HL Deb 06 December 1990 vol 524 cc281-94

(" .—(1) A road works authority may grant permission in writing, subject to such reasonable conditions as they consider appropriate, to persons to whom this section applies—

  1. (a) to place, or to retain, apparatus in a road, and
  2. (b) thereafter to inspect, maintain, adjust, repair, alter or renew the apparatus, change its position or remove it,
and to execute for those purposes any works required for or incidental to such works (including, in particular, breaking up or opening the road, or any sewer, drain or tunnel under it, or tunnelling or boring under the road).

(2) This section applies to persons who are described in one or more of the following paragraphs—

  1. (a) persons of a prescribed class,
  2. (b) persons carrying out works of a prescribed class,
  3. (c) persons carrying out works in a prescribed area.

(3) The conditions referred to in subsection (1) may include conditions as to—

  1. (a) the payment of fees,
  2. (b) the future cessation or withdrawal of the permission, and
  3. (c) indemnification of the authority against claims arising out of what is permitted.

(4) Before granting permission under subsection (1), the authority shall give not less than 10 working days' notice of their intention to do so to any other person whose apparatus is, or plans for the installation of apparatus are, likely to be affected by the works which would be authorised by that permission.

(5) Where permission has been granted under section 61 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 in respect of apparatus and the road works authority consider that permission could be granted under this section in respect of that apparatus, they may cancel the permission granted under section 61 of the 1984 Act and, if they cancel that permission, they shall substitute for it permission granted in accordance with subsection (1) above.

(6) The works referred to in subsection (1) above do not include works for road purposes.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Street works licences]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 57: Page 87, line 25, after ("persons") insert ("in particular blind and disabled persons").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak at the same time to my Amendment No. 59. Grouped with these amendments are Government Amendments Nos. 58, 89, 95, 105, 110, 150, 153, 184, 186, 187 and 190.

Amendment No. 57 would impose a general duty in the conditions attached to a street works licence to minimise inconvenience to blind and disabled people. I prefer my amendments to those tabled by the Government, although I do in fact welcome them, because they emphasise the disability of blindness which so often goes unnoticed. Sighted people do not seem to realise what the blind or those with bad sight do not notice.

Schedule 3 sets out the conditions which may be attached to a licence. These include general safety conditions and a general duty to minimise the inconvenience to persons using the street. I believe that this must be accompanied by a particular duty to those who are blind and disabled. As the Horne Report stated: We have received both written and oral evidence, which makes it abundantly clear that the standards which the utilities lay down are not always observed in practice… However, the impression we have is that even in these cases the excavations rarely pose a real danger to pedestrians who are sighted and sober. But they do undoubtedly pose a real hazard to the blind. We heard of cases in which blind people had fallen into openings that were inadequately guarded".

Utility works that block or partially block the footway can be a serious hazard for a disabled person, particularly one in a wheelchair. Wherever works obstruct the footway so that less than one metre's width remains, an alternative route for pedestrians should be provided on the edge of the carriageway. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, put down this amendment, though I believe that the Government are to be congratulated on taking up this position at an early stage of the Bill. With respect, I think that the Government's amendment encompasses blind people. That is a matter of definition as concerns the law, but in the course of debate it is absolutely right that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, should give specific emphasis to this disability.

It would be helpful to the Committee if the Minister could disclose the incidence of accidents affecting blind people in the situations described by the noble Lord. The Committee could then get a measure of the problem. The invaluable briefing material provided by RADAR makes a general reference to this situation. It is only a general reference, so it would be helpful if some statistical information could be provided by the Government, not necessarily immediately but perhaps in reply to a Question for Written Answer. If the Minister could indicate that he would be in a position to respond within the reasonable future it would be of interest not simply to the Committee but to the nation as a whole. We could then see the extent of the problem.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I welcome the amendment put down by the Government. I was glad that my noble friend on the Front Bench indicated his assent when the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that the reference to disability encompassed the blind. I have had the privilege of watching guide dogs being trained with their owners. I recognise that the fortunate few who have a guide dog have a means of avoiding traps and dangers. Guide dog owners amount to only about 4,000 of the 150,000 registered blind in this country. For the vast majority of blind people who have to use our streets the dangers remain very substantial. It is absolutely right and very much to be welcomed that there should be a specific duty on the licence holder to take the necessary precautions to minimise those risks. The accidents that occur make one realise the hazards that blind people have to negotiate in the streets when works are not carried out properly. I very much welcome the amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

As my name is also attached to this amendment, I too welcome the fact that the Government have taken the issue under their wing. I speak as one who is not desperately well informed on the matter. My daughter has recently trained as a rehabilitation officer for the blind and I therefore receive little snippets of information from her about the practical difficulties faced by blind people.

