HL Deb 15 October 2002 vol 639 cc699-701

3 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

What recent discussions they have had with the Mayor of London concerning his proposals for the movement of both people and vehicles in the area within his control.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the proposals of the Mayor of London for the movement of both people and vehicles are his responsibility, not the Government's. However, Ministers have regular meetings with the Mayor at which a wide range of transport matters are discussed. The most recent of those was between the Secretary of State and the Mayor on 26th September.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I would very much like to be present at one of those meetings. Is the Minister aware that there is general surprise and disappointment that the warmth and intimacy which one would expect in relationships between Ministers and the Mayor of London seem somehow to have evaporated? Is he also aware that the present operations of the Mayor on the roads of London have had the remarkable result of increasing the congestion while at the same time the traffic has been diminishing? Not everybody could do that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall see whether I can obtain an invitation for the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, to attend the next meeting. There are of course public meetings in which the Mayor is involved and I am sure that he would be happy to invite the noble Lord to them.

Yes, I am aware because I have read today's Evening Standard and I admire the noble Lord's self-publicity in advance of his Question. Of course these matters are serious, but they are devolved to the administration of London. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, or anyone else would wish this House to become an urban district council.

Lord Winston

My Lords, is the Minister aware of evidence regarding changes to the phasing of traffic lights in London? If so, under whose authority was that done? Is he also aware that the current congestion in London has caused a huge amount of extra energy to be wasted in the form of spent fuel; a vast amount of wasted man-hours at work because people are unable to travel to their workplace; and huge pollution of London's environment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the phasing of traffic lights is a matter for the Mayor of London. I understand that he is working within guidelines, which have been accepted for many years, on the balance between pedestrians and vehicles. Of course, my noble friend's remaining comments will be communicated to the Mayor, as always.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many transport policies in Greater London have an impact on areas outside? If so, does he agree that the Greater London Authority Act gives the Secretary of State power, where the transport strategy is inconsistent with national policies and the inconsistency is detrimental to areas outside Greater London, to direct the Mayor to make revisions to his transport policies? It is hard to believe that the state of transport in London is consistent with any government objectives and it certainly affects areas outside Greater London. What action is the Secretary of State proposing to take under that section?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, about the provisions of the Greater London Authority Act. These matters are discussed between Ministers and the Mayor when they meet and they were discussed by the Secretary of State when he met Ken Livingstone and Bob Kiley on 26th September. I do not accept that we are in a position in which the "reserve powers" in the Act need to be invoked.

Lord Richard

My Lords, did I understand my noble friend to say that as regards traffic lights the Mayor is operating within well recognised guidelines? If so, and if that is what the Mayor has told the Government, my experience of driving around London is precisely the opposite. I recently found myself at a junction with the Vauxhall Bridge Road and Rochester Row where we had five seconds—five; I counted them—to get across Vauxhall Bridge Road. It was not that the traffic was moving down that road; it was stationary!

If and when these meetings take place, will my noble friend take back to the Mayor the thought that the obviously intentional way in which the congestion has been caused to London is irritating many normal, law-abiding citizens? He has gone over the top and he ought to be told so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I understand the temptation which noble Lords have to intervene in matters which have been devolved to the government of London. I share that temptation—I was chairman of the transport and planning central area board of the GLC in 1976 and I have my views, which have been boiling up inside me for 25 years. But I believe that we ought to behave as a second Chamber of Parliament and not as an urban district council. I will communicate my noble friend's views to the Mayor.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the Government's plans suggest that 20 major towns and cities will introduce congestion charges. Many of them are awaiting the results of London's introduction. Are the Government still committed to the principle of congestion charges as a way of controlling traffic?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, yes, the Government have always been supportive of congestion charges and we have been supportive of the plans for congestion charges put forward by the Mayor of London. That matter was discussed with the Secretary of State on 26th September.

Lord Lloyd-Webber

My Lords, I must—

Viscount Astor

My Lords, perhaps I may—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, has been trying to ask a question for some time.

Lord Lloyd-Webber

My Lords, I must declare an interest in that I am co-owner of 13 West End theatres. I want to bring to your Lordships' attention the mood of despair that exists in the West End, with St Martin's Lane and Charing Cross Road closed southbound and the chaos that that is inducing.

Yesterday I had lunch with the coach operators who bring people to West End theatres and learnt that several of them have permanently abandoned using London as a theatre destination. The traffic and drug problems are rendering London a no-go area for theatre-goers. Will the Government urgently address the health of London as a major capital city and world destination?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great authority and his views are taken seriously. If he would care to act as an intermediary for the coach operators and communicate with the Government and the Mayor, I have no doubt that those views will be taken extremely seriously.