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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I support strongly the principle behind the amendment. We have had so much legislation over the years, each time trying to control the utilities. Of course, they always have the let-out that it is an emergency and therefore they can dig any hole anywhere and at any time without consulting any other utility. The amendment would be a good thing.
The charge might help to bring about some changes. In the United States they resurface a whole road overnight. I saw that in Boston. It is certainly time that there was an incentive for people to invest in more expensive machinery so that work on roads could be completed more quickly. A charging system such as that proposed would create such an incentive.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: We all have great sympathy for the amendment of my noble friend and we all have our own personal experiences of holes in the road. I am somewhat embarrassed by this amendment because the very last piece of legislation I took through this House as a Minister back in 1992 was something called the New Roads and Street Works Act. Part of that Act was intended to cure all the ills of the old Public Utilities Streetworks Act of 1950. Clearly, it has had absolutely no effect whatever, which is most unfortunate. It was the only Act with which I was involved to have befallen that fate. Therefore I was very pleased when, earlier this year, my honourable friend, Mr Christopher Fraser, in another place introduced a Bill to which my noble friend Lord Archer has referred which was going to put this right. My honourable friend was most encouraged that the then transport Minister, Mr John Reid, said that he entirely supported the thrust of the Bill and was willing to hammer out the small print.
Lord Whitty: I am sure that we are all deeply impressed by the bravura performance by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, who I know feels deeply about this issue and reflects the views of
The noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, was so impressive that for a moment I thought he was auditioning for the Heineken advertisement on that subject, with which Members of the Committee will be familiar, if he is not auditioning for something else entirely. That became apparent when he explained at the beginning of his remarks the real purpose of the amendment; namely, to raise money which he does not wish to raise through road user charging. That is an interesting indication. I have no doubt that that will feature in future debates which are held more widely than in this Chamber.
As regards the current legislation, the Government have issued codes of practice under the street works Act and are now looking at a pilot project to be run by the Traffic Director for London for an area-wide database in east London--in the vicinity of the Millennium Dome--which will explore the possibility of bringing together all those aspects of information and better provision for the utilities and others which are involved to avoid the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Archer, and others have mentioned.
As regards the Fraser Bill in another place, it is true that my right honourable friend John Reid expressed general sympathy for that provision, but in its existing form it would have pre-empted what we intend to do now; namely, to consult widely on how we can introduce a scheme which will apply not just to London and the GLA roads in London. We shall consult on options for an incentive scheme with penalties to minimise disruption and encourage the co-ordination of street works, as we promised in the White Paper. We intend to undertake that consultation shortly. London will be included within the scope of that consultation. We shall need to consider all the responses.
The promised consultation will seek to clarify the practicability of charging, the best type of scheme, if we decide to go ahead with charging, and whether to use the existing provision or to opt for a solution which would allow charging from the very first day of the works, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Archer, seeks.
Therefore, there is no point in introducing a new regulatory power which would largely duplicate the existing provision in Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 before we have consulted on how to proceed more generally. We need a national provision. London is not alone in suffering from such disruption. If consultation reveals that there are specific problems within London or on GLA roads within London, the 1991 Act already provides that there can be different rates of charges according to the place and time at which the works are executed. Therefore, we already have powers to differentiate. We need to assess how such a scheme would work. We need to consult not only with road users and the utilities but also more widely. We are about to issue a consultative document on that.
Therefore, we intend to introduce the powers which the noble Lord seeks for London for the country as a whole. In so far as London is different, current provision would be able to meet the specific needs of London. Therefore, in one way or another, the noble Lord will achieve part of what he seeks, and I ask him to be patient.
Lord Elton: Is the noble Lord saying that the amendment now on the Marshalled List would add nothing to what is available already under existing legislation, or is he saying that we should wait to add whatever may be necessary until the rest of England is ready to benefit from new legislation? I do not believe that many Londoners would be impressed by the idea that we should wait for main programme time to be available for future legislation for the whole of England if the opportunity now exists to provide this sensible provision for London.
Lord Whitty: I am saying that the provisions of this amendment would not enhance substantially the provisions in existing legislation, as the noble Lord's speech suggests they would. Therefore, there may be better ways in which to enhance them which could apply nationally but which could, in any event, be applied differentially to London. Therefore, we should wait for that at least so that we have a scheme which is likely to work. It is not clear that the scheme as proposed by the amendment would work. It certainly needs to be tested by those who must operate it.
Lord Elton: Will the Minister elaborate on the word "substantially"? He said that this will not add "substantially". If the amendment would enable a scheme to be introduced next year which would unblock the potholed surface of the King's Road, for example, then it is "substantial". The amount on paper may be small but the amount in effect would be considerable. I shall not delay the Committee any further but I should like an answer to that.
Lord Whitty: As regards the pothole in the King's Road, that road is in the London Borough of Kensington. I am not entirely sure that that would be affected by the noble Lord's amendment. We are talking about the strategic roadworks in London. I do not believe that the King's Road would benefit. We are looking to introduce a national scheme which will benefit the roads of all local authorities, including the GLA and TfL roads, and not simply GLA roads within London.
Lord Whitty: The noble Lord may have put his finger on a very important point. That is what I thought lay behind his initial intervention. Under the legislation taken through the House by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, the money would not go to the local authorities. Therefore, using the existing regulatory power, the money would go to the taxpayer, I would prefer to say, rather than the Treasury.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: I put it to the Committee that the Minister has simply stolen my idea, moved it to the whole country and, in addition, has stolen the money. I should tell the Minister that I am not going to bring forward any more ideas for fear that this Government will simply steal them.
The Minister has come to the Committee and delighted us by saying that he has understood the idea and that he is going to go ahead with it. That is robbery of the highest order. Today I shall withdraw my amendment. But, be assured, I intend to table it again on Report and if I fail then I shall go on and on until people realise that the Minister has, yet again, stolen great ideas from the Conservative Party. No doubt, as the next two years proceed and the Government are faced with an election, such an occurrence will become more common. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.