I certainly accept for the moment the "nod" given by the Minister—and trust that it will shortly be translated into words—as confirmation that the wording in his amendments includes all forms of disability, including blindness. However, there is an aspect in Amendment No. 106, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, myself and others, which needs to be underlined. While I understand that the amendment may cause the Government difficulties in relation to the provision of audible hazard indicators—because these can be a nuisance to neighbours —the reference to, solid barriers of not less than 1 metre in height, is important to people who are visually impaired, especially those, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, referred who do not have the benefit of guide dogs. People who use white sticks need barriers of a different height from that which applies to sighted people.

Therefore, I hope that within the terms of the government amendment it will be possible to lay down a code of practice to ensure that these tactile signs and barriers are included in a proper form by which the undertakers can set their standards.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

As a supporter of these amendments, I should like to hear the Minister's explanation before considering the reasons why my noble friend Lord Swinfen thought it necessary to single out blind people and place particular emphasis on them. I sought advice from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who has a blind daughter. He tells me that blind people are registered as disabled. Therefore, it seems that the government amendments may be satisfactory. However, as the amendments extend to cover Scotland, do they also cover Northern Ireland? I ask that question because I am sure that there are just as many such hazards, and perhaps even more, in Northern Ireland as there are in other parts of Britain.

Baroness Phillips

I express my support for the amendment. We should emphasise to the Government the importance of ensuring that there are strong penalties applicable to those who contravene regulations or codes of practice. I recall the discussion we had about cars being parked on the pavement. I remember the tremendous correspondence I received because I referred especially to the problems of the disabled and the blind.

However, what do we see today? We can walk down any street in London—indeed, any street in any town—and see cars and vans parked in very dangerous positions on the pavement. This means that all of us have to walk out into the road in order to be able to proceed. Further, one never sees anyone taking action to have the cars removed. They seem to remain there day after day and week after week. It is quite useless for us to sit here in this place producing various Acts of Parliament if we do not have appropriate officers to follow up the procedures in order to ensure that the legislation is actually put into effect.

I am sure we have had the experience of falling down large holes in pavements where there has been no prior warning. You do not have to be blind or disabled to experience this; you merely have to walk along the road with your head held in a normal position. You may suddenly find yourself in a large hole. I have experienced this. I set up a kind of "indignation" meeting of citizens in the area. They agreed with me and said, "Yes, the council never does anything about it". We must ensure that the provisions of such legislation are carried out; otherwise, rather than improving the situation we shall merely add another hazard to those which are already faced by the blind and the disabled.

Lord Shepherd

As the noble Baroness has taken the matter a little further than the issue contained in the amendment, perhaps I may be permitted to be a little more guilty in this respect. One of the increasing dangers, even for sighted people, is what is happening where the kerb has—quite rightly—been smoothed out and lowered in order to allow perambulators and wheelchairs to be moved more easily from the pavement across the road. However, there is no sign to indicate that this has been done. I have seen many people walking along the pavement who have not noticed the inclination and who have literally fallen into the road. This has happened because there is no warning sign stating that the kerbstones have been lowered. When local authorities are carrying out such alterations for very good reasons, I believe that there should be some kind of special colouring by the kerb, or a sign, to warn people that there has been an alteration and that there is a slope in the pavement. I hope that the Minister will at some stage think about that aspect of the matter. In my view it is worthy of consideration.

Earl Attlee

I support the amendment tabled in the name of the Minister. I believe that the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, does not take into account those people who are partially sighted. If a person's sight is really bad, the difficulty experienced can be just as bad as being blind.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

As Members of the Committee will be aware, the Bill provides that a street authority granting a street works licence to a person who does not have a statutory right to do works may attach certain conditions to the licence. These include such conditions as it considers appropriate in the interests of safety and to minimise the inconvenience to persons using the street. Such persons will clearly include blind and disabled people. We accept the importance of considering the needs of these groups of people at all stages in the planning of street works, including works carried out under street works licences. The government amendments to this provision will achieve that effect.

The amendments make specific provision for the needs of the disabled throughout this part of the Bill. They have been tabled in response to requests made by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Swinfen, that specific reference be made in the Bill to the special needs of people with disabilities.

