Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Turning to aviation, I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis about its importance as a form of public transport. Many of my noble friend’s remarks were directed more to British Airways and other carriers than the Government, but I assure my noble friend that we will not neglect the aviation sector in our plans for the future. I note what he said about passenger duty.

I also very much agree with the point made by my noble friend and by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, about the need to join up different forms of public transport much more effectively. This is a particular government priority in respect of Heathrow, where we are anxious to improve public transport access significantly. This will be a major benefit of Crossrail, and the House will note that the Government have asked the new High Speed 2 company to make recommendations to the Government about how a north-south high-speed line could include an interchange for Heathrow. I also note my noble friend’s remarks about green aviation.

Moving on to the second theme raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—cost and fares—I think it is fair to say that never have so many bus passengers had it so good thanks to the new nationwide concessionary fares scheme which since last April has given all over-60s and many disabled people free bus travel nationwide. Eleven million people are eligible for this free travel in England, including 82 per cent of Members of your Lordships' House, although, alas, not me. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Quin for her role in persuading the Government to adopt this policy, and I note her points about how it could be extended further, including on Tyne and Wear Metro. I undertake to consider further what she said. The cost of this free travel to the public purse is huge, about £1 billion a year, which takes total public investment in bus services to £2.5 billion a year, which represents a doubling of public spending on buses compared to the position in 1997. We regard this as a vital investment in mobility and social inclusion for citizens who otherwise are highly vulnerable to isolation and a seriously constrained quality of life; although I hasten to add that I do not believe that is a serious problem among noble Lords.

In respect of other fares, the Local Transport Act gives powers to local authorities to agree maximum fares with operators. The majority of bus services are provided on a commercial basis by bus operators, but operators are highly sensitive to market conditions. As for rail, most rail fares are regulated. The current formula of RPI plus 1 per cent was introduced in

11 Jun 2009 : Column 818

2003, after four years where the formula was RPI minus 1 per cent, so although we would all like fares to be lower if there were more taxpayer subsidy available, the net effect of the regulatory regime over the past 12 years has been only a small rise—about 5 per cent—in the real cost of regulated rail fares in a period when average disposable income has increased by more than 20 per cent.

As the House will be aware, RPI is currently negative and if it is significantly negative next month, under the formula, regulated rail fares would be expected to fall next January. I have made it clear to rail companies that the Government will enforce such a reduction in that event. I also told the Transport Select Committee of the other place on 25 February that the Government intend to remove the flexibility for rail companies to increase individual fares by up to 5 per cent above the average increase.

There is so much more I could say, but my time is up. I will write to noble Lords to take up other points that have been raised. In conclusion, public transport—buses, trains and aviation—is on the up, carrying more people more safely and more reliably, but we need it to improve further still. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their constructive suggestions about how we can bring that about.

4.34 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I shall not detain the House for long, as there is other business. I hope that the Minister’s remarks about fares could extend to charges because many rail companies are using the charging scheme for services provided as a means of getting a lot more money out of the public. As policy adviser to Peter Parker, maybe I got nearer the job than the Minister did. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Broads Authority Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill

Third Reading

4.34 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Broads Authority Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


Moved by Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I declare a non-financial interest as a past boat owner for 30 years. Noble Lords who were here for Second Reading may be surprised to see that the right reverend Prelate the

11 Jun 2009 : Column 819

Bishop of Norwich, who so eloquently moved the Motion at Second Reading, is not here today. I am sorry, but he is tied up with other episcopal duties. I am sure that he would want to say that he wishes the Bill godspeed.

The Bill’s main purpose is to obtain new powers for the authority to improve safety for those boating on the Broads. The need for additional powers has been highlighted by the requirements of the port marine safety code and specific incidents, including a tragic drowning in the Broads. The Broads are safe but, even so, two or sometimes three deaths occur on average a year on its 120 miles of waterway, compared with six or so on the 2,200 miles of canals. The Bill therefore includes licensing pleasure boats, compulsory third-party insurance and inspections to avoid fire and explosions.

