§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
This Session of Parliament will long be remembered as the transport Session. The House will remember that the gracious Speech promised no fewer than four Bills with a transport theme. I am proud to be able today to move the second reading of the first of these Bills. It has two separate subjects but its unifying theme is the reduction of congestion. The new roads part of the Bill does this by encouraging the provision of new infrastructure responsive to the demands of the road user while the street works part does it by bringing discipline into that potent cause of urban congestion, holes in the road.
A theme which has run through the policies of Her Majesty's Government since 1979 is that where possible infrastructure and services should be provided by the private sector. Of course the state has an essential role in regulating in the interests of safety and to encourage competition; and it often, though far from always, has a role in subsidising to meet particular and well defined purposes. But the market is in general the better way of ensuring that the demands of consumers are met and most importantly that costs are kept down. The best incentive to accurate estimating and keeping to one's estimate is the knowledge that failure to do so will hit one's pocket directly.
The first section of the Bill is inspired by this thinking. We are not saying that all transport infrastructure can or should be provided by the private sector. Far from it. But the role of the private sector can be increased; and we should move that boundary. This approach first emerged with the 626 decision that the Channel Tunnel should be privately financed. That was followed by the new Dartford crossing, initiated by my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Nicholas Ridley.
This pioneering initiative was followed up by his successor, my right honourable friend Mr. Paul Channon, who launched a competition for the private financing of the second Severn crossing and the Green Paper, New Roads by New Means, issued in May last year. I am happy to tell your Lordships that the initiative is going well. The second Severn concession agreement has been signed and a Bill will be introduced in another place very soon to authorise its construction.
Three serious tenders for the building of the Birmingham northern relief road have been received and are being evaluated. The expressions of interest in the Birmingham-Manchester corridor and six new possible candidates for private finance that we announced in April are being studied. In Scotland tenders have been received for a privately-financed bridge to Skye and are currently being evaluated by the Scottish Development Department. In addition there is continued interest being shown in the concept of a privately-financed fast link between the M.74 and M.8 motorways.
This all adds up to a dynamic and encouraging initiative. The Bill will give it a new impetus, since no longer will all cases have to be dealt with through the unusual and not entirely satisfactory procedure of a hybrid Bill. Instead there will be a legal framework through which privately financed toll roads can be authorised in the same way as traditional trunk roads. I envisage that the Birmingham northern relief road and subsequent schemes will be authorised in this way.
There are a few general points I would make. First, the rights of people affected to object will be the same with privately financed roads as with traditional ones. Secondly, the environmental appraisal will be the same; no less rigorous standards will be required of privately financed roads than of others. Thirdly, this initiative will mean that more badly needed roads will be provided—we shall not subtract privately financed roads from public sector provision on a scheme by scheme basis—and they should be built more quickly, since private sector consortia dedicated to the planning, design and construction of a specific road should be able to complete it more quickly than a department with much else to do.
Fourthly, this is not an initiative for the Government alone. All highway and roads authorities —county councils and metropolitan district councils in England and Wales and regional councils in Scotland—will be able to sponsor privately financed roads to meet more local needs. I hope they will look seriously at this. Fifthly, the Bill, as your Lordships will realise, does not restrict tolling powers to privately financed roads. It will still be possible for something like the Tyne tunnels and the Erskine bridge to be built by the Government or a local highway authority and tolled by them. Sixthly, and unconnected with tolling, the Bill will remove some of the difficulties in the 627 present law in England and Wales in the way of agreements between developers and the Secretary of State under which the developer pays for and the relevant department builds or improves a stretch of trunk road or a junction.
Parts III and IV of the Bill will reform the law on utilities' street works in England and Wales and in Scotland. This fulfils the Government's commitment to implement the recommendations of the Horne Report on the review of the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950. It will replace an exceptionally complex and out-of-date statute with a more flexible modern one. Most of the detailed requirements spelt out at such length in the 1950 Act will in future be prescribed in regulations which can be adapted to meet changing circumstances far more easily.
The main purpose of these parts of the Bill is to sort out the present confused responsibility for utility street works. Both the utilities and the highway authorities find the present arrangements unsatisfactory. The utilities would like to assume full responsibility to manage their street works more efficiently, while the highway authorities have to cope with a system of administration which is incapable of managing the massive increase in street work activity. The public are fed up with haphazard and seemingly unplanned street works and poorly reinstated roads.
It is now 40 years since your Lordships had an opportunity to consider general legislation on utility street works. Since the 1950 Act we have seen massive increases in the demand for utility services and in the amount of road traffic. The cumbersome and outdated procedures prescribed by the 1950 Act no longer serve their purpose.
To take one example, the requirement to serve notices in writing on all the authorities involved before starting works results in unnecessary bureaucracy with some 4 million holes each year subject to the requirements of the 1950 Act. The paper-based system fails to distinguish the important advance notifications from the routine. There are 18 different forms of statutory notice for use by the utilities and a further 21 for use by other authorities. The highway authority has little opportunity to make adequate arrangements for traffic management, still less to co-ordinate works between the various utilities. The possibilities for simplification and efficiency gains offered by information technology are ruled out by the statutory requirements for paper notices.
The present framework is also seriously inadequate when it comes to the state of repair of roads. The 1950 Act allows highway authorities to elect to do the permanent reinstatement of the upper levels of the roads themselves at the utility's expense. There is no time limit laid down for the highway authority to carry out the reinstatement in those cases. As a result, temporary reinstatements done by utilities are often left for far too long in a totally unsatisfactory condition, and in those cases where the utility is allowed to do the permanent reinstatement itself there is a wide variety of permitted standards and a weak system of enforcement.
628 Recognising problems such as those, the Government invited Professor Home in 1984 to chair a committee to review all aspects of the 1950 Act. The report of his committee is entitled Roads and the Utilities. It was published in November 1985 and provided a series of recommendations for action that commanded a wide degree of support.
Over the past four years much work has been done by representatives of the utilities and the local highway authorities in association with the Department of Transport to work up the detail of the new arrangements to replace the 1950 Act. I am pleased to pay tribute to the voluntary effort put in by scores of local authority and utility representatives. This essential work should provide a strong foundation on which to build the framework contained in the Bill before your Lordships today. That gives a brief overview of the Bill and the thinking behind it. I shall now go into more detail.
Clauses 1 to 5 establish the framework for privately funded toll roads in England and Wales. These roads will be financed, built and operated under concession from the highway authority, either the Secretary of State or a local highway authority. During the period of the concession the concessionaire will be empowered to exercise various functions that normally fall to the highway authority although the highway authority will retain some reserve powers.
The existing authorisation procedure for public roads will in broad terms apply to these new roads. If following a public inquiry it is decided riot to proceed with the scheme, the promoter will be able to receive compensation from the highway authority in respect of costs incurred in working up the scheme, as determined under the concession agreement. If the concession agreement terminates prematurely (if, for example, the concessionaire goes bankrupt) the highway authority will be obliged where practical to "sell" the concession on to a new private sector promoter. These arrangements for termination of the concession are clarified in Schedule 1.
Clauses 6 to 16 concern tolls. The charging of tolls either by a highway authority or a concessionaire will be undertaken by means of an order. The, Secretary of State will make the order for schemes where he is the highway authority; where a local highway authority is making the toll order, the Secretary of State will confirm it. The procedure for making the toll order will be taken together with that for authorising the road scheme itself. The fate of one will depend on the fate of the other; if one falls then they will both fall. The detailed procedures are set out in Schedule 2.
Our objective has been to make the provisions as flexible as possible. The tolling period will have a limited life but the toll order will be able to specify the circumstances in which this period will end. This may be after the achievement of a specific financial objective, for example, or the passage of a certain number of vehicles over the road, or simply after a period of years.
Clauses 8 and 9 govern the level of toll which the road operator may charge. As a protection to the road 629 user, where the toll is charged by a highway authority the toll order will be required to specify a maximum toll level. Similarly a maximum will be imposed on estuarial crossings subject to a concession where the route in question will constitute a monopoly. In other cases there will be no statutory limits, but Clause 10 will ensure that all privately funded roads will be subject to competition legislation. There is no reason in the Government's view for the provision of roads to be any different from the provision of any other service. If an operator charged an unreasonably high toll he would lose business.
Flexibility is also the key to Clause 12, which allows the operator to suspend or vary tolls and to charge different tolls according to the distance a road user has travelled, the time of day or the type of traffic. We are very keen to encourage the private sector to use its innovative skills in this area to ensure that promoters can maximise the revenue potential of their projects by meeting the precise demands of customers.
Clauses 15 and 16 remove two areas of uncertainty for prospective toll operators. Clause 15 allows the highway authority to acquire land, if necessary by compulsory purchase, for the provision of tolling facilities and buildings on or adjoining the road which will not need separate planning permission. Clause 16 prevents the building of public or private accesses to a toll road without the consent of the highway authority and the concessionaire. This will protect the financial viability of the tolling business and prevent free rider developers taking advantage of the investment in the road.
Clauses 17 to 21 make various amendments to existing legislation so as to facilitate the provision of new roads more generally. We are aiming here to encourage private sector finance for conventional roads which are built by the highway authority and are free to users. Such roads are most commonly linked with developments which may not otherwise be acceptable in planning terms. Under Clause 19 the developer would build the road and make an agreement for the Secretary of State to adopt it as a trunk road. At present only local highway authorities can adopt roads by agreement. Clause 20 replaces Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 which allows a highway authority to take a contribution from a developer for building a road in a particular manner or by a particular date. The new powers are much wider. They are not limited to schemes which the highway authority is already authorised to build and they do not rule out compulsory purchase of any additional land needed for the scheme. Clause 22 applies certain general provisions of the Highways Act 1980 to Part I of the Bill and Clause 23 contains definitions.
Part II of the Bill relates to Scotland. The Scottish provisions have the same objective as those relating to England and Wales but there is a slightly different legal basis. In Scotland the right to toll will initially lie with the roads authority, which will then be able to confer the right to toll on a concessionaire. Moreover, the existing law in Scotland is adequate with regard to 630 developer funded roads, so not all the England and Wales provisions need to be duplicated. Part III of the Bill deals with street works in England and Wales, while Part IV contains the corresponding provisions for Scotland.
Clauses 42 to 46 and Schedule 3 are introductory provisions setting out the definitions of streets, works, undertakers and relevant authorities affected by the provisions of this part of the Bill. They include new provisions for the granting of street works licences to permit persons other than those with a statutory right to place and maintain apparatus in streets. Any person doing works in the street, whether in pursuance of a statutory right or under a licence from the highway authority, will have to conform to the same standards unless specific exceptions are made. Clause 46 in particular introduces a new definition of the term "emergency works". This has been an area of much misunderstanding under the 1950 Act and so the definition here is drawn tightly to include only genuine emergencies.
Planning and co-ordination of works, the subject of Clauses 47 to 53, is one of the most important aspects of the new arrangements. Each street authority will be required to keep a register of street works in its area and to give advance notification of proposed works. There will be powers for street authorities to direct the times of working and, where works would cause the greatest disruption to traffic, impose restrictions on works following substantial road works. An important new general duty is placed on street authorities to co-ordinate the execution of works of all kinds in the streets for which they are responsible.
The responsibility for carrying out excavation and reinstatement of the street is to be firmly placed on the utilities. In some circumstances specific safeguards for the highway authority and other parties will be required. Clauses 54 to 57 and Schedule 4 allow for the designation by street authorities of streets which are to be subject to special controls. They include provision for protected streets in which the placing of apparatus by undertakers is allowed only with the consent of the street authority; streets with special engineering difficulties in which undertakers' works may not be executed until a plan and section has been settled by agreement with the relevant authorities; and traffic-sensitive streets in which special requirements as to advance notice will apply.
The next group of clauses deal with work in progress. That is the time at which as users of streets we are most aware of the activities of the utilities. Clauses 58 to 62 include provision for the proper guarding, lighting and signing of works in progress and the avoidance of unnecessary obstruction of the street. They impose requirements on undertakers executing street works to employ properly qualified supervisors and operatives, to afford facilities to street authorities to inspect works and to inform others whose apparatus in the street may be affected by the works.
Clauses 63 to 66 deal with the reinstatement of streets by undertakers following the completion of their works. They set out the duties of undertakers as 631 to reinstatement and in particular requirements as to the materials to be used, standards of workmanship and the performance of reinstatements. As the street authority will no longer have the right to carry out permanent reinstatement work, the major source of the present disputes over cost will be resolved by the Bill. Other financial provisions will still be required. Clauses 67 to 71 cover the various fees and contributions payable by undertakers. Fees may be prescribed for the occupation of maintainable highways by undertakers executing works, for the inspection of works by street authorities and contributions to the costs of a street authority in making good long-term damage attributable to undertaker's works.
Clauses 72 to 75 set out the duties and liabilities of undertakers with respect to their apparatus in streets. Liability for damage or loss caused by works, bursts or explosions etc. in particular has been the cause of contention in recent years, and the proposal in Clause 75 will be more straightforward, fair and workable than the present provision.
