§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I do so as the joint president of the Association of London Government, with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. I am delighted to see him in his place and intending to speak.
The Bill has been promoted by one borough—Westminster City Council—on behalf of all the other London boroughs and Transport for London. London local authorities have a long tradition of using their powers to promote private legislation, often because of the limited time available for public Bills. 1144 This Bill follows squarely in that tradition. It seeks new powers to help London's local authorities respond to the challenges that they face. Specifically, the Bill seeks to improve the management of traffic, to free up police time to deal with more serious offences and to enhance the quality of life for Londoners.
The joint promotion between the London authorities and Transport for London is a clear sign of close working together between all the traffic and highway authorities in London. This is an excellent example of what can be done if political differences can be put aside for the good of all Londoners. I am glad to say that there is a strong political consensus among all the parties in support of this legislation.
I begin with Clauses 3 to 6, which seek to decriminalise some minor traffic offences to allow effective and efficient enforcement. London boroughs and Transport for London believe that by decriminalising some minor traffic offences, police time can be spent on more serious offences and alternative enforcement can be effectively conducted at no additional expense to the public purse. The Bill's promoters propose that offences such as the infringement of rules on box junctions, vehicles making right or left turns in prohibited locations, and vehicles entering pedestrian zones should be managed in a similar manner to the existing enforcement regime for bus lanes—by camera. In areas where cameras police bus lanes, there has been a major reduction in the number of bus lane contraventions. The use of camera technology has also proved successful in policing box junctions.
Local authorities and Transport for London police the majority of London's bus lanes using powers obtained under the London Local Authorities Act 1996. The process for the enforcement of bus lane use and the system proposed for other minor traffic offences is similar. In both cases, liability generally rests with the vehicle keeper. There are of course some exceptions, such as hire vehicles. Specific provision for hire vehicles is currently made in Clause 6, but amendments simplifying those provisions will be sought at the Committee stage.
Clause 4 makes provision for decriminalising the enforcement of the London night-time and weekend lorry ban. Local authority officers already enforce this scheme. The officers take prosecutions to the magistrates' courts. Magistrates can, and do, impose fines of up to £1,000 on operators guilty of breaching the ban. The London lorry ban minimises the environmental impact of heavy lorries in London. The scheme does not prevent essential night and weekend deliveries being made; it simply prevents excessive and unnecessary lorry traffic at these times. The Bill provides for no changes in either the scheme itself, the legislation which governs it, or the liability for penalties. It would also ease the pressure on magistrates' courts.
Clause 7 proposes that councils should be able to share information—such as car ownership—obtained through the Bill's powers with other borough councils and Transport for London. This will aid enforcement 1145 of a wide range of vehicle-related offences, including tracing the owners of abandoned vehicles and tracking those who would choose to collect unpaid parking tickets.
Noble Lords—especially those who frequently travel on the capital's roads—may be surprised to hear that surveys have shown that there is a £100-million road maintenance backlog in London. The Bill proposes in Clause 8 to allow surplus revenue from the highway authority's parking accounts to be used to reduce this backlog. These accounts receive all income from parking traffic enforcement and have statutory limits on the use of any surplus.
In some parts of London where the demand for residents' parking permits is particularly high, fraudulent applications are not uncommon. Such fraudulent applications are an offence. Currently, however, the time limit for bringing prosecutions is so strict that fraudulent application can escape prosecution because of the time taken to gather sufficient evidence. Clause 9 provides that prosecution can take place at any time within six months of suitable evidence coming to light and at any time within three years of the offence being committed.
The Bill seeks in Clause 10 to provide a London-wide decriminalised offence of parking alongside dropped pavements. Such parking can block entries to drives and garages and block crossing points for wheelchair users and those with pushchairs and prams. The clause will extend the powers that highway authorities already have to enforce this rule in controlled parking zones. The Association of London Government has agreed to draft and consult on a code of practice for the enforcement of this contravention.
After all the avenues for challenging the parking or traffic penalty have been exhausted, if the penalty remains unpaid, the authority will register it as a debt at the county court. At this point, the vehicle's keeper may make a statutory declaration if he did not receive the original parking notice or the council or adjudicator did not respond to his appeals. Clause 11 seeks to close some of the loopholes which have occasionally been used by vehicle owners making improper statutory declarations.
