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Lord Borrie: My Lords, I am somewhat surprised by the extremes to which the Conservative and Liberal Democrat speakers have gone. This group of amendments seeks to remove 11 clauses. The noble Viscount said that the Government's proposals were so bad that he had been unable to think of any way to amend them. Certainly, no suggestions have been made as to what should replace them. Some of the statements made were extreme. The noble Viscount said that there was no clear basis for intervention. But the basis for intervention would be a failing by a local
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authority to perform the duties set out clearly in Clauses 16 and 17at least the noble Viscount must believe that they are clear, because he accepts them. The noble Viscount must have noticed Clause 20(2). The authority must be given, it says,
The electorate has been brought into play by both previous speakers as the be-all and end-all of what the local community could do if it did not believe that traffic management was being run properly. Elections do not come every year; there are gaps. There would be a long gap if something went seriously wrong now, because we have just had a number of local authority elections. Is it being suggested that there should be no powers of intervention by anyone because local autonomy is so important that the electorate should have to wait two or three years before anything could be done? That would be unreasonable.
Local autonomy is vital. Local authorities have been treated with tremendous respect by all parties for a long time and that is an important part of the governance of the country. However, to suggest that nothing should be done when they completely fail in their obligations that are set out in the clauses passed todayand no one could intervene unless the matter was very seriouswould be most unreasonable. Her Majesty's responsible opposition, whether Conservative or Liberal Democrat, owe it to us to make proposals or suggestions other than to say that there is a major difference of principle between us.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. If this power of intervention is needed so badly, can the noble Lord give a recent example of when this power should have been used? Why has there been no clamour for that over the years?
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I cannot help the noble Viscount. I am just suggesting that by proposing powers in a Bill we should take into account the possibility of something going wrong. There should be some fail-safe mechanism and none would be provided if the two parties opposite were successful in removing these 11 clauses.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it will come as no surprise to your Lordships that I should welcome the calm, lucid voice of my noble friend in destroying the case of the Opposition in, as he rightly pointed out, all its extremism. If there was ever a weapon of mass destruction fired at a Bill it would be one which did not include any amendments to any of 11 clauses, but proposed that all of them should be taken out of the Bill on an issue of principle.
We have discussed the matter of intervention with some intensity in both this House and another place. I recognise the force of the Opposition's arguments on certain issues of principle. Of course I accept that
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local authorities are in the best position to deliver improvements in their area and ensure that maximum use is made of the existing road network. But, as my noble friend indicated, the question is what should be done if they fail. Should the Government do nothing, particularly considering the responsibilities of a local authority that would be likely to impact on a much wider area than that local authority?
The concept behind the Bill, the issue of traffic management, is that we are addressing the problems of congestion, which are not the several and individual problems of any single local authority. So often a problem is solved in one place and not tackled in another and that merely moves the issue on. Of course we require some degree of integration with regard to this policy. We need responsible positions to be taken up by local authorities. As my noble friend indicated, the premise behind the Bill is that local authorities have that responsibility. It is clear that the power of interventioncertainly the final powerwould be taken as a measure of last resort. A whole raft of prior processes are to be undertaken, beginning with guidance. They give the authorities a clear indication of what is reasonably expected of their traffic management.
After hearing the speeches of Members opposite, anyone would think that intervention was a new or novel concept. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked me directly, "How on earth did you succeed in getting this past the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister?". Both local and central government accept the principle of intervention and have even gone so far as to agree a protocol governing how intervention should operate in practice. And which department is responsible for signing off that protocol? It is the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Therefore, if the noble Viscount tries to suggest that my department has been involved in some sleight of hand to bypass the vigilance of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I can reassure him that we are working entirely consistently with the protocol, which is agreed with local authorities.
The process outlined in Part 2 of the Bill is consistent with that protocol. Furthermore, it contains a long list of existing service-specific powers for statutory intervention. These allow the relevant Secretary of State to tackle failure relating to a range of areas. I do not know which planet some Members opposite have been inhabiting if they have not noticed intervention by Secretaries of State in relation to specific local authorities defined as failing in certain areas. Those areas include housing, the environment, planning, education, libraries and museums.
Of course, intervention of such a dramatic kind as envisaged in the Bill as last resort is exactly thatit is an intervention of last resort. How on earth could we propose to deliver the national management if we had no capacity to intervene in any local authority which was manifestly failing to live up to its duties in this respect?
Therefore, the powers of intervention are not at all unusual. It is a widely accepted concept that the appropriate national authority should intervene if an
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authority is failing in its duty. Surely it is not unreasonable to extend this in respect of something as important as the new duty of national traffic management.
It is also not unreasonable for the appropriate national authority to exercise the power without returning to Parliament. I emphasise the fact that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not upbraid the Government or criticise the provisions of the Bill in this respect. Its concern related to the guidance on criteria in Clause 27 and we have addressed that by ensuring that it is subject to the parliamentary process.
That is entirely right and proper. Parliament's role is to agree the framework within which this should operate, but individual decisions should fall to the appropriate national authorities. This is not an unfettered power. Any decision taken must be consistent with the principles outlined in the guidance under Clause 27, which would need to stand up to scrutiny. I also emphasise that this, too, could be subject to judicial review.
There are parallels elsewhere. The Local Government Act 1999 provides for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, as the case may be, to direct that a specific function be exercised by him or by his nominee if a local authority is deemed to be failing. This can cover the work of the whole authority. The intervention powers are exercised by statutory direction and no parliamentary order is necessary. In practice, that is no different from the checks and balances of the intervention order contained in the Bill, so we are not breaking new ground. We are following a well-trodden path of prudent provision and of the necessary responsibility of the national authority to respond where there is conspicuous failure to deliver the objectives which are sought by the legislation.
We have offered reassurances throughout the parliamentary process, but I am happy once again to put on record our clear intention that these powers are very much a measure of last resort. We look for every opportunity to resolve problems with the local authority before considering the imposition of a traffic director. Even where that was unavoidable, the provisions are constructed in the Bill in such a way as to confer on the traffic director only the provisions that he would need to do the job.
The Bill therefore offers a flexible, proportionate approach to be taken to address the problem of a failing authority. I emphasise that there is nothing new in this Bill in terms of its powers in this respect. They are necessary powers and surely it will be recognised that, as regards all the powers of local authorities, traffic management is bound to have an impact on areas beyond the scope of those powers. It is therefore necessary to have a structure which tackles the significantly failing authority.
As I have indicated, the Opposition have not tabled amendments to refine the process and to indicate areas of improvement. They have said that 11 clauses of the Bill11 clausesare unacceptable and they propose that they should be deleted. I have not the faintest hope of dissuading them from pressing their deletion today.
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However, I am concerned that in this House and in the country as a whole the strength of the Government's position should be recognised.
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