specify a timetable for the implementation of the proposals contained in the transport strategy by virtue of paragraph (a) above.
  2. (2) In preparing or revising the transport strategy the Authority shall consult—
    1. (a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee; and
    2. (b) such other persons or bodies which represent the interests of disabled people as it considers appropriate to consult.").

The noble Lord said: With this, I shall speak to Amendment No. 120, which is grouped with Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. No doubt he will speak to those amendments himself.

Amendment No. 114 requires that transport plans include provisions for disabled people that are drawn up in consultation with organisation of disabled people and include an action plan for improving accessibility. The amendment is based on the provisions in Sections 142(2) and (4) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

I welcome local transport plans being placed on a statutory footing, and I see the Government's transport strategy as a considerable opportunity for local public transport to be greatly enhanced to the benefit of disabled people. Plans have a vital role to play in providing more coherent and comprehensive solutions, to create a safer street environment for disabled people and the public in general. Each local transport authority must develop and implement policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within their areas. I note that transport facilities and services include those required to meet the needs of persons living or working in the authority's area or visiting or travelling through it. It should be spelt out that "persons" should include those with disabilities.

A study by Oxford Brookes University into provisional local transport plans demonstrated a lack of awareness of the issues affecting disabled people. The solution is to address those concerns, and action in the strategy to improve accessibility. This Bill ensures that such plans are kept under review., that they shall last no longer than five years—unless a subsequent amendment from my noble friend on the Front Bench is accepted—and that they shall have regard to any guidance. When local transport plans are under consideration, I hope that the needs of disabled people will be included.

The Guidance on Provisional Local Plans was very good in requiring consultation when developing plans, as shown in Table 18, Annexe D of the guidance. There is also a proposed requirement to consult on bus strategies. Extending this requirement to consult the whole local transport plan within the Bill is, I believe, sensible. It would promote integrated transport decisions being considered through consultation.

The purpose of Amendment No. 120 is to require local authorities to have a local walking strategy as part of their local transport plan in order to ensure proper improvements to the street environment. The quality of the pedestrian environment seriously affects disabled people's independent mobility and their ability to reach bus services and, in some instances, train services. Disability organisations consider it vital that a walking strategy is required to ensure access within the pedestrian environment. Requiring a local walking strategy would help ensure the implementation of Encouraging Walking—the Government's strategy to address the decline in walking. It would also help families with small children and elderly people who may be rather slow but not disabled. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I attached my name to this amendment for the simple reason that it seemed a reasonable provision to have on the face of the Bill and one that could help the Bill to succeed in its aims. The disabled have increasingly been brought into the planning of all services; and quite rightly so. Unless you think about these issues first, you sometimes end up with many more problems. It is infinitely more difficult to remove a set of steps that you are using than to have a ramp put in beside them in the first place.

Amendment No. 120 proposes a local walking strategy. I believe this would be beneficial. It is also important that the elderly and those with movement problems should be brought into consideration. The same safeguards apply in this respect. If we have a strategy for the disabled that has little breaks in it, we might as well not have a such a strategy at all. It means that there could be two types of public transport by which people think they can get around but then they hit something that is in the way; indeed, steps are a classic example. There is also the situation where people are moving along very crowded pavements that may have broken surfaces. Unless we bring all these considerations together, everyone will suffer. I hope that the Government will consider these amendments sincerely because they address one basic fact: if we do not consider all these issues as a whole and take into account all the people who will use the pedestrian environment, we shall not achieve very much.

Baroness Wilkins

I should like briefly to express my support for the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and for the other amendments in the group. Accessible transport is the single most important issue to ensure the integration of disabled people and in order to change attitudes towards them. Without this, disabled people are truly trapped in their homes; they are invisible. They then become dependent on services that they could otherwise provide for themselves.

Accessible transport is the most dominant issue in any meeting of local disabled people. It is an issue that seems to overwhelm any such meeting. Unless local authorities are actually required to provide accessible transport and it is spelt out in the Bill, they will not do so. I beg the Committee to support these amendments.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

It goes without saying that I support the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Addington. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my own amendments, Amendments Nos. 156 and 157, have been included in this grouping. Again, I believe that my amendments are fairly self-explanatory. They make sense and would provide a perfectly adequate addition to the Bill. I look forward to hearing the Minister telling me that he is totally in favour of what my amendments would achieve but that he does not think that this is the way to achieve it.

