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3.45 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I rise very briefly to support what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. These advertisements are growing in number, and on trunk roads they are positioned around roundabouts. They are a distraction and enforcement action certainly needs to be taken, whether by central government or local government. I am concerned that many local councils have cut back on their enforcement staff. In the district council where I live, the local authority itself has erected advertisements at roundabouts, which is a disgraceful flouting of the law and one that I regret very much.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I support this amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He kindly reminded the House that we have previously contested the issue within this Chamber. I had the pleasure of leading a debate specifically on the flourishing of motorway advertisements. I wish to repeat briefly some of those arguments. First, motorway adverts are unsightly; indeed, the CPRE has waged a recent campaign to that effect. Secondly, they almost undoubtedly break planning law. Thirdly, and this is the point that was highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, there is increasing evidence that, one day, we could be confronted by an accident wholly attributable to someone trying to write down a telephone number, or take other information, from one of these motorway adverts.

If you are a passenger in a car, just look at some of these adverts. They are grossly and poorly designed to give information to anyone passing them at speed. For a driver, they are a distraction too far. Since our debates on the issue in this House, Dr Mark Young and Janina Mahfoud from the Ergonomics Research Group of the School of Engineering and Design at Brunel University in March 2007 completed a study entitled Driven to Distraction: The Effects of Roadside Advertising on Driver Attention. The report found that roadside advertising had a detrimental effect on drivers’ performance and attention, making them more likely to crash. I encourage my noble friend to ask the civil servants to read that, with a view to stoking up the action that the Government have already taken on this issue—and I think they are with us on this issue—to ensure that we can eliminate this possibility before we suddenly find it returning to Parliament as a matter of urgency.

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At the moment, the duty lies upon local councils to enforce the law. I suggest, as I have in the past, that most local councils have no interest whatever in monitoring infringement of the law, as it stands, on a motorway that passes through their county or district. My own suggestion, for what it is worth, is that the Highways Agency, whose agents pass up and down the motorways every day, might more properly be given the duty of observing and pursuing those who are breaking the law.

So I support the amendment, but hope that the Government will think again about what more can be done. I acknowledge what has been done so far, but it would be a terrible day if we had to take urgent action in this House because of this increased diversion for those trying to drive safely on the motorways.

Lord Snape: My Lords, I have listened with interest to the debate so far on the amendment. I am fascinated that the Conservative Party, which traditionally bemoans the fact that there is too much legislation, regularly proposes amendments that would bring more legislation before your Lordships’ House and the other place.

I am a bit concerned. My questions are for the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the exemptions he sees for political parties. He does not apparently feel that motorists, who, I agree, could well be distracted by some of these advertisements, as indicated by my noble friend, should be exempt, but, for some reason, under his proposals political parties will be. How many political advertisements has he seen in farmers’ fields for parties other than his own? I hate to inject a political note into your Lordships’ debate on the amendment, but when many farmers, particularly the bigger ones, seem to delight in putting Conservative posters in their field, why is that not distracting? He said, “Well, you do not have to write down the telephone number”. That is understandable for the advertisements to which I have referred.

However, there may well be an instance where a picture of the Leader of the Opposition perhaps, who I suppose is a reasonably handsome fellow—certainly the Conservative Party believes that to be the case—may distract a female motorist. She may look and say, “Isn’t he nice looking?”, just when the whole lane of the motorway in front of her stops dead. Is not that an ever-present danger, or does the noble Earl feel that perhaps the leader of his party is not as handsome as some of the propaganda alleges?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I bring us back to the subject at hand, but I must say that I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Snape for that intervention. I used to be very distracted by Tory Party posters that appeared in farmers’ fields around my village. In fact I found them quite offensive, so I suppose they could have driven me to distraction and off the road—but that was another time.

Going back to the amendment, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his explanation. When I first looked at it I thought that this was a bit out of scope. The Bill is about local transportation; the amendment is, in essence, about roadside advertising, and it seems a little out of place. But the debate is not

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entirely out of place as these are important issues and relate to the sensible movement of people around communities—and one should always take road safety seriously.

Not all advertising is a danger to road traffic, but it is important that we ensure that drivers are able to concentrate properly on what they should be doing—driving in a safe and legal fashion on our roads, and particularly on our motorways.

The Government agree that very large roadside advertising can be excessively and dangerously distracting to drivers. On the other hand, small advertisements or those some distance away from the road obviously cannot be read at speed. The Department for Transport and the Highways Agency are already conducting research to determine where the balance lies in terms of road safety, and they are very aware of the research of Young and Mahfoud at Brunel University, to which my noble friend Lord Harrison referred, which is obviously very important.

We also know that unlawful advertisements can appear suddenly and without warning and then disappear just as quickly, but there are increasingly fewer of them. A publicity campaign in the summer of 2005 made it clear that placing advertisements on trailers in fields does not avoid planning law and that planning authorities can promptly enforce this law and deter further offences.