Clause 12 deals with cases in which a property owner drives his vehicle over the pavement into his property without an authorised footway crossover. It is preferable for a number of reasons for council-approved measures, including dropped curbs, to be constructed where people wish to drive over the pavement into their property. Such approval can be given under Section 184 of the Highways Act 1980. This is to avoid damage to the curb and to allow for the protection of any underground services such as water or gas mains under the footway. Under this clause, it would be an offence, if no approval for the crossing has been given, for the property owner to drive across the pavement to park on his property. If the council has served a notice requiring the property owner to desist, in extreme cases, the highway authority may erect bollards or similar devices to prevent vehicles from 1146 being driven over the highway. Clause 12 includes an appeal mechanism, in the county court, for aggrieved property owners.
Clauses 15 to 18 concern current offences that highway authorities may prosecute in the magistrates' courts. These offences include, for example, obstructing the highway or depositing material on the highway. These clauses will allow the authorities to issue fixed-penalty notices in these cases rather than prosecuting each case separately in the magistrates' courts.
Clauses 19 to 21 propose giving highway authorities enhanced powers to remove items unlawfully deposited on the highway. The powers are aimed particularly at persistent offenders, such as shop owners who litter the pavement with their goods, often causing an obstruction.
I should make the House aware that, of the 19 petitions originally submitted against the Bill, none are left. That is due mainly to the withdrawal by the promoters of Clauses 13 and 14, which concerned the reinstatement of street works and obligations, to statutory undertakers to place apparatus in the street so that subsequent works do not require the street to be broken up again. I am pleased to say that, as the Government themselves are considering such proposals, the promoters have been happy to drop those clauses.
There was one further petition against the Bill, from the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies, on some technical matters. However, that petition has now been withdrawn as well.
I apologise to the House for having spoken at such length, but, given the nature of the Bill, I am afraid that that was unavoidable. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I look forward to hearing the speeches of other noble Lords who have indicated that they wish to follow me. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Graham of Edmonton.)
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I hope that I might be forgiven, and not misunderstood, if I start by saying that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey—who is on the Front Bench to make observations on behalf of the Government in relation to this debate—has been on that Bench all afternoon dealing with the Enterprise Bill. Noble Lords who are now in the Chamber might already understand that. I hope that the Government—I say this without the slightest irony—realise how fortunate they are to have such a servant as the noble Lord.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I wish that I could go on in that cordial note, but unhappily that is simply not possible. As I see it, this Bill is designed to make life easier and more comfortable for those who make a practice of doing exactly what they think in the way they think and who care not a rat what is said about 1147 them by ordinary members of the public or even in your Lordships' House. I have been speaking fairly regularly, and for quite some time, about the highway authorities' neglect in discharging their duty to keep the roads clear for movement. They have never shown the slightest sign of any interest in anything that has been said in your Lordships' House, for which I am slightly sorry.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, is an old friend of mine and I wish that I did not oppose a Bill which he is sponsoring. Nevertheless, I am sure he understands that I feel extremely strongly on this matter. I hope that he will convey to the sponsors of the Bill my strong disapproval of the way in which they normally conduct themselves. The noble Lord made the point that a number of activities will be decriminalised. Let no one misunderstand why that comforting thing is to happen. Certain practices will be decriminalised to enable the authorities to make free use of cameras in order to obtain money more easily, more readily and in larger quantities from the public without any possibility of protest.
I refer to the question of holes in the road. I may have a simple approach to these matters, but I have always been under the impression that it is the duty of the highway authorities to check carefully the duration of an operation on a road by a utility or anyone else to avoid repeated similar occurrences and also to ensure that subsequent repairs are carried out efficiently. As far as I am concerned, they have failed lamentably in that duty. I do not see any grounds why people who fail lamentably in their duty should have further powers conferred upon them by Parliament without even a please or a thank you, which is what we are being invited to do today.
Not only do they fail to control the activities of other people on the highways; they actually commit the same sins themselves. They are responsible for the same sort of things. They litter the roads with cones. They do not show any signs of haste. Often cones are spread out all over the highway and absolutely nothing is done. They seem to have favourite beats to which they return time and again while they perform their tasks without any very great energy and without always being there to perform them. Nevertheless, the cones are there as their representatives.
When I read the Bill for the first time I was disposed to say that, having looked at it, I did not feel very pleased with any of the clauses except Clauses 13 and 14. In my copy of the Bill I wrote down that they were splendid but that I had no confidence whatsoever in the highway authorities' readiness or inclination to use them. That is the proof of what I had rather suspected; namely, that local authorities have been very willing to abandon these matters which seem to me to have at least a grain of sense and merit as regards ordinary members of the public.