Perhaps I may now briefly outline the government amendments. The amendments to Schedule 3 and to Clauses 53, 58 and 74 emphasise that the street authority or the undertakers, as is appropriate in each case, must have particular regard to the needs of people with disabilities in discharging their relevant duties. The first concerns the attachment by the street authority of corresponding conditions to street works licences; the second places a corresponding duty on street authorities in discharging their duty to co-ordinate works under Clause 53; the third amendment places corresponding requirements on undertakers in discharging their duty regarding the placing, maintenance or operation of traffic signs under Clause 58; and the fourth amendment places corresponding requirements on undertakers in discharging their duty to maintain their apparatus in accordance with the provisions of Clause 74.

The amendment to Clause 95 contains a new provision which is necessary as a consequence of the new references to people with disabilities in the earlier clauses and in Schedule 3. It provides that Section 28 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 applies additionally to this part of the Bill. The effect of this is to empower the Secretary of State for Transport to make regulations prescribing the types of disability to which the above references in this part of the Bill apply. I can assure my noble friend Lord Swinfen and the Committee that the definition provided by this amendment of people with a disability would allow blind people to be included within the definition of disabled people. In fact, I can go further and say that it will do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked whether I had any figures as regards accidents. I am afraid that we have no reliable figures relating to accidents caused by utility works, still less as regards those which affect particular groups of people such as blind persons. Therefore, I cannot undertake to provide an answer to that question.

The purpose of the Bill is to improve matters for all pedestrians. I can say that to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I of course take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, but, as I said, the whole purpose of the Bill is to improve matters for all users of the highway or pavement.

I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for her kind words about the government amendments. She asked whether the Bill applied to Northern Ireland. No, Parts III and IV of the Bill apply to England, Wales and Scotland only. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will monitor the progress of the measures carefully and will decide whether similar regulations should apply in due course in Northern Ireland. I hope that he will come to the correct conclusion. I hope that with what I have said my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment and that the Committee will feel able to support the government amendments when we reach them.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

Before my noble friend sits down, is he aware of the National Federation of the Blind's current campaign which goes under the slogan "Give us back our pavements"? If he is not, is he prepared to find out about it and receive a deputation from that organisation? With the amount of clutter, apart from street works, that is now to be found on our pavements, the passage for blind people is becoming increasingly hazardous, and something needs to be done about it.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Before the Minister replies, he may have heard on the radio this morning that a new device for hazard warnings for blind people has just been invented which seemed to be hopeful.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I take on board what my noble friend Lord Jenkin said. I have not heard of that campaign, and I shall inform myself of it. As I said earlier, the Bill should improve things, although the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was asking for more signs to be erected on the pavements. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, I neglected to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, about tactile surfaces and hazard warnings. The noble Lord will find that we reach that point on a later amendment.

Lord Swinfen

I do not want to prolong the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned ramps. We do not need signs. We need just to change the colour of the paving. That would be helpful for the vast majority of people with poor sight and those who are not so stable on their legs as others.

I am concerned that there should be proper warning of road works. Most Members of the Committee will have been inconvenienced by road works about which there have been insufficient warnings. That happens more frequently to people in motor vehicles who go around a corner, find that there is no warning and have to put on their brakes in a hurry.

I welcome the Government's amendments on this aspect of the Bill. It is an important matter. I am grateful that the amendments have been tabled, and I shall of course support them. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 58: Page 87, line 25, after ("street") insert ("(having regard, in particular, to the needs of people with a disability)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 59 not moved.]

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 45 [Prohibition of unauthorised street works]:

4.15 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 60: Page 25, line 10, at end insert: ("(4) If a person commits an offence under this section, the street authority may—

  1. (a) in the case of an offence under subsection (1) (a), direct him to remove the apparatus in respect of which the offence was committed, and
  2. (b) in any case, direct him to take such steps as appear to them necessary to reinstate the street or any sewer, drain or tunnel under it.
If he fails to comply with the direction, the authority may remove the apparatus or, as the case may be, carry out the necessary works and recover from him the costs reasonably incurred by them in doing so.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 63. The amendment gives the street authority power to give a direction to an undertaker who executes works in contravention of the provisions of Clause 45—the prohibition of unauthorised works—and to take appropriate measures if the undertaker fails to comply with that requirement. In such cases the street authority may recover from the undertaker the reasonable costs of those measures.