Clauses 76 to 77 deal with measures, commonly known as diversionary works, required to be taken by undertakers as a result of certain highways works, bridge works or transport works. They allow for arrangements to be introduced to avoid undue delay to such works and for the costs of taking necessary measures to be shared between the authority promoting the works and the undertakers whose apparatus is affected by them.
The next group of clauses, Clauses 78 to 85, include definitions, a procedure for the treatment of streets likely to become maintainable highways, requirements on undertakers executing works which affect bridges or sewers and special precautions to be taken when carrying out work at level crossings or in the vicinity of transport undertakings.
The final clauses in that part of the Bill, Clauses 86 to 96, together with Schedule 5, are supplementary provisions setting out the treatment of offences, the basis for recovery of costs and expenses, the method of service of notices and other documents and the manner of reckoning periods and providing for the determination of disputes by arbitration.
Part IV of the Bill, covering Clauses 97 to 150, is essentially a repetition of the preceding part to apply similar provisions to utility works in Scotland. It reflects the different terminology used in the Roads (Scotland) Act. The only difference of substance between Parts III and IV is that there is no Scottish equivalent to Clause 44, which provides for the placing and maintenance of apparatus given under a street works licence. Such licences do not exist in Scotland as they do at present in England and Wales; those other than undertakers seeking to place apparatus in Scotland do so under the conditions placed on them by roads authorities under current legislation.
Part V of the Bill is general, relating to Parts I to IV of the Bill. It deals with offences by bodies corporate 632 or Scottish partnerships and the application of the Bill to Crown land. It also contains certain minor and consequential amendments and repeals.
Given the variety of issues which the Bill touches on, I hope that I have given them full justice but not lingered too long on some of the detail. However, I believe that the time is well spent. The provisions in this Bill promise benefits to all. New roads will offer the road user new services, while others will benefit from the reduced congestion on existing roads. At the same time the private sector will see new business opportunities open up. The new framework established by the other parts of the Bill will allow utilities to carry out their street works more efficiently to the advantage of pedestrians, commerce and the motorist, while cutting costs for highway authorities to the advantage of their charge payers. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his very careful exposition of the Bill, and in particular of Part III rather than Part I of the Bill. It is extraordinary that today of all days this particular Government, at this time in their history, should have opted to debate a Bill about holes. I wonder whether that is a coincidence or a Freudian landslide.
The Government have unwisely and very imprudently decided to introduce, into what would otherwise have been an uncontroversial and useful Bill, provisions in Parts I and II which are highly controversial. I shall explain why the Opposition cannot support those parts of the Bill. Our attitude towards Parts III and IV is that the Bill is capable of improvement; but we recognise that it represents a package of measures which should not be unravelled. We shall take that into account when we come to later stages when proposing any amendments that we consider appropriate to improve the Bill.
When the Government decided to embark on their policy for dealing with privately financed roads, I wonder what experience they drew on. What profound consultations or real research were undertaken? It is true that there was a Green Paper, but what real research was undertaken to determine whether that policy was viable? The Birmingham northern relief road is hardly a shining example to encourage the Government to embark upon a wider application of that policy. I contend that Part I—and Part II relating to Scotland—has little or no relevance to the solution of the grave transport crisis which confronts our nation today.
I cannot for one moment accept the Government's assertion—an assertion which I suspect is based on blind faith rather than on careful research—that toll roads have any relevance to the promotion of a sensible overall transport policy or to the environmental objectives which the Government have been at pains to set out in their recent White Paper.
I do not believe that the Minister applied himself to these points. Surely when considering such a measure 633 one ought to apply certain tests: what impact will the proposals have on the quality of life? How will the measures help to reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency? How will public transport which, despite the statistics which are trotted out by the Government, has suffered the most appalling neglect over the past 11½ years be positively assisted by the Government measure?
I claim that on each of the tests that I have put forward Part I of the Bill fails. It represents a superficial, piecemeal approach to the problem. It fails altogether to recognise that it is critical to plan all modes of transport together, so far as that is possible, to make each complement the other in order to enable all regions to work together and take advantage of the European single market, because transport is critical in that respect. In my submission, new roads have to be seen as part of a much more comprehensive approach to transport policy than has been revealed by the Government.
Yesterday the Minister asserted, somewhat astonishingly, that he was totally unaware of what an integrated transport policy is all about. That is a strange admission from a Transport Minister; but I hope that I have in a few sentences given him some idea of what we think an integrated transport policy means.
The preoccupation of the first two parts of the Bill is with the financial aspects of privately financed roads. It is concerned with providing financial security to firms investing or likely to invest in toll roads rather than in broader interests or the interests of those areas through which the toll roads may pass. It is, in effect, a distraction from the real problems that confront this country. I suspect that the policy is based rather more on ideology than on any practical concepts.
It is a happy fact that the Government seem to have abandoned some of the more scatty ideas that were advanced quite recently. The Prime Minister put forward the idea that there should be lorry-only motorways. So far as I can recall, the Conservative Party disclaimed any knowledge of that proposal. The Department of Transport said that it had no knowledge of it either and that if indeed it was an idea it was only one for the Conservative Party manifesto. All industry decided that that was a wholly untenable proposition. When winding up will the Minister indicate whether the Government have totally abandoned that sort of strange notion?
Our objections to the private financing of roads as set out in the Bill are, first, that private funding represents a gross misunderstanding of the significance of transport infrastructure in the social and economic life of our community. The Government are extremely vague about the extent of their ideas. How many schemes do they have in mind? Where are they? If there are only three, four, five or six, why waste time on introducing this part of the measure at all? If it has wider application, I believe that the real risk, quite apart from the unnecessary diversion of resources, is that first-class and second-class road systems will emerge, with public roads increasingly likely to be 634 neglected. That is the risk if—it is a big if—private funds can be secured for the pursuit of the Government's idea.
As regards congestion and the environment, there is absolutely no evidence at all that building new roads on the scale envisaged more generally by the Government is likely to ease congestion. We understand that environmental considerations are to the forefront of the Government's mind. So they should be. But one of the main principles of environmental thinking is to tackle pollution at source. In their policies on roads the Government wholly ignore that proposition.
I should like now to raise some specific questions which perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to address at the end of this debate. How do Part I and the transport policies generally of the Government fit in with their environmental policy? The Department of Transport predicts an increase in traffic of between 83 per cent. and 142 per cent. over the next 35 years, or 30 per cent. to 50 per cent. over the next 15 years. The Government are committed to stabilising carbon dioxide emissions, 18 per cent. of which come from transport. Emissions from motor transport could double by the year 2020. So that is an important question.
So far as concerns congestion, Transport 2000 raised some extremely interesting points. In letters to noble Lords and others it asserts that communities affected by heavy traffic will secure little relief from congestion or from environmental degradation because traffic will simply continue to use the existing roads rather than pay tolls. The Government are duty bound to answer that very important point. How does the policy encourage the movement of freight by rail? After all, the railway system is infinitely more environmentally friendly than the motorways or other roads.
There is also the question of additionality. A number of anxieties have been expressed by organisations such as the Automobile Association, the Freight Transport Association, and so on. They ask whether new toll roads will be clearly additional to the Government's published road programme. If there is a clear need for a road to be built in the national interest, I suggest that it should be built by government funding and not subordinated to a dependence on private profit.
The Government's case has not been helped today by the Minister; nor was it helped by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when she referred to this issue in the debate on the Address (reported in Hansard on 12th November). The Government's consultation paper said at paragraph 44:There has been much misunderstanding about additionality. Many have claimed that privately funded schemes must be additional to those funded by the Exchequer if private finance is to attract the construction industry (which would wish to see an increase in its business overall) or the road user (who wants more roads, not just differently financed ones). But the annual level of expenditure on the road programme is determined by the Government in the light of the economy generally and the needs of that programme; a different method of financing it does not make more resources available".635 In answer to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Underhill, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said:The expenditure on toll roads will be additional expenditure to the roads programme".—(Official Report, 12/11/90; col. 189.)The House is entitled to have that confused situation resolved today in this debate. I hope that the Minister will do so in his winding up.
As regards the cost of tolls, is it right that tolls will have to pay for capital costs as well as for the maintenance of roads? if so, is it not likely to make tolls extremely expensive? The Secretary of State said that so long as a new road is not in a monopolistic position, such as an estuarial crossing, operators will be at liberty to set whatever tolls they wish. A study carried out by North London Polytechnic's Business School forecast that tolls on a double-decked M.25 would be as much as £21 per journey, based on a level of 60,000 vehicles a clay. That is a very costly proposition. How will road builders assess the level of tolls when it is difficult to know in advance what will be the likely demand for new roads?
I turn to important questions that have been raised on behalf of the disabled. RADAR, the organisation which represents disabled people, has asked that orange badge holders—disabled drivers—should be exempt from paying tolls on the new roads on the grounds that they do not currently have to pay tolls on a number of roads and that the option of cheaper public transport is not always available. In addition, they want an assurance (to which I think they are entitled) that they will not be wheel-clamped on private roads in circumstances in which they would be exempt from any such provision on public roads.
I turn to the transfer or termination of concessions. The provisions in the Bill relate to potential maintenance liabilities. If a concession agreement is to last for 30 years, is there not a likelihood that in the last period of that term—perhaps in the last 10 years —the concessionaire will apply short-term rather than long-term considerations in regard to maintenance? The effect might easily be to leave a substantial backlog of long-term structural maintenance. Does the Minister contemplate that as a reasonable possibility? If so, what do the Government propose to do about it? The implications are very serious indeed. If the agreement is with the Department of Transport, there would be clear implications for the trunk road maintenance programme, quite possibly during a period in which a different government are in office.
Then one must consider the balance of the overall national maintenance programme, which could so easily be affected. That would leave fewer resources available for local roads. If the agreement were with a local highway authority, similar problems could easily arise locally. Of course I appreciate that the Minister may say in reply, "Maintenance conditions could be introduced into the agreement"; and that is certainly true. But will he not concede that they are likely to be extremely difficult to enforce?
I turn from that to one other question in relation to this part of the Bill. It is whether the Government have been in consultation with the Commission of the 636 European Community with regard to toll roads. I realise that it is a matter that is left to the discretion of member states when such schemes are introduced. However, I remember a great deal of hostility being raised by Her Majesty's Government to toll systems in other member states of the Community. They alleged that such systems unfairly affected our road haulage industry which had to pay levies twice over—domestic licence fees and toll charges. One is therefore entitled to ask what has caused the change in the Government's thinking.
In conclusion on this part of the Bill, I ask these questions of the Government. What will be the methods of collection? Will they be manual or through some other means? If they are to be manual, is there not a great likelihood that there will be a considerable amount of congestion, with long queues of motorists aggravating a position that already exists?
These are a badly devised set of proposals. They are piecemeal in approach. They make no provision for the protection of the countryside, for the problem of air pollution or for environmental assessment. They are replete with complexities and practical problems. The provisions suffer from a substantial lack of public accountability.
I turn shortly—because this part of the Bill is relatively uncontroversial—to Parts III and IV. I join the Minister in applauding those who have engaged in lengthy consultation. We support the need to minimise the huge disruptions that have been caused by failure to co-ordinate the actions of highway authorities and utilities. It is extremely important that the public should have roads which free of holes and unnecessary obstructions. They are entitled to have uninterrupted supplies of water, power and telecommunications. In so far as the Bill will help with that, it is to be applauded. However, we are not wholly satisfied because the public utilities and the highway authorities, through the local government organisations, appear to be uncertain as to whether the benefits which are conferred in theory by the Bill will come to pass.
There is a need for many improvements, in particular with regard to the accountability of senior management on safety and efficiency matters rather than leaving those responsibilities at the level of contractors and those who are working on the streets. Some improvement is necessary in the drafting in that respect.
Again the needs of the blind and the disabled have to be fully respected in carrying out roadworks. The Home recommendations on that issue do not appear to be fully reflected in the Bill in a number of ways. There should be verbal, recorded warnings that there are holes in the road. Solid barriers should be erected around excavations. Organisations representing blind and disabled people need to be consulted in drawing up traffic signal mannings. They should be given advance notice of street works. Pedestrians' interests too need to be taken fully into account when 637 traffic-sensitive streets are designated. Those are matters that we shall explore in the later stages of the Bill.
There appear to be some gaps in the Bill with regard to the register. Who is to contribute to the operating costs of the register? Is it to be both the public utilities and highway authorities? Will the Minister include information on access for and safety of the disabled in the register? The Government should explain why it has been necessary to make provision for Scotland by a huge number of additional clauses. Is it simply the absence of a Scottish equivalent of a street works licence for non-utility excavations that has led to those provisions?
I again thank the Minister for his exposition of the Bill. It has certainly made it easier to understand many of the complex provisions. However, once again I conclude by saying that, whereas Parts III and IV are to be warmly applauded and we fully support them, the burden that the Government have imposed on Parliament by introducing Parts I and II was wholly unnecessary and is contrary to the best interests of the passage of the Bill with regard to Parts III and IV.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, for his very clear exposition of the Bill. I should like also to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, to the Dispatch Box on a transport Bill for the first time. It is a very select club, as he will know, to which not many people are admitted—or not many people attempt to admit themselves. He is welcome; and his speech at the Dispatch Box today was a very good start indeed.