The Mayor of London is quite a joker in the pack. I give him credit for his sense of humour, but I very much wonder where the last laugh will be and what kind of chaos we shall be confronted with next year. One of the fancier schemes to which I particularly refer 1148 as an illustration of what I am getting at concerns Trafalgar Square. There was widespread consultation on Trafalgar Square. I spoke to someone who was among those consulted who said, "We were consulted. We were told what they were going to do". It was made clear at the end of the process which was blessed with the name "consultation" that people's views had been listened to but that they would not have the slightest effect as the relevant authorities would do what they had planned to do anyhow. There was no attempt to have a trial period. Cones could have been put down while an assessment was made of whether the scheme would work and what the consequences would be. But no, such people are always right and the rest of us are always wrong. So, on this occasion they did not bother to have a trial period and they went ahead.
As my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber said last week when I raised this matter, such a policy has had a disastrous effect as regards those companies that bring audiences to the London theatres by coach. One night last week—admittedly the rain co-operated in this result—a coalition of bad weather and the authorities resulted in an audience of two attending a good show at a popular London theatre—the Garrick Theatre. So far no tears have been shed on this matter. No one has said that second thoughts should be given to it. There are no expressions of regret. However, I believe that some of those responsible were surprised to learn of the disastrous effect upon London theatres that the Trafalgar Square scheme has had.
There is no need for me to prolong my remarks. However, in this day and age, instead of having public servants we have public managers who know better than we do and who never listen to what we say whether we are Members of Parliament or members of the ordinary public. We are growing accustomed to being ignored. I personally have had enough of that. I hope that at Third Reading some of your Lordships may at least consider, as I shall, what this Bill merits and what the people who are promoting it—I am not talking about the noble Lord—merit. I am glad to have the opportunity to express my distaste for the measure.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I, too, must declare an interest in that I share with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, the joint presidency of the Association of London Government, which is one of the groups behind the Bill. I thank the noble Lord for the effective way in which he described the provisions of the Bill.
In general I support the Bill because there is no use Parliament passing laws, whether they constitute primary legislation or regulations, if they cannot be enforced. The fact that large numbers of fines are not paid and large numbers of offences never achieve the retribution they should have done—all of which contributes to blocking traffic in London—does not seem very sensible. Therefore, I support measures which will make it easier to enforce the relevant laws. Having said that, I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who, if I may say so, is 1149 unlikely ever to be ignored when talking about this or most other matters. He has been almost a one man campaign with regard to holes in the roads and the dilatoriness of the relevant bodies in dealing with them. It is on that matter that I, too, should like to say a few words.
I wish to refer to two clauses that are in the Bill at present although they may be dropped at a later stage. I refer to Clauses 13 and 14 which deal with the reinstatement of surfaces that have been dug up by contractors or whoever and the question of placing certain apparatus in the street which may make it unnecessary to dig it up again. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said, the reason for the proposal to drop the clauses is that the Government are themselves considering such proposals. My observations, such as they are, are therefore addressed not to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, but—I have previously described him in this way—to that hard-working maid of all work on the Front Bench, the noble Lord. Lord McIntosh, who will respond on behalf of the Government.
It so happens that as chairman of the Foundation for Science and Technology I chaired a workshop earlier this month on London's subsurface infrastructure. In particular, we considered the question: what can science and technology do to help with the renovation and replacement of London's subsurface infrastructure? The main speakers at that seminar happened to come from Thames Water but much of what they said applies equally to the other undertakers; that is, gas, electricity and telecoms. The House will be relieved to hear that I do not regard this as an appropriate occasion on which to rehearse all of the rather exciting statements that were made and promises that were held out about what new technology can offer in this field. There are now new ways of locating pipes and cables without digging up the streets. In some cases, one can use GPS—geostationary positioning satellites. There is a technique known as "keyhole excavation", which does not require holes big enough for a man to go into; it can be carried out in a way that is similar to keyhole surgery. There is trenchless repair, on which I shall say more in a moment. Substantial technology is available to enable one to repair and replace underground pipes and cables without disturbing the surface at all. There is also the question of the remote internal repair of pipework. I could go on but this is not perhaps the moment.
My questions are for the Minister. As he will acknowledge, I gave some notice of them earlier today. What are the Government doing to further the use of technology in relation to reducing and perhaps avoiding the need for so many holes in the road? Is the Minister aware that there exist, in this country and internationally, societies for trenchless technology? Is he aware that only last week there was an exhibition at Stoneleigh Park in the Midlands, at which examples were given, at what is called a "no-dig live show", of what can be done using such technology?