The responsibility for Breydon Water, the closed inland estuary of Great Yarmouth and the most dangerous stretch of water, with 50 or so groundings a year, will transfer with mutual agreement from the Great Yarmouth Port Company to the Broads Authority, which currently patrols it. The Bill contains sensible provisions that regulate waterskiing and wakeboarding. It also contains some constitutional and administrative provisions that are intended to enhance the authority’s effective operation.

The Bill has been subject to detailed scrutiny in both Houses, most recently in Select Committee proceedings so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I am sorry that he cannot be here today—he sends his apologies to me and to the House—but I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, in his place, and I understand that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, may speak in the gap.

The petitions of 12 members of the public and one organisation, the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, were closely examined by the committee. Having heard all the evidence, the committee concluded that the Bill should proceed, subject to the insertion of the words “reasonable” or “reasonably” at appropriate places, mainly with reference to fees.

The committee made a few additional comments. It suggested that the authority might look at introducing an equivalent to SORN—the statutory off-road notification for cars—for boats, so that boats under repair on application would not be liable to pay a toll. Officers of the authority support this idea in principle, and a report examining appropriate criteria will be presented to the authority for its members in the near future.

The committee asked the authority to consider the relationship between the Broads Authority, as duty holder under the port marine safety code, and the head of waterways, strategy and safety as the designated person. This should clarify lines of responsibility. The authority’s safety management system has been modified to make the relationship clearer, and the authority’s navigation committee has been consulted on the revised document. The same report will go before the next meeting of the Broads Authority at the end of this month.

Finally, the committee welcomed the statement on behalf of the authority that the information about the depth of water on the Broads will be published on its

11 Jun 2009 : Column 820

website. Work is under way to achieve this. This is highly desirable, given the silt that pours into the Broads and the constant dredging that is needed to ensure navigation.

The Broads Authority has garnered wide support for the Bill, including from the Government. No local authority and no boating, angling or amenity bodies have petitioned against it. The authority reached agreement with the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club, the one boating organisation to petition about Wroxham Broad, such that the club withdrew its petition before the Lords committee started.

The petitioners who came to the committee were for the most part—the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, can speak on this better than I can—experienced sailors who felt that the safety provisions in the Bill, particularly general directions, had the potential to hamper their sailing. The Bill provides checks and balances, including a thorough consultation process prior to the implementation of a general direction, which have satisfied the national boating organisations. Compulsory third-party insurance and better management of activities such as waterskiing are a benefit even for the experienced sailor. But the Bill will help to improve the safety above all for the thousands of inexperienced visitors enjoying the Broads for the first time and, importantly, introduces the licensing of hired craft across the whole of the Broads. My noble friend Lord Davies will doubtless confirm this.

The authority’s local accountability has been extensively debated during the Bill’s progress through both Houses. Whatever the merits of introducing institutional reform, this is not a matter for the Bill, but I should like to say a word or two on the subject. There are two strands to the debate. Some people are arguing for direct elections to the authority. It is worth noting that at the moment nine of the authority’s 21 members are elected to the eight constituent county and district local authorities, so there is that degree of local accountability, although that is indirect.

The vice-chair of the Broads Authority and its chair of planning are also elected local councillors. The Government have consulted on the principle of direct elections to the national park authorities and the Broads Authority. Their response is expected before the Summer Recess, but I understand from a Written Answer to Norman Lamb MP—my noble friend may be in a better position to confirm this—that there is no immediate intention to proceed with direct elections.

The Government have also consulted on whether the Broads Authority’s membership should include parish councillors. Some respondents have argued that parish councils should send directly elected members to the Broads Authority. Others have argued that they should be two of the Secretary of State’s 10 nominees. The noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, eloquently argued for the need to address the issues associated with the perceived democratic deficit. Two difficulties present themselves: first, the other interests would clearly be unhappy to see their representation reduced; and, secondly, of the 93 parishes that have part of their territory within the Broads, not one parish, I understand, is wholly contained within the Broads. There might therefore be a perfectly proper

11 Jun 2009 : Column 821

debate about who would represent whom, given the very localness, which is their virtue, of parish councils. Several respondents suggested that local government reorganisation may enable parish members to be incorporated without increasing the size of the authority.

