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My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire made it very clear, as have I, that the legislation puts the onus on the local authorities to be responsible. They knew what the contents of the UK Roads Liaison Group's review recommended; they did not need us to tell them to put it into practice. We did respond to the
recommendations, as was said, but it seems to me to be trying to pass the buck to suggest that local authorities somehow had to wait for the approval or rubber stamp of Government in order to take action on a responsibility that lay in the first instance with them.
Of course there is no one single solution to the problem. Authorities must seek to enter the winter season with greater capacity, but a day's extra capacity alone merely means that we run out of salt one day later. We must look towards a range of solutions.
Finally, we should not lose sight of the contribution that the general public, including the servicemen and women in West Lancashire who my hon. Friend mentioned, made in rallying round and helping friends and neighbours who were particularly vulnerable in cold weather.
Rosie Cooper: Before the Minister reaches any conclusions, I would like to ask him a question. He talks about the responsibility of the local authorities, but who monitors that? Who says whether the performance is good or not? I must draw his attention back to West Lancashire and, for example, the new town of Skelmersdale, which was designed to keep pedestrians and cars apart. Some roads were not properly gritted and side roads not gritted at all-I could mention at least one main road and bus routes that were not gritted-so if gritting is not done in places like Skelmersdale, which have underpasses, the imperative is this: how on earth are people to manage, and does anybody care?
I know my hon. Friend is frustrated by the prospect of her constituents having to take legal action, but that is, of course, one obvious route that
they could take if they remained dissatisfied with the operation of their local authority in respect of the discharge of its responsibilities. At the end of the day, I suppose it is before the ballot box that the members of the council's executive and the council at large would be judged on their performance by my hon. Friend's constituents.
There is one point that I want to make clear in the context of people being helpful to their neighbours during periods of cold weather. I do not want householders and businesses to be discouraged from clearing their private drives and pathways of snow. I know that some employers in my hon. Friend's constituency did just that. People must use their common sense, and not be put off by concerns about being sued. Although ultimately it is for the courts to decide the issue of any liability, it is hardly conceivable that a court will be hard on someone who is doing a proper job by their neighbours and their locality in keeping their driveway and pavement clear.
Of course I fully understand the concerns of my hon. Friend and many others about highway authorities' capacity to grit their local roads and pavements as comprehensively as they might wish. We must learn the lessons presented by this winter, and we must rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of all the travelling public. We are all in this together. Every highway authority must play its part in keeping the country open, and provide an effective service for its communities throughout the winter season.