Furthermore, the Department for Communities and Local Government recently published for local planning authorities its new advice on advertising, which allows for refusal of planning permission on grounds of road safety, so it explicitly deals with the issue. It also contains specific advice on handling unlawful advertisements and includes new powers to charge advertisers for the cost of removal on top of any fines. A form of cost recovery is built in, so I do not necessarily accept the argument that it is not in the local authority’s interest to enforce because it can recover the cost of enforcement, which is important.

I agree that the signs are unsightly and I can see the potential dangers to which they give rise. I congratulate noble Lords who have highlighted the issue. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that this was a matter of central government enforcement. He then went on to tell us that he did not believe that local authorities would or did enforce it. That is not the case. We are there to make sure that local government does its job. Not only are the Government aware of the issue of mobile roadside advertisements but we have taken measures to combat the problem. We believe that it is a matter for local enforcement. I take the point that there needs to be an interface between the Highways Agency and enforcement. The Highways Agency is aware of that responsibility. I undertake to go back to the department and remind it of the need to impress on the Highways Agency the value of joint working with local authorities on the matter.

We do not believe that specifying in the Bill the need for local transport authority action would be practical or appropriate. After all, the local transport authority, say a county council, is in many cases not

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responsible for planning, which lies with the district councils in that county. Even for unitary authorities, which have responsibility both for transport and planning, there are many road safety and other transport issues that require action from local transport authorities. These will be addressed in future guidance on local transport plans, rather than in legislation—the issue of mobile roadside advertisements will therefore be considered for inclusion in such guidance.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is right to seek assurance that action is taken against dangerous mobile roadside advertisements. I assure him that the Government are aware of this issue and have been taking the appropriate measures. Valuable debates and points have been made in your Lordships’ House. I know that colleagues in the DCLG and the ODPM have dealt with the matters as well. We should ensure that the Local Government Association works with its district council authority members to ensure that their powers are being properly exercised and that enforcement action is taken where appropriate, because I see the potential for a menace to road safety.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising the issue, which has given rise to a useful short debate. It reminds us all of the importance of enforcement and of road safety issues, but it would not be appropriate to put it as a power for local transport authorities when the power is already there at a local authority level to take the sort of action that we need to see taken in cases of abuse.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Harrison and Lord Bradshaw. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, mentioned the Highways Agency. I understand that the Highways Agency contacts local authorities to have the adverts moved, but only in the worst cases and only on Highways Agency roads, not local authority roads. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, amused us by picking up on the political point, but my point is that we must avoid the need to legislate in haste; a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. We need to use the legislation that we already have—again that returns to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, because I was careful not to suggest a shedload of new regulation. We need to use effectively what we have.

The Minister suggested that my amendment was out of place. I will raise the issue at every opportunity I can within the rules. I will do that while the problem is apparent and growing worse, which it is.

I will read carefully what the Minister said, but while the problem is getting worse I will return to it during the passage of future Bills when I see a suitable opportunity. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 pm

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 2A:

“(c) plans and strategies published by any relevant rail infrastructure manager,”

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2B. We have decided to come back with this amendment to emphasise our view that transport should be integrated if it is to be effective. These amendments seek to make it a requirement for a local authority to consult rail plans and strategies when producing their local transport plans. It is intriguing that at some points the Bill provides a near-exhaustive list of consultation requirements, yet sometimes it is argued that this matter would better be left for guidance. I cannot see why a requirement to consult organisations such as Network Rail should be opposed. Having this requirement in the Bill would be consistent with the tone of this clause. Due consideration needs to be given to rail capacity to ensure that authorities are well informed when devising their policies and plans and know that this is a clear expectation in the route to integrated transport.

I mentioned previously that route utilisation strategies are central to the forward planning activity of the rail industry. They set out the current capacity, passenger and freight demand, operational performance and cost predictions. If transport is to be effectively considered as a whole, there is surely an argument to have a sound link between rail policies and plans produced by local transport authorities. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, implied that the Government did not want to take the decision to add a long list of consultation requirements in the Bill for fear that they would become increasingly out of date. I cannot see how that argument holds for something like rail, even though the names may change, which seems fairly permanent. We need a firm relationship between road and rail. Accepting the amendment would also provide some encouragement that the Government took the same positive view of integrated transport. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, we discussed this in Committee and, like him, I was surprised that the amendment was rejected by the Government. “Integrated transport” may not be the wording that we use these days, but clearly any planning that involves road and rail should be done together and the amendment would fit in well. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, mentioned the railways route utilisation strategies, the forecasts that go with them and the Government’s plan and high-level output statements for the railways. They are totally dependent on where passengers and, to some extent, freight go at either end of a journey. If the rail services are to be cut back or increased, local and regional transport plans should reflect that, and vice versa. This is before we start looking at the possible changes to transport demand when the price of oil rockets, but I shall not go into that now. I hope that my noble friend will consider this issue seriously, because this simple group of amendments would emphasise the importance of considering land-based transport in the round.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I shall wait to hear what the Minister has to say, because he will probably tell us that the guidance will mean that such consultation will

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happen. In any case, an integrated transport authority would not be doing its job if it failed to consult the rail manager.

