HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc566-9

(" .—(1) Except in cases of emergency arising from defects in any pipes, cables or other works, an undertaker planning to execute street works in a maintainable highway must inform (in respect of local transport) the local transport authority and (in respect of traffic regulation) the traffic authority (or in Greater London, Transport for London) of the proposed works.

(2) Where—

  1. (a) the local transport authority considers that street works notified to them under subsection (1) adversely effect the implementation of the local transport plan made under section 98, or
  2. (b) the traffic authority (or in Greater London, Transport for London) considers that those street works adversely effect the passage of traffic on a road or roads,
the relevant authority may levy a charge of £1,000 for each day or part of a day in which a street, or a unit of area of a street, is occupied for the purpose of executing those street works.

(3) Where street works notified under subsection (1) occupy more than one unit of area of a street a charge may be levied under subsection (2) in respect of each unit.

(4) The Secretary of State shall make provision by regulations—

  1. (a) as to the meaning of "unit of area" in this section;
  2. (b) as to the time and manner of making payment of a charge;
  3. (c) for the relevant authority to reduce the amount, or waive payment, of a charge in any particular case, in such classes of case as they may decide or as may be prescribed, or generally.

(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations substitute for the sum mentioned in subsection (2) such higher sum as appears to him appropriate.

(6) Regulations under subsection (5) shall not be made unless a draft of them has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(7) Regulations under subsection (4)(a) may make different provision in respect of different areas or classes of area or for different streets or classes of street.

(8) Regulations under subsection (4) shall be laid before Parliament and subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House.

(9) In this section—

  1. (a) "local transport authority" has the same meaning as in section 98 above.
  2. (b) "road" has the same meaning as in section 142 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984,
  3. (c) "traffic authority" has the same meaning as in section 121A of that Act.

(10) The power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 426 on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil—he asked me to apologise to the Committee for the fact that he cannot be here this evening—I shall speak also to Amendment No. 429 which also appears on the Marshalled List in his name.

Members of the Committee will be aware that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has this year waged something of a one-man campaign on the issue of streetworks. He asked his first Question on the subject on 7th February as a Business Question to my noble friend the Government Chief Whip, when he reminded your Lordships of the sessional order which requires the chief of police to keep the passages through the streets leading to this House free and open. He followed that by a plethora of Starred Questions in March, April and May and an Unstarred Question debate, and he intervened on other occasions. He then piloted a Private Member's Bill through all stages in your Lordships' House which had its Second Reading on 30th June.

The noble Lord tabled these amendments which are consistent with the other elements in what I can only call a remarkable crusade. The purpose behind Amendment No. 426 is to enable local transport and traffic authorities to charge streetwork undertakers—utilities and others—a daily charge for the time they occupy a publicly maintainable highway. It contains a number of related provisions which allow for increasing the level of charges and also for their waiver or reduction. Amendment No. 429 ensures that those charging provisions apply in England, Wales and Scotland. The two amendments together provide more than a passing resemblance to the provision in the streetworks Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

I am happy to move these amendments on the noble Lord's behalf for two reasons. First, I believe he is right to try to make the people who inflict such misery and inconvenience on all road users pay something by way of recompense; secondly, because I hope my noble friend may have something positive to say in response. I beg to move.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

The intention of the first and substantive clause is to enable local transport authorities and traffic authorities to charge streetwork undertakers—utilities and others—a daily charge of £1,000 for the time during which they occupy a publicly maintainable highway, subject to any regulations the Secretary of State may make under those proposed powers.

While I am second to none in my admiration of the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, in pursuit of solutions to what is undoubtedly a real problem of disruption on the roads at present, his amendment runs the risk of creating an additional level of bureaucracy. I say "an additional level" because it would introduce new roles of surveillance over streetworks by local transport authorities and traffic authorities under provisions which are unrelated to the main controlling legislation, the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. And certain aspects of the amendment, for example on dealing with emergency works, would cut across the requirements of that Act. It would be a recipe for confusion. If there are to be changes to the controls, the Government believe that they should come through that Act or amendments to it.

I am sure that all of us in this Committee are very conscious of the seriousness of the problem. The Government sympathise with the objectives of the noble Lord's amendments and would not want to close off options for dealing with the problem but we cannot accept the amendment as it stands. However, I can agree to take it away and consider whether we can bring forward our own amendment on Report to amend the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 so that the Secretary of State could, if necessary, make regulations allowing responsible highway authorities to require utilities and others carrying out street works in England to pay them a lane rental for the occupation of the highway. This would be in addition to the existing power in Section 74 to require payments by utilities in the event of prolonged occupation of the highway, for which we have already been drawing up a scheme.

The second amendment would commit the administrations in Scotland and Wales to the introduction of charges in an area of policy that is devolved to them. Although I am unaware of any strong desire on their part to introduce parallel measures, I must protect their position and, therefore, must oppose the noble Lord's proposal to extend the powers beyond England.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was not able to be here to move his amendment. However, as a former Minister of Transport who has done the state some service, and with midnight approaching, I do not believe that any of us would grudge him his beauty sleep. I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Faulkner, who, as he said, discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, earlier, will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, will be more than satisfied with my noble friend's reply. Therefore, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Elder moved Amendment No. 426A:

After Clause 257, insert the following new clause—