HL Deb 06 December 1990 vol 524 cc276-94

3.35 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I wonder whether I may make a short statement concerning the Opposition's view on amendments to Parts III and IV. We are concentrating on Part III rather than Part IV but the expectation is that any successful amendments would be followed by consequential amendments to Part IV. I believe the Minister accepts that, but perhaps it would be of assistance to clarify the position.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I quite understand the position. The noble Lord will see that the government amendments cover both the English and the Scottish provisions, and should anything further arise from this afternoon's debate naturally we would expect that to cover the other part.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 42 [Streets, street works and undertakers]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 51: Page 23, leave out lines 4 to 9 and insert ("In this Part a street includes any highway and any road, lane, footpath, square, court, alley or passage, whether a thoroughfare or not, and includes any part of a street.").

The noble Lord said: I draw the Committee's attention to the words used in the amendment. They are exactly the same as the interpretation of the word "street" in Section 329 of the Highways Act 1980. Why is that definition not used in this Bill? As the Bill is closely connected to the 1980 Act, surely a uniform approach is desirable. If there is a reason for changing the interpretation what do the Government propose to do about the 1980 Act? There seems to be some confusion between the 1980 Act and the wording in this Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I can explain the position very briefly. The words in the Bill follow the street works Act of 1950 which contains a rather wider definition than the narrower definition used in the Highways Act 1980. The effect of the amendment would be to exclude from the provisions of this part of the Bill all street works carried out in land laid out as a way, whether or not it is for the time being formed as a way, and which is not either a highway, road, lane, footway, alley, passage, square or court. For example, utility works on the route of a proposed road on an estate which is still being built would not be regulated by the provisions of the Bill.

We believe that it is preferable to keep the definition of "street" which derives from the 1950 Act and is drawn sufficiently wide to cover all places of that kind where undertakers have statutory rights to carry out work. No good would come of disapplying the provisions of the Bill to works in ways over land and it might result in a loss to do so. I hope that explanation answers the noble Lord's concerns.

Lord Underhill

I understand the Minister's reply, but do we not now have a definition in this Bill based on the 1950 Act and a definition of the word "street" in the Highways Act 1980? Surely there will be some confusion for people who refer to those Acts.

Lord Tordoff

Will the Minister check on the position? There are references in this Bill to the 1980 Act and one wonders whether there may be an overlap of definition between the two Acts and this Bill.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I hope that there is not. I shall check the position. I have already explained why we prefer the definition in the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950 rather than that contained in the Highways Act.

Lord Underhill

It is best to sort these matters out before one replies in case one gives a wrong answer. I shall look carefully at what the Minister has said. I hope that he will bear in mind the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. We do not wish to find ourselves with two definitions in the same Act. In the light of what the Minister has said, I shall look carefully at the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 97 [Roads, road works and undertakers]:

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 52: Page 52, line 13, at end insert ("or with permission granted under section (Permission to execute road works)").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 53, 56, 61 and 62. This amendment is intended to introduce in Scotland provisions broadly similar to those included in Clause 44 for England and Wales. However, in doing so we have had regard to the differences which already exist in the provisions applying north and south of the Border to persons wishing to place apparatus in a road. Our intention is to bring within the framework of this Bill the great majority of cases where apparatus is being placed in a road and to cease to rely exclusively on the provisions contained in Section 61 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.

So far as we are aware, no difficulties have been experienced in the operation of Section 61 of the 1984 Act which allows roads authorities to grant permission, subject to conditions, to persons to place apparatus in a road. However, we took the view that increasingly it was likely that cases would arise of persons, companies or other institutions seeking to lay cables, pipes or other such equipment in circumstances very similar to those of the statutory undertakers. Therefore, it would make good sense to have these operations controlled by the legislation that we are now considering and to have the other undertakers subject to the duties and conditions set out in Part IV of the Bill. In that respect what would be achieved by this amendment corresponds to the situation provided by Clause 44 for England and Wales.

I shall now briefly refer to the consequential amendments. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 ensure that the meaning of "roadworks" and "undertaker" are extended to cover the cases being brought in by the new clause. Amendment No. 61 extends the offence of carrying out unauthorised works to those who do not carry out the work in accordance with the terms on which permission is given under the new clause. Amendment No. 62 is a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I appreciate the amendments which the Minister has tabled. It is obviously desirable that the English and Scottish parts of the Bill should be aligned so that there is parity of treatment for all parties carrying out road works in connection with apparatus. That is important in relation to having uniform application across the UK of the other common aspects which are allied to this legislation. There are in particular the computerised street works register, national specification and intervention limits, inspection fees, restriction on openings following road works and application of any prescribed fees for occupation of road space.

I ask the Minister two questions in order to ensure that the two regimes are aligned as closely as possible. The Minister may not have the answers to hand. We have more time with this Bill and these matters can be dealt with later if necessary. Can the Minister say what types of work are likely to be prescribed in subsection (2) (b) and (c) of the new clause in Amendment No. 56? Can he also say how the issues to be dealt with for England and Wales in Schedule 3 to the Bill are to be covered by the Scottish legislation? As I say, the Minister may not have the information available, but I shall be happy to receive it before the Report stage.