More important is the basis on which alternative road and rail schemes are considered. There is a tremendous misbalance between the benefits accruing to railway schemes and those accruing to roads. That has its roots in the methodology that the department uses to appraise various schemes. A very pessimistic view is taken of the benefits of rail schemes and a very optimistic view of those applying to road schemes.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for bringing back what one might term a repeat amendment. I certainly agree that consultation on local transport plans with interested and affected parties, and consideration of their plans and strategies, is vital in securing transport policies and projects that best service local people. We are grateful to Network Rail, the Campaign for Better Transport and others for their proposals for railways and local transport plans; we work closely with them at all times. I also know from our discussions on this in Committee that the noble Lord is keen to see better integration between road and rail, as are the Government. As he acknowledged then, the integration of local railways with other local transportation services already forms a key component of many plans. The Government seek to continue to encourage and deepen that understanding and integrated way of working. I believe that the term integration is appropriate—I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when he seems to assume that integration is not something we favour; we clearly do.

It is right that organisations such as Network Rail should be consulted on local transport plans—that is essential. Indeed, we think such groups are already likely to be covered in any event by the duty placed on local transport authorities to consult,

I ought to reiterate the position that my noble friend Lady Crawley set out in Committee. The Government still consider that it is more appropriate for local authorities to decide which individual organisations to consult, taking account of local circumstances. Similarly, local transport authorities must take into account a wide range of plans and strategies when developing and implementing their local transport plans—including those of Network Rail, but also other relevant local, regional and national strategies. It is for local transport authorities to decide which of these are most relevant. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is often seen to berate the Government—quite rightly, perhaps—for not being sufficiently localist in their approach to things and not leaving sufficient scope for local determination. This is one of those occasions where it is right that the local transport plans should be locally determined. Further, the question of who works within that and who is consulted should be locally determined because the local authorities are closer to those circumstances and it is right that they should make that decision.

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To aid them—and this picks up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—the Government intend to publish guidance that would include, among other things, suggestions as to the kinds of bodies that it would be appropriate for a local authority to consult, and the kinds of plans and strategies that should be considered within that. It is preferable to use this approach to the inclusion of, say, Network Rail, rather than developing a long list in the Bill. The guidance has greater flexibility; over time it could become somewhat outdated and outmoded, so we think that this is a more sensible way of dealing with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is right to say that Network Rail is an essential consultee; we do not disagree with that—we see great value in it. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made a different point about evaluating road versus rail schemes. I understand his point, which he has made on a number of occasions, and I do not entirely disagree with it, but it is at an angle somewhat to this debate, which is essentially about methods of consultation and where the balance should lie in legislating, or providing guidance, as to who should be consulted on particular aspects of local transportation planning.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, makes a good point, but we think that that is best dealt with in guidance rather than in the Bill, because that provides greater flexibility and more local control.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his answer. I said in my introduction that there are a lot of long lists of consultees in other parts of the Bill and I believe that it would have added to the Bill if we had put Network Rail in this part. As he said, I believe in localism and in local people taking decisions. However, this is not a political point. These days, all political parties want to see integrated transport and the best use made of rail and road, and it is important to show that in the legislation to indicate that we really mean business in trying for integrated transport systems. Therefore, I am rather disappointed that the Minister did not accept the offer to add to our enthusiasm for integrated transport by putting Network Rail into the Bill. However, I see the point that he is making and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2B not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 2C:

(b) A bus partnership scheme shall agree guidelines and seek consensus on bus routes, frequencies, fares and other matters that shall be agreed, for the period of the local transport plan.(c) In constructing a bus partnership scheme, the authority shall consult all operators of registered services in the specified area.(d) In exercising their statutory functions under the Town and Country Planning Acts, the local planning authority shall have regard to the bus partnership scheme and guidance contained therein.”

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have retabled this amendment as we feel that the Minister’s response to it in Committee was somewhat unsatisfactory. The amendment would allow and encourage local authorities to produce a bus partnership scheme as part of their local transport plan if they felt that it would be of benefit. The authorities would engage in dialogue and seek consensus on matters relating to bus transport.

On the previous occasion, the Minister implied that nothing would be gained from the amendment, as he felt that provision was already contained in the Bill for much of what we mentioned. My opinion remains that the partnership approach should be encouraged as much as possible to allow authorities fully to realise the benefits of the quality partnership scheme over quality contracts.

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