HC Deb 15 November 2000 vol 356 cc945-6 3.59 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Transport Bill, it is expedient to authorise

  1. (1) the imposition of charges in respect of the execution of works in a highway, and
  2. (2) the charging of fees in connection with driver training courses.

The resolution relates to two amendments to the Bill that were made in another place. The Government tabled them to fulfil commitments made in response to amendments tabled by others at an earlier stage. I shall speak to them briefly.

The provision in the resolution on the execution of works in a highway arises from the fact that the Bill now contains a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations so that local authorities can charge utility companies from the start of any works that they undertake on the street; that is known as lane rental.

The provision on driver training courses arises from the fact that the Bill now enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to require drivers of specific types of vehicle to undertake training as part of obtaining their licence. Fees could be charged to recover the Secretary of State's costs for supervising such training, which includes assessments of trainers authorised to provide courses. There are also powers to cap the charges that trainers could make for those training courses. We already have similar requirements for motor cycle training, and the powers mean that they could be extended to other vehicles, in fulfilment of an important part of our road safety strategy.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill

It is highly premature, but how can I resist the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Bercow

I am always enticed by the Minister's words, as he should know by now. I simply wanted to ask him whether the regulations that he is helpfully describing will be subject to the negative or the affirmative procedure.

Mr. Hill

It often seems as if the hon. Gentleman is positively obsessed by me. I am delighted to tell him that the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure.

Both the amendments to which the resolution relates were welcomed by all parties in another place, and I commend them to the House.

4.2 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

I do not believe that this matter should detain us too long because there is broad agreement on it. Clearly, utility organisations cause disruption to traffic, and the motoring public will believe that giving them an incentive to get on with the work is good.

There is a slight difference between setting a small charge to incentivise and another stealth tax. Perhaps the Minister could reassure us about the levels of charging and confirm that the utilities will not ultimately have to turn to the hard-pressed public and add substantial amounts to bills for water and electricity. As the matter must be tackled through statutory instrument, perhaps the Minister can tell us the likely timetable for its implementation.

4.3 pm

Mr. Hill

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, we have always said that we regard the powers as residual. Our first move will be to introduce provisions under section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 to set out penalties for overstaying in street works.

On the question about charges, it is too early to say. If we decide to proceed with lane rental, we shall want to discuss an appropriate level with highway authorities and undertakers. On the usual question about stealth taxes, I point out that each utility is subject to a regulator to prevent abuse by any monopoly power.

Let me make a minor correction: lest I be accused of misleading the House, the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Question put and agreed to.