From these Benches, we are enthusiastic about the street works part of the Bill. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, we regret that the part relating to new roads has been added to the Bill. First, we regret the provision in its own right. Secondly, we regret it cluttering up what is otherwise a very good Bill. I am sure that the Bill would have gone through all its stages in both Houses very quickly. When one considers some of the events that are happening in a Committee room upstairs in another place one wonders whether there will be time to get the Bill through all its stages. I hope that the Government would have the good sense to drop the first part of the Bill and to push the remainder through all its stages in the event of a general election being called.
Let me deal first with Parts III and IV of the Bill. I have given up all pretence of having any competence to speak about Scottish matters since I had a little difficulty with the Scottish law reform legislation in another place. Part III, as I have just said and as I indicated in my speech on the humble Address to the gracious Speech, has our unqualified welcome. As has been said, it is an excellent example of what can be achieved when the Government, local authorities, national utility organisations, motoring organisations and many others have co-operated so well. It is a very positive step forward. They are to be congratulated. It 638 has not been easy for many of them. We now have a very comprehensive Bill which we wish to see on the statute book.
I wish to urge upon noble Lords today that we should not tinker with that part of the Bill to any great extent. I have no doubt that there will be matters that need to be probed in Committee and on Report. However, we should be unwise to attempt to make major changes to Parts III and IV of the Bill for fear of upsetting the delicate balance that has been achieved.
There are three specific points of concern in Part III to which I should like to draw attention. One is the restoration of supplies under Clause 46. I quote from a letter that I received from the National Joint Utilities Group. It states:The definition as proposed appears to allow for the restoration of customer's supplies only if associated with a public emergency, such as an escape of gas etc. Last year's proposals published by the DTp included the restoration of all supplies cut off for any reason, but this now seems to have been removed.All Utilities are under statutory obligation to restore customer's supplies within fixed periods and will be in breach of those obligations if their emergency powers are restricted. Under this proposal a customer could have to wait 7 days while a statutory notice of planned work runs its course".I hope the Government are aware of the problem. If they are unable to reply today I hope that they will be prepared to do so at a later stage.
The second matter I wish to raise is the prohibition after substantial road works as dealt with in Clause 52. It is true that most of the problems that arise are ironed out in Clause 53; for example, emergency works can be presumed to be covered by Clause 53. However, what will happen if there are genuinely new circumstances after there has been a reinstatement? For instance, will new customers requesting services be told that they must wait for 12 months? Is it possible to provide that the highway authority or the utility must give information to potential customers when a notice is issued under Clause 52(4)? In other words, if people wish to have a new supply connected should they not be given a warning that they should speak now or hold their peace for 12 months?
The third matter that I wish to mention which arises from my discussion with the National Joint Utilities Group relates to Clause 67 dealing with fees payable by undertakers. The use of the word "undertakers" in this connection reminds me of the old student song, "We are digging up father's grave to build a sewer". The proposals for fees are attractive at first sight but I wonder about their purpose. Is it to discipline the undertakers to dig fewer holes? Is it to discipline the undertakers to take less time to dig those holes? I see the Minister nod, and I can understand that. However, is it not the case that pressure from the street authorities in granting the street works licence in the first place is already adequate to control that? Are not powers to give directions under Clause 50 enough to cover the situation?
I wonder also whether the fees achieve their intended purpose because in reality the cost will be passed on to the customer of the utility and the 639 proceeds will go to the Exchequer via the local authority. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, shakes his head. I shall be glad if, when he speaks, he explains why that is not the case. I understand that the proceeds will go to the local authority and then to the Exchequer, because in the grants made by the Exchequer to local authorities that will be taken care of. Therefore nothing has been achieved.
Considering the difficulties that housing associations are already experiencing as regards the cost of connection of public utilities it is not wise to add to the cost of public utilities unless that achieves the purpose for which it is intended. I suggest that it is already covered in other directions. Perhaps a solution would be to reserve some power to penalise those who abuse codes of practice under the Bill. In any event, charges in emergency cases are a mistake and I hope that the Government will reconsider that. What is their view on attempts made by local authorities to charge utilities for the loss of revenue from parking meters? That appears to be a draconian action which is now being taken in a number of areas.
I have made those three separate points and I hope that we shall become involved in the minimum of tinkering. I undertake a self-denying ordinance in that direction. This part of the Bill will improve the situation in our towns and cities. It will speed traffic, reduce pollution and reduce the irritation felt by road users which leads to more accidents. The proper reinstatement provisions will help everyone but in particular they will help the visually handicapped, the disabled, those on two wheels and those on foot. Those are matters to which my noble friend Lord Falkland will refer later in the debate.
I turn to our objections to Parts I and II. It is not anti-privatisation dogma that makes us believe that the provisions in the Bill are a mistake. We are baffled by the Government's proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and I have said on a number of occasions, it is the kind of provision which illustrates the lack of a genuine transport strategy on the part of the Government. Once more market forces appear to be the governing principle. We know that market forces can be useful in their proper place. We know that competitive activity can produce increased efficiency. However, we are a small country and we have finite resources which must be deployed most efficiently. For the Government to argue that may be all right up to a point, but the market only looks at certain parameters and ignores others. It may be that allowing some people freedom of choice in driving about the country ignores the rights of the rest.
The building of private roads with tolls may occur where maximum demand is present, but in satisfying that demand damage may be caused in other directions. Indeed, it may create demand which will cause an increase in environmental damage. The environmental White Paper acknowledges the contribution of road vehicle emissions, air pollution and global warming. The Government cannot have it both ways. Either they believe what they say in the White Paper or they do not. If they do, they must do 640 everything that they can to ensure that the increase in private motoring in particular is brought under control.
The Government have argued that all the planning requirements are met within the terms of the Bill and presumably within the terms of the 1980 Act, to which the Bill refers. I understand that. However, there has been no proper, full cost-benefit analysis nor a real environmental impact analysis. I fear that severe damage is bound to be done. It has been argued that private roads may bring additional money into the transport infrastructure. However, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has shown that the Government are speaking on the subject in two directions. I too wish to hear what they have to say about the matter this evening.
Can the Government ensure additionality, because without that the whole basis of their policy in these parts of the Bill is unsound? If new money is available it should go to improving public transport in a co-ordinated way. I use the word "co-ordinated" rather than "integrated", which appears to indicate a degree of overcentralised planning. I mean coordinating and bringing together the various parts of public transport at whatever level is proper for the problems to be solved.
It is my intention to probe the question of maximum tolls during later stages of the Bill. It should not be possible to charge unlimited fees where even a near monopoly exists. At present the scheme is limited in the number of cases with which it deals. It is entirely restricted to estuarial crossings. I believe that it should go further and I intend to probe the matter in Committee.
Under Clause 7 it is difficult to understand what criteria will be used to set the level of tolls. We run into the strange dilemma that if the tolls are low, the pay-off will be enormously long. If our estuarial crossings are anything to go by, it will be infinite. There is hardly an estuarial crossing in the country of which I am aware where the amount of money outstanding is not greater than it was when the crossing was first constructed. I am not sure how the Government will square that with the new system.
If the cost of the tolls is very high, the situation will become as it is in France. There, if you are prepared to spend money, it is possible to be on some very quiet roads indeed. Presumably that is not what the Government intend by allowing the roads to be built in the first place. I presume that they are intended to reduce congestion on other roads. Once again, there is the danger of private affluence and public squalor. As the AMA said, this part of the Bill is at best a distraction from the major transport problems of the country.
If the Government really believe in tolls, they must rethink this part of the Bill. I doubt whether tolls will do anything for public transport which is where the emphasis should be if we are to sort out our transport problems. If the Government are going into road pricing in a serious way, then we should have a debate on that. However, my impression was that the 641 Government had turned their back on road pricing. This is minimalist road pricing which will do a minimalist job. Comprehensive road pricing in our cities and towns would be a way of raising funds for proper bus services and light rapid transport systems. The piecemeal approach that is proposed will get us nowhere. It may increase the profit levels of certain construction companies which are always generous in their support of a certain political party, but I am sure that that is not what is behind the Bill.
The Bill will not improve the transport situation for industry or for the private individual. We enthusiastically support Parts III and IV but totally reject Parts I and II.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I welcome the Bill. It can only be described as long overdue. As a motorcyclist like the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, weather conditions permitting, I have not had to endure the continuous frustration of traffic congestion in and around London.
There are obviously numerous reasons for the traffic problems around the country. One only needs to travel with a London taxi driver to gain a lucid description of some of the causes and obvious remedies for traffic snarl-ups. I strongly support Parts III and IV of the Bill which address the anxieties of the Home Report and others on streetworks and utilities. My anxieties are primarily directed towards the issue of road safety and the co-ordination and quality control of road works conducted on behalf of utility groups.
However, before dealing with those issues I should like to touch briefly on the subject of toll roads. The past year has seen a fair amount of activity on that front as government proposals have been aired and revised, leading to the subject being regulated in Parts I and II of the Bill. The press has related the development of those ideas in some detail. It is apparent that the proposals have not always received support from those sections of the private sector which might be expected to finance, construct and manage such roads.
Of note in that regard was the dismal response to the call for tenders for the construction and management of the 33-mile long toll road between the M.42 and M.52 outside Birmingham, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. By June of this year, only three consortia had registered bids. Of those, one was considering withdrawing while another was reviewing its position. Given that the Department of Transport was, to quote The Times on 30th October 1989,confidently expecting over a dozen bids",there seems to have been a poor turn-out.
I should now like to turn to Parts III and IV of the Bill. I note that almost all noble Lords who spoke on the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in February of this year on traffic obstruction and public utility works are 642 speaking again today. I am concerned about three issues in this part of the Bill. The first is the adoption of new technologies for the installation and maintenance of utility conduits under road surfaces, a point which I am sure will be raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. For example, the trenchless digging techniques of British Gas have not just expedited the laying of pipes but have resulted also in substantial cost savings.
I am sure that the National Joint Utilities Group will balk at Clause 67 which proposes a highway occupation fee. I personally support the clause. I believe that it will not only expedite road works, thus alleviating traffic congestion, but that it will also force utility companies using antiquated methods of road digging to follow the example of British Gas and, it is to be hoped, adopt new technologies.
I support also the calls of those noble Lords who seek a greater degree of co-ordination between the utility groups. Clauses 47 to 53 address that point by obliging the utility groups undertaking road works and the street authorities to co-ordinate their activities. That should adequately provide an impetus for the adoption of more efficient management techniques all round.
Just as anxieties have been expressed on the possibility of road accidents due to road works, so helping drivers to cope with hazardous situations successfully and safely is most important. The recent fog warning system on the M.25 and moves to fit pelican crossings with so-called magic eyes are to be welcomed.
In May this year it was shown in findings of government sponsored experiments in Reading, Bristol, Sheffield, Bradford and Nelson that about 200 lives could be saved and 15,000 accidents avoided every year by simple alterations to roads. The changes adopted included a combination of mini-roundabouts, banned turns, closure of some roads, speed bumps, road narrowing and special parking arrangements. These were found to cut down instances of rat running—the name given to traffic dodging through residential areas to bypass traffic jams on main roads.
If the Bill succeeds in its objective of reducing traffic congestion through proper co-ordination of road works, it will reap considerable savings not just in lost man hours and direct cost to commerce and industry but also in indirect savings to the environment and increased safety on main roads and surrounding areas. For those reasons, despite my reservations about Parts I and II, I warmly support the Bill.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I begin by quoting two short extracts from a parliamentary briefing sent to me by British Telecom which I received this morning. The first reads:The New Roads and Street Works Bill … provides a sound basis for legislation, but only if it is recognised that public highways are not solely for the benefit of travellers. It has for long been recognised that highways must also be used to provide all those services essential to community life".The second extract reads: 643The New Roads and Street Works Bill appears to have been constructed very much with the convenience of surface users in mind".I have checked back. In Roman times the Romans actually stated that roads were not just for the passage of people and goods but also for use in communications. However, in those days communications were by means of a message carried in a cleft stick and the carriers ran along the roads. Later on there were runners and horses and then coaches and horses. For British Telecom to say that the roads are there not just for road users but for those who install facilities under the roads is an absolute cheek.
If the roads did not exist the providers of facilities would have to dig their tunnels and install their services somewhere else. Therefore, I hope that the Government agree that the primary use of roads is for the transportation of passengers and goods. I felt it worth while to put that on record. I should perhaps add that I hold shares in BT and that I am having a second line installed at home. Doubtless there will now be some hiccups!
I fear that the Bill is not clear and simple. It is also over long. There are six different categories of highways and one operation may well involve routes through three or more categories. That will make life rather complicated for many of the people working on the highways.