1150 The society attempted to interest His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh in this technology. Representatives of the society showed him some pictures of proven trenchless techniques that are now in use worldwide. His Royal Highness kept saying, "I have never seen any of this!". Of course he has not; it is all underground. There is nothing visible on the surface and traffic is not held up. They took His Royal Highness to see two sites, both within a couple of miles of Buckingham Palace, and showed him successful trenchless work in progress.
My second point underlines what was said by my noble friend Lord Peyton. Under our system, no one has a statutory obligation to try to keep the traffic moving. That obligation does not exist in our law. My noble friend mentioned the highway authorities, but they do not have that responsibility. Yes, they build roads, repair roads, clear landslides and dig out snowdrifts but they are under no statutory obligation to keep the traffic moving. The undertakers—gas, water, electricity and sewerage—often get blamed, although it is often the highway authorities who are guilty of causing the obstruction. I was given some evidence from a gentleman who,kept counts of queuing traffic, and the number of men working, at many obstructions over the years…the most dramatic was one where a gang of three men were creating queues totalling over six hundred vehicles!".If someone had taken 600 vehicles off the road for a day by impounding them, the effect on the national economy would have been exactly the same as that in this particular hole-in-the-road incident but the uproar would have been deafening. The fact is that those of us who get caught in these long traffic tailbacks from roadworks are there temporarily and we do not complain. On this occasion, however, both my noble friend and I are complaining. There must be someone who has a duty to keep the traffic moving. I ask the Minister, when they are considering the provisions that are equivalent to those that will be withdrawn when the Bill reaches Committee, is it the Government's intention to remedy what I see as an astonishing lacuna in our law?
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for introducing this Bill and for describing it with his usual skill; to the Minister, who appears to be a hero this evening; and to my noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord Jenkin. I remind the House that I have an interest: I am president of the Heavy Transport Association.
It is my intention to remark on the activities of Transport for London, to query the London night-time lorry ban and to support Clause 13. I do not intend to oppose the Question whether the Bill be read a second time.
Many provisions in the Bill are sensible, such as Clause 9, which relates to fraud offence time limits. However, the Bill is entitled, "London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill". "Transport for London" is a bit of a contradiction in 1151 terms because the management of road traffic in London is a nightmare. My noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil discussed that in detail in his excellent speech. Consider, for instance, traffic lights, which are controlled by TfL. We have been told that they have been re-phased, ostensibly to favour pedestrians. However, I have walked in London for many years and never experienced any problems with the phasing of traffic lights; I was not aware of a problem. Moreover, drivers thought that traffic lights were phased for the benefit of all. It now appears that that might be a softening up for congestion charging. However, congestion charging is not really relevant to the Bill. Its only effect will be to have more affluent drivers stuck in traffic jams.
TfL appears to have complete and possibly deliberate disregard for the needs of motorists. Typical examples are at Vauxhall Cross and the roadworks at Apex Corner on the A1/A41 junction in north London; my noble friend Lord Peyton also mentioned Trafalgar Square. I understand that average speeds in London have recently been severely reduced although traffic levels are also slightly down.
It is interesting to compare the ethos of officials from the Highways Agency with that among those working for local government. Highways Agency officials always seem to be seeking some new way of reducing congestion. I accept that there is an argument for reducing the use of private cars in London. However, the policies of TfL are drastically increasing the cost of taxicabs in London. That will tend to encourage private car usage for reasons of economy. Also, it will make London a more expensive city in which to operate. My noble friend Lord Jenkin put his finger on the cause of the problem; that is, no one appears to be responsible for keeping traffic moving.
However, my main concern tonight is the operation of the London night-time and weekend lorry ban. In referring to that, I must apologise to the Association of London Government, which invited me to see the enforcement of the ban in operation. But, because my noble friend Lord Cope suddenly increased my workload, I found that I was unable to carry out the visit.
Why do we have such a lorry ban in a 24/7 society? The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, touched on some of the reasons. But the history of it is that, on completion of the M25 motorway, HGV drivers found it hard to kick the habit of driving through central London. In addition, at that time, the trucks were very noisy and polluting. I well remember the crockery and glasses in my mother's house vibrating as the trucks pulled up the hill. They do not do that now.
The present situation is that no HGV driver goes through London if he can avoid doing so—it is simply too slow. For the operators, not only is it slow; it wastes time, is expensive in terms of wear and tear on the vehicle, and there is also a far higher risk of an accident occurring in London. It is far better and safer to use the motorway. Finally, it costs far more to employ a driver to work at night.