The Minister may also say that there is no need to add to this already long Bill by inserting such provisions that will, by some mysterious process, happen in any event without being placed in the legislation. We are all in favour of integration strategies; indeed, as I understand it, that is one of the purposes of the Bill. I very much look forward to listening to the way that the noble Lord will choose to reject my amendments.

Lord Berkeley

I should like briefly to support Amendment No. 120. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, mentioned the size of the Bill, but I should point out that this Bill is smaller than the GLA Act. Section 141(1) of that Act requires the mayor to develop and implement policies, for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities", which include walking and services for pedestrians. I hope that that is helpful to our debate.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

Perhaps I could put forward in a slightly more sophisticated way the argument in respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, pre-empted me. When we are legislating, we do not repeat legislation that is provided elsewhere in the Bill or in other legislation. The issues that have been raised in this debate, especially those relating to the disabled, are well taken by the Government. We broadly agree with them. This Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that all members of society should have the opportunity for independent travel and mobility.

Clause 111(2) makes it absolutely clear that in preparing their local transport plan authorities, must have regard to the transport needs of persons who are elderly or have mobility problems". Therefore, that provision is already clear. It is also not appropriate in legislation to provide for the detailed prescription that is better dealt with in guidance. Our guidance to local authorities is equally clear: local authorities and transport operators will have to consider the needs of disabled people from the start to the finish of their journeys.

Moreover, there are already statutory requirements in separate legislation to be observed in respect of accessible transport. New transport vehicles will need to meet detailed technical specifications set out in the regulations under the Disability Discrimination Act. That legislation will also require those involved in the provision of goods, facilities and services to the public to make their services accessible to disabled people. From October 1999, such providers have been required to make reasonable adjustments to their policies that exclude disabled people and provide auxiliary aids and services to facilitate access. From 2004, where there is still a physical barrier to service, service providers will have to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or avoid it.

All those requirements apply to local authorities and transport operators. They therefore apply in relation to local transport plans. We do not need a further prescriptive provision in this legislation. However, that is not to deny that we have total sympathy with the points made by noble Lords in this debate. Such issues are already covered both here and elsewhere in legislation; and, indeed, in separate guidance.

I turn now to the issue of integration, which is the focus of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Integration is central to the whole process of the local transport plan. It is not just integration between modes of transport in terms of interchangeability but in terms of the whole approach. We do not require a further provision on the face of the Bill to ensure that local transport plans deal with such issues in an integrated way.

Similarly, that applies to Amendment No. 120, which relates to walking strategies. A strategy for pedestrians, which, after all, is a pretty common mode of transport, needs to be covered. Indeed, there is a reference to pedestrians under Clause 107(2), which already makes it clear that transport facilities and services to be covered by local transport plans must include services and facilities for pedestrians. We do not, however, require a separate measure spelt out on the face of the Bill for all the different elements of the strategy which local transport plans need to provide.

However, the Bill requires the inclusion of a bus strategy within a local transport plan. The reason the bus strategy is given particular prominence in the Bill is that we need to alter an existing regulatory framework and provide the basic framework for the exercise of the new bus powers. But the bus strategy would be only one of a number of different strategies, some of which require legislative change; most of which do not. Local transport plans will, for example, include cycling as well as walking. They will include measures on street design, which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, mentioned. They will include parking strategies, and strategies on mobility, transport information, road maintenance and bridge strengthening.

Statutory provisions already exist; we do not need to repeat them in the Bill. That is why we have the power to issue guidance to pull all those measures together. However, we do not need any additional powers. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, referred to the length of the Bill. I do not think it sensible to agree to additional powers or additional prescription in this section of the Bill.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I have some sympathy—at least, I think that I do—with the noble Lord when he says that there is already sufficient provision elsewhere in the law to cover the needs of disabled people. However, if one accepts that, surely the noble Lord must accept that there is some onus on the department and on the Government to explain why the law is not better enforced. If the young, fit and able start to clamber about on buses, they are quite likely to suffer a mishap; and for the old and the disabled, buses present considerable difficulties.

I believe that the noble Lord said that something needed to be done about buses in this regard because they comprise an existing regulatory framework. That is awful language; I hope that the noble Lord will talk in rather more "human" language. However, I make the serious point that I hope that the constantly reiterated complaints made by and on behalf of disabled people—that they are treated miserably in terms of their local transport needs—will not obtain the response that the law already makes adequate provision in that regard. There probably is such provision, but what is miserably inadequate is the enforcement of that law.