The Secretary of State is to be given wide powers. However, the Bill does not provide for adequate consultation between him and the service organisations before regulations are altered or approved. It seems to me that before the Secretary of State issues edicts of one kind or another it is vital for him to discuss the proposals with the various organisations responsible for installing gas pipes, sewers, electricity cables, and so on, under our roads; otherwise there will be considerable trouble. It is pointless for the industry to set up a joint organisation to make sure that once a hole is dug in a road all the various services should use it when they can when it is also provided that the Secretary of State may do his own thing.
There are 55 clauses in Part III. These contain powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations or approve codes of practice. Some clauses provide for seven different rule-making powers. Again, I believe that that will complicate matters. In his opening address, which I agree was both clear and concise, the Minister gave the impression that the Bill will make life very much easier for all concerned. I am not sure that that will be the case if it is unamended.
Clause 67 deals with fees for the occupation of highways. That is likely to be unfair because certain utilities have statutory duties and therefore must carry out essential repairs. To do so they will have to pay for the privilege. I believe that that is wrong. Instead of the powers being mandatory I should prefer that they are used only if the codes of practice are abused.
Clause 52 deals with the restriction on works following substantial road works. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has already spoken eloquently on the subject. Clearly it would be ridiculous for a person moving home to have to wait 12 months before having 644 gas, electricity or a telephone installed. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has also dealt with Clause 46 and the restoration of supplies. It does not seem right that one should have to wait for seven days to be reconnected to vital services.
Basically I agree with private funding but I have certain hesitations because nowadays most public utilities are privately owned. Therefore, there is a dichotomy in that, on the one hand, there is the public interest—certainly in the old days—and, on the other, the fact that private undertakings are solely concerned with making a profit and paying their shareholders.
The new privately funded roads will be toll roads. On that I have one simple question to ask: what is the position in regard to the movement of large numbers of military vehicles? For example, after another mishap in the Middle East we had convoys carrying tanks, ammunition and troops. Will such movements have to pay the tolls? If so, once more the taxpayer will have to pay; or will such movements be given dispensation? I hope that the latter is the case.
I was sorry to hear the Minister state, as if relieving his anxieties, that the existing position in regard to public inquiries on new roads would be retained. I was hoping that some of the stupidness which exists in the present system would be swept away. There is the well-known case of an old lady who objected to a by-pass going round a town and kept up her objections for years and years. She did not live in the county, had never travelled on the existing roads and had never visited the town. She objected only on principle. The more objections that arc put forward, the more time is wasted. I am perfectly happy to accept that people who are directly affected should be allowed to attend public hearings but I believe that people who are not affected should not be allowed to do so.
I have spoken long enough to put over the few small points that concern me. It may not have sounded like it, but I am basically in favour of the Bill. I am sure that our concerns will be ironed out during the Bill's passage through this House.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Brabazon for his introduction on this long and complicated Bill. He made clear the many technical clauses and has given us a useful start. I also thank the parliamentary draughtsman. Clauses 96 and 150 contain indices of the expressions used. I have not previously seen that in a Bill. My noble and learned friend on the Cross Benches drew my attention to that. It is a good idea and I am sure that all noble Lords who are interested in the Bill will be thankful, before we have finished, that we have these indices of all the many technical expressions used in this long Bill.
I start with the first part of the Bill concerning new roads which received such a blasting from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I am bound to, say that I have yet to see a government with enough money to do everything necessary for the improvement or our roads. It seems to me, therefore, that we should endeavour to get 645 private contractors to put up the money, without cost to the taxpayers, in order to build much needed roads. I would welcome that. Where there is a monopoly, as in the Dartford-Purfleet bridge which duplicates the tunnel, the tolls will be statutorily controlled. Where a public road system exists as an alternative, the private contractor can be left to set his tolls at a level which he believes will pay him best. If people find that the cost is too much they will not use the roads. So that is a perfectly good safeguard. However the present Government's record on road building is very good. Its programme for the future is also tremendously good. As this will be, not instead of, but as well as public services the Bill has my warm welcome.
I want to say something about the street works section, Parts III and IV, of the Bill. I rather suspect from what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, had to say that we might be hearing quite a bit about private sector road building at the Committee stage. I congratulate my noble friend on achieving what no other government have done for 40 years in bringing forward legislation. It really is epoch making. I offer him my warm congratulations. I should also like to thank Professor Horne. He did a great job with his working party's report in 1985, which recommended a range of improvements. Along with Professor Home, I should like to congratulate and thank the National Joint Utilities Group, which has given so much valuable help in the drafting of the many technical matters in the Bill. It is most valuable. I notice that it has reservations on three points; no doubt there will be some discussion of those at Committee stage. In the main, however, it evidently approves and that gives the Bill a very good send-off.
Here in Parliament we have to find the right balance between the needs of the public utilities and the highway needs of traffic. This is something which the 1950 Act ignored. The Act simply provided for the public utilities. In those days, traffic was nothing like it is today. Today, when our constant concern is to try to find means to keep traffic moving in urban areas, it is a vital point.
That is why I see the Bill as being so important. It attempts for the first time, especially in Clause 67, which has already come in for a certain amount of beating, to make a charge for the space occupied on the highway and the time during which it is occupied. Here we are to be asked to try to find the right balance on a crucially important issue —that of achieving the free and safe passage of both traffic and pedestrians. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that many obstructions on pavements are extremely dangerous, not only for the disabled and unsighted, but also for healthy people. I have had more than one tumble recently. Anyhow, the great moment has arrived.
I turn to the fee to be charged for occupation of the highway. Curiously enough, Professor Home's report did not recommend this. However, with four million road openings a year this is an activity that has a significant measure of traffic obstruction to its discredit. The total increased cost to those transporting freight 646 and driving private cars must run into billions of pounds a year on account of road openings. If the Bill had omitted all reference to this huge consequential cost, and if a fair assessment of each job's contribution had not been mentioned in the Bill, it would have been a very serious omission. Anyhow, Clause 67 is there: we shall be able to deal with the matter.
There is a vital practical implication in charging an occupation fee. It gives the contractor the maximum incentive to use technology which will make the minimum disturbance to the highway and for the shortest time. I come here to the interesting new technology of trenchless digging. I have developed a personal interest in it as vice-president of the International Society for Trenchless Digging. This involves boring channels under the surface rather than digging up the road.
Curiously enough, the technology was invented in this country some years ago. But, as so often happens, the technology was then taken abroad and developed on a very large scale over very great distances in Japan, Germany and the United States. At last, however, it has come back here. As the noble Lord, Lord St.John of Bletso, rightly said, British Gas has been a splendid pioneer in using the technology for literally thousands of miles of cable that it has laid. British Gas carried out a good deal of expensive research beforehand. It saw that the technology would be beneficial to traffic but primarily took it up because it was cost-effective. There is so much less work involved. British Gas has been most successful. Some of the water companies have also used the technology.
In the main, however, contractors, especially highway authorities, have not made the major move to acquire the new machinery and train staff to use it. They continue to use the good old pick and shovel brigade. It is a big move to change; but that is what it is all about.
The National Joint Utilities Group says that it thinks that charging a fee will increase the public utility price to consumers. It may do so marginally, but what we are trying to find is a balance between the consumer's interests and the interests of the traffic moving on the highway. That is a point which I feel certain noble Lords on all sides will be taking into account. There is no doubt that if contractors go over to using the trenchless technology, they will be able to reduce their occupation of the highway very substantially both in time and in space, to the great benefit of traffic.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Brabazon and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport for bringing in the Bill. Obviously, we shall have some interesting discussions. I am eager to hear what my noble friend has in mind in the way of fees to be charged and how he will draw them up. They are to be introduced by regulations; this will be a point of critical interest at Committee stage.
I should like to mention another interesting point. Clause 72 deals with the obligation of an undertaker to record the location of any new pipe or cable which he installs in the highway. This is to be charted on a 647 register to be maintained by the highway authority. I understand that the register is to be funded by the Government, which is admirable. And so it should be in order to get the thing going.
It will take many years before we have a register that is really worth much. It will take account only of the new services and repairs that have been put down. What we really need is a register of all the services in the cat's cradle of services under our roads, so that with reasonable safety new work can be done without someone putting a pick through an electricity cable and blowing up the whole community. This is a point that I ask my noble friend to take note of.
The new technology of ground probing radar is being developed, especially in Japan where the need for it was recognised and great effort put into it. Without a doubt, with their resources and ingenuity, the Japanese will find the answer in a very few years. I ask my noble friend to make sure that the Bill provides for the possibility when the technology is available, of using the ground probing radar to chart all the existing services. When that is achieved, the register will be most valuable.
There are many interesting points in the Bill. I am looking forward to the discussions about the three special categories of streets which my noble friend has put into it. We must reserve those discussions for the Committee stage. I commend the Bill and have great pleasure in supporting it.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill and to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on its introduction. Roads are of vital importance to us in our crowded island. People and goods can travel by rail, but normally that involves journeys by road at either end if they are to arrive at their final destination. Eighty-six per cent. of freight journeys are of less than 50 miles duration, to which railways can contribute little. Roads will always form the lifeblood of our industrial and commercial life, and contribute greatly to the convenience of people's domestic transport.
With the constant increase in both commercial and domestic traffic, we need new roads. The Department of Transport estimates that road usage will increase by between 25 and 40 per cent. by the end of the century and by up to 100 per cent. by the year 2020. In my own village of Writtle we waited many years for our bypass. That has made a great difference to life in our village community, allowing children and old people to cross the road more safely. We shall continue to need new major highways. If the private sector can provide some of those, supplementing government infrastructure provision to the advantage of our commercial, industrial and domestic life, congestion will be reduced. That will be beneficial to the community as a whole in terms of the costs of both goods and services, and to the greenhouse effect. Traffic jams cost money, are energy-inefficient and emit unnecessary exhaust gases.
As well as needing new roads it is our bounden duty also to use existing roads, especially in urban and 648 metropolitan areas, as efficiently as possible. A few years ago in Chelmsford our highways authorities got together to plan and put into effect "Chelmsford move" to reduce traffic congestion. By clearly marked white-lining, double traffic lanes could be created in many places, road capacity substantially increased and congestion reduced.
The purpose of Part III of the Bill is also to reduce road congestion and improve existing road utilisation. I must declare an interest as a non-executive director of British Gas. British Gas is a member of the National Joint Utilities Group established in 1977 to promote collaboration between the utilities that install plant in the highways. The group fully supports the Home recommendations and welcomes the Bill, which it believes will result in fewer holes in the road and better road surfaces. When the Government published their response to the Home report in 1986, Peter Bottomley, the Minister then responsible for roads, asked the group to work with the highways authorities to develop codes of practice, technical specifications and collaborative administrative procedures.
This they have done. I am pleased that my noble friends the Minister and Lord Nugent paid tribute to that collaboration today. The bodies concerned will continue that collaboration. The results will then possibly be put into practice when the Bill is enacted next year. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, and my noble friend Lord Nugent, over the years British Gas has utilised new technology wherever possible to reduce the necessity for digging up the roads. Plastic pipes do not corrode like cast iron and are used widely in distribution systems. Where cast iron has corroded, innovative procedures have been designed to line them with plastic pipes instead of digging them up. This enables pipes to be laid with the minimum of excavation. Where it is absolutely necessary, trenching is now much narrower than it was in years gone by. Over the past 12 months, in the city of Westminster, 90 kilometres of main were replaced, of which 75 kilometres were renewed without trenching, using the foregoing methods.
Over £6 million has been invested by British Gas Engineering Research during the past decade. That is a substantial sum of money which has meant that British Gas has become a world leader in these fields of work. In the 1970s, when I was involved in local government, trench reinstatement was a permanent problem, taking place months after the initial work was completed, leaving bumpy roads to everybody's irritation. It is now becoming possible to reinstate permanently on completion of the work by the use of thermostatically controlled insulated hot boxes to keep bitumen in good condition for immediate use. Also, foamed concrete is now being used for the speedy reinstatement of trenches. These methods will continue to be developed throughout the country. British Gas welcomes the co-operation of local highway authorities in developing improved new techniques to increase efficiency.
The National Joint Utilities Group has acquired great experience in this area over many years and wishes to see this legislation as capable of being 649 carried out in a realistic and practical way. The group is anxious in regard to three fields of this Bill which have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who spoke before me. They feel that the definition of emergency works in Clause 46 is too narrowly drawn, as it is only associated with a public emergency such as an escape of gas. Originally it was proposed to allow the restoration of all supplies cut off. All utilities are under statutory obligations to restore customers' supplies. That could be breached by the new, narrower definition. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to look at this definition again.
In Clause 52 there is a prohibition against digging up new roads for 12 months. Emergency works are sensibly excluded, but new customers are not exempt and could have to wait up to 12 months for utility supplies. Indeed, subsection (7) goes so far as to remove the statutory duty of utilities to supply in these circumstances. This could cause substantial hardship to potential customers. I hope that my noble friend can look at the drafting of this clause again.