1152 Privately, some noble Lords have asked me, "Why are we discouraging night-time deliveries and collections?". I put that question to the officials of the Association of London Government, whose answer, more or less, was, "Oh, we don't want to stop trucks delivering during the day. If we did so, we would reduce congestion and that would suck in more traffic". The Minister is looking aghast at me, but that is what they said.
It is not only a question of the desirability of the lorry ban; I am not convinced that it is being implemented fairly and sensibly. One particular case came to my attention. I hasten to say that it is no longer sub judice as the case has been disposed of. It concerned an operator who had the necessary permit to operate in the banned area at night. But the difficulty was that his driver had failed to minimise the distance travelled off the exempted route, as per Condition 5 on his permit. He took a road which was wider and safer; there was less residential accommodation in the area; and it was quicker. I drove down that road. In other words, the driver used his common sense. The prosecution process took place but, when the official of the ALG discovered that he was to face an experienced transport lawyer, he suddenly found that he could not get to the court. Eventually, the case was dropped.
If we pass the Bill as drafted, it will be far easier to enforce the civil penalties. Of course, the Bill's objective is to make it easier to prosecute or deal with offenders. I accept that. However, my concern is that we are not implementing the lorry ban fairly and sensibly.
It is easy to persecute HGV drivers. Does it matter? Yes, it does. There is already a severe shortage of such drivers. Why should we make the job even less attractive? Is the Minister confident that we shall not encounter a logistical meltdown due to a lack of HGV drivers? And, on top of all the other difficulties of being an HGV driver, what will be the effect of the working time directive?
I strongly support Clause 13. I believe that Clause 14 proves a little more difficult. The drafting of Clause 13 may be a little woolly and perhaps could be more carefully worded. It seems to apply to all roads in all circumstances. But we in this House have had the builders in. They have been rearranging Old Palace Yard. How would we feel if a utility company came in and tore up Old Palace Yard? Structurally the reinstatement would be sound but the yard's appearance would be ruined. That is what Clause 13 seeks to remedy.
Is the Minister content with the principle of Clause 13? Does he agree that the drafting needs to be more precise? And, at some stage during the passage of the Bill, will he be in a position to suggest better drafting? That would be preferable to waiting for the next legislative opportunity, which invariably takes a very long time to occur.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for introducing the Bill so comprehensively. I welcome the Bill in a number of respects. I welcome the relationship between the boroughs and Transport for London—a relationship which is not always easy but which is developing. I welcome the withdrawal of the petitions, which is enabling this legislation to go forward. And I very much welcome the decriminalisation which the Bill encompasses because I believe that the police have far more important things to do. Some tasks can be carried out by other authorities and other organisations. Keeping private traffic, freight and public transport flowing on our roads is to everyone's benefit. I put in parenthesis the thought that, if more is to be done by local authorities, I hope that the funding required to enable them to do it effectively will be available.
We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who always makes his points powerfully, what amounted to an attack on all 32 boroughs, the City of London and Transport for London. I believe that the attack is perhaps a little harsher than is needed to deal with what are undoubtedly major problems, such as holes in the road, the duration of such work and repetition—that is, the same roads being dug up again and again. I am fascinated at the prospect of keyhole surgery—a suggestion floated by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.
Much of London's infrastructure under the roads is in a fragile state. One needs only to think of the sewerage and drainage systems. I suspect that we shall face major problems as that infrastructure collapses in different places. If it can be protected and repaired without the problems with which we are all familiar, that will be very good news.
I do not imagine that the Minister will have any further news tonight about the extension of the lane rental pilots in Camden and Middlesbrough. However, if he has, I shall welcome it. The local authorities are queuing up to use the same sort of powers.
I do not believe that the local authorities would have been hugely enthusiastic about abandoning Clauses 13 and 14; otherwise, the clauses would not have been included in the first place. I believe they have been withdrawn because of objections by the utilities. Certainly the relationship between local authorities, the highways authorities and the utilities is difficult. Many openings of the highways—I believe it is in the region of 80 per cent—are classed as emergencies by the utilities. Although they are required to give only two hours' notice, they often give more, but they do not have to do so if an emergency is involved. It is a very difficult situation.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the standard of reinstatement. I agree that that is a problem. So often one sees a repair which then quickly begins to sink.
1154 There has been much talk about current issues in London. I use the term "issues" rather than "problems" deliberately. I do not want to go too far down a road which, in answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, the Minister described as turning this House into the urban district council of Westminster, or even a parish council. These are devolved matters.