This world is crammed full, like cans of sardines, with good intentions but, too often, they get absolutely nowhere. I hope that the noble Lord will stir up his department and the new authorities not merely into making plans—anyone can make plans—but into ensuring that those plans contain the appropriate provisions and are enforced. It is no good simply saying, "We have already done that", because it is not working.

Lord Whitty

I largely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, said with regard to the disabled. I am not saying that we do not need any provisions for the disabled in the Bill; we have such provisions. There is a clear requirement on local authorities in drawing up their plans to have regard to the needs of the disabled. As regards existing legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act was enacted fairly recently and is being phased in. Therefore, its full effects have not yet been felt. However, it has resulted in changes to facilities such as vehicles, bus stops and access to the Underground, and to information to accommodate the disabled. Those provisions already exist. We want local authorities to introduce those changes more rapidly, if possible, to the benefit of the disabled. However, as I say, we do not need more powers or more prescription on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I am rather intrigued by the wording in this Bill and by that in the Greater London Authority Act. I take on board what the noble Lord said earlier, but I think that I am right in saying that the requirement on the mayor to provide transport which is accessible to persons with mobility problems was included in the GLA Act as a result of pressure that was brought to bear in Parliament. Rather than endlessly arguing about this matter and then pressing it to a Division, it may be less time consuming to admit now that the needs of people with mobility problems may be mentioned in guidance but that they are not included on the face of the Bill. We may have to return constantly to these important matters because of that omission. I believe that if we included the words "accessible transport", we may be able to satisfy the legitimate demands and worries of people with mobility problems. A measure that is included on the face of the Bill is permanent as opposed to impermanent or temporary.

Lord Whitty

I hope that I may correct one point that the noble Baroness made. The equivalent requirement to the GLA Act requirement on the mayor in this regard—the noble Baroness rightly said that that measure arose as a result of pressure that was brought to bear in Parliament—is included in Clause 111(2), which states that, a local transport authority must have regard to the transport needs of persons who are elderly or have mobility problems". Therefore, there is no difference in that regard between this Bill and the GLA Act.

Lord Howie of Troon

We have every sympathy with the disabled but we must be realistic. I am not disabled in the ordinary sense of the word, apart from having a second-class mind.

Noble Lords

Oh no!

Lord Howie of Troon

I have a second-class mind on a good day! Also, I do not see terribly well. I see the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, relatively clearly, but I see my old friend Lord Peyton less clearly. I see the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in a blur, although he looks well! However, I say seriously that when I travel as a passenger on motorways, map reading for my "chauffeuse", Lady Howie, I find it extremely difficult to read road signs. The other day on the way to Oxford we passed Junction 8A as it was not marked on my map and I could not see the sign. We had to take the long way round which created a certain amount of domestic disharmony! However, we got over that.

I also find that, at my age and with my sight, going down stairs is difficult, especially in such places as Westminster Underground station. I realise that that is a fact of life and that I am obliged to cope with that within my limited ability. I do not expect the relevant body to make road signs all over the country large enough for me to be able to see them, although that would be a great help and would certainly please my wife; nor do I expect steps everywhere to be constructed so as to enable me to use them without difficulty. The problems of those who are more seriously disabled should of course be taken into account, but there is little point in asking for the moon. Even if the moon is made of green cheese, we cannot possibly get it.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howie, for his compliment. I also wear glasses; I need bifocals when I am working in the Chamber so that I can read my notes and see the reaction of Ministers on the Front Bench on the other side of the Chamber.

Lord Howie of Troon

Can you see me?

Lord Swinfen

I can indeed when I am wearing my glasses. But if I took them off the noble Lord would, like me, be better looking—because he would be blurred.

In his original response the Minister mentioned guidance. The Bill was considered in another place for a long time before it even reached this House. Will the noble Lord be kind enough to send me a copy of the draft guidance before the next stage of the Bill? I notice that the noble Lord is nodding his head. I am very grateful for that.

This has been a useful debate. I need to read carefully what the Minister said in his response. I am not sure at the moment whether he has been able to satisfy me; I think there should be something on the face of the Bill. However, I shall read very carefully what he said and I shall check up on the other pieces of legislation that he mentioned to make certain that I and my advisers are satisfied. Therefore, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 108 [Further provision about plans]:

[Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 117: Page 65, line 36, leave out ("five") and insert ("ten").

The noble Lord said: It is perhaps slightly unfortunate that the requirement to wear seat safety belts is not yet obligatory in this Chamber. I say that because I was inspired to table this amendment by no less a person than the Deputy Prime Minister.

