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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, if I in any way gave the impression that telecommunications companies were there to compete in digging holes, I withdraw that immediately. Their primary function is to provide telecommunications services. That is why this matter is the responsibility of the DTI. The DTI is in discussion with telecommunications companies to make certain that we try to achieve best practice in this regard and to raise performance in what is an intolerable situation for many road users.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister believe that it is beyond the wit of man to invent a machine that can dig a narrow channel, lay a cable and backfill all in one go, with small road works at junctions? Will the