I believe that the Trafalgar Square scheme is a great success and will be a great benefit to the centre of London. Parts of it have still to be completed, but it has had an encouraging start. I hope that that will enable all of us to be confident that other schemes, such as Vauxhall Cross, will be completed successfully and on schedule. It is at present on schedule. We are all suffering currently but there is much to be gained.
I doubt whether the Trafalgar Square scheme could have been a pilot scheme. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on the question of consultation by Transport for London. While I do not agree with every particular of his speech, I believe that Transport for London needs to understand that consultation is difficult and has to be detailed. It is not simply a question of agreeing with whoever makes the last point. It is a dialogue and involves feedback. We all have much to learn about good consultation. The Cabinet Office has much to say on the subject. Some of us have also said quite a lot about it to the mayor.
Some points raised may not relate to the Bill but I cannot resist responding to them. The noble Earl referred to the cost of cabs and to London becoming a most expensive city in which to operate. Because of the cost of congestion, London's business community supports congestion charging in order to make it less expensive. If congestion charging works successfully, the gains to the business community will be great.
I have supported the lorry ban since its inception. I am sad that the provision does not cover the whole of London. There are many residential roads outside the ban. When I was a borough councillor, the main road running like a spine through my ward was, and still is, the South Circular Road. That is a residential road, although it also carries much heavy traffic. The provision is a licensing scheme not a ban. It allows for deliveries and, where necessary, for traffic to pass. I am not aware of applicants for licences being turned down on the basis that their case is not deserving. I believe that the scheme should be supported.
The Bill provides for the sharing of information between different authorities. I understand the need, although I believe that the sharing of information should not be undertaken lightly. Civil liberty issues are involved which should not be ignored.
I am not wholly convinced by the provisions about parking alongside dropped footways, although I am well aware that I have not devoted anything like the attention to the matter that the promoters of the Bill have done. In many parts of London front gardens are being turned into parking areas because of the difficulty of parking on-street. As a result, the street area outside is not, and will not be, available for parking and one tends to lose more than one parking 1155 space. In addition—I leave aside the environmental aspects—it tends to consolidate the view that one owns the road outside one's own house. We are all aware that that is not the case. By protecting dropped footways—I do not refer to those which enable pedestrians, wheelchair users, those with buggies and so on to cross junctions—we consolidate the view of many that they have an entitlement to park directly outside their homes.
I welcome the provisions on removing items such as advertising boards deposited on the highway. They can be a danger to people who are not mobile or whose sight is not good. Noble Lords who have had experience at parochial level will know that these issues cause great concern. I wish the Bill a fair wind.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for introducing the Bill and giving us a chance to debate it.
As the noble Baroness said, the Bill gives powers to 32 boroughs, the City of London and Transport for London. It is not surprising that noble Lords have concentrated somewhat on Transport for London and the mayor. His transport policy does not encourage the free flow of transport, unlike the policies of most of the boroughs. It has the opposite effect. The mayor has altered the timing of 370 traffic lights.
Like the noble Baroness, I remain convinced that the Trafalgar Square scheme will be an improvement. I am puzzled about what has occurred outside our own front door here. I agree with my noble friend Lord Peyton that consultation does not mean simply sending out documents: it also means taking note of and listening to the replies. However, in his usual charming way, I am sure the Minister will avoid either condoning or condemning the mayor and will say that it is a matter for him. I am never sure whether that is because the Government are afraid to condone or condemn him; perhaps it is both.
Decriminalising sounds a nice idea but it means that it will be easier to collect fines and it probably lessens the burden of proof on those accused. It is an incentive for local authorities and those involved: they will keep the money. If at present one writes to complain about receiving a parking ticket from a local authority one gets short shrift. One has to go to an independent adjudicator. The Bill makes such provision for those who are fined. However, I believe that the provision will lessen the burden of proof. It will make it easier for local authorities and Transport for London to collect more money more quickly. We must ensure that the public are protected.
Perhaps the Minister will clarify a point raised by my noble friends Lord Jenkin and Lord Peyton. Clauses 13 and 14 will be withdrawn because the Government intend to bring forward proposals. It would be helpful if the Minister can say what point the Government have reached in their considerations.
I notice that the Bill gives power for camera enforcement in box junctions. If one is unlucky enough to be caught in a box junction and receives a 1156 summons—one can be caught entirely by surprise—will it be possible to see photographic evidence before one enters a plea? If I were told that last week I was caught in a box junction, I would not have a clue whether that was so.