I noticed that the Deputy Prime Minister had asked the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, in his capacity as Minister of Transport, to produce a 10-year plan for modernising and developing the transport system. That is a very laudable objective and it seemed to me that there was merit in the period of 10 years. Indeed, if one reads today's edition of The Times—and, I suspect, other newspapers, but I have not had time to read them all today—one sees a great announcement about a 10-year investment plan. Since we do not know what will be the final outcome of the Government's spending review, I hope that there was a clear agreement between the DETR and the Treasury before that announcement appeared in the press. All too often in the past we have seen announcements of this kind confounded by subsequent experience.

The Times reports what appears to be a huge 10-year investment programme—indeed, it is—but then one finds that the Government hope to get half of it from the private sector, which reduces it by a half; one then divides the sum by 10 and it comes back down to rather more than we are spending now but about what the previous government were spending on average year on year. So it is perhaps not quite the wonderful thing it is made out to be.

To come back to the point of the amendment, subsection (1) of Clause 108 imposes a duty to review transport plans—something we all find unexceptionable—and subsection (2) sets out the replacement time-scale, which is five years. One could perhaps accept a prejudice on the part of governments that they are infinitely wise and competent and can plan for 10 years with reasonable confidence and certainty as to what will happen over that time—except, of course, if we stop to think about it, we can have considerable confidence only that what we now think will happen over the next 10 years will be blown by the winds of time and the out-turn will be different.

The Government may feel, of course, that that can be taken into the planning. They may also feel that local authorities, being lesser mortals, can plan for only five years. I find that slightly hurtful to local authorities. There was a time when even local authorities were honoured with a 10-year planning time-scale. When the social services departments were originally set up, local authorities were invited to establish 10-year development plans for them. We know in the light of bitter experience that all too often those plans were blown adrift. It might be more honest of the Government to make the task of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, easier by inviting him to consider plans for a five-year period. They would then have a much greater degree of certainty. In any event, it seems to me that there should be a congruence between the two parts of the planning system.

When I tabled the amendment I had another, rather sneaky, thought in the hack of my mind—that is, that the Government have said that a 10-year period is the time-scale during which the hypothecation of revenues from charging for congestion or levying for licences would last. This 10-year period is being constantly mentioned and it seems to me that it could be appropriately applied to local transport plans as well. I think I have advocated sufficient reasons why we should agree to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

My Amendment No. 118 is grouped with this amendment. I am not sure why. However, for the convenience of the Committee, I should like to speak also to my Amendment No. 149, which deals with the same subject as Amendment No. 118. It will save the Committee time in the long run.

The purpose of both amendments is to ensure that, in their consultations over local plans, local authorities include and make the consultations accessible to the range of disabled people—those who are blind, deaf or with learning difficulties—for whom ordinary printed material will not be effective.

Under Clause 108(4) an authority must publish the plan or the plan as altered in such a manner as it sees fit. Under subsection (4)(c) it must supply a copy of it (or any part of it) to any person on request, either free of charge or at a charge representing no more than the cost of providing the copy. We would also expect that the provision of the information would be in the preferred format of the individual requesting it, thus ensuring that service providers meet their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Disability organisations are concerned that blind, deafblind, partially sighted people and those with learning difficulties are excluded by the requirement to consult on proposed bus strategies, quality partnership and contract schemes through publishing a note in newspapers only. That is in Clause 135. This excludes people for whom print is inaccessible. Adding a "talking newspaper" would at least ensure that blind and partially sighted people have the opportunity to be involved.

Lord Addington

My name appears on the two amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has spoken. He is right; the amendments should be taken together.

If one is trying to convey information it makes sense to ensure that everyone can understand that information. If the Government do not do that, they will be failing in their own objectives. Merely making sure that the information is available in formats other than print should not be beyond the wit of man in today's technological age.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

Before speaking to the amendment, perhaps I may comment on the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, has left his place. It was only minutes ago that he was referring—I thought with pleasure—to the fact that he could see my noble friend on the Front Bench, my noble friend Lord Swinfen who sits behind me and even myself. I am concerned lest the experience was too much for him and has caused him to withdraw. I can only hope that if he is unwell he will quickly recover.

As to my noble friend's amendment, I believe that it verges on the unkind to tempt a local authority into allowing a plan which will be imperfect from its very beginning to remain in existence and open to the public gaze for five years. In a very fast moving world, I should think that any plan of this kind would need to be given a decent burial after a minimum of five years, and probably less. Therefore, I would find it extremely difficult to go along with my noble friend.