Under Clause 69 the utility will be charged for the use of the highway by the highway authority. I can understand the purpose of this clause, which is to press undertakers to work as fast as possible. As one drives along motorway contraflows for mile after mile, which one knows is hazardous, one has great sympathy for this clause. At times one cannot see any constructional activity at all on the empty road. These works must be completed as soon as possible in the interests of road safety and better utilisation.
However, originally I understood that emergency works were to be exempt from these charges and the Home report rejected them because there could be a dilution of safety standards. That could be particularly important in urban situations as distinct from motorways. I hope that my noble friend can also look at that clause again.
Finally, in looking at the problem of road congestion I should like to make a further suggestion. We all know the utter frustration of arriving at a traffic jam on a motorway and crawling captive to the next junction. Could a digital display board be erected at the entry to all slip roads both entering and leaving motorways? On seeing a notice that the next motorway section is blocked, traffic could leave the motorway, or not join it at all, until the blockage had been cleared. I believe that would be a great advantage. I hope that the Bill, when enacted and amended in the ways I have suggested, will make a major contribution to the reduction of road congestion and thereby maximise the use of existing roads, which will be to everybody's advantage in many important and cost-effective ways.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, this is a good Bill to do two good things. First, it is to help to bring forward a programme of toll roads, and, secondly, to regulate those who dig up existing roads for no doubt worthy and responsible purposes. I wish I could say 650 the same of the drafting of the Bill. I simply do not believe that in order to enact those two good things it is really necessary to have a Bill with 156 clauses and nine schedules. It is part of the modern and, I think, deplorable technique of the parliamentary draftsman of not only dotting every "i" but putting about half a dozen dots on every "i" and crossing every "t" several times over.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is not in his place because he has done his best with his committee to fight this tendency. I am sorry that Ministers have not been firmer with their advisers and have not insisted that Bills should not be drafted at this enormous length. I am sure that we are greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Brabazon for his introductory speech in which he took us through most of the clauses, but he must himself feel that this was largely an unnecessary labour and that stricter control of drafting, which used in my days in government to be undertaken by the legislation committee of the Cabinet, could indeed restrain and restrict the zeal of the parliamentary draftsman to deal with all possible and most impossible contingencies.
I shall say only a few words about toll roads. I am sure that it is a good thing to seek to develop toll roads. I do not know, and I suspect my noble friend the Minister does not know, how many will actually be built or where. But whatever number is built, they will be an addition to the existing programmes and therefore an additional provision, without recourse to public funds, of the road structure of this country. That must be an extremely good thing. I wonder whether, when he comes to reply, my noble friend can give us a clearer idea both as to how many of these roads it is expected will be built in the next few years and where. It would, for example, be an enormous advantage, though I for one fully realise the difficulties, if one or two roads could be built to improve access to central London from the motorways.
Almost the weakest point in our road system at the moment is the hold-ups in the approaches to central London. It is obvious that roads in such areas would be expensive and therefore possibly a suitable subject for toll roads. In any event I hope that my noble friend will be able to give noble Lords, who are very interested indeed as the debate has so far shown, some indication of how many such roads will be built over the next few years.
I now turn to the question of control of those who seek to dig up existing roads. In this respect I ought to declare perhaps paternity or even grand-paternity in the matter. If my noble friend looks at the back papers of his department, unless they have gone to the Public Record Office, he will see that 35 years ago in the autumn of 1955 I as Minister of Transport put forward proposals to give control over the digging up of public roads by public utilities. As it so happened, in December of that year the Prime Minister of the day in his wisdom transferred me to another department and my successor—I shall not say "in his wisdom" —declined to take up this cause. The matter has lain in desuetude for 35 years.
651 That is perhaps an encouraging aspect inasmuch as it indicates that, if one waits long enough in public life, sooner or later things happen. I would say that no one can accuse Her Majesty's Government of indecent haste. It is a particular pleasure obviously that, having felt strongly about the matter 35 years ago and done my best to bring legislation forward before my translation to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, action is now being taken.
The action looks to be thoughtful and intelligent. I like very much the proposal that, where a public utility digs up a road and causes expense to the highway authority in the operation of other roads—heavy wear and tear, improvements and so on—the public utility responsible shall be made to indemnify the highway authority. That is absolutely right because the cause of the trouble and of the expense is the work of the public utility and therefore seems to be properly chargeable to it. That is an aspect of the proposal which seems to have considerable value.
The nub of the matter is that there should be control of the right to dig up public roads. We have all experienced on roads we use regularly the situation in which one public utility digs it up and then rather badly refurbishes it. A few weeks later another public authority comes along, digs it up, obstructs traffic and then puts it back in perhaps a rather worse state. A third public utility then comes along to dig it up, no doubt with the best of intentions but concerned only with the provision of its own services, and as a result traffic is made extremely difficult. As one noble Lord said earlier in the debate, back in the 1950s traffic was nothing like as heavy as it is at present and the problem therefore was not as serious. Today the problem is desperately serious. I am delighted that the Government are coming forward with what seem on the whole to be well calculated methods of dealing with it.
I wish, however, that they could go a little further and secure not only the co-ordination of work by public utilities but the co-ordination of the work of highway authorities themselves. I do not know whether my noble friend is aware of the fact that in October comparable lengths of the M.3 and the M.4 were dug up at the same time in order to be resurfaced. The timing meant that it was useless for traffic serving common areas to divert from one to the other. If traffic diverted from the M.3 it found the position just as bad on the M.4 and vice versa. The highway authorities ought to co-ordinate with each other and secure that when major roadworks are being undertaken by them they take place, first, at a time of relatively low traffic movement, and, secondly, not simultaneously with work on roads—in this case, motorways—which also serve the same areas. They should be staggered in point of time. It is up to the highway authorities to do that. If they fail to do so it is for my noble friend and his right honourable friend the Minister to knock their heads together and make sure that they do.
My noble friend may be aware of the fact that for some reason it was decided that the railings on the Hammersmith flyover, which serves both the M.3 and 652 the M.4, required to be painted. I do not know why. Aesthetically they look awful anyhow and they look awful now that they have been painted. We were told that the work would take seven weeks. When one drove along the one remaining line of route one could often see one man, and sometimes even two men, solemnly painting the railings. It was not a question of spraying them or anything of that kind. They were gently painting them. On another occasion I saw a happy group of four men, one of whom was making a cup of tea, one of whom was eating a sandwich, one of whom was getting a paint tin out and the fourth of whom was actually painting. There was an appalling delay while traffic piled up on that crucial route into London.
If we are to control, as the Bill proposes, and as I hope indeed it will, the public utilities which from time to time in their zeal to perform their own service obstruct the highway, the highway authorities themselves require supervision from the Minister and examples such as the simultaneous digging up of the M.3 and M.4 and the ridiculous affair of the railings on the Hammersmith flyover must command the attention of the Minister for Transport, if he is to be in truth a Minister for Transport.
I do not think that that necessarily falls within the scope of the Bill, but it certainly conies very much within the scope of the department of my noble friend and my right honourable friend. I hope that they will realise not only the hardship and discomfort caused to the public but also the economic loss and damage which these long delays resulting from such operations cause to our community. If they deal with that, they will be doing good work in addition to that which the Bill seeks to achieve. I wish the Bill well and I hope that it will soon become law.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Broadbridge
My Lords, I wish to speak solely to the street works section of the Bill as outlined in Parts III and IV. Every Bill tends to get a vernacular title and, as it were, a Short Title. Perhaps not surprisingly, this one seems to have had the name "the potholes Bill" settled upon it, despite its new roads content. Although it is in some circumstances more agreeable to travel than to arrive, it is at present certainly safer to do the latter mainly because of the holes in our roads. Current diggings are at a level of about 3 million a year, although the Minister mentioned the figure of 4 million a year. As he is the revealer of truth, I must accept his higher figure. In fact, it makes the situation worse.
The street works part of the Bill has been long awaited by many hopeful parties. It is excellent to see it make such an early start in the Session and also in your Lordships' House. It is "long awaited" because it is now 40 years since the Public Utilities Street Works Act received Royal Assent against a very different background. Today there is four times as much motor traffic which, with other users such as pedestrians and pedal and motor cyclists, has to fight a way through, over and around a dramatic increase in the number of street works. It is seven years since the House of Commons Transport Committee recommended new 653 legislation, four years since the Government accepted that need, five years since Professor Home recommended new legislation and over 12 months since the Government outlined their new legislative proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, we are most grateful for what is happening, although it has taken a measure of time to arrive.
There has for once been much preparation in the background by those involved in anticipation of the Bill's arrival. Following the publication of the Home Report, the national and local highway authorities and the utilities which dig most of the 3 million or 4 million holes came together to form HAUC, the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee. Codes of practice were developed and agreed with the Department of Transport and HAUC led a campaign for this Bill which received the enthusiastic support of some 15 leading organisations ranging from the AA and the RAC to Friends of the Earth and the TUC, and, significantly, including the Joint Committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People.
Second Readings of Bills are usually the occasion for the unveiling of startling statistics. But if the CBI's calculation that road congestion is currently costing each household about £10 a week were only half right, that would still be £250 a year in economic terms, quite apart from all the human misery experienced in wrestling with congestion, losing road grip and direction, tripping over, being thrown off bicycles and then run over, submerging our feet in cold muddy water, and so on. The list is endless and often leads to damage, injury or death.
Even during a Second Reading debate it would be laborious to mention all the hoped for main elements in a new street works Bill. Therefore, I shall restrict myself to one, perhaps the most significant, which is to allow the utilities—water, gas, electricity, BT and Mercury telecommunications—to repair their own holes. Under the 1950 Act, I understand that local authority direct labour is charged with this responsibility. But the sheer number of holes in existence today, and in many cases the diminution in size of local authority direct labour resources for separate reasons, has made this an unrealistic course. The requirement has outlived its appropriateness in the face of the sheer numbers of roadworks and the complexity of the total scene.
"Let him who digs repair" seems an entirely sensible solution for the future and one for which HAUC—which includes local authorities—has been preparing its members for several years by the preparation of a computerised street works register into which notification of all roadworks will be fed. The computerised register will be used, first, to co-ordinate works in absolute terms; secondly, to co-ordinate them in such terms as they relate to other utilities works; thirdly, to relate hours, conditions and prior notice of working according to the traffic sensitivities of the route; and, fourthly, through a national roadworks quality specification and use of 654 appropriately trained operators and supervisors to ensure that the matter is completed correctly and on time.
That last point on training can in the almost literal sense be vital because there is one thing almost as dangerous as the hole and that is the hump. All of us have to travel on the presumption of a level surface ahead and a post-works hump can be almost as disorienting as the unexpected hole. Perhaps too much emphasis is placed upon the hole. We are all probably familiar with the doggerel:Dr. Foster Went to Gloucester In a shower of rain He fell in a puddle Up to his middle And never went there again".It will be seen that is is even bad for the tourist trade. However, on a more serious note, I travelled to your Lordships' House on a bicycle for some time during the not too distant Tube troubles. I formed a rapid and rather painful view of the hump, a menace which might be considered to be wasted work—expensive wasted work.
I have read the shopping list, so to speak, of HAUC's requirement of a Bill. I formed a list of my own and I have carefully read Parts III and IV of the proposed Bill which is before us this afternoon. In this light, and on a Second Reading day when we consider a Bill's basic structure and principles, I find the proposed Bill most satisfyingly comprehensive and apparently realistic. I believe that in all its main parts it is on the right lines. It will do enormous good.
It is all too commonly the experience of Parliament when seeking to regulate some area of human activity that the target vigorously resists even the principle of regulation as well as its detail. Here, for once, I believe that the Minister is sitting under a tree containing an enormous ripe plum which is waiting and which is more than usually prepared to be shaken off. I wish the Minister strength to his arm and both in this and subsequent travels in your Lordships' House a puncture-free journey.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, while listening to the debate, it came to my notice that as the general public will have to pay to use these new toll roads, they cannot be public highways. As I understand it, a public highway is open to anyone without any fee or charge being incurred. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us in his concluding speech whether there will be any diminution in the power of the police and whether the concessionaires will be able to make their own traffic regulations or whether they will have to be approved by the police, by Parliament or by someone else. Will they be able to form their own private police forces to police the traffic? I have not noticed anything in the Bill to deal with that point. I may be wrong, and I shall be interested to learn.
I had not intended to speak on that subject, but when the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, spoke he acted as an extremely good traffic warden, effectively wheel-clamping me by saying nearly everything that I had intended to say, especially about disabled people. He has been ably supported by others of your Lordships, and I too shall say a few words in support.
655 One of the reasons given for the introduction of privately-financed roads is that they would encourage the public to use public transport. Unfortunately, because of their disabilities, many disabled people cannot use public transport. Therefore, provided that they have an orange badge on their vehicle, they should be able to use the new toll roads for nothing. At present, places such as the Severn Bridge, the Erskine Bridge, the Forth Bridge and the Dartford Tunnel are open to them free of charge. That facility should be extended to the new roads proposed in the Bill. In addition, under Section 105 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, it is illegal to clamp a vehicle with an orange badge. That provision must apply also to orange-badged vehicles using the new toll roads. We must bear in mind that a disabled person is probably unable to go to the local police station to arrange for his vehicle to be unclamped and is therefore stuck and unable to obtain help.