As presently drafted, although making it an offence to place apparatus or carry out street works without a statutory right or a street works licence, Clause 45 does not empower the street authority to require the removal of the apparatus or the immediate reinstatement of the road. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

In the final line of Amendment No. 60 there is a reference to the recovery of "costs reasonably incurred". That of course is a common form of wording. The word "reasonably" is imprecise. Has that given rise to litigation on any scale in the past? For the sake of more rapid progress and the avoidance of litigation, might it not be an advantage to have some arbitration procedure to determine the reasonableness of costs? If there were a substantial difference of view, litigation might extend for a long time. Might it not be worth while considering at this stage, and perhaps coming back at a later stage, whether some form of arbitration in such circumstances might be preferable?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I must admit that I am unaware of instances where that has happened. I know that "reasonably incurred" is a fairly common expression. I shall study what the noble Lord has said. In the end, as he says, of course such issues might end up in the courts, and so it might well be worth exploring his proposition.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 99 [Prohibition of unauthorised road works]:

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 61: Page 53, line 22, at end insert ("or in accordance with a permission granted under section (Permission to execute road works)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 62: Page 53, line 26, after ("consent") insert ("or permission").

The noble Lord said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 52. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 63: Page 53, line 29, at end insert: ("(4) If a person commits an offence under this section, the road works authority may—

  1. (a) in the case of an offence under subsection (1) (a), direct him to remove the apparatus in respect of which the offence was committed, and
  2. (b) in any case, direct him to take such steps as appear to them necessary to reinstate the road or any sewer, drain or tunnel under it.
If he fails to comply with the direction, the authority may remove the apparatus or, as the case may be, carry out the necessary works and recover from him the costs reasonably incurred by them in doing so.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 60. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 99, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 46 [Emergency works]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 64: Page 25, line 14, after ("cause") insert ("(a)").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 65, and I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has no objection to Amendments Nos. 66 and 80 being joined in the debate. My amendments have two purposes. The first is to find out from the Government what is their interpretation of danger; and, secondly, to prepare the ground for widening the clause. As drafted, Clause 46 defines emergency works only in terms of those works which might cause danger to persons or property. It is considerably narrower than the definition to which public utilities have become accustomed by virtue of the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950.

The problem is that urgent works may be necessary. One thinks of a failed electricity cable or a blocked water pipe servicing a block of flats, an old people's home or a hospital. While the works do not cause danger to the persons who live or work there or to their property, they would be prevented from being carried out until the full statutory seven-day period of notice had expired. This seems a little unreasonable. The argument is that to exclude the scope for utilities of any kind to take urgent action does not make the case any less urgent. It merely means that the utility is denied the opportunity to deal with the works.

Amendment No. 65 re-introduces that part of the Public Utilities Street Works Act which deals with substantial loss. One thinks—wildly perhaps but nevertheless there is this probability or possibility—of a contractual obligation to supply electricity to the Stock Exchange. If there is a failure but no great danger the utility would be unable to carry out the work. There may be a substantial law case against it for breach of its contractual obligation along the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned earlier. The utility would not be able to undertake that work. The purpose of these two amendments is to cover that, and I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord opposite has to say about his two amendments before making further comments. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis

Perhaps not surprisingly I prefer the amendments that I have put down. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has a somewhat similar objective to the one I have sought to obtain in dealing with what we call "exempt works". However, the noble Lord's amendment dilutes the definition of emergency works in seeking to achieve that objective. With respect, that is not the aim that should be accomplished here. I believe that the concern of the utilities about restoring supply can be met by our definition of exempt works.

One of the strongest criticisms made about the current system by the highway authorities has been the extent to which the utilities have allegedly abused the provision for emergency works. They have undertaken without prior notice works which could and should have been planned and co-ordinated sensibly. I know that the local authority associations place considerable importance on the definition of utility works in the Bill.

Clause 46 confines the definition of emergency works to circumstances in which there is an, existing or imminent … danger to persons or property". I respectfully suggest that that definition should be kept. I hope that the noble Lord will not insist on seeking to change it.

When we debated the matter on Second Reading anxiety was expressed by a number of noble Lords on the utilities' concerns that the clause would mean that they could not respond rapidly, for example, to an interruption to a customer's supply. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, replied that the Government, recognise the anxiety expressed by some utilities that the new definition of emergency works in Clause 46 could be so tightly drawn that the requirement to serve advance notice for other non-emergency works would result in a substantial loss to the utility or breach of a service obligation. Inevitably there will be some utility works where it will not be reasonable to expect that seven working days' notice [be] given before beginning works as required under Clause 49. It is proposed to deal with cases which fall short of being immediate emergencies by prescribing appropriate lesser periods of advance notice or making exemptions from notice requirements and regulations".—[Official report, 20/11/90; col. 672.] With respect, I believe that that was the right way to go about the matter. I am informed that the local authority associations accept—inevitably they should accept it because logic leads in this direction—that there are certain circumstances which are short of an emergency as defined in the Bill in which a utility has to take action as quickly as possible.