Baroness Hamwee

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, which we support, draws attention to the importance of making all government, local and national, accessible. It raises some interesting points, not just for those who may have difficulty in reading print. All spheres of government need to think hard about how to present plans on which they want to consult. The world is changing. The use of modern technology, as well as old methods, needs to be kept under constant review. The language that we all use also needs to be kept under review. Those of us who spend too long in this Chamber trying to find the right format far "parliamentary-speak" and those in areas of government outside tend to lose sight of the fact that the language we use is not very accessible.

I turn to the amendment standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Brabazon of Tara. In proposing a period—it is a short period at that—within which local authorities must replace, not merely review, their plans, the Government are suggesting a backward step. We are now in the area of best value, rolling plans and performance plans. To propose that authorities might publish a plan, put it on the shelf and then take it down and dust it off five years later, or indeed 10 years later, is to overlook the way in which the Government would like to see local authorities conduct their business. I am sure the Minister will say to me, "That is not really what we mean. We do mean a rolling review". If that is the case, should we not say so? Should we not also remember that in requiring replacement—"replace" is the word used in Clause 108(2)—as distinct from review, we are requiring local authorities to undertake a prescriptive and probably very expensive exercise?

4.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Amendment No. 117 seeks to alter the requirement for a local transport authority to produce a five-year local transport plan to a requirement to produce a 10-year plan. Amendment No. 118–I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for explaining it—seeks to place a requirement on an authority, when asked to supply a copy of its local transport plan, to do so in the format of choice of those seeking a copy. I am sure the noble Lord will acknowledge that the amendment could be read as being the format of choice of the authority, but I am glad to know he does not actually mean that. However, I would advise the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, not to pray in aid the Deputy Prime Minister regarding the amendment. The noble Lord would do well to wait until the Government actually announce the 10-year transport plan later this month rather than rely on the latest piece of press speculation. There have been many items of press speculation. They conflict with each other. Some of them, or indeed all of them, may conflict with what actually happens.

Local transport plans are a move away from the previous annual bidding round under the transport policies and programmes—I am reminded of my time in local government—which meant that central government was often faced with making decisions on very small schemes. That wasted time and resources and meant such decisions were taken in isolation, often on purely financial grounds, rather than on the contribution such measures would make to a wider strategy. The intention is that local transport plans will change that. The system is built around five-year integrated transport programmes, devised at the local level in partnership with the community. That will provide local authorities with both more discretion and greater certainty than under the previous system.

The guidance to authorities on local transport plans makes it clear that the plans need to contain objectives; an analysis of problems and opportunities; a long-term strategy to tackle the problems and deliver the plan's objectives; a costed and affordable five-year investment programme; and a set of targets and indicators to measure performance. In setting their objectives authorities need to provide a mix of both short and long-term objectives, with short-term objectives for the five-year plans set in the context of a longer term strategy looking 15 or 20 years ahead. In that sense I suppose one could say that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is modest in its horizon in comparison with what the Government are planning. It must be, and it is, the detailed investment programme which is limited to five years.

In order to help with resource planning the Government aim to provide each authority with a firm allocation for the first year of the plan and indicative allocations for each of the subsequent years of the five-year plan. Actual allocations are dependent on the amount of resources available at the time and the performance of individual authorities in achieving their objectives and targets. However, if we moved towards 10-year plans, the level of certainty we could provide in terms of future allocations would very much diminish. It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that, even perhaps in a shorter period than five years, one could only speculate about what might happen. I think that is particularly true of years six to 10. For that reason we cannot accept the amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 118. I am sure that in drafting his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, meant that a local transport authority, when asked to provide a copy of its local transport plan, should do so in the format requested by those seeking the copy. That would ensure that the needs of those requiring copies in alternative formats such as Braille or large type were catered for. The noble Lord made that explicit in his speech. Local authorities, like other service providers, are already subject to the duties placed on them by the requirements of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act. Since October last year, service providers have been under a duty to take reasonable steps to provide auxiliary aids or services to disabled people which make it possible, or easier, for them to access the service. Advice for service providers on this and the other duties under Part III are covered in a code of practice published last year by the National Disability Council. The code explains that the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to visually impaired people could include documents in Braille or large print, on computer diskette or on audio tape. The noble Lord's amendment would duplicate the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The sentiment behind the amendment is admirable but we need to strike a balance. Already, under Clause 107(4)(c) we place a requirement on local authorities to supply copies of the local transport plan, either free of charge or at a charge representing no more than the cost of providing the copy. Crucially, authorities also have to discharge their general duties under the Disability Discrimination Act to provide information in alternative formats.

