Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, answering Questions in this House, one cannot but be aware that there is a degree of frustration among your Lordships and, indeed, the general public in relation to roadworks, particularly in the central London area. Indeed, I sometimes think that when the history of this transitional House is written, historians will find that we have spent an awful lot of time discussing holes in the road, almost as much time as gay sex.

Nevertheless, I accept that there is a real problem in this regard. I shall send the noble Lord the advice for which he asked. I was going to say that it is called the "pink" book. This book is available from the Stationery Office and is applicable to all undertakers and others who participate. The highways authorities and undertakers are doing their best to improve the traffic flow in a period when there are substantial streetworks by the cable companies and utilities.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that although new technology has just been mentioned, in central London we still see many men with a round sign which is green on one side which says "Go" and which is red on the other and says "Stop"? Is it not possible that we could at least improve on the use of that system? If technology is used, as the cars go by it is possible to register how many are waiting on each side.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, although the general impression is that those disruptions are present for a

13 Apr 2000 : Column 285

long time, in fact most are there for an extremely short time. Therefore, quite often, very temporary measures are needed. Indeed, although, as the noble Baroness says, the portable traffic signals are vehicle-activated, there are situations where, for a short period, the traffic may be judged better by human involvement rather than by automated traffic signals.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I am not sure that the police would welcome being notified every time that a hole is dug in the road. Certainly, when I was a divisional commander and somebody complained about a hole appearing in the road, my stock response was that the police would be looking into it!

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think it says in my briefing that these are operational matters for chief constables. My noble friend has clearly carried out his duties in that respect. This is primarily a duty for the highways authorities rather than for the police although, on occasions, the police help in relation to traffic management.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, last week the Government announced that they were giving powers to local highways authorities to penalise utilities which overstay their welcome in carrying out roadworks. On this side of the House, we welcome that, as far it goes. But what will the Government do about local highways authorities which, as often as not, are just as guilty as utilities in overstaying their welcome on their own roads, particularly when they use their own direct labour organisations to carry out the roadworks?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the management of highway maintenance by local authorities has been greatly improved with the additional resources for road maintenance provided by this Government as compared with the previous government, and because we have provided those finances over a three-year period rather than over a single year, thereby leading to better planning. I believe that the noble Lord will find that the majority of the increase in the digging up of roads, particularly in central London, is due to the laying of the new cable network. That was referred to by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury in the recent debate.

Earl Russell: My Lords, when the Minister just now referred us to the "Stationery" Office, how was he spelling it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that has left me standing.

Select Committees

3.20 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What extra resources would be required to establish an additional Select Committee and how long it would take to recruit and train any new staff.

13 Apr 2000 : Column 286

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, the resources required by individual Select Committees vary greatly. Typically, a committee or sub-committee requires two to three members of staff, together with the necessary accommodation. Other costs of committees arise from shorthand writing, specialist advice, printing and any committee travel. Career Clerks are recruited through an annual competition, and normally take up posts after the Summer Recess. Temporary Clerks can be recruited to a shorter timescale. Committee Clerks are trained in post.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. Does my noble friend agree that the Select Committees represent some of the best work carried out by this House; that there is a widespread wish that we should expand the number of Select Committees to carry out that work; and, whereas an outside observer might not believe that this House is unduly impoverished, is it not the truth that we lack resources? Will my noble friend give some advice as to what we can do to increase the resources available for our work?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I wholly agree with the noble Lord about the success of the work of your Lordships' committees. I have particularly in mind the European Union Select Committee, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and indeed, more recently, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, all of which are committees which I do not happen to chair. Those committees, particularly the first two, have enhanced the reputation of this House both in this country and elsewhere and are taken notice of, not least in Brussels.

At the last meeting of the Liaison Committee it was decided that we should embark on a general review of our committee work. That will take place on 8th May at the committee's next meeting, when we shall be considering a number of proposals for the expansion of committee work. I wholly agree with the noble Lord--if I may say so, as only one member of the Liaison Committee; I cannot commit the committee itself--that to expand our committee work somewhat is desirable. Provision was made for resources at the most recent meeting of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, which has responsibility for making provision for expanding work over the next three years. However, bearing in mind in particular that accommodation is one of the constraints, there may well be a need to press further for additional resources in that respect.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, my noble friend the Chairman of Committees forgot one committee that he does not chair; namely, the new one, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. I entirely agree with all that he said about the great value of the work of Select Committees. As we all know, they are extremely important to your Lordships' House. My noble friend spoke of the lack of resources and accommodation. As he will know, the other place is

13 Apr 2000 : Column 287

still occupying some of the premises at this end of the Palace which should be occupied by us and available for our resources. I gather that the situation began in the 1960s. There is no law about it; there is just a letter of agreement. Will my noble friend ensure that that agreement is cancelled and that we have those offices back?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I can immediately reassure the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that I have not overlooked the fact that I do not chair another committee which is beginning to enhance the reputation of this House; namely, the one chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Peston: your Lordships' ad-hoc Select Committee on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Indeed, I have a note to that effect in my own hand in my brief mentioning the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, as a possible intervener! We have not overlooked the matter; in fact, I have recently received an attractive letter, elegantly constructed, from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about the possible longer-term future of that committee--perhaps it may be transformed into an economic committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, mentioned accommodation. That has been very much on our minds. I believe that your Lordships--or at least some of your Lordships--will know that, for example, the five rooms used by another place for quite some time will be coming back to us. There are other plans for an expansion of our accommodation. There is indeed still a need to find additional committee accommodation.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees aware that I am chair of a sub-committee which had a newly recruited Clerk this year? I was extremely impressed by the quality of the training given by the Clerks' department and the speed at which our new recruit came up to extremely useful capability. Will the noble Lord accept that experience so far suggests that recruitment and training are not long-term bars to expansion of the committee system? Will he further confirm that the modesty of the fees which we pay our specialist advisers suggests that the resource constraints on the recruitment of more specialist advisers are not great?

The Chairman of Committees: Yes, my Lords, I agree with all that the noble Lord has said. I am grateful to him. We shall ensure that those concerned hear the words he used to describe the quality of our Clerks, if they have not already done so in your Lordships' Chamber.

New committees are entrusted to the care of established Clerks. Well-established committees are looked after by newer Clerks. There is excellent training on a continuing basis for both our existing Clerks and newly recruited Clerks in particular. In their initial stages of training there is a high degree of

13 Apr 2000 : Column 288

supervision which is, of course, needed until they grow accustomed to our ways. I endorse the noble Lord's remarks. Recruitment and training are not obstacles.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page