Lord Strathclyde

Schedule 3 is based on the provisions of the Highways Act which currently applies to street work licences in England and Wales. No similar provision was introduced by the Roads (Scotland) Act in relation to permission to place apparatus. There have been no representations that detailed provision on the lines of Schedule 3 was required. The authorities in Scotland will be free to set conditions when granting permission. These could include the kind of matters covered by Schedule 3 if that is desired. Experience in Scotland suggests that it is unnecessary to specify these matters in the same detail. I shall read carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said, and if I have omitted anything I shall write to him.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 53: Page 52, line 23, at end insert ("or a person having permission under section (Permission to execute road works) to execute road works, as the case may be").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 97, as amended, agreed to.

3.45 p.m.

Clause 43 [The street authority and other relevant authorities]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 54: Page 23, line 39, leave out from first ("authority") to second ("the") in line 40.

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment designed to ascertain the Government's plans for implementing the provisions of this part of the Bill in areas where the local highway authorities do not act as agents for the Department of Transport in relation to trunk roads. As drafted, subsection (2) of the clause means that where a local authority acts as an agent for the Department of Transport on trunk roads, that authority will act for the Secretary of State as the highway authority in relation to Clauses 47 to 53 of the Bill. That is an extremely sensible arrangement and undoubtedly represents a most economic, efficient and effective way of dealing with trunk roads.

Unfortunately, the future of the arrangements where local authorities act as the agents for the Department of Transport on trunk roads is very much in doubt. In September this year the Secretary of State informed seven London boroughs that he was terminating their agency arrangements despite a consultants' report commissioned by the department itself which recommended that the first stage of any bid to improve the performance of the London highway agents should be the establishment of clearer arrangements between the department and the London boroughs.

The local authority associations have argued that the ability of local highway authorities to co-ordinate developments, such as street works, on both the trunk and local road networks, is central to the justification for the continuation of the agency arrangements. Clause 42(2) represents a clear example of the benefits of the existence of the agencies. However, the Bill does not address itself to the way in which matters are to be handled in areas where the agency arrangements have been terminated. How can the key co-ordinating function be undertaken effectively if a small part of the highway network—that is to say, the trunk roads—is the responsibility of one organisation, which will almost certainly be private consultants, while the local highway authority is responsible for the majority of the network?

How are the interests of local residents to be protected? Can the Minister assure the Committee that this is unlikely to be a more widespread problem? I await with great interest the Minister's comments. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, explained, the effect of this amendment would be to make each local highway authority responsible for the registration and co-ordination of undertakers' street works on trunk roads in their area regardless of whether or not the Secretary of State had appointed them as his agent for the maintenance of those roads. That would make no sense. Where the local highway authority does not act as the Secretary of State's agent for the maintenance of trunk roads, such as the eight London boroughs which the noble Lord mentioned and which from next year will not exercise that function, undertakers of street works will be required to deal with the Secretary of State or his appointed agent for the purpose of the Bill. In practice, satisfactory arrangements will be made with the consultants who have been or will be appointed as agents for the day-to-day management of trunk roads in those areas.

Naturally they will have to co-ordinate with the other highway authorities in the same way as two adjoining highway authorities would under the Bill as it stands. Local residents will be no more affected by this arrangement than they would be if the highway authority was remaining the Secretary of State's agent. Therefore, the amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Underhill

I appreciate the Minister's reply. I put this down as a probing amendment. I shall read his explanation and comments and then decide whether we should come forward with a definite amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 agreed to.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 55: After Clause 43, insert the following new clause:

("Local authorities: supply of services for carrying out of street works, etc

.A local authority shall be entitled to offer to supply services for the carrying-out in its area of street works, and reinstatement, on behalf of an undertaker, and may supply such services if such an offer is accepted.").

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak at the same time to Government Amendments Nos. 179 and 180. It was my intention to deal with this matter at some length but I am pleased to note that Amendments Nos. 179 and 180 are designed to write on the face of the Bill the right of highway authority direct labour organisations to tender for utility work. They appear to conform with the requirements of the local authority associations and the right is defined in broad terms as requested by the local authority associations. It is therefore my intention, after hearing the Government's explanation of their amendments, to withdraw my amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Perhaps I may speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 179 and 180. The amendments fulfil an undertaking I gave at Second Reading to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I said then that highway authority direct services organisations would be allowed to tender for work. Doubts had been expressed, although we were clear in our own mind that they would be able to do so. However, as doubts had been expressed, we tabled these amendments. They should meet the noble Lord's concern.

Lord Underhill

I am grateful to the Minister for confirming what I thought was the intention of the amendments. I appreciate the fact that the Government have looked carefully at what was said at Second Reading. I shall withdraw my amendment and support the government amendments when we reach them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 98 agreed to.

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 56: After Clause 98, insert the following new clause:

  1. Permission to execute road works 6,727 words