It has also been said by many of your Lordships that there must be proper barriers around holes in roads while repairs are carried out. Provision is made for that in the Bill; but there should also be audible warnings for blind people or those with poor sight. I understand that a simple warning device that can give a verbal message costs about £50 at present. If there is a general requirement for such devices and there is some form of mass production, a verbal or audible warning device will be produced at a very much lower price. We already have flashing orange lamps around road works. I doubt whether they cost £50. A similar device emitting an audible warning would be extremely useful.
As well as a barrier to prevent people falling into a hole, there should be a rail at what I would call stick-tapping height for those who use a white cane so that they can feel the barrier. It is no use having a waist-high barrier. If a blind person with a stick comes along, the stick goes under the barrier and before that person knows where he is he is in the hole, because he is right on the barrier before he is aware of it. There should also be a proper space with an even path around road works for people in wheelchairs. A rough surface to a wheelchair can be not just uncomfortable, it can increase the disability, and no one wants that.
In addition, in areas where roadworks are taking place and where there are organisations for disabled people, they should be advised of the roadworks so that they can warn their members of where the works are and give them alternative routes. I welcome the Bill.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I give the Bill a general welcome and congratulate my noble friend on having, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, after so many years brought forward a Bill to deal with the problem.
In any consideration of Parts I and II we must never lose sight of the imperative need for the Government to deliver the improved and expanded road network which was set out in the May 1989 White Paper entitled Roads for Prosperity. The 656 programme contained in that White Paper should be publicly funded. It should not be hived off piecemeal to the private sector. My noble friend the Minister referred to the Birmingham north relief road. That is an example of what I mean. It is an essential part of the principal network. That kind of toll road should not be excluded from the national network in the way proposed.
Road users contribute directly some £17 billion per annum to the Exchequer by way of road taxation. Less than one-quarter of that is returned. It is difficult to accept that an additional tax—whether it is called tolling or anything else—is necessary to achieve a better service. Having said that, I am not against a toll road system where there is a proper and reasonable free alternative; where toll roads are built only where there is a special and particular need that cannot be met through the national highway system; and where any private sector toll road is additional to the national programme.
The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Tordoff, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter stressed additionality. Your Lordships' Select Committee on Transport Infrastructure, reporting in, I think, November last year, had some trenchant remarks to make about additionality. Paragraph 44 of the consultative document entitled New Roads by New Means again attempts to express the Government's view of additionality. None of those concerned with road matters has been totally satisfied about additionality for the past 20 or 30 years. I hope that when we set up the toll roads the additionality will be made abundantly clear and that the costings will be transparent so that all can see them.
I suppose that in that part of the Bill I shall be looking for—optimistically of course but with little hope of contentment—an irrevocable assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the existing motorway and trunk road system will continue to be improved, upgraded and maintained with freedom of access, as a national and publicly-funded priority, regarded as a national asset and nurtured as such, rather than be for the use of a special group of people.
I turn to Parts II and III, which I welcome enormously. I noticed that in the Department of Transport's press release of 9th November, press notice No. 401, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport stated:The main proposals will"—he listed a number, one of which I select for this evening's debate—require the training and certification of workmen and supervisors to nationally agreed standards".That was in connection with the repair of roads.
The Bill lacks a clear framework for management accountability for the safety and efficiency of road works being undertaken. It is not good enough to provide a certification system that in practice devolves the responsibility upon a workman or a supervisor on the site, negativing the principal management 657 responsibility for its duties under the Act. As we go through the Bill, I should like to see some provision in this area.
I touch briefly on the three clauses of concern to the NJUG and merely add on Clause 46, in regard to the emergency works point which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned in his speech, that the Bill's proposal for a customer having to wait seven days while the statutory notice runs its course seems to be totally unreasonable. In today's climate, it is not even necessary. He and other noble Lords spoke on another point of concern, the Clause 52 restriction on works.
I do not disagree with anyone who has spoken of his concern. I just add another somewhat more cynical comment. Some may say it is a little unfair. If I painted the worst scenario that I could, it would run something like this: a utility or highway authority may undertake works, frustrating or purposely to frustrate a new entrant with a new service for 12 months—a cable service, telecommunications or whatever it may be. This seems to me to be essentially wrong.
On the Clause 67 point—fees—I noticed what my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said. I think it was he, but he will forgive me if it was not. He talked about it only being right that the utilities should have to pay. He admitted that it might marginally increase the cost of the services underground to the consumer, but a balance had to be struck. I disagree fundamentally with him. I believe that the costs to the consumer will go up enormously. It is not necessarily a balance that has to be struck between the road user and the consumer of the services underneath the road. To an extent they are already paying for the £15 billion a year congestion. It is the highway authority that will be the net beneficiary.
I return to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made about fees. He will know that in the national road maintenance condition survey the condition of local authority roads in 1989 was worse than it was in 1977. Here is a splendid opportunity for a local highway authority—that is really the local authority—imposing charges that are not necessarily proportionate to the amount of damage done or the cost of restoration to enhance its own maintenance and repair budget. I have always had a marked distrust of local authorities' powers to charge, whether it is for the collection of trolleys, the erection of signs on street furniture, or for this matter. I believe that, hard pressed though they be, much of the money is diverted. I wish to examine Clause 67 with other noble Lords when we reach it.
I finish on a rather different note which concerns Crown immunity. I believe it comes under Clause 152. It is my understanding that the traffic control systems unit, which controls 3,000 traffic light junctions in Central and Greater London, carried out its functions originally under the order of the Corporation of London. On the abolition of the GLC when the department could find no local authorities willing to accept responsibility for traffic control in this area, the unit was set up as an agent of the Department of Transport. I understand that should any public utility, 658 in undertaking ground works, damage the detectors or loop systems the traffic control systems unit can sue the utility concerned for damage. However, as I understand Clause 152, were the traffic control systems unit, in putting down its detectors or loop systems, to damage any other utility, it is immune from being sued under Crown immunity. That does not seem to me to be an equitable arrangement. It seems to me that we need clarification as to the responsibilities of an agency of a government department in relation to the other responsibilities which are to be placed on other utilities.
I believe that we shall have a fairly interesting debate. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that it should be a short Committee stage, because the sooner we send the Bill to another place with as few amendments as possible—amendments to which it can agree quickly—the better.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, as twelfth man in the debate there is little left for me to say, so I have been able to reduce my speech somewhat. Like other noble Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill, first, because we in the country are dependent on the provision and maintenance of a first class national road system. The provisions in the Bill will go a long way towards giving motorists the benefit of increased choice and we hope that there will be less congestion on our existing roads.
Part III of the Bill is warmly welcomed by everyone, as has been said many times in the debate. It introduces new controls on work in progress to improve road safety at the site of any works. A couple of aspects may not be properly covered and I wish to raise them. It may well be that they are dealt with and perhaps my noble friend, when he comes to wind up, will tell me if that is so.
Clause 44 deals with the granting of a licence. Presumably licences will be granted subject to the proviso that any and all items of equipment such as pillar boxes, telephone kiosks, etc. are placed in accordance with normal safety audit procedures as set out in the guidelines issued by the Institution of Highways and Transportation and approved and endorsed by the Department of Transport. Sight lines may be obstructed and road accidents may be caused by the inappropriate placement of such equipment. It would be unfortunate if this occasion were not taken to ensure that such basic safety precautions were embodied in the Bill at this stage in order to reduce the likelihood of further difficulties. If there is no intention of including those precautions in the Bill, it may be worthwhile looking at the period of notice provided by the undertaker to the highway authority in conjunction with its responsibility to ensure the safety of the highway. Too short a notice period may not allow time for the proposed site to be safely audited.
I have a further anxiety in connection with Clause 58. I am anxious that any street works should take proper account of the needs of pedestrians, the very young, the elderly and the disabled, and that where appropriate guard railing should be provided between 659 the works and the footway, and between the footway and passing traffic. I am anxious that appropriate signs should be provided. However, this matter may well be covered by Chapter 8 of the traffic signs manual. I also have anxieties as regards Clauses 46, 52 and 67 but these have been dealt with by other noble Lords. They have spoken about them far better than I could have done. However, I wish to add my support to the anxieties they have expressed.
The Bill refers to the codes of practice. I believe that these codes of practice were suggested by the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee. I know that the body concerned with the public utilities hopes that these codes of practice will be published before the Bill reaches its final stages as it may decide that more specific safeguards should be written into the Bill.
This measure is welcomed by all parties. It should stop congestion on our city roads and result in fewer holes and better road surfaces. The opportunity to construct an agreed and durable set of rules that do not lead to confusion in order to achieve a balance between the utilities and the road user is within our sights. I warmly support the Bill.
§ 5.32 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, as the previous speaker remarked, nearly everything has been said on this matter. I decided to listen to your Lordships' debate rather than prepare anything. I agree with most of what has been said in praise of the Bill. I confirm that I am entirely in agreement with my noble friend Lord Tordoff and others in supporting almost entirely Parts III and IV of the Bill.
Those of us who use the roads in London know the situation is intolerable. I do not believe that any speaker has used the word "intolerable" yet, but that is an apt description of the position. I probably use the roads more than most people although I cannot think why. Nowadays I use two motorised wheels more often than I use my car. I believe the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, referred to this matter. I probably travel about 8,000 miles a year on a motorcycle and about 10,000 miles in a car. Much of that travel is done in the South and the South West of England. I have been travelling in those areas for some time. I use the motorcycle as it enables me to travel around much more quickly. I thus avoid many of the frustrations caused by the congestion on the roads and by the holes in the road surface and the repairs carried out by the public utilities which are the subject of this debate.
When one rides a motorcycle, one views this matter in a slightly different way to the car user. One goes to places that one might not go to in a car. The situation off the main roads is as bad as that on the main roads. I shall give just one example of the madness which attaches to the repairing of holes in the road. One of the utilities—I shall not mention which one unless I have a problem with it personally—was carrying out large-scale works on the road approaching from the west towards Nine Elms. The road was up for a considerable period. At night the utility involved saw fit to erect a kind of rudimentary fencing round the holes that it had dug. However, as the fencing was ill 660 lit, the next morning the road was littered with pieces of tin, wood, broken lights, pieces of red Bakelite and other such materials. That litter represented a great hazard to road users, particularly those on two wheels. It was quite clear that no proper thought or planning had been given to that site. It was clear also that no thought had been given to the possible consequences of the low level of protection that was afforded to road users while the site was left unattended during the night. This kind of slapdash, ill thought out behaviour on the part of utility companies is one of the features of life around the roads in Britain.
I must say that I was surprised by the equanimity with which some noble Lords greeted the forecasts of future road traffic levels. Those forecasts terrified me. I cannot believe that they were accepted with such equanimity. This morning for the first time in a long while I travelled on a commuter train during the rush hour. I was heartened by that trip. I found the train to be clean and it arrived on time. The journey was pleasant and the windows were clear so I could see what was going on outside. I noticed that the roads were chock-a-block at that time. In some places they were jammed solid. It appears to me that the railways are beginning to put their house in order. I wondered why people were not transferring from the roads to the trains. Perhaps they have not heard about the improvement that has taken place, at least on the line on which I travelled.
I now wish to jump in rather a butterfly fashion to what I considered was a rather passionate speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He presaged his remarks by saying that he welcomed two good measures. I was rather doubtful about those two so-called good measures. I knew that one of them was a good measure, but I was not too sure about toll roads. I am still not convinced about them. However, the noble Lord made a good point in their favour. I am partially convinced that there is a role for toll roads in one instance. I was convinced of that when the noble Lord spoke about the possibility of the outer main roads into London becoming toll roads. I heartily agree with that concept because toll roads could be used to discourage people from using roads unreasonably rather than travelling by public transport. As I have said, I believe that public transport may have improved in some respects over the past few years.
Noble Lords have mentioned the problems which they foresee as regards the level of tolls; how long we shall have to wait before they are implemented; how many there will be; and how much money will be invested in them. All of those points give rise to uncertainty. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, there is a strong argument for introducing toll roads in areas where one wishes to discourage people from travelling into city centres by private transport.
I very much enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I feel that it is extraordinary that it is only now that a Bill is being introduced which deals with the problems of the utility companies, the roads, the Government and road users. However, the 661 noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, revealed that when he was the Minister responsible for transport some 35 years ago he wished to introduce this kind of measure. The noble Lord was tactful enough not to say who his successor was who let that measure drop. I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was very far-sighted because 35 years ago the volume of traffic was much less than it is today and the kind of problems which we are facing now would have been much more difficult to foresee. The noble Lord must at that stage have had some inkling—perhaps he had a dream—of the nightmare that we face today and which the Government are rightly confronting with this legislation. We support that legislation.
