Column Number: 117
Standing Committee A
Thursday 29 January 2004
[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]
Arrangements for network management
Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 153, in
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 172, in
page 8, line 1, after 'the', insert 'efficiency and'.
No. 173, in
No. 99, in
No. 154, in
clause 18, page 8, line 9, leave out 'may' and insert 'will'.
Brian White: A number of the Minister's earlier responses make amendment No. 154, in which I ask the Government to bring forward the guidance on a national basis, superfluous. He has already said that that will happen, although I was curious about why he did not use ''shall'' rather than ''may''. That is an arcane question.
I have a couple of questions about amendment No. 153. My purpose was to try to tease out of the Minister whether the guidance will ensure that there is consistency about which roads and classes of road will be subject to the permit scheme. I want to know how people who use the different schemes are talking to the network managers, how they will avoid 400 different schemes and 400 different sets of forms and how the people who will negotiate on road closure are not going to have to do one set of negotiations on one side of the boundary and another set on the other.
Will the Minister say how the guidance will cover those decisions so that there are no costly disputes. The focus must be on minimising congestion and disruption, rather than on discussions about the negotiations happening in different authorities, which will be costly for, particularly, the utilities, who will discuss that point with the local authorities.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I shall speak to amendments No. 172 and 173. Amendment No. 172 seeks to make clause 17, at the top of page 8, monitor efficiency as well as effectiveness. It is not just
Column Number: 118
a question of doing what the Bill says at any price. There are still some people in this country who believe that throwing money at a problem will improve things. I do not share that view, and perhaps the Minister agrees with me.
However, we need to have regard to the people who ultimately pay the bill, namely council tax payers, motorists and everybody else. It seems, therefore, that as well as monitoring the effectiveness of the scheme, it is crucial to ask whether we are getting value for money and whether a sensible amount is being paid, because there will always be competing priorities. While the issues are very important, they are not the only issues concerning road safety, transport generally or the country as a whole. They have to be seen in the context of competing priorities and in the sensible use of money that is allocated to such jobs. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will have some sympathy with the point being made, even if he does not like the wording of our amendment. I hope that he will be able to say that the Government accept that efficiency is important and that they will find a way of ensuring that not only effectiveness but a sense of efficiency will be provided for.
If amendments Nos. 172 and 173 were accepted, we would have the means to monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of, among other things, the performance of the authority's traffic manager. You were not here this morning, Miss Begg, when we had a minor discussion about giving traffic managers five-year contracts so that one could decide whether they had done a good job before reappointing them at the end of that period. The Government did not much like that, but I hope that they will at least accept that there is a need to monitor the boss's work very closely. I hope that I can persuade the Minister to include monitoring of the traffic manager's performance as a second best. Sometimes, the Opposition must settle for second best or even less than that. We did not win the argument this morning, and the Minister may not like the wording of the amendment, but I hope at least to persuade him to accept the principle of making some reference to monitoring the performance of a person who has been appointed to a designated job under the Bill.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I shall speak to amendment No. 99, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden). Clause 16, which we debated this morning, sets out the network management duty, and I accepted the Minister's doctrine as regards undue specificity. Clause 17, on the other hand, deals with the arrangements for network management, or, in other words, with the detail. It seems, therefore, that some specificity would be helpful rather than undue in this instance.
The amendment would make it clear that traffic management and the traffic manager should not take precedence over local transport plans and regional transport strategies. The Transport Act 2000 sets out important duties in that regard, and issues of traffic management and road use cannot be seen in isolation when an overall strategy is being considered at local or
Column Number: 119
regional level. For example, introducing or withdrawing a bus route would have a considerable impact on whether car use increased or decreased and, therefore, on the plans and strategies required for the use of that road. A similar argument would pertain where a new train service was introduced or an existing one was withdrawn.
We have rightly placed a pretty strong requirement on local and regional authorities to produce plans, and it would be rather illogical to allow a traffic manager simply to work in isolation, without having proper regard to those plans. It would therefore be appropriate to prevent the traffic manger from being able, in exercising their traffic management duties, to change a strategy that democratically elected bodies had arrived at locally or nationally. I ask the Government to consider how that could be done.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): As I said to Mr. Beard this morning, it will be a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. I hope that our proceedings will pick up pace so that no one slaps a fixed-penalty notice on the Committee for being tardy. Let me also say in passing that if I look vaguely timid, it is because my fellow Minister is not with us today. I also had the special in the Tea Room, which never bodes well for a restful afternoon, in Committee or otherwise.
Amendment No. 153 requires local traffic authorities to take account of guidance from the appropriate national authority when determining specific network management policies or objectives in relation to different roads. I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) is seeking to do with that amendment, but he will know from the paper that I tabled this morning that we are seeking to draw things as broadly as possible in terms of the network management duty, in consultation with local government. There will of course, in a general sense, be an attempt to clarify the interface at boundary level. We will deal with permits in regulations in part 3, when we address clause 36, where there may be some specific trans-border issues. I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 172 would change subsection (5)(b) to require efficiency as well as effectiveness to be monitored in decision-making processes and the implementation of decisions. That would be otiose. It is not needed. Clause 16 already requires that a local traffic authority's objectives will need to be achieved
''so far as may be reasonably practicable having regard to their other obligations, policies and objectives'',
not least among which will be value for money and affordability: the traffic management duty being taken in the round with all the other resources of the local authority. That allows an authority to decide what will be prudent and proportionate when meeting the duty. That is in the Bill, and I do not think that adding ''efficiency'' will aid things.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Before the Minister concludes his remarks on this group of amendments, will he tell the Committee his opinion
Column Number: 120
of amendment No. 154? This morning, he suggested en passant that guidance would be forthcoming. Therefore, I presume that he will agree to that amendment.
Mr. McNulty: As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, has said that amendment is not necessary, I was going to give an arcane answer to that arcane question. I may still do so in a slightly broader way without delaying the Committee.
Any local authority that does not properly consider the cost-benefit and financial implications of their actions will be subject to scrutiny under the regimes put in place as part of the wider modernisation agenda. That relates to the broad sense of what we mean by ''obligations, policies and objectives'' in clause 16.
Mr. Wilshire: I am afraid that I do not buy the Minister's argument about efficiency. The only reference to that in clause 16 is in subsection (2)(a), which mentions
''the more efficient use of their road network''.
There is no mention of financial efficiency.
The Minister relies on the well-worn assurance that there is a general obligation and refers the Committee to the local traffic authority's other ''obligations, policies and objectives'' but there is no suggestion that efficiency should be included in that. If the Minister wants us to accept that we do not need to use the word ''efficiency'' because of that general statement, why do we need ''effectiveness''? If efficiency is carried by clause 16, surely so is effectiveness. If the Minister wants to single one of those out, he means by implication that the other does not matter.