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Standing Committee A
Thursday 29 January 2004
[Mr. Nigel Beard in the Chair]
The network management duty
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 96, in
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 126, in
clause 31, page 13, line 33, after 'Wales', insert 'or Transport for London'.
John Thurso: The amendment would remove from the Bill the additional powers reserved to the Secretary of State over and above those reserved to him under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 by removing the reference to the GLA and the Mayor.
I do not intend to press the amendment; I want to find out the Government's thinking in respect of the GLA's devolution settlement. The 1999 Act sets out those matters that were considered appropriate for devolution, and transport and all that goes with it was a major part of the settlement. The Act makes clear the division of responsibilities between the Mayor, the GLA, local authorities and the Government.
The amendment would effectively remove the GLA from the clause, but I want to know whether the Government are intentionally looking at what was settled on the GLA and seeking to draw it back out of the settlement, or whether it is a precautionary measure by officials to accrue power, which they do as often as they can. My suspicion is that it is not deliberate and intentional. I suspect that the Government do not intend to reconsider the devolution settlement for London; rather, the Bill takes a belt and braces approach to try to reserve as much power as possible to the Secretary of State.
Having looked into the matter of reserve powers, I can find no precedent for such a move in other legislation or by other Departments. That raises an important point of principle. I therefore ask the Minister whether there is a deliberate desire to pull back powers that have been devolved, or whether it is thought to be good to get the powers back. If it is the latter, I wonder whether that course of action has been checked through, whether it has been discussed with ministerial colleagues with responsibility for London, and whether it fits within the devolution settlement.
The point that I am seeking to address is whether a deliberate move is being made to reduce the devolutionary powers and return them to the Department, or whether it is not specifically intended to do that. Since, in the latter case, the clause does do
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that, I wonder whether it is appropriate that it should be done in that way.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Beard, for the first time I think, and I look forward to serving under Miss Begg when she is with the Committee.
I draw hon. Members' attention to a document about the guidance notes and statutory instruments that will follow if all the elements of part 2 are passed, and that, as we promised, is a short road map on such matters. I hope that that is of some assistance to the Committee.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for speaking to the amendment, although I am not entirely sure how to respond, given that its key thrust is to ask whether the provisions are a deliberate attempt to affect the devolution settlement in the way that he described. I rather hope that most of the things that we are doing in the Bill are deliberate and informed, and have been thought through, but I take the hon. Gentleman's underlying point. The provisions are in no way designed to unpick the devolution settlement. The amendment seeks to exclude Transport for London from the general duty to manage its road network and to remove its strategic role for co-ordinating street works across London.
The Government's proposals are quite deliberate—that will come as a great relief to my hon. Friends. The clause places a duty on every local authority to manage its road network, to secure
''the expeditious movement of traffic''
and to work with other authorities to facilitate the movement of traffic. That duty is especially important in conurbations, not least London. TFL is particularly well placed to ensure effective co-ordination across the city. There are 35 highway authorities in London, 32 boroughs, the City of London, TFL and the Highways Agency. Without attempting to disaggregate or unpick the devolution settlement, it is right and proper, given the thrust of all that we seek to do in the Bill, that all those authorities are afforded the chance to have the statutory duty in question. The provisions are intended to hold TFL and the boroughs accountable on their statutory duties to manage the network and keep it flowing. That is important, not least because although TFL's clearly defined responsibility is for 5 per cent. of the strategic roads across London, those roads account for 30 per cent. of the traffic. Given the Bill's broad thrust, excluding TFL and its role as a highway authority from all the duties and responsibilities in part 2 and in clause 16 would be nonsensical.
