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Road Traffic Reduction Bill

7.14 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Hamwee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Burnham) in the Chair.]

Clause 2 [Duty of principal councils to make reports]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 14, after ("prepare") insert ("following consultation with neighbouring principal councils and the Highways Agency").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in my name. These amendments have a common purpose, that of requiring certain controls to be placed on the face of the Bill. It may be that the Committee would prefer it if I make one perhaps longer speech rather than four separate speeches which might, at the end of the day, turn out to be longer.

When we were discussing this matter at Second Reading, the principle of traffic reduction had widespread support in your Lordships' House. The matter before us tonight, however, is whether the Bill, as it now stands, is good legislation and in the best interests of the environment and the economy. The amendments that I have set down will, I believe, improve the Bill by creating clear duties on local authorities to carry out consultation with neighbouring authorities, the Highways Agency and representatives of local business. The amendments will also ensure that any traffic reduction plan is directly related to other land use plans and that, once decisions are made, they are communicated to those who may be affected.

The key issue in this short debate is the obvious tension between what is acceptable as a matter for government guidance and what needs to be included in primary legislation. I believe it is recognised that all the obligations in the Bill could already be covered if

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Government issued the relevant guidance through the local authorities' transportation policy and plans (TPP) system.

That begs the question: why do we need primary legislation if guidance is sufficient? The answer, according to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when we discussed this last is because,

    "One ... needs to legislate to bring those who are dragging their heels up to the mark of the best".

Placing these amendments on the face of the Bill will avoid confusion and ensure that all the local authorities that concern the noble Baroness have a duty to perform to a consistent level. As the Bill now stands, a local authority can drag its feet over matters of consultation and it will be the road users, businesses and residents who will face the inevitable disruption. Indeed, under Clause 5 of the Bill as it now stands those authorities may in fact do nothing whatsoever.

The amendment creates a duty on local highway authorities to consult with neighbouring authorities and the Highways Agency before preparing their reports to set local traffic reduction targets or curtailment of growth targets. That will ensure that any plans that might be developed take full account of circumstances on all parts of the road network. Decisions that affect traffic in one administrative area may well have implications for traffic conditions, business and economic development or indeed road safety in another administrative area.

At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith gave the example of the City of London's ring of steel, saying that, while it may have improved conditions for those working in the area, it raised concerns among neighbouring boroughs that their networks were having to cope with the additional diverted traffic.

The other amendments provide for similar duties in other subject areas.

If the Bill is to produce a coherent approach to managing traffic, I suggest that each local plan must be in accord with those being developed around it. The reality for far too many road users is that local authorities have difficulty in ensuring that their road works are adequately co-ordinated. The prospect that area-wide traffic reduction plans could be introduced with little or no consultation is, I suggest to the Committee, far too great a risk to take.

I do not believe that this is a controversial point. I am informed by Friends of the Earth, who have been advising the noble Baroness, that they share this concern and do not disagree with its sentiments or purpose.

The Bill in its various forms has been in existence for around three years. Since the introduction of this Bill, Parliament has spent only a very few hours scrutinising it. While in current circumstances that may not be unusual, I do not believe that it is in the best interests of sound legislation.

I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee--with some diffidence but as courteously as I might--that both she and indeed her honourable friend in another place have played in some doubtful

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company when they rest on the advice of the Friends of the Earth. Friends of the Earth behaved extraordinarily badly. They wrote to one of my advisers and, with the permission of the Committee, I should like to read what the letter said:

    "I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to use whatever influence you have to persuade Lord Lucas to withdraw his amendments. There are quite clearly enormous constitutional issues raised should a Peer frustrate the will of the House of Commons (and the House of Lords) by blocking such an important Bill on the eve of a General Election".

That is a comment which is neither correct in fact, nor complimentary to the manner in which your Lordships undertake their scrutiny role, which is at the heart of our work. However, that is what the letter said. I and others--the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders and the Freight Transport Association--contrary to what the Friends of the Earth say, remain concerned that, unamended, this legislation may not function well in practice. These amendments would ensure that the Bill could help to deliver the environmental and economic improvements we all seek. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the way in which he dealt with this matter. In my view the amendment is uncontentious, calling as it does for consultation by councils in drawing up plans of neighbouring councils, the Highways Agency, local businesses and so forth. I find nothing wrong with the spirit of the amendment.

I can give the noble Lord a clear undertaking that, in the event of the Labour Party coming to office after the election, we shall be happy to enter into consultations with him about his proposals. I cannot go further than that at this stage. It is necessary for a clear and new look to be taken, but I can give him that clear undertaking.

We say that the Bill is wholly consistent with Labour Party policy. We set it out last year in Consensus for Change. We call for an integrated, balanced, transport strategy and set out our commitment to work with local communities and businesses to find effective, equitable and environmentally sustainable solutions to congestion, pollution and traffic growth. As my noble friend Lord Graham said at Second Reading, we have made it clear that we support the principles of the Bill's aims within existing budgets; namely, to set local targets for traffic reduction or constraint on traffic growth; to consult local people, businesses and environmental and other organisations; to encourage cycling, walking, better public transport provision and speed reduction; and to take account of local plans in government assessment and local transport grant bids.

We believe that the Secretary of State for Transport should be involved in monitoring plans, furthering regional co-ordination and reporting to Parliament. The Bill in its present form advocates consultation with businesses and environmental organisations on drawing up local plans. It is therefore clear beyond peradventure that the Labour Party is supportive of the principle of consultation with regional and local bodies affected by the Bill. We are therefore supportive of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord.

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I want to make that absolutely plain so that there is no room for any doubt on that point. The detail of the matter is something about which we shall want to consult with the noble Lord and others concerned in the event of our being able to take office following the general election.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: I support in principle the amendment moved by my noble friend and in particular Amendment No. 1. Those are precisely the points I raised at Second Reading; that is to say, consultation with neighbouring principal councils and the Highways Agency. In his reply at Second Reading my noble friend the Minister gave me a satisfactory answer in relation to principal councils consultation and has since written to me and given me a satisfactory reply also on the point relating to the Highways Agency. When he replies to this debate I should like him to place that on record, in Hansard.

I am encouraged to hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, though that is probably not binding and, any way, is unlikely to happen. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was also sympathetic to my concerns in relation to the consultation with those two specific bodies. Provided that I receive the reply I hope for, I shall be satisfied. I would not therefore support the amendment if it came to a Division.

My noble friend Lord Lucas showed me the letter sent by the Friends of the Earth. I was somewhat horrified that my noble friend was accused of acting unconstitutionally by tabling the amendments. I have heard it suggested in the past--and in this we have all co-operated--that by not pressing an amendment at Committee stage a Bill does not have to go back to the other place and can therefore go through. But to suggest that one should not even table an amendment because it might spoil the progress of a Bill is taking matters a bit far. If one was in another place--I have never been in the other place though some noble Lords have--the author of that letter might well be summoned to the Bar of the House of Commons to account for his actions. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will take note of what is being said and look into the letter.

Having said that, I support the principle of the amendment and hope to receive a satisfactory reply from my noble friend on the point.

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