Although I agree that the Bill is long-winded, for a change it is a Bill which is easy to read. When I read it on my train journey this morning, I understood it. I felt that perhaps too many days had been allowed for the Committee stage and wondered how we could spin out the time. No doubt we shall find a way.
I hope that I may be excused for saying a few words about the benefits of two-wheeled transport; namely, motor cycles and pedal cycles. That applies generally to the use of tolls, charges to road users and also to the state of the roads. I travel on my motor bicycle for pleasure purposes, and it is indeed still a pleasure even in this country. It is certainly a pleasure in the other countries of Europe. How differently the motor cyclist is viewed in Europe.
It is recognised in the other countries of Europe—and in the United States—that the motor cycle is an environmentally friendly means of transport. The motor cycle makes significantly less impact on the surface of the road. That is at the opposite extreme to the very alarming picture which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, painted of tanks and military vehicles chewing up the roads. The motor cycle does very little damage to the road. It is environmentally friendly. It is calculated that it causes one-tenth of the damage to the environment caused by the average motor car.
In case I am picked up on the point, I do not say that motor cycling is a pastime which prolongs life. The insurance companies have figures which show that over the age of 24—after the period of most danger—one's chances of having an accident are considerably less. I am afraid that we all have to go through the period of learning to face the hazards of motor-cycling. However, if one uses the machines sensibly they are extremely agreeable. They are well-equipped and safe. They give one an enormous amount of enjoyment.
One of the great joys of motor-cycling is that when one overtakes a motor car—and one tries to do it legally—one notices the expression on the driver's face. The expression on people's faces in this country, particularly in the South of England, is quite different from the expressions on the faces of drivers in France, Germany, Holland or Italy. In the South of England in the rush hour most motorists have an expression of venom on their faces, as though they were going out physically to destroy the neighbour's cat. Driving is a strain and a stress.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I did not want to interrupt the noble Viscount while he was in full flow; but it was not I who mentioned motor cars chewing up the road. I do not know who it was but it was not me.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl. Perhaps he misheard me; I was talking about military vehicles, to which he referred.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I only wanted to know whether military vehicles would have to pay the toll on toll roads.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, it was the image of military vehicles on our roads which alarmed me.
The debate has been interesting but perhaps a little lacking in passion. A great deal more indignation is required about the situation on our roads. Undoubtedly, the Government's proposed legislation regarding the utilities, local authorities and road users will improve matters. However, no doubt we shall return to those issues in due course in other debates because it will be a long time before we achieve a satisfactory state of affairs.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, does the noble Viscount deny that motor bicyclists cause very real anxiety to people who drive motor cars in any big city?
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to respond to the noble Earl. His anxiety relates to a particular section of motor cycle users, most of whom are professionals and do not ride motor cycles for pleasure. That is an area of concern, but it can be dealt with quite easily.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his opening address. I am sure that when we read it in Hansard we shall find it very helpful for the next stages of the Bill. I hope that I am not giving away any secrets if I say that I understand that the Minister has promised that after the Second Reading we shall have Notes on Clauses. As one noble Lord stressed, there are 157 clauses and nine schedules in the Bill, and that will be vital when we come to the Committee stage.
It may be recalled that during the debate on the humble Address I stressed that the Labour Party had no polemical objection to joint projects with both private and public sector finance. However, as my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, we have before us, in the provisions in Part I of the Bill for new private roads, another example of the piecemeal approach to transport with no consideration being given to overall transport or environmental needs. From this Dispatch Box I urge that account is taken of national and local transportation needs.
As has already been mentioned, during my speech on the humble Address I asked whether expenditure on new roads would be in addition to the Government's road programme. I was delighted to hear the Minister say so definitely that the money will be additional.
663 Having said that, as my noble friend mentioned, since the debate on the Address many organisations have been in touch with me and other noble Lords and raised the question of additionality. The two motoring organisations, the AA and the RAC, are most concerned about the matter. The CBI, although welcoming the proposal in the Bill, stated that the contribution of the new roads will be marginal and that the Government must retain their responsibility for funding infrastructure improvements. In a note which I received today the Retail Consortium has expressed a similar view.
That view was also expressed by the very influential Freight Transport Association. That makes it clear that the road programme must be publicly funded and not hived off piecemeal to the private sector. The association drew attention to the point raised by my noble friend, and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, concerning the Birmingham northern relief road. The Freight Transport Association is of the opinion that any such policy would delay vitally needed road schemes and undermine the industry's confidence in the Government's commitment to their road programme.
Clause 6 relates to the making of toll orders. Subsection (6) of the clause states that that power will be exercised by statutory instrument. However, there is no reference to whether the negative or affirmative procedure will apply. It would be helpful if, before we reach the next stage, the Minister would indicate what procedure is envisaged.
Moreover, what consultation will there be, and with whom, for setting or increasing any toll? In connection with these toll roads, in Clause 7(3) provision is made that the highway authority (which in most cases will be the Secretary of State) will in effect determine the date on which the toll period ends. It would be helpful if the Minister can give some indication of what the Government have in mind as a possible period of a toll.
No doubt it will be unlikely that private promoters will undertake projects which are of only local importance in urban areas. In a note today we are reminded by the Association of County Councils that local authority roads take in 96 per cent. of the national road network. Where a promoter should deal with local roads, surely the local highway authority rather than the Secretary of State should approve any proposals for roads of local importance. If that position is endorsed by the Government, will it be put into the Bill? Where the Secretary of State is not the highway authority will he have power to overrule any decision by a highway authority on a proposed concession agreement?
What will be the degree of accountability in connection with these new roads? I suggest that highway and planning authorities—and, where we have them, the public transport authorities—should be consulted. They should also have a right to object to any proposal on the basis of conflict with the local transportation policies. Such a provision should be written into the Bill.
664 My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis referred to the position of orange badge holders. He was strongly supported by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. Reference was made to the position of orange badge holders—the disabled—not only in connection with the proposed new roads but also as regards street works. I should like simply to hear from the Government—I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance today—that provisions in respect of the points raised by RADAR will be inserted in the Bill. It is very important that that should be done.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome in general Parts III and IV of the Bill. I say welcome them. I could use stronger language. We waited a devil of a time for this part of the Bill to come forward. We are glad that at long last we have such legislation.
The Minister referred to the work of the highway authorities and the utilities through the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee (which I shall refer to as the HAUC). That body, with its six working parties, has done extremely valuable work. I was pleased that the Minister praised the work not only of those who sat on the central body representing the utilities and the local authorities, but also of those who sat on the sub-committees. As president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, I have had the privilege of seeing a number of the reports of the HAUC. I have seen only too well the amount of attention that has been given to these matters. There has also been a great degree of consensus achieved between the local authorities and the utilities. That is an important point stressed also by other noble Lords.
The balance between road users and the utilities is a vital and critical one. Both have to be accommodated. As has been stressed in various documents and reports, the public are not only road users but also consumers of utility services. Similarly, the utilities require access to the highways in order to provide a quality service for consumers. Both the utilities and the highway authorities take the view that these parts of the Bill follow the line of the consensus achieved in their deliberations. They emphasise that the agreed package should represent a balance between the interests of the highway authorities and the utilities.
For that reason both the utilities and the highway authorities are concerned about the provisions in Clause 67 (which appears as Clause 121 in Part IV relating to Scotland). At least I managed to find that part in the Scottish section. As one Scottish Peer said, "Why does practically the whole Bill, nearly all the clauses, have to be repeated for Scotland when one simple clause might have drawn some attention to the difference of terminology in Scottish compared with English law?". Clause 67 enables the Secretary of State to introduce a system which requires utilities to pay for occupation of the highway. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in particular, referred to that clause.
The Department of Transport, which generally has been helpful in all the discussions on these matters with the utilities and the highway authorities, included that suggestion in the consultation paper. It met with strong criticism from both sides on the grounds that it 665 would upset the balance that had been achieved at the HAUC. Both the utilities and the local authorities have asked for the Bill to be amended to ensure that the provision for charging, even though it may look right in principle, as it would affect the balance achieved between the utilities and the highway authorities should be implemented only if other aspects of the Bill aimed at dealing with congestion are shown not to be working.
We have been reminded by recent statements that the Secretary of State set up some time ago a street works advisory committee, and recently revised its composition. That committee is to advise the Secretary of State on legislation including:measures for subordinate legislation and codes of practice".It is imperative that the codes of practice are in accordance with the agreed package. Clause 53 of the Bill deals with codes of practice. I hope that when the Minister replies he will confirm that before any regulations are made to deal with codes of practice or before any codes of practice are determined there will be the fullest consultation with the highway authorities and the utilities through the HAUC. It would be a tragedy if, having achieved agreement, the codes of practice should eventually vary from it.
I was pleased to note that in his opening remarks the Minister referred to the proposed computerised street works register. The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, and one or two other noble Lords, referred to this matter. An important point which arises is that after a great deal of pressure, the Department of Transport agreed to finance the next stage of this important development. One can understand that the Government wish to recoup the cost. It is proposed that they do so by payments for use of the system as laid down in Clause 47(5). That provides:If such arrangements are made the Secretary of State may require street authorities to … make contributions towards the cost".I ask the Minister to confirm that both highway authorities and the utilities will be required to contribute to the cost of operating the register. The register is the crucial part of the proposals on the revision of street works. I hope that the Government will agree to amend the clause in the way that I have suggested.
The Bill introduces provisions relating to traffic-sensitive streets. Clause 57 states that the criteria may be prescribed by the Secretary of State. Perhaps we may have some idea of the criteria to be laid down. We need a definition of a traffic-sensitive street. I gather that such streets will be designated by the street authorities. However, if the criteria are to be determined by the Secretary of State, there must be the fullest possible consultation with those concerned beforehand. If we are to have—as I hope we shall have—designated traffic-sensitive streets, there should be provision in the Bill also for pedestrian-sensitive streets. They are equally important for reasons that noble Lords have given.
666 I hope that the Bill will be amended with regard to one other aspect. During the debate on the gracious Speech, I raised the question of direct labour organisations of highway authorities. The transfer of responsibility for reinstatement has considerable implications for the highway authority's DLOs. Noble Lords will agree that DLOs have considerable experience in reinstatement work. The local authorities have stated that the Government said that the law would be changed to enable them to tender for utility reinstatement work. If that statement is correct—as I am sure it is—will such provision be made in the Bill? Under the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950, street works legislation, it was possible for highway DLOs to tender for utility work. We hope that the Bill will make such provision.
A number of other points will arise at Committee stage. I have endeavoured to raise some of the major points. We are very critical of Part I of the Bill. We cannot see why it should be attached to the other part of the Bill on which there is general consensus. Although there is general consensus on the part relating to street works, I have raised points with which we shall wish to deal at Committee stage.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I have found today's debate both stimulating and instructive. The interchange of views on these two very different, but important, areas of transport policy is most welcome. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken the opportunity to raise so many helpful and pertinent points—others have raised less helpful points.
In a moment, I shall try to come back on the main points that have been made and expand a little on the Government's position. Your Lordships have also made many detailed points. I cannot guarantee to answer them all today. However, I am sure that some will arise at Committee stage.
Noble Lords will wish to know—I can confirm it to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—that full Notes on Clauses will be available in the next few days which I hope will go towards answering some of the questions that were raised today.
Perhaps I may take the opportunity this afternoon of welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, to the Opposition Front Bench. It was his first contribution from the Front Bench other than at Question Time. I wish him many years of happiness on the Opposition Front Bench.
The noble Lord attacked, in I thought rather intemperate style, Parts I and II of the Bill. He attacked them because they did not contribute to a so-called integrated transport policy. That is a well known shibboleth of the Labour Party. That part of the Bill is inspired by a quite different philosophy: a belief that in encouraging the provision of transport facilities by the private sector in competitive conditions it is more likely to meet the real needs of the public than an attempt to plan everything overall by government departments. It does not claim to be the total solution of our transport problems. However, it claims to contribute by harnessing the entrepreneurial 667 and management skills of the private sector—a concept which, until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I thought that the new model Labour Party favoured.
One approach that we do not need is a so-called integrated transport policy—meaning, I suppose, a system by which the Government decide what transport services are to be provided, at what price, and what investments are to be undertaken; a system by which the Government determine what transport users need, or what the Government think they ought to need. Proponents of the integrated approach seem to consider that it will deliver trains and buses that all run on time, and so on. Plans do not make transport run to time; efficient managers do. That does not mean that we should not pursue a balanced policy between road and rail. There are many sterile arguments about favouring one or the other. Both of them have strengths and important contributions to make. I remind noble Lords only of the substantial investment that the Government are putting into the railway system which I announced in the debate on the Queen's Speech—the largest programme for 30 years.
I was amazed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, say that Parts I and II of the Bill were intended to give a financial bonus to firms of private contractors. They are intended to transfer to them the risk in exchange for the prospect of profit. It is now all too often the taxpayer who bears all the risk.