Lord Swinfen

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord to ask a question about the cost. Will a cost be imposed on disabled people who require special formats over and above the costs incurred by those who do not require those arrangements? The noble Lord may need to write to me.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I may have to write to the noble Lord, but I can assure him that provision will be made in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act on which the noble Lord is a much greater expert than I. My understanding is that the intention of the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act is that no extra costs should be incurred by disabled people for any additional services they need and with which they would be provided under the Act. If I am wrong about that, I shall of course write to the noble Lord.

Fundamentally, for the reason that the amendment would duplicate the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, will not press it.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. Of course I accept the chastisement administered by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who is in his place on the Bench behind me. He is perhaps appropriately placed to do so by reminding me—although I needed no reminder—that all too often local authority plans are blown away in the winds of time.

I cannot do anything about the Bill and the provisions that cover planning, but if it should blow away the plans made by local authorities in five years it is even more likely to blow away in the winds of time the plans of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston. We may have a little difficulty in this area.

I am grateful for the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the question of planning. The noble Baroness pointed out that local government is moving more and more towards a system of rolling planning. The procedures in the Bill will therefore prove to be somewhat rigid.

I should like to welcome back, with a little surprise, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to the Government Front Bench. I was not aware that he would be addressing us on this Bill. I am delighted to hear that his voice is now fully recovered. It is a pleasure to see him at the Dispatch Box.

I should tell the noble Lord that I would not plead in support of my case today's article in The Times from a planning point of view. My ability to plan ahead when I put down the amendment had absolutely nothing to do with that article. Although possibly able to foresee what might happen in the coming day or so, I certainly could not have foreseen the fortunate coincidence of the article appearing today.

The noble Lord spoke of costed and affordable objectives, and five-year local programmes with certainty of funding. However, he said also that the first year's allocation will be made available as the plans are set up. After that, allocations will be on an annual basis. I wonder what that means? I accept that the Government do their best to look ahead five years in their financial planning—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I believe that the words I used were that the first year's allocation would be a firm allocation and that the following years' allocations would be indicative.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Indicative allocations are just that; namely, should the Treasury change its mind, indicative allocations become a different figure. That is the bitter experience over many years of everyone who has ever been involved in local government.

We have had an interesting debate. It has revealed a number of strengths and weaknesses in the Government's position in this area. I shall study carefully what has been said, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 119: Page 66, line 14, at end insert— ("() In preparing and altering their plan, each local transport authority must ask people living or working in their area about their transport needs.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment seeks to add a new paragraph to Clause 108(4) requiring a local authority to consult on the making of its transport plan. I suspect that Amendment No. 123, which is grouped with my amendment, seeks to do the same but by slightly different and perhaps more economical means. However, I shall leave the noble Lord concerned to explain that amendment.

It is a curious fact that although, under Clause 110, consultation is required when a local authority formulates its bus strategy, no such requirement is imposed on the making of the local transport plan. The amendment attempts to correct that. I am sure that the noble Lord will tell the Committee that a great deal of consultation is already written into the guidance on this matter. However, I wish to point out that the requirement has not been written on the face of the Bill, and perhaps to a certain extent this is therefore a probing amendment.

However, the amendment is different from amendments we are tabling in a similar vein—calling for consultation—in other parts of the Bill because it addresses the issue of consulting with local people about their transport needs. When an authority is constructing its transport plan—I speak as one who has chaired the construction of a five-year review of such a plan—it is most useful to know about the needs of local people. The authority does not need to be told what is already being provided, but it needs to gather information on what people would like to see being done or what they feel they need. Various ways can be employed to accomplish such consultation. Polling is one method, but many others can be used. Indeed, I hope that my noble friend Baroness Scott of Needharn Market—I am glad to have said her name correctly; for the first five years after I came to this House, people got my name wrong—will tell us more about those methods of consultation.

The objective of the new paragraph is quite clear. I beg to move.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I am most excited about the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness. It conjures up a splendid picture of those working in local government preparing a draft of a transport plan and, in so doing, talking to local people. The noble Baroness is to be warmly congratulated on breaking such novel ground. I take great pleasure in saluting her for that. I hope that she will continue with such noble work for a long time to come.

