At second reading of the bill in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Kramer for the government admitted that part of the legislation, the section relating to fracking, was “still being developed and will be made available at the earliest opportunity”.
Lord Adonis, Labour spokesman in the Lords, responded: “The government are legislating on the hoof — or perhaps I should say on the future hoof, as we do not even know what hoof they are going to be legislating on hereafter.”
It was, he said, “no way to treat parliament”.
Lord Adonis also said that the government had yet to make the case for changing the status of the Highways Agency. “The key issue is greater certainty over medium-term and long-term funding but there is no need to create a new company to give greater certainty over future funding. The government could simply announce a detailed five-year settlement for strategic roads in any event,” he said.
He added: “The reason there has been stop/start over the past four years is that the government stopped and then they started again. They did not have to do that. They could have announced and stuck to a longer-term funding plan, and it is entirely within their prerogative to do so. However, if the simple act of setting up this company constrains the ability of governments to stop and start in respect of roads investment, it will none the less be worthwhile. But until we see the detailed five-year settlement for 2015-20 we are not in a position to judge.”
Lord Adonis also warned of unintended consequences. Decisions over road construction and expansion were by nature political and distancing politicians from the process is likely to lead to bad governance and bad democracy, he suggested.
He said: “Under the bill, there is to be a Passengers’ Council, which is a reform of the existing quango Passenger Focus, but it is hard to see how it will have the credibility and clout that Ministers currently exercise. Furthermore, as I understand it, the Passengers’ Council will be mandated only to promote and protect the interests of users of highways for which the highways company or companies are responsible. The Passengers’ Council will not represent the interests of communities along the road or the natural environment. That is a very important point. Who will represent their interests and take account of them?”