The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis, and Lord Tordoff, were not convinced that the environment was not safe in the private sector's hands. However, the same high standards will be required for private sector schemes as for public schemes. The law will require full environmental impact assessments. Moreover, the promoter will have a strong interest in making his scheme acceptable to the public. The Secretary of State, in considering the total scale of road provision, both public and private, will take full account of environmental considerations. It will be possible for environmental issues to be considered at inquiries just as it is for public roads. A formal environmental impact assessment will be required. Nothing less than the high requirement for a public scheme will be accepted. One of the aspects that the Secretary of State will consider in any competition held for a concession will be the environmental standard of the tenderer's proposals.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked whether we had consulted the European Community Commission on the proposals. We sent it the Green Paper, New Roads by New Means. It expressed its satisfaction that in accordance with Community law we would require open competition advertised in the EC official journal before letting concessions. As the noble Lord will know, there is much experience of toll road concessions in several European countries. He may also be interested to know that considerable interest has been shown by European firms as part of a consortia in competing for these concessions.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and others, mentioned the subject of 668 additionality. As I made clear, I hope, in my opening speech, privately financed roads will not be subtracted from the public programme on a scheme-by-scheme basis. However, it would not be practical for us to give an open-ended commitment to maintain the public programme at its present level or any given level. In practice private schemes will provide the opportunity for more roads than would otherwise have been built. My noble friend Lady Blatch stated that more briefly in her concluding remarks the other day.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that tolling might be impractical. However, experience in France and elsewhere, and on estuarial crossings in this country, give the lie to the idea that tolling is impractical. I am pretty confident that automatic systems will develop to eliminate queues entirely, in particular since the private sector will have a financial incentive to do so.
The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Underhill, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen raised the issue of orange badge holders being exempt from paying tolls on proposed toll roads. Clause 12 provides for toll orders to exempt a class of traffic from paying tolls. That would cover the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about military vehicles. The operator can make further exemptions. However, I must admit that it is not self-evider t that orange badge holders should be exempt from tolls on all privately-financed roads, especially when an alternative free road is available. The example quoted by my noble friend was that of the estuarial crossings, which are different.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, talked of a two-tier system of public and toll roads. The Government will continue to maintain all existing trunk roads to their current high standards, irrespective of the proximity of a privately-financed road. Publicly-funded free trunk roads will not be allowed to deteriorate. Where a scheme to improve a publicly-financed motorway or all-purpose trunk road is already in the programme, work on that scheme will continue and will not be suspended just because a privately-financed proposal is being worked up in the vicinity. If a scheme in the programme is replaced by a privately-financed scheme, as with the Birmingham northern relief road, the resources released by that decision will be available to take forward other schemes in the public sector road programme.
In deciding in future reviews of the road programme whether a new scheme not currently in the programme should be added to it the Government will take account of the extent to which the traffic will be catered for by any proposed privately-financed scheme. As we know, public sector resources for road improvements are not infinite. It is not unreasonable to expect road users to pay for the additional infrastructure by toll.
The noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Clinton-Davis, suggested that tolls on near monopoly roads should be regulated. But the concept of a near monopoly, other than an estuarial crossing, would be impossible to define. That is why the Bill only seeks to define monopolies and restricts them to estuarial 669 crossings. We do not believe that in practice overland routes will constitute monopolies. In any case, the aim of the initiative is to bring market forces to bear on roads provision. The regulation of tolls would unnecessarily hamper the operation of privately-financed toll roads and could deter potential promoters. The Government have removed price control elsewhere in the economy. Why should they introduce it here? The competitive pressure of alternative routes will adequately protect the road user. If a toll operator attempted to charge too high a toll for a road, nobody would use it.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the length of time taken by public inquiries into road proposals. I sympathise with his frustration about especially prolonged inquiries after the important points have been covered. But to restrict the opportunity that citizens of this country have to probe and argue about the routes taken by roads would be unacceptable. I do not believe that it would be acceptable to require objectors to prove some direct interest in the proposal; nor would it greatly speed things up. To challenge the locus would add to the acrimony.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in particular for his reminiscences as Minister of Transport some 35 years ago. He asked where further toll concessionary roads might be. The Dartford bridge is now under construction and on time for opening next year. The hybrid Bill for the second Severn crossing will be introduced in another place shortly. Competition for the Birmingham northern relief road and the Birmingham-Manchester corridor is under way. If all goes according to plan in Scotland a privately-financed bridge could be opened to traffic during 1994.
My right honourable friend consulted the private sector and others about six further possibilities, including three estuarial crossings and two roads in Essex. In Scotland, consultations on a fast link between the M.8 and the M.74 are continuing. I hope that when Parliament gives the green light to the Bill the private sector will produce more ideas at which we can look carefully. The two ideas that we have floated for roads in Essex will help commuters. However, at present we are not considering privately-financed roads or any other major new road construction to encourage cars to go into central London.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter criticised the length of the Bill and the style of the drafting. I believe that he was a little unfair to the draftsmen. Separate provision applies to Scotland; of the 156 clauses, 70 refer to Scotland. Unfortunately, its law is slightly different and requires a separate part of the Bill and therefore a number of extra clauses were necessary. However, the street works provisions in Part III do considerably more than replace the 1950 Act, and at shorter length than that Act.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked whether toll roads could be described as public highways. There is ample precedent for toll roads being regarded in law as public highways from the days of the turnpikes onwards. The major estuarial crossings are all 670 highways, and roads authorised by this Bill in England and Wales will be highways and in Scotland public roads, which are similar. The police will have exactly the same powers on those roads as on any others.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about statutory instruments. Clause 6(6) provides that schemes should be made or confirmed by statutory instrument; there is no parliamentary procedure. That corresponds to the provision of the Highways Act 1980. Parliamentary scrutiny is not usual for local orders since it would duplicate the intense scrutiny of the public inquiry.
If the private sector responds to the opportunities which the first part of the Bill offers we can look forward to a better deal for the road user; urgently-needed infrastructure produced more quickly and more responsibly. I am not surprised that the welcome given to that part of the Bill is more hesitant. Many of the private sector bodies to which my right honourable friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic was talking are saying that private finance is a good idea but if it is to succeed the Government must grant exclusive rights, allow shadow tolls or provide Exchequer grants. We listen carefully to what they say and remain of the view that none of those ideas is desirable or necessary. All would detract from the prime purpose of the initiative, which is, in the words of the Green Paper New Roads by New Means, to harness the entrepreneurial, financial and management skills of the private sector to the provision of roads and to see genuine private sector ventures with appropriate risks and rewards.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, before the Minister moves to the second part of the Bill can he reply to the second part of my question? I asked about the criteria under which the payback time for roads would be determined. In other words, how will it be determined when a licence must finish?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, in the case of estuarial crossings or monopoly situations, that would be up to the potential concessionaire to consider when coming forward with his proposals. If there were a competition among different potential concessionaires for a particular proposal, that would be one of the aspects taken into account. Although not a precise comparison, the Channel Tunnel has a concession period of 55 years.
I turn now to the street work provisions. I believe that they will be well received by the country as well as your Lordships. New standards for the training of workmen, the signing and guarding of works in progress and the quality of the reinstatement of roads by utilities are all long overdue, as noble Lords have said.
The Bill will provide a framework under which better co-ordination and improved standards can be achieved in practice. If the utilities and local highway authorities respond as positively to the challenge of the Bill as they have to the development of the proposals in the Horne Report, we may look forward to a real improvement in the service which they offer to the public. That must be good news for the road 671 user, whether he be on foot, on two or four wheels; for the utilities and their customers; and for the highway authorities and their charge payers.
Perhaps the most controversial issue in this part of the Bill—and one which has been referred to by a number of noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who was very much supported by my noble friend Lord Nugent—is the inclusion of Clause 67. Utility street works and building works undoubtedly impose costly delays upon traffic. Although much of that disruption is unavoidable and as customers of the utilities we often benefit from the work which caused it, unnecessarily long or frequent disruption to road users can and must be avoided. For that reason we have included in Clause 67 a requirement for undertakers of works to pay a prescribed fee for their occupation of the highway to the highway authority.
The Secretary of State would only prescribe a charging scheme if he was satisfied that such a financial incentive was necessary to reduce the amount of disruption caused by utility works on the most traffic-sensitive streets. A scheme could be structured so that the great majority of works not causing any more obstruction than was reasonably necessary would escape charges altogether.
As regards the lost revenue from parking meters, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that there is no proposal to provide for compensation in such cases.
The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Underhill, and my noble friends Lord Swinfen and Lord Brougham and Vaux referred to the needs of the blind and the disabled in this part of the Bill. The new framework for street works will mean substantial reductions in the dangers which arise in the carrying out of works and as a result of poor reinstatements. I believe that that will be especially welcome to more vulnerable road users, including disabled people. I draw particular attention to the improved standards for the signing and guarding of works to be prescribed under Clause 58 and the new performance standards for reinstatement to be prescribed under Clause 64. Groups representing disabled people have been consulted on the development of detailed proposals in those areas and their views will be taken fully into account when the relevant standards are eventually prescribed.
I agree with noble Lords that the street works register should be a most useful new source of information to road users with mobility difficulties. We shall certainly explore how best the information can be put to use.
I was most grateful for the warm welcome from my noble friend Lord Nugent to the Bill as a whole and in particular to this part of the Bill. I know of the great interest which he has taken in this particular subject for many years. I welcome his interest in the development of a reliable and comprehensive record of utilities apparatus. We shall certainly encourage the use of new technology to facilitate that. However, as my noble friend acknowledged, it will take several years to build up a complete record. A street works 672 register is not dependent on map-based data and we should have an effective computerised register in place in time for the implementation of the Bill's provisions.
A number of noble Lords referred to the definition of emergency works as being too restrictive and to the statutory duty on utilities to restore supply of their services. We 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 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.
Similarly, as regards the restriction in Clause 52 on works for 12 months, provision can be made either with the agreement of the highway authority or by regulations to allow suitable exemptions to be made. Customers will not have to wait months for supplies.
My noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle referred to the need for better information for drivers on delays and disruption. The Bill will provide for better signs and information about street works but not about more general road works or other sources of delay. However, the Government attach great importance to the improvement of the quality and timeliness of information about road conditions and are working on that directly and in association with other providers of information.
My noble friend Lord Nugent and the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, were particularly interested to encourage the use of the no-dig trenchless technology. We shall continue to encourage the use of so-called trenchless methods of construction and maintenance. Various techniques now available to bore under roads cause far less disruption to traffic and less damage to the road surface than conventional trenching. Noble Lords have paid tribute to the efforts of British Gas in particular in that field. I endorse that.
As the technology becomes more reliable and cost-effective, we may expect it to be: increasingly preferred by the utilities. The measures in this Bill, in particular restrictions on the time and place of utility works, should increase the incentive to employ trenchless options where the benefits are greatest. As noble Lords pointed out, Clause 67, in imposing charges for the occupation of road space, would introduce a further incentive to adopt techniques which involve less disruption.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked that highway authorities should co-ordinate their own works. I am pleased to confirm that the new duty on highway authorities to co-ordinate works applies to works of all kinds on roads for which they are 673 responsible. It extends also explicitly to co-ordination with other highway authorities where work on one authority's roads affects those of another.
The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, talked about the needs of cyclists. I am grateful to him for his wishes that I should have a puncture-free journey. The Government accepted the recommendation of the Horne Report that the performance standard for reinstatements should take full account of the safety needs of cyclists following reinstatements, and that in particular potholes, ridges and sharp edges are potentially very dangerous for cyclists. In prescribing new standards under Clause 64, attention will be given to the special needs of road users on two wheels. That applies also to motorised two-wheelers which were referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked about management accountability for street works. The Bill will make the consequences of the undertaker's responsibilities in the promotion of his works much clearer than it is now. A series of criminal sanctions have been included tied to breach of duty on the part of the undertaker. Clause 151 on offences sets out the circumstances in which directors, managers or officers of corporate bodies can be personally proceeded against and punished accordingly.
My noble friend asked also about Crown immunity and Clause 152. That is a standard provision included in Bills of this kind. In practice there will be no question of different rules applying on trunk roads for which the Secretary of State is the highway authority 674 to those applying on local roads. I am not sure if that completely answers the point raised by my noble friend, but I shall look at what he said in more detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, talked about the agreed package. I am happy to confirm that there will be full consultation with representatives of the utilities and highway authorities before the various regulations and codes of practice are made or approved.
The noble Lord asked also about the street works register. I am happy to confirm that those who use the register will pay, by way of fees on transactions, to meet the costs of operating that register.
The noble Lord asked finally about direct labour organisations being allowed to tender for the work. In their original response to the Horne Report, the Government accepted that although local authorities would no longer have the statutory right to supervise utility works or carry out the permanent reinstatement, they would continue to be able to tender for utility reinstatement works if they wished. That remains the position, and suitable provision will be made.
I trust that I have answered most of the anxieties expressed by noble Lords. I appreciate that in the time available I have not been able to go through every single point raised. As I said, we shall come back to many of them in Committee and I trust that your Lordships will therefore agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at half past six o'clock.