This category of works is defined in the draft of the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee code of practice on notification as exempt works. The definition of exempt works in the code of practice covers, for example, the interruption of a utility service or the avoidance of substantial loss to an undertaker.

The key difference between "emergency works" and "exempt" works in the code of practice is that, while utilities would be able to undertake emergency works on any road at any time, a highway authority would be able to require that exempt works on a traffic sensitive street were not undertaken until, for example, the end of the rush hour. This is designed to ensure a fair balance of interests between the needs of the highway user and the utility customer.

Thus to alleviate the natural concerns about the tight definition of emergency works that utilities have expressed, I encourage the Committee to see the principle of exempt works written onto the face of the Bill. However in order to ensure that the definition of emergency works is not diluted, the concept of exempt works should be introduced in a new clause rather than as an amendment to the definition of emergency works. We propose a new clause defining exempt works. The other part of the amendment makes it clear that, while the requirement in relation to advance notice does not apply to exempt works, the clauses dealing with directions as to the timing of work and traffic sensitive streets would apply.

Lord Tordoff

I believe that we have to tread carefully and delicately in this area. We said at Second Reading that it was not our intention to tinker with the Bill any more than necessary because it is the result of fine balancing between the various interested parties: the utilities on the one hand and the highway authorities on the other. Therefore one is slightly reluctant to press amendments to the Bill.

It seems to me that the Bill as it stands at the moment tilts against the utilities on emergency works rather more than is fair. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has made that case out very well. I suspect, however, that his amendment begins to tilt it too far in the other direction. Whether the amendment down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and myself, among others, is the right balance, I would not press to the limit.

Will the Minister in his reply offer to come forward with a government amendment if the Government are not satisfied with our amendment in order to get the balance right? I hope that they will not maintain their position rigidly as the Bill stands at the moment. There must be some adjustment in order to get the balance right. We are trying to achieve a balance in the Bill. Therefore I do not wish to press our amendments too strongly. I hope that there is some way out of the dilemma.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I must again declare my interest as a non-executive director of British Gas. In the Bill "emergency works" are narrowly defined, as other noble Lords have said. They are related only to a public emergency such as the escape of gas. Undertakers are also under statutory obligations to restore supplies to customers. Unless this amendment is agreed to, they could be in breach of those obligations; the customer could have to wait seven days for a statutory notice to run its course. That could mean considerable hardship in winter weather, especially for households that include elderly people or young babies, if they are reliant on their supplies for heating or cooking. On Second Reading my noble friend stated that he hoped to exempt certain cases from the emergency requirements and regulations. I hope that he will accept the amendment that is proposed. I support the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I wish to make a point in slightly the opposite direction. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, rightly said that the Bill appears to be slightly tilted against the utilities. That was inevitable because the 1950 Act did nothing in the interests of passing traffic. In view of the awful traffic problems that exist today, it is most desirable that we get the balance right this time. As has already been said by other Members of the Committee, the stretching of the word "emergency" in the past by the utilities rightly predisposed my noble friend the Minister to ensure that 'the new definition was more tightly drawn. I believe the definition is pretty satisfactory as it is now. It is, of course, a matter of absolute importance to get the balance right, but that balance involves leaving the utilities slightly less elbow room than they had before in taking advantage of what they regard as an emergency. I believe that step was necessary.

Lord Tordoff

I do not disagree with the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, proposes. Those of us who have been very much involved in this area would agree that the balance needs to be tilted slightly away from the present situation of the utilities in favour of the road users. No one disagrees with that. We are merely saying that the case we are discussing is one of very few cases throughout the Bill where the balance has tilted a little too far and we are perhaps in danger of being slightly unjust to the utilities. That may be the result of the bad practices which have occurred in past years.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

I thank the noble Lord for further explaining his point. I sympathise with his argument. However, I believe we have a nice balance. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say. I really wished to make sure that he understands that he has my firm support in obtaining the correct balance in the interests of the road user. I want to see the right balance achieved between road users and the utilities.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