However, there is another option. Behind the Broads Authority stands the Broads Forum. It has 25 members and, much more than the authority, it embodies local Norfolk interests, such as the Broads Reed and Sedge Cutters Association, the How Hill Trust, the Norfolk Windmills Trust and the Norfolk Wherry Trust. Its chairman attends the Broads Authority and reports on the forum’s views on key issues. Among its 25 members, the forum includes two members who represent the northern and the southern local councils; that is, the parish councils. from Norfolk and Suffolk.

I sympathise with some of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, at Second Reading, about the democratic deficit at its most local level. I suggest—and I gather that this might be acceptable—that the two members on the Broads Forum should be beefed up to four members, so that they would become the largest group on the forum, along with the boating groups. The chair of the forum is independent, is appointed by the Broads Authority and sits on that authority. I see no reason why a future chair should not be appointed with this consideration also in mind. However, that would be a matter for future discussion with the Broads Authority and with the forum.

If the minutes of the forum, along with the views of members of the strengthened parish councils, were both received by the Broads Authority and, if necessary, spoken to by the forum’s chair, this might be an appropriate way forward. It may not go as far as the noble Baroness would like, but she might regard it as a useful compromise between differing views.

The Boundary Committee is due in July to make its next announcements on the recommendations on the future shape of local government in Norfolk and Suffolk. The authority is of the view that further formal consideration of its membership, apart from the forum, should await the outcome of that process. However, the authority is keen to look at ways of improving engagement with local interests. I am happy to report that, at the beginning of this week, the chief executive of the Broads Authority met the Minister and representatives of the national park authorities to examine what examples of best practice it might adopt in engaging with local authorities. We shall have to see how this progresses.

Finally, I refer to concerns that the Bill is not necessary, that the level of consultation prior to its deposit was inadequate and that the costs of administration will be considerable. These matters were all aired before both the Commons committee and the Lords committee, and the Broads Authority was able to demonstrate that the provisions of the Bill are necessary and are conducive to safety, remembering that most Broads users are inexperienced. It was also able to show that widespread consultation took place before the Bill was deposited—I have looked at that, and there seems to have been heaps of consultation—and

11 Jun 2009 : Column 822

that its implementation will not lead to a large increase in administrative overheads. It is also clear that the Bill is necessary, because the powers that it has identified could not be provided wholly by by-laws or by harbour revision orders.

This is an important Bill for all those who use and enjoy the wonderful Broads—and many devotees are in the House this evening—which are one of the most important assets of Norfolk and Suffolk. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.48 pm

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on the competent, able and persuasive way in which she has introduced the debate. As she says, the Broads mean a great deal to people in Norfolk and Suffolk, and of course are of national and international significance. Parliament, in another place and in this House, has recognised that significance by the care and attention that has been paid on the Floor of both Chambers and by Select Committee scrutiny in both Houses to the detail of the Bill. Useful and helpful changes have been made during that scrutiny and the Broads Authority has worked hard to take account of the objections and concerns that have been raised during the Bill’s legislative journey.

However, from the beginning of the journey, real anxiety has been expressed, not least in another place, where the Bill was twice blocked by objections about the democratic deficit built into its governance arrangements. This has not been put right in the Bill before us today and, while I would not wish to impede the progress of the Bill, I should like again to rehearse those anxieties in the hope that the Minister may be able to give some comfort, in particular to the 93 parish councils, parts of whose territories in Norfolk and Suffolk are touched by the Broads Authority. I declare an interest as President of the Norfolk Association of Local Councils.

Part of the Broads Authority’s argument against, for example, directly elected parish council representatives, or a statutory parish council presence of some sort on the authority, has been that it is somehow impractical to arrange for the representation of 93 councils. Of course, if one took that argument to its logical conclusion, it would preclude parliamentary representation of the UK’s 60 million citizens, which we would not wish to pursue. The simple fact that no fewer than 93 parish councils are affected by the jurisdiction of the Broads Authority makes it more, not less, important somehow to arrange that their voice be meaningfully heard.

