Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, it was the noble Lord's noble friend who, I thought, was disagreeing with me. I am quite happy to have spoken to the amendment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 100.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 111 [Plans and strategies: supplementary]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 101:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 111 is important. It states that,

    "In carrying out their functions under sections 107 to 110, a local transport authority must have regard to any guidance concerning ... the content of any local transport plans (and bus strategies)",

and so on. I do not apologise to the House for returning to this matter--not so much for the content of the clause, but for what I see as the implications for our legislative process of what we are doing. I have in mind the document on guidance. I do not intend to talk about it in any particular detail. It was issued in March this year and is a revision of the guidance issued about nine months earlier.

In the olden days, guidance used to be issued under the authority of existing legislation. I believe that it was customary to say what that authority was, but I have found no reference to that in this guidance. I have no doubt that the Minister will take care of my ignorance in his response and tell me exactly how the guidance came into being. My concern is that what we are doing here is turning this document into legislation. I say that because a local authority "must have regard" to it. Of course, that is a common form of words and guidance is commonly used; indeed, it is an increasing trend. However, in this instance, we are changing the funding system for local authorities in relation to highways programming. We are changing it from transport policies and programmes that are produced annually to local transport plans that are quinquennial, with what I would call "rolling reviews".

When you go into the detail, you actually find that this is a bidding document; in other words, the content and quality of the document regarding the local transport plan will be used by the Government to assess whether or not this or that authority receives the funding for which it is applying. I then turn back in the document to Annex D and the 27 paragraphs that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, reminded me about in Committee, because I had not counted them properly. Those paragraphs are directed at defining the contents for the criteria for assessing the quality of local transport plans.

26 Oct 2000 : Column 603

However, the situation is worse than that because there are 133 defined characteristics of a "good local transport plan". If you are bidding for funding from the Government, would you dare put in a plan that is not a good one? What are we about here? Indeed, the Minister has criticised me for trying to get a slightly greater degree of definition here and there on the face of this Bill. This is an amazing situation. But that is as may be.

We have this document being given the force of statute by Clause 111. I do not raise that issue in order to criticise; I raise it because the amendment that I have moved seeks to remove subsection (1) of Clause 111, not so much because I think that I will have any success with it but because I believe that this House--and, indeed, the whole parliamentary process--now needs to consider quite carefully what it is about when it allows this sort of procedure to continue. I do not believe that we can stop it, but I do believe that we need to be very wide awake as to what it is that we are agreeing to and how far we are eroding the system of parliamentary control with which we expect to run our country. I do not apologise for raising that matter in the House although I do not expect that the Minister will be able to give me a satisfactory answer.

Amendment No. 102 is grouped with Amendment No. 101. Here I am simply concerned with clarity and trying to simplify the wording of the Bill. I am sure that the Minister is relieved at that. It seems to me that subsection (2) of Clause 111 is somewhat obscurely worded. It refers to "policies under section 107(1)" in relation to a bus strategy. However, bus strategies are defined under Clause 109. It seems to me that subsection (2) needs to concentrate on the transport needs of elderly persons or those with mobility problems. Amendment No. 102 seeks to remove the extraneous words "under section 107(1)". I consider that would render the subsection much clearer. I believe that that was a worthwhile effort even though the Minister has on other occasions resisted my attempts to improve and simplify the wording of Bills. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, As regards Amendment No. 102, I am always grateful to the noble Lord for attempting to edit the Bill. His amendment would certainly simplify it in seeking to delete three words but I am not entirely sure that it would clarify it. I understood the noble Lord's explanation of what he is trying to do but I am not sure that the amendment achieves that. However, we shall, as ever, consider the amendment but I do not think that it achieves what the noble Lord thinks it does.

As regards Amendment No. 101, I believe that the noble Lord knows perfectly well that the guidance he mentioned in relation to local transport plans is currently non-statutory. However, future versions of it will become the guidance mentioned in Clause 111.

26 Oct 2000 : Column 604

Amendment No. 101 would delete any requirement to have regard to that. I understand the noble Lord's desire to have near complete autonomy for local authorities but that measure goes a little far.

As regards transport objectives, any government must provide a comprehensive and consistent framework while avoiding being unreasonably restrictive in guidance. If we did not issue any guidance at all, we would have to put more measures on the face of the Bill which would reduce the flexibility that the noble Lord seeks. That is why we provide guidance. The requirement in subsection (1) of Clause 111 to have regard to guidance means that local authorities cannot disregard the guidance but does not require the guidance to be followed slavishly, as the noble Lord implied. There is plenty of scope for authorities to develop their own policies having regard to the guidance. The purpose of guidance is to provide a relatively light touch. The alternative of putting everything on the face of the Bill would make it inordinately longer, or even more inordinately long--as I am sure the noble Lord would say. I do not think that that would be appropriate. It certainly would not give local authorities the flexibility they need. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the Minister has given me the reply that I expected. He will not be disappointed in that, even though he knows that I must be. I am not disappointed in what he said in relation to the purposes of the Bill. I was not criticising that. The point I raised concerned the wider issue in relation to the way in which we approach legislation, guidance and control.

In that regard the Minister avoided the issue that I attempted to raise. Therefore, I infer that I may not have raised it with sufficient clarity. It may be that it is an issue which needs consideration at a different time and in a different place. Would the Minister consider what I have said in relation to Amendment No. 102? I ask no more than that. He might find it helpful if he does. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]

Clause 113 [Quality partnership schemes]:

[Amendment No. 103 not moved.]

Clause 114 [Notice and consultation requirements]:

[Amendment No. 104 not moved.]

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at one minute past eleven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page