My noble friend Lord Attlee was concerned about night-time deliveries. I am involved in a business in the West End that has deliveries but I do not know whether they take place at night, but in case they do I declare that interest. Night-time deliveries in residential areas can cause difficulties, but in certain places they should be encouraged. Although the fines are changed by this Bill, is it right that there is no change to the system of permissions for night-time deliveries?
Clause 7 gives powers to ask bailiffs or the Motor Insurers' Bureau whether they have information on a keeper of a vehicle not held by the DVLA. Is that a new power or do the police currently have such a power? Have the Government estimated how much money local authorities may receive from such a power? I presume that estimates have been made. I notice that the local authorities and Transport for London will be able to spend most of the money, and they will be able to spend it on supporting public transport investment, services and facilities. I am nervous of money coming in and there being no clear guidelines inside or outside the Bill on how that money may be spent. If money is collected from those who infringe the road transport policy in London, it should be put back into that sector rather than be lost in a large budget.
Clause 10 extends the power for highway authorities to enforce the powers on all roads. I do not know what that means. Is that a radical change?
Will the Minister comment on the progress of the Bill? I understand that it will go to an unopposed Committee, but it will not be concluded before the end of this Session. I understand that the Chairman of Committees will recommend that it is rolled over so it will go to the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in another place. How will that procedure work and what will be the timing?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made a substantial speech on the Bill and on various other issues. She said that congestion charges will be welcomed by business in London. I have seen no evidence of that. If there is evidence I would appreciate her sending it to me.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall happily send the noble Viscount the transcript of meetings with, among others, the CBI London region and the London chambers of commerce, on the subject.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I shall confine my remarks to the Bill and to those matters that concern the Government rather than the promoters. It is incumbent on me to give the Government's view of the Bill.
1157 On a number of occasions officials have discussed the Bill's proposals with the promoters. Following the promoters' decision to withdraw Clauses 13 and 14 on street works, the Government have no objections in principle to the Bill, although we seek certain assurances about the way that the decriminalised enforcement powers will be used. We shall also want to raise some points of detail in Committee. I shall return to the issue of street works and Clauses 13 and 14 at the close of my remarks.
As my noble friend Lord Graham has explained, the main purpose of the Bill is to give the London borough councils and Transport for London powers to facilitate the smoother operation of their roads, in particular by giving the authorities powers to enforce various road traffic and highways law contraventions. The Government agree that it is not a good use of limited police resources to expect them to enforce offences that are not directly related to road safety; for example, speeding. The Bill builds on the well-established London system of civil enforcement by the traffic authority of parking controls and bus lanes.
It is right that road traffic and highway law contraventions should be properly enforced and that the enforcement system should be an effective deterrent to would-be offenders. It is also right that the relevant authorities should be discriminating in their use of enforcement powers and focus on the most serious problems. Over-zealous enforcement of minor infringements can easily bring the system into discredit and give credence to the idea that enforcement is being used as a means of raising revenue rather than dealing with serious problems.
The new powers should be piloted before they are used generally and there needs to be guidance to ensure that enforcement authorities adopt a focused and reasonable approach. I look to my noble friend Lord Graham to give us a clear undertaking on those matters when he responds to the debate.
In principle, the Government accept the decriminalisation proposal relating to the enforcement of the London lorry ban. By avoiding the need to pursue every offence through the courts, as at present, the proposal should significantly reduce the administrative burden on the courts, the enforcing authorities and defendants. In parallel with that proposal, work is in hand through the London sustainable distribution forum to review the current operation of the lorry ban in pursuit of the commitment to do so in the Mayor of London's transport strategy. The Government welcome the review. The lorry ban was introduced when, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, lorries were noisier than they are now and it is right to consider whether the present extent and operation of the ban strikes the right balance between protecting the environment and the need to reduce unnecessary burdens on commerce and industry. I would like the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on the lorry ban to be communicated to the London Sustainable Distribution Forum.
1158 The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked whether there will be camera evidence of a box junction offence. The answer is yes, although for a box junction offence one would like to see a moving picture to see whether the car in front that you thought would move forward has moved. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, also asked about details of vehicle keepers in relation to Clause 7. The DVLA may release information on registered keepers and vehicles to those, such as the police, who have a reasonable need for such information.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made a very interesting speech, of great concern to the promoters, about new developments in technology as they affect street works. He made a point about "trenchless" technology. We are aware of the developments that he described and we are enthusiastic about the possibilities of the techniques available to utility companies, especially for renewing water and gas pipes. They will require fewer openings—rather than no openings—of the highway and cause less destruction, but they will be difficult to use in central London where there is a concentration of what is technically called apparatus—what I would call pipes, ducts and cables. We take seriously what he says.
