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The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I stress at the start that this probing amendment has come about because it has been brought to my attention that, in the working groups set up by the department to consider these issues, considerable differences have been expressed. Moreover, concerns have been raised by several London boroughs on the issue.
As it stands, the Bill will reduce the responsibilities of the boroughs over their own highways network and add central control and what they feel is central bureaucracy to a much-increased strategic road network. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the Transport for London plan, which is vastly to increase that network of strategic roads.
I have to say straightaway that I am not against the increase in principle, but we must ensure that it is measured. It will give Transport for London a much larger role in co-ordinating traffic management over borough roads.
I would be the first to say that, in some instances, Transport for London has done a very good job, but we have all seen instances where we occasionally have to raise questions. I do not know whether the Minister or any other noble Lord has been to Oxford Street recently. If so, they would have found that the whole street was clogged up by buses. There is no point in getting on a bus because you can walk faster than the
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bus. There are often 30 buses in a line clogging up the street. It is an example of where the interface is not working.
It is important that we give Transport for London some oversight of strategic roads but, at the same time, it has to work with the boroughs as opposed to against them. I am sure the Minister will agree with that. They all have slightly different views and it is important to introduce a system that works, rather than one which increases bureaucracy and brings stagnation.
The amendment seeks to elucidate from the Minister how he thinks the system is working and what he believes both sides of the House can do to improve the working relationship between Transport for London and the boroughs. I am sure the Minister has the same ambition as I have; we want the relationship to work.
I am not sure that the Bill has the balance right at the moment. I am not sure that my amendment is exactly right either because it is rather severe. I am looking to the Minister for an explanation so that we can help move the process forward in a constructive way. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for the way in which he has introduced this probing amendment. In my experience, a probing amendment is no less difficult to handle than any other amendment. All it indicates is that it will be withdrawn irrespective of the quality of my reply. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of pride involved in my reply because I hope to give him good measure for the questions he has asked.
I shall respond to the "probing" as best I can in a moment, but the problem with the amendment is that it would take the referee out of the game. Without mentioning name or nationality, I can think of one recent game where I would have cheered if the referee had been removed. However, as a general rule, when there is a dispute between conflicting elements, someone has to produce a resolution to it. The amendment would take out, if not the referee, the arbiter.
The Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority can direct by order that a road or proposed road should become strategic, but it happens only where the consent of the borough through which the road runs is obtained. What if they disagree? Quite clearly, the solution is that the Secretary of State must act in such circumstances. What the amendment would doprobing or notis take the Secretary of State out of the picture and leave the parties in a state of stalemate.
I do not think a great deal of the amendment but I recognise the point that the noble Earl is making; that we must be concerned about the process by which we develop the concept of the strategic network. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the Secretary of State has the responsibility for the strategic network, but in London the mayor plays a crucial role.
I heard what the noble Lord said about buses. I confess that I have been on a bus in Oxford Street whose performance has been a little less than my
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walking speed, although it was marginally more comfortable. I understand what the noble Lord said, but I would sooner see Oxford Street crowded with buses than bereft of them, which was perhaps the danger in the past when public transport was not identified as the priority that it is now. However, we have always said that the only way in which we can solve the problem of congestion in our major cities, and ab extenso as far as the capital is concerned, is by using public transport more intensively and intelligently. Buses clearly have a role to play in that.
I enjoyed the "probe" of the noble Lord's amendment and his illustration of where we need to tidy things up, but we obviously cannot accept the amendment. Some final authority must rest with the Secretary of State in circumstances where we would need to advance the cause of the strategic network and no-one else but he would be in a position to do so.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am particularly grateful for the fact that he has understood the issue and sought to address it. It is really an issue between Transport for London and the boroughs. My plea in moving the amendment was to encourage the Minister's department to be the arbiter and to be helpful in the process, as I am sure that it wants to be. It seemed to be an issue that needed to be raised, so that both sides of the House might express their concerns and a satisfactory conclusion could be reached. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) In the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c. 22), in section 97 (service of notices etc.) after subsection (2) there is inserted
"(3) References in this section to notices authorised to be given or served for the purposes of this Part include a reference to notices under Schedule 22B to the Highways Act 1980 (fixed penalties for certain offences under that Act).""
"(17A) The regulations may make provision about their application to a series of deposits of skips.
(17B) And they may, in particular, provide that a series of deposits of skips is to be treated as a single deposit of a skip
(a) beginning at the time the first in the series was deposited, and
(b) ending at the time the last in the series was removed."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 99, 100 and 101. Clauses 63 to 67 concern the
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possible establishment of charging schemes to encourage those who place skips, scaffolding and building materials on the highway and carry out temporary excavations to keep to a minimum the period for which they disrupt road users.
The four amendments are intended to deal with a possible ambiguity. The scheme could be frustrated where, for instance, the owner of a skip replaced it continually with further skips as it became full and, each time he replaced the skip, that was treated as if the time he was occupying the road and causing disruption had started all over again. That would provide no incentive for the owner of the skip to limit the disruption that it causes. The same principle applies to scaffolding and other materials which might occupy the highway.
The amendments have the combined effect of providing that regulations can make clear that a series of skips or scaffolding et cetera can be treated as a single one for the purpose of calculating how long they have occupied the highway. I beg to move.
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