I expect to hear today the general mantra that any given highway authority is not necessarily responsible or that the causes of congestion are beyond its boundaries in the next-door borough or authority. If so, some co-ordination and liaison are, equally, important. There are swings and roundabouts. I do not want to pre-empt future discussion, but we say later in the Bill that the balance of network management duties between TFL and the London boroughs should be reconfigured. We intend to afford
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TFL greater powers to revisit the strategic network, because a number of important roads, not least some key bus routes, bus priority network routes and red routes, are outwith the current strategic network. Excluding those from TFL's overarching role would be nonsensical. The provisions are not intended to unpick the devolution settlement. TFL must deliver on its statutory duty to manage the strategic network, and it must therefore be included in the Bill's scope. TFL's role will be enhanced rather than diminished. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 126 is inappropriate for the same reason. Given all that the Bill is designed to address, to remove TFL's role as a local traffic authority from the equation would do nothing to address congestion and network management in London. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, although I take the import of and thrust behind what he said about the devolution settlement.
John Thurso: I am grateful for that explanation, which will certainly be helpful, particularly in the context of other, more specific amendments that we shall reach later. I am also grateful, as I am sure others are, for the guidance notes relating to part 2 that the Minister drew to our attention. I am sure that they will help our consideration.
I am certain that the actions taken by the Minister and his team were deliberate. Not for a moment would I suggest that they were not. I was really trying to discover whether the consequences of the actions were as deliberate as they might have been. However, I shall not pursue the proposal at this stage, as I should like to consider more carefully what he has said. It is probably correct to say that some of the more detailed questions that will be raised under later amendments are the proper way to test what he has said. For the moment, I am content to leave the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
John Thurso: I beg to move amendment No. 97, in
The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments:
No. 146, in
page 7, line 8, after 'the', insert 'safe'.
No. 147, in
page 7, line 10, after 'the', insert 'safe and'.
No. 33, in
No. 98, in
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(bb) enhancing the environment on and around the authority's road network in terms of reducing the levels of noise and pollution
(bc) facilitating overall transport policy objectives set out in relevant Local Transport Plans and Regional Transport Strategies
(bd) facilitating overall transport policy objectives set out in relevant Local Transport Plans, in London the Mayor's Transport Strategy and Local Implementation Plans, and Regional Transport Strategies;'.
No. 148, in
page 7, line 14, after 'the', insert 'safe and'.
John Thurso: I return to the questions of safety and of the environment. I shall speak first about safety. In considering part 1, we discussed whether it was appropriate to give traffic officers a specific duty in respect of safety. The debate was helpful, and I was broadly persuaded that a specific duty at the point at which I sought to introduce it was not appropriate and might have given too much weight to instructing traffic officers to have regard to safety, as opposed to their having a general regard to safety.
At this point, however, a different case applies, in that traffic managers should have a fairly specific duty with regard to safety. Unlike traffic officers, traffic managers will not be on the streets undertaking actions to unblock congestion, but will be more concerned with overall planning, strategy and objectives. It would be more than appropriate, therefore, for safety to be one of their paramount considerations.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) put it to the Committee on Tuesday that safety is inherent in any form of management. At the time, I said that that was true, but there are many examples of management for which safety, and particularly health and safety, are drawn out from overall management and made a specific duty because of their importance. I know that I share with many Government Members my concern about health and safety legislation for the workplace, which is extremely important.
Anyone who serves on any board of any company will know that health and safety appears as a specific item on the agenda. In a plc board, reference is made to it. It is one of the things that are looked for in proper and good corporate governance. There are clear precedents to show that safety is so important that it can be taken out of general management duties and referred to specifically. In considering the role of traffic managers, I believe that it would be appropriate to do so. I see no reason why, in asking traffic managers to perform all the roles that are required of them, we should not underline the importance of road safety. After all, many things can be done at the planning stage to enable our roads to become safer, an objective that we all share.
A similar argument pertains to environmental duties. In recent years, in every area of life, particularly in Government, we have, rightly, paid increasing regard to the environmental consequences of our actions. One of the greatest benefits of reducing congestion is that it reduces pollution, and that has the tremendous knock-on benefit of reducing the incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases in our cities.
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That is why I am so much in favour of the principle of the Bill.
Like safety, good environmental practice is so important that the Bill should emphasise that traffic managers, in planning how best to achieve the free flow of traffic in their areas, should do so in such a manner as not to conflict with it. My point is the same with regard to both safety and the environment: I seek to lay a specific duty on traffic managers to have regard to both in drawing up plans and seeking to unblock congestion.