We have had a short but interesting debate on this subject. As has been explained, these amendments would have the effect of opening up the definition of "emergency works" for which an undertaker is relieved of his duty to serve advance notice by Clause 51. The 1950 Act provided a wide definition of "emergency works" which includes works likely to cause a substantial loss to the undertaker or breach of a service obligation. However, as my noble friend Lord Nugent and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, have said, the present "emergency works" procedures have been widely abused, with the result that highway authorities receive little or no advance notice of many utility works involving breaking up roads in their area. Although less wide than the 1950 Act definition, considerations of substantial loss or breach of service obligation could nonetheless cover many thousands of works which would not be regarded by road users as true emergencies. The new definition of emergency works in Clause 46 has been drawn deliberately tightly to include only works involving danger to persons or property.

We do not accept that all works necessary to avoid substantial loss or a breach of an undertaker's service obligation should be treated in the same way as emergencies. Nor do we accept that all works necessary to restore a service should be treated in the same way. As I explained in my closing remarks during the debate on Second Reading, we recognise that there will be some utility works for which it will not be reasonable to expect seven working days' notice to be given before work is begun. In those cases, which could include certain works necessary to avoid substantial loss—my noble friend Lord Lucas referred to that kind of situation when moving the amendment —for breach of service obligation, lesser periods of advance notice or exemptions from notice requirements will be prescribed in regulations.

These amendments recognise that special arrangements may have to be made for works on traffic sensitive streets or where it is necessary to direct the times of working to avoid serious disruption. I refer in this connection to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. That, too, is something for which appropriate provision can be made in the notice regulations.

As my noble friend Lord Nugent said, a balance has to be found in this area. We believe that we have found that balance in the Bill as it stands at present, and in the regulations which will be made. I have given the assurance I am about to give before but it bears repeating. I assure the Committee that there will be full consultation between the department, the highway authorities and the utilities in drawing up the regulations. I met representatives of the utilities only a short while ago and this subject was discussed on that occasion. I hope that, in the light of my explanations and the assurance I have given, the amendments will not be pressed.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I thank the noble Lord for that reply. We shall certainly consider carefully what he has said. I do not intend to press this matter at this point in time. However as a matter of principle, I would be prepared to offer a suggestion as regards a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The point about substantial loss to utilities could be incorporated in the thrust of Amendment No. 66, irrespective of whether it is to be included in the Bill or dealt with in regulations. However, that is a matter which we can discuss when the Minister considers this matter later. We have not reached Amendment No. 66 yet and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has to decide now what he wishes to do with his own amendment.

Lord Tordoff

Before the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, decides what to do with his amendment—I hope he decides to withdraw it—I wish to ask the Minister whether there is any chance of the draft regulations having reached the stage where some of us might be brought into the consultations before the Bill reaches its next stage. That would be a great help to us in deciding what we should do at that stage.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I shall certainly look into that matter. There are many regulations to be made under the Bill. Discussions have been continuing and will have to continue. However if it is possible to give some insight certainly into the present stage of our thinking, I shall inform the noble Lord of that.

Lord Tordoff

I am most grateful to the Minister for those comments.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

This has been a useful debate. It is rather interesting to note that, after having appeared to be totally opposed to me in his initial remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has, certainly in one area, moved a little closer to my position during the course of the debate.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I was moved by the noble Lord's eloquence.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

It is very kind of the noble Lord to say that. I was of course aware of what my noble friend the Minister said on Second Reading. Nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, underlined, we always have some small misgivings when matters of some importance are taken away from the Bill, or perhaps not included in it, but are dealt with in regulations over which Parliament has so little influence. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle whose own knowledge from her particular interest was valuable and important.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford will forgive me for running across his line of drive on this occasion. While he and I normally agree that the road user should be somewhat hampered in a number of ways, the road user's rights and privilege to move along a roadway must be taken into account alongside the rights of those people whose services are connected with the roadway. I come back to the matter of balance on that point. I do not believe that the balance that appears in the Bill at the moment —I have no knowledge of what may appear in regulations—is absolutely right. The 1950 Act has stood a reasonable test of time. There have certainly been abuses of that Act, as some Members of the Committee have said. Nevertheless, the general climate with regard to road usage has changed enormously. I have little doubt that all the utilities will have regard to that fact in any works that they undertake.

I should like to study rather more carefully the exchange of views in the Committee to decide whether or not to take the matter further at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 not moved.]

Lord Cavendish of Furness

This may be a convenient moment to take the Statement. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.