The Government did urge the promoters to withdraw Clauses 13 and 14, despite the fact that we are keen to reduce the disruption caused by street works—as evidenced by our support for the current lane rental pilots in Camden and Middlesbrough. We took lane rental powers in the Transport Act 2000—urged on by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who was a pioneer. The pilots started in March 2002 and, subject to their outcome, we would be prepared to roll out lane rental nationally. My answer to whether the pilots will be extended to other individual local authorities is that we are looking at going straight from Camden and Middlesbrough to national implementation.
On Clause 13, we told the promoters that we have been actively pursuing other ways of improving the operation of street works. Among them is a new specification for backfilling trenches and reinstatement that came into force in July and a stronger inspection regime, which was introduced this month. We are not idle. There is a long way to go and I hope that the lane rental pilots work and have an effect.
Clause 14 is about providing ducts. I am pleased that the department will be launching a study by the end of the year that will look not only at the idea represented by that clause but more widely. For example, it will examine how barriers to trench sharing can be reduced and its use encouraged. It will investigate ideas such as providing one large duct or tunnel that could carry all the services into a new development—so avoiding the need to dig up the road subsequently. It is better not to pursue Clause 14 but to deal with the matter at national level.
1159 Those remarks cover the principal matters raised in debate and to which it is appropriate for the Government to reply. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's response.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I asked whether there is a statutory duty on local authorities to keep traffic moving. I am told that there is not. Is the Minister able to help us with that point?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is referring to a national traffic authority. We believe that the present arrangements for keeping traffic moving provide the right balance between national and local interests. The Highways Agency is responsible for roads of strategic importance, which carry the bulk of goods vehicles, and it is right that they should be dealt with at national level. The roads in Greater London for which the Highways Agency is responsible are virtually confined to the stubs of the M1, M11, M4 and A3113 around Heathrow.
In the course of devolution to London, we gave responsibility for strategic transport planning and co-ordination to the mayor and Transport for London. That was the will of Parliament. Some 96 per cent of roads in the country, including in London, are the responsibility of local authorities—which can best represent the interests of homeowners, shops and businesses, as well of road transport. The balance between those interests is and ought to be the responsibility of local authorities.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in the debate—particularly my noble friend the Minister, who has relieved me of a great deal of responsibility for providing answers to questions that were legitimately raised. I repeat my gratitude to my noble friend for taking on that burden.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I beg my noble friend's pardon for interrupting, but there is one question to which he should not be expected to respond. I refer to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, about what happens next. My understanding is that the procedure for private Bills normally includes carry-over into the next Session. That will clearly happen in this case.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
After that carry-over, my Lords, I will carry on.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, speaks with the voice of aggravation and experience and none of your Lordships would disagree with his comments about frustration. His great argument is that, it ain't what you do but the way that you do it. The way in which Transport for London consults with or takes note of the noble Lord and many others leaves something to 1160 be desired. I repeat the assurance that I gave the noble Lord before the debate. I will do everything possible to persuade the powers that be at Transport for London to take careful note and to consider how it can improve its procedures in such a way that the aggravation and frustration felt and voiced by the noble Lord are diminished.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, offered us the fascinating prospect of avoiding—albeit with difficulty and at a cost—some of the aggravations addressed by the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out the current delicate state of life under the highway. She forecast major surgery, not keyhole surgery, if that matter is not dealt with—and I entirely agree.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the lorry ban. When I sat in another place, I spoke on the environment. The lorry ban issue in the early 1980s was a child of the Greater London Council. Over the years, it has been under constant review. In general, people and businesses in London accept the environmental case for a lorry ban. However, nothing is perfect. I will try to ensure that the powers that be in another place and elsewhere are made aware of the need to take into account the noble Earl's points.
As to Clauses 13 and 14, and without any further promises, whatever form the consultations take they will be the subject of debate, argument and possibly amendment in this House and elsewhere.
As to evidence in relation to box junctions, I was once caught for speeding. The photograph that I obtained from the police was evidence that I was "bang to rights". The answer of course was in the negative—was that a pun?—and I could not dispute it. My noble friend's comments were certainly helpful.
My noble friend said that clear guidelines are needed for the future and that pilot schemes need to be undertaken with care and reason. One does not want to jump from one situation to another too hastily or too far.
I am grateful to the House for listening. If I have failed to answer any points, I say as Ministers sometimes do—I will ensure that an answer is sent.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.