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Lord Whitty: In a sense I am surprised but, nevertheless, grateful that we have had a wide-ranging debate on the first item on the agenda today. I remind the Committee that this amendment is the first under the clause headed "Local transport plans", although some of the issues raised have been somewhat broader. Those plans are designed to bring forward an effective transport system at local level.
I was slightly surprised by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. In normal circumstances--that is, when we are discussing local government legislation--he is the first to argue that very little should be on the face of the Bill and more left
Lord Dixon-Smith: The Minister is absolutely right: I am all for leaving matters to local authorities. If that were happening in this instance, I should be content. Sadly, it is not. There is an awful lot of paper betwixt this Bill and the local authority before it can do anything in relation to a transport plan.
Lord Whitty: It is true that there is guidance in relation to local transport plans with which the noble Lord will be familiar. But the guidance is flexible and leaves a lot of discretion with local authorities. The more we put on the face of the Bill, the less flexibility there is. Therefore, I must say to my noble friend Lord Berkeley and others who have spoken that although I can be reasonably positive up to a point, I believe that the amendments are either unnecessary or, in some circumstances, undesirable. They are dealt with better both by the provisions in the rest of the Bill and by the process of guidance to local authorities over what they should deliver in their transport plans.
The requirement to set out policies for the movement of freight, for example, which was the burden of the main contribution of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, is provided in Clause 107(1)(a) and (2)(b). Clause 107(1)(a) states:
Lord Clinton-Davis: Will my noble friend admit that the burden of the Government's policy in this respect is "sustainable transport"? Unless I am wildly mistaken, nowhere on the face of the Bill do the words "sustainable transport" appear. Does my noble friend not believe that the words are necessary in relation to the desirability to promote it?
Lord Whitty: The Committee will be aware, and certainly my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis will be aware, that sustainable passenger and freight transport is already the foundation of our local transport plan. We are not starting from scratch. The guidance specifically sets out that we expect authorities to integrate thinking and action across the policy areas, ensuring that transport policy works with environmental policy, with spatial planning, with
With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, the situation is slightly different from that of the GLA Bill in which we set up an entirely new authority with new functions. In this Bill we are talking about a transport policy that already exists, local authorities that already exist and a local transport plan process that already exists. Therefore, this is incremental. We do not need to state first principles again, whether in relation to sustainability or freight.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I hate to interrupt the Minister, but guidance can change. Anyone concerned with planning policy in the 1980s and 1990s will remember that the guidance on out-of-town shopping centres changed, first, one way, then another way and then back to the first way. To have something on the face of the Bill is comforting because, on the whole, governments find it less easy to be pressurised by individual interests into changing the guidance.
Lord Whitty: The benefit of guidance is that within that guidance local authorities have the ability to fashion their policies according to their local circumstances. Without that flexibility, over-prescription on the face of the Bill will restrict local authorities in that respect.
On the second point raised by the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley in relation to the safeguarding of land, existing planning guidance sets out full and clear advice to local authorities in that area. PPG13, at present in draft form, states that local authorities should identify and, where appropriate, protect sites and routes, both existing and potential, which could be useful in transport infrastructure development. PPG12 makes clear that development plans should include only proposals that are firm and that have a degree of certainty of proceeding. That seems to be a sensible policy, while protecting land in appropriate circumstances. The guidance is also specific that authorities should have regard to planning and development plan strategies when preparing their local transport plans.
This Bill is on top of a pre-existing process that is familiar to local authorities and within a framework of a transport policy that is familiar to noble Lords. Therefore, I believe that it is unnecessary to prescribe on the face of the Bill some of the issues proposed by the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the amendment in relation to planning tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I am much obliged to the Minister for giving way. I do not disagree with the majority of what he has said about transport, nor does my noble friend. However, I believe, particularly in the light of what he has said, that he should take this matter away for consideration. On reflection, it may be that the Government will take the view that he has expressed, but I do not believe that they will and nor
Lord Whitty: I was hoping that I had finished actually! In reply to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, clearly we shall consider what has been said in this debate. In general terms, it is not the Government's intention to prescribe more in this clause, which relates specifically to the process of local transport plans and not to the totality of transport policy.
Lord Dixon-Smith: If I was out of order I apologise. I was trying to prevent the Minister from having to rise twice, three times or possibly even four times. I could not let what he had said pass without pointing out to him that he had singularly succeeded in avoiding any mention of pedestrians or cyclists. They are the forgotten part of the transport equation and, in my view, they require some attention. I wanted to say that before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made up his mind about what to do with his amendment. He has an interesting dilemma.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment. I thank them for their support. I also thank my noble friend the Minister for what he has said. I am partly comforted, but not entirely, because my objective was to see the words "sustainable transport" somewhere in this introduction. Those words are included in the duties of the Strategic Rail Authority, so if it is all right for the SRA to have sustainable development why cannot local transport? My noble friend said that it is all contained in the guidance, but, as I sought to point out, the guidance is fairly deficient on some of these matters. I would much prefer to see those words on the face of the Bill. That deals with paragraph (a).
On paragraph (b), on the issue of land, again I hear what my noble friend has said, but if the Greater London Authority is allowed to own and to develop land for transport, I do not understand why that phrase cannot be in this Bill.
On the PPG13 draft guidance, my noble friend talked about the firm proposals and certainty of proceeding. That is the difficulty with local authorities; one needs to look many years ahead when dealing with transport plans. Certainty of proceeding requires many things apart from simply having the land. I hope that my noble friend can reconsider that point too. Like other noble Lords, I shall read