However, I cannot resist the temptation provided by the amendment to refer to possible answers that officials might receive when talking to ordinary people about their journeys and the dispatch of their goods. Ordinary people embark on journeys, hoping to arrive at their destinations with reasonable expedition. They dispatch goods in the hope that they, too, might reach their destinations. However, what usually happens? Along the way, those people meet with interminable delays caused by the slowness of road repairs in their own areas. I wonder whether ordinary people might not in fact be shocked into silence when such questions are put to them by their own local authorities. If they answer at all, their authorities will be told to get on with their work and thus not impede people's journeys as much as they do so frequently at the moment. They may say that they are altogether fed up with the experience of roads being dug up frequently and over long periods by utility companies, which ought long ago to have learnt better and which would do well to study just the rudiments of good manners and consideration for other people.

I have long been envious. One of the great fashions of our time is the frequent leaking of letters. Never in my life had I been the recipient of a leaked letter until the other day, when someone kindly sent me a copy of a letter written by a representative of the utilities to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. I have no idea what the noble Lord's department will do with it. It expressed the hope that he or one of his minions—the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, perhaps—would take no notice of "this awful Bill" that I have launched. I have done so because the patience of ordinary people has become exhausted as a result of the dilatory tactics of utilities and highway authorities: with repairs being slowly undertaken and holes frequently left unattended over long periods of time, then forgotten about and not even filled in. I had a case the other day when those at Transco were reminded of the existence of a hole. "Oh, we haven't got one", they said. But eventually, after searching through their archaeological records, they were able to detect that they did, after all, have a hole! They said, "We're so sorry; we'd forgotten about it. We'll go and fill it in"—and surprise, surprise, they did. I merely want to place on record my deep gratification at receiving a letter for my study which was not intended for me at all. I very much hope that when Members of the Committee receive a copy of the letter they will take no notice of it and will burn it. I hope that not only will they bless my Bill during its remaining stages here, but that they will also see that it receives the blessing of another place.

5 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

There is no difficulty in finding out what people want and need and in trusting them to be able to tell the difference between the two. Over a period of time, local neighbourhood associations have grown up all over the country which are absolutely capable of obtaining local responses in a way that would not have been the case 20 or 30 years ago. I suspect that much of this is due to the rise of community politics as sponsored by the Liberal Democrat Party. It is certainly helped by Liberal- run councils, such as that in Richmond-upon-Thames, which treat as a serious business finding out what people want and need.

I have put my name to this amendment and to half a dozen others like it throughout the Bill. I shall not weary Members of the Committee or extend the Committee's work by rising to speak to every one of them. I merely register my belief, and that of my party, that consultation on local needs is vital.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 123, grouped with this one. The intention of that amendment is exactly the same, although one might have to think about it in order to see that.

Clause 110 opens with the words, In complying with section 109". Clause 109 simply deals with bus planning; Clauses 107 and 108 refer to transport planning; and Clause 110 deals with consultation. If the noble Baroness will forgive me, it is a matter of preference for the wording. Amendment No. 123 would be a tidier way of ensuring that the consultation process is applied to the whole of the transport planning process, not merely to buses. It seems to me that the case has been well made and I do not want to take up the Committee's time further on this matter.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

We on these Benches would have no problem in agreeing to that amendment. It is the issue of consultation that is important, rather than the exact wording.

I feel that over the past year or so I have been consulted to within an inch of my life on all manner of things. The problem is that the approach of all kinds of public bodies, and indeed the private sector, to consultation is bringing the process into disrepute. That is mainly because they say that they are "consulting" when they are "informing". People become irritated. They feel that even if they take the time and trouble to tick boxes and send back forms, no one will listen to what they have said, and it will make no difference anyway. Genuine consultation is quite different. We seek the Government's thoughts on how local authorities should be consulting.

At present, there is good practice in local authorities, but it is rather sparse and extremely patchy. For example, as part of the local transport planning process in my authority, we have created local action plans for all communities of over 3,000 people. These have created genuine and meaningful action plans to which people can relate, and they feel that this makes a difference to their lives. We have learnt a great deal from talking to people. It is easy to assume that we know best.

It is important to understand that local authorities are particularly well placed in this regard, through the work that they do as local education authorities or as providers of social services, and through their links with health services. Therefore, we seek a requirement for consultation on local transport plans on the face of the Bill, so that this is not merely a subject for guidance.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My hopes were raised for a moment by the opening words of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. He said that there is no difficulty nowadays in discovering what people want and need, and in being able to tell the difference. I thought that that was a plug for my trade of survey research, which has certainly shown over many years that it is possible, by suitably probing research, not merely number-crunching, to give people realistic options and alternatives, and to allow them to add to those and to respond to them in a way that corresponds to the sensible points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. Alas, the noble Lord then seemed to return to a plug for Liberal Democrat local forums; and I am much less secure about those as a method for discovering what people want and need.

Clearly, local authorities should have regard to the transport needs of people working or living in their area. Effective participation is a theme not just for transport but for the whole of the Government's policy for modern local government. The White Papers, Modern Local Government—In Touch with the People in relation to England, and Local voices—Modernising Local Government in Wales, require local authorities to make consultation part of their culture. The best value regime introduces a customer focus for the provision of local services, requiring authorities to consult and then respond to the results. But we believe that the requirements for consultation and participation in local transport plans are best dealt with by guidance rather than on the face of the Bill.

Perhaps I should explain our approach to the issue of consultation and participation in the preparation, development and implementation of local transport plans. I believe all noble Lords agree that local transport planning needs to be an inclusive process. Authorities should actively involve local people, business, transport operators, users, health and education providers and environmental organisations in drawing up their local transport plans. Full and effective public consultation and participation is an integral part of their duties under best value. We attach a high priority to effective public involvement in local transport policy, and it will be a key factor in our consideration of local transport plans.

The need for authorities to achieve effective participation is made very clear in the existing guidance on non-statutory plans. It sets out the importance of public participation in establishing a genuinely inclusive approach which is vital if authorities are to achieve the support necessary to deliver change. It recognises that local people have the knowledge and insight into existing problems and ideas for their resolution. The Commission for Integrated Transport, of which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is a member—he was the only one of the signatories to this amendment who did not speak to it—said in its report on the guidance on provisional local transport plans: The [Commission for Integrated Transport] considers that the guidance on public participation is helpful and thorough, while leaving local authorities sufficient freedom to choose the best methods". I could not have put it better myself. The commission wanted to see revised guidance to reflect the need for authorities to demonstrate public involvement during the development of the strategy within LTPs, and the onus on local authorities to demonstrate that they had successfully reached all key sections of the population and how proposals had been amended in the light of public comment. The latest guidance to local authorities in England reflects those views. The Good Practice Guide on the Development of Local Transport Plans which accompanied this guidance also includes examples of effective participation, establishing partnerships and possible tools for consultation.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am becoming slightly confused. Clause 110 deals specifically with consultation on Clause 109 which is concerned with bus plans. They are also included in the guidance and are part of the transport plan. The noble Lord said that. if the requirement for consultation was in the document there was no need for it to be on the face of the Bill. My question to the Minister is: at the next stage will he accept an amendment to remove Clause 110 altogether to make it consistent with transport planning?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I make two observations in response to the noble Lord: first, he should wait until I come to Amendment No. 123, to which I have not begun to respond; secondly, when the noble Lord reads my response and his version of it he will discover considerable differences.

Lord Dixon-Smith

As I understood it, we were discussing consultation, not one particular amendment vis à vis another.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I like to respond to amendments in the Marshalled List. I believe that that is a courtesy owed by government to those who have devised the amendments. If noble Lords want to broaden the subject matter into a general discussion of streetworks and roadworks, that is fine with me. However, it is my duty to respond to the amendments that are before the Committee. We consider that the requirements for consultation and participation are best dealt with by guidance rather than on the face of the Bill.

I turn next to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. The requirements of Clause 110 relate specifically to the development of bus strategies rather than local transport plans as a whole. They are quite practical and ensure that other local authorities, bus operators and organisations that appear to represent users are consulted on the strategy. However, for local transport plans—this is where guidance comes in—we want to see wider consultation. The effect of Amendment No. 123, taken together with the other amendments tabled by noble Lords opposite to remove the requirement for local authorities to have regard to guidance, would be to restrict the extra consultation on plans.

We recognise the need for effective consultation and participation. I am more than happy to make the commitment that future statutory guidance issued under Clause 111 will be equally clear. We intend to have effective participation in local transport plans and provide a commitment to statutory guidance to cover the issue. I suggest that that is preferable to the options offered by these two amendments.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

We have had a very full answer from the noble Lord. I look forward to reading the complete flavour of the noble Lord's response in Hansard. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 108 agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 121: After Clause 108, insert the following new clause—