HL Deb 09 January 2003 vol 642 cc1138-40
Lord Burnham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What authority they have over the operation of Transport for London.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the operation of Transport for London is the responsibility of the Mayor of London, not the Government. Parliament has given the mayor wide transport powers, including powers to require Transport for London to deliver his policies. However, Transport Ministers meet the mayor and the Commissioner of Transport for London from time to time to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I must say that he has given that reply on a number of occasions. There must come a moment at which the Government say, in reply to public opinion, that Transport for London has gone too far and that enough is enough. When is that moment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as the Bellman said in The Hunting of the Snark, What I tell you three times is true". If I have to tell the House 30 times, instead of three times, it is still true. The Greater London Authority Act 1999 was passed by Parliament, and it requires the mayor to produce a transport strategy outlining his policies for, the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within Greater London". That is what devolution means. There are certain reserved powers, related to the strategy that the mayor produces, but they do not affect the operation of Transport for London, which is the subject of the Question.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, as someone who lives just outside the congestion zone, whether he is aware than many low-paid ancillary workers are having to leave their jobs, as they will not be able to afford the congestion charge? Most of them have to arrive before there is any public transport. Is that of concern to the Government?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have, of course, read those reports. Our position on congestion charging was made clear by the Secretary of State. Any proposals for congestion charging must be workable, must ensure that adequate public transport is available—the point made by my noble friend—and must achieve public acceptance. If those conditions are achieved, the Mayor of London is within his rights in introducing congestion charging.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is clear from all the evidence that, although the introduction of congestion charges might empty central London of cars, it will create a total jam in all the areas outside the small inner area of congestion charging? In view of the fact that that is bound to have a severe effect on the ability of the emergency services to respond to a crisis and in view of the threat to the capital, will the Government persuade the mayor to put off his plans for congestion charges?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the mayor's objective in introducing congestion charging is not to empty central London but to reduce traffic in central London by 15 to 20 per cent. That would not result in the kind of congestion outside central London to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, refers.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is bizarre that a great city such as London, which has a gross domestic product equal to that of many sovereign states, should be in the hands of an inexperienced local authority? Does he also agree that, as far as London is concerned, at any rate, the experiment of devolution has not been an unqualified success?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the discontinuity in city government for London was not the responsibility of this Government but of the previous Government, who abolished the Greater London Council. If discontinuity is a disadvantage, we know where the responsibility must lie. It would be even more extraordinary if a capital city of the size and importance described by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, did not have responsibility for its own affairs.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the success of the transport strategy for London will be reflected in the results of the next elections for the assembly and mayor? The House should leave it to the electorate to decide.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have been trying for months to persuade the House not to act like an urban district council for London. I agree, of course, with my noble friend.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, the Minister referred to matters of mutual interest. I hope that he will agree that one such matter, concerning London and central government, is commuter rail services. Can the Minister give us any news on how we can persuade the Strategic Rail Authority to give more attention to commuter rail services, rather than concentrating on inter-city services, as it appears to do?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that is one of the issues raised at meetings between Ministers and the mayor and Transport for London. Commuter rail services go outside greater London and are, therefore, matters of ministerial responsibility.

The accusation levelled at the Strategic Rail Authority is a little unfair. It is true that, in the early days after privatisation, the Strategic Rail Authority was content to award the franchises and then sit back. The new regime at the Strategic Rail Authority is not guilty in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggests. If there is an element of that, Ministers will take the matter up with the authority.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, in view of the chaos in London and the inadequacy of public transport, will the Minister itemise the reserved powers of central government to alleviate the problems? I speak as someone who travels on the Tube and, believe me, travelling on it is no pleasant experience now. There are great problems, and the Minister should tell us about the reserved powers of central government.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I hoped that I had done that in response to the supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. Section 143 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 says: Where the Secretary of State considers that— (a) the transport strategy … is inconsistent with national policies relating to transport, and (b) the inconsistency is detrimental to an area outside Greater London, he may direct the Mayor to make … revisions". That does not give the Secretary of State a power of intervention over the mayor or Transport for London.