HL Deb 29 May 2002 vol 635 cc1343-6
Lord Renton of Mount Harry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the speed at which traffic is moving in London is satisfactory.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, the Government recognise that London has traffic flow problems. However, it is the responsibility of the Mayor of London and Transport for London to deliver improvements. The mayor's traffic management plans are outlined in his transport strategy, which he published last summer.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Surely the Government cannot pass the buck entirely to the Mayor of London; the Government must take basic responsibility. Does he agree that no congestion policy is ever going to succeed, not even a congestion charge of £5 per day, unless there is adequate public transport? Can we have an assurance from the Government that, by next February when the congestion charge is due to come into effect, many improvements will have been made, for example, to the Underground? If not, is not Mr Livingstone likely to face the same fate as Mr Byers?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is the job of the Mayor of London to deliver improvements. To help in that, the Government's 10-year plan for transport allocates a great many resources to London, but it is for the mayor to decide on the priorities. That is made clear in statute. The mayor is making improvements in, for example, bus services. Those improvements are making a significant difference to public transport in London. Noble Lords know that the mayor has proposed a congestion charging scheme for London. It is very much his scheme rather than the Government's and therefore he must consult and form a view about it.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the measures to improve bus priority in London through the use of cameras have been or are being successful? Are plans in place to extend the facility to the rest of the country?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, progress is being made on bus lanes and the use of cameras. We shall decide later precisely what is to happen in relation to the proposal.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, are the Government aware that the chaos outside the restricted zone is going to be far greater than it is now? Do they not agree that this is too big a decision to be left to the Mayor of London? It should be taken by central government. Why are they avoiding it?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as I made clear in my original Answer, the decision in relation to congestion charges is one for the Mayor of London. Issues about the effect in relation to congestion created outside the restricted area are plainly matters for the mayor to take into account when reaching his decision.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that my noble friend has posed a serious dilemma which the Government would do well not to shirk? Is he also aware that, when he refers to the Government's transport strategy, he is wandering off into the far distant beyond, which has no meaning?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, of course one has to bear in mind what is being said in connection with issues of congestion and in connection with the improvement of public transport. Those were the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. They are matters of great importance to which the Government attach high priority. That is why a 10-year plan for transport has been put in place. It has strategic outcomes which have been set down, for example, in relation to rail services.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the most anti-motorist policy which the Government could adopt is to allow congestion to grow unchecked, and that building new roads is not a solution for any of our towns and cities? Does he recognise that great support has been achieved for the view expressed by the Commission for Integrated Transport; namely, that there will have to be congestion charging in at least 20 local authorities if we are to tackle the problem over the next 10 years?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, congestion is a very real problem. The ability to impose congestion charges is a tool given by the Government to specified regional and local authority bodies, but we have made it clear that it should be introduced only when public transport services have been improved.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, according to taxi drivers, and certainly according to my own observations, the traffic lights in London have been changed so that red lights stay red for much longer, while green lights are hardly there at all. Can the Minister say whether that is the case? Furthermore, can he tell me whether those huge pavements at the crossing at Vauxhall Bridge have improved the flow of London's traffic? To be quite honest, I am now getting road rage every day.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, perhaps I may say on behalf of the people of London that we tremble at the thought of the road rage being experienced by the noble Baroness. I can answer neither of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, but I shall write to her. I do not know whether the sequencing of London's traffic lights has been changed or what has been the effect of the new paving at Vauxhall Cross. However, I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the volume of traffic in London demonstrates a complete lack of confidence by the travelling public in London's public transport? Does he recall that during the passage through the House of the Greater London Authority Bill assurances were given that congestion charging would be introduced only if there were significant improvements in public transport? Those assurances were given by the Government and, in my opinion, they cannot be palmed off to the mayor. How has this matter been monitored?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as to the noble Baroness's first point, there are many reasons why car traffic is increasing in London, including an increase in the population and increased activity in the area. However, in many places public transport has also increased. So the first point is not as simple as the noble Baroness said.

As to her second point, I made it clear in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that congestion charges should be introduced only where there were improvements in public transport. I also made it clear that it was a matter to be decided at local level. That seems to us to be the right approach.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I had to wait 25 minutes for a bus this morning; that four of them came together; and that they found great difficulty in getting along the road because of all the amazing bits of concrete and rubbish and so on which had been planted there—I imagine by the Mayor of London? Is he further aware that those of us who travel by bus suffer from bus rage?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, most of the House seems to be in a state of incoherent rage—or coherent rage; I apologise. No, I was not aware that the noble Baroness had to wait 25 minutes for a bus this morning; no, I was not aware that four of them came along at the same time; and I am not aware of the plantations to which she referred. I shall write to her. Well, I do not think that I can write to her; there is nothing that I can say in a letter that would be of any relevance. I express my commiserations on behalf of the House for what the noble Baroness suffered this morning.

Lord Watson of Richmond

My Lords, does the Minister agree that traffic will never move faster in London until we get the railways right? I am not complaining of suffering from rail rage, but it is a fact that in many suburban stations you can now no longer miss a train because none of them arrive on time.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we have made it absolutely clear that the Government are committed to a fundamental improvement in the railways. That has been made clear in the 10-year plan. We agree that it is vitally important to make the railways right.

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