The Select Committee in your Lordships’ House considered this point, because one group of petitioners was the National Association of Local Councils. Although others will speak with more authority on this than me, the committee decided that that it was beyond the scope of this Bill for such representation to be required. It was also mindful of the fact that the Government were, while it was deliberating, consulting on whether there should be directly elected local government representation on English national parks authorities. In that way, the democratic deficit on the Broads Authority might have been rectified.

11 Jun 2009 : Column 823

I was under the impression that the Government had now decided that there should not be directly elected local government representation on national parks authorities in England, which I hope the Minister will be able to clear up. But one is driven to wonder whether, if the Select Committee of this House had known that that was to be the outcome of the separate consultation, it would have taken a different view with regard to the Broads Authority.

But we are where we are; that is, at the final stage of the passage of this Bill. I take this last opportunity to remind the Minister of his own Government’s commitment, repeated again with great force yesterday in the Prime Minister’s Statement, to re-engage with the people. He said:

“Democratic reform ... must principally be led by our engagement with the public. It cannot be top-down ... The public want to be, and should be, part of the solution, so we must build a process that engages citizens themselves”.—[Official Report, 10/6/09; col. 641.]

That is quite so. That principle should most certainly be applied to the way in which the Broads Authority is run.

The membership of the Broads Authority has been set at 21. When the chief executive of the Broads Authority was asked in the Select Committee why this figure had been chosen, he said—and I quote from memory—that it was “a nice number”. Well, it is; we all wish that it applied to us, no doubt. But will the Minister explain to the House why 21 is that chosen number? Why is it not 23 or 25 as in the guidelines for national parks set out by the Secretary of State? Why should district and county councils be given representation and not the lowest tier of local government? Are there any national parks authorities that have parish council representation? And why, given the emphasis that the Government rightly place on the importance of democratic accountability, reaffirmed, as I said, just yesterday by the Prime Minister, should places be given to interest groups at the expense of the communities affected at grass-roots level by decisions taken by the authority, decisions which cannot be challenged because the authority’s very constitution means that it is not accountable?

I have put these points to the Broads Authority. The chief executive, Dr Packman, explained in a letter—the noble Baroness has confirmed it today—that there are two parish councillors, one from Norfolk and one from Suffolk, on the Broads Forum, a body that he described as having no powers. The views of the forum on various issues are reported to the authority, but given that there are 25 members with a wide variety of interests, I think that at this stage—I shall come to the noble Baroness’s suggestions at the end of my speech—we can assume that the forum and the way that it works at the moment do not represent any kind of democratic process and accountability which we in this House would recognise.

The concern felt by the town and parish councils is particularly keen when it comes to planning decisions. In April this year, a planning decision taken by the Broads Authority was, according to the local press, referred to the Standards Board on the grounds that relevant parish councils had not been notified in accordance with the required procedure and that authority

11 Jun 2009 : Column 824

members had not declared relevant interests before participating in the planning decision. A letter I received from a local resident, Mr Gary Simons, on 21 April, on the issue states that,

I accept that at this stage of the Bill’s journey it may not be possible to do much to make the Broads Authority more accountable in the sense that all of us would recognise. Nor would I want the points I have made to detract from the excellent work that has been put into improving the Bill or from the good work of the Broads Authority itself. However, I would be particularly interested to hear the Minister’s reaction to the ideas put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Would there be anything to prevent the Broads Authority increasing parish council representation from two to four? If that made the parish councils the biggest block on the Broads Forum, would that mean that it was possible for an elected parish councillor to become the chairman of the Broads Forum? I expect that the Minister will be able to comment on that point, but it would be helpful if he felt able to be positive today.

I should like to emphasise to the Minister that I recognise that the Bill is not the vehicle with which to change the Broads Authority constitution. In any case, it may have to change if there is local government reorganisation later on this year. However, we do not know whether there will be such reorganisation or not. It seems to me that there is no reason to delay considering and putting into practice the ideas suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. If that were the case, the Bill, while it cannot be the vehicle with which to change the Broads Authority constitution, it could be the vehicle through which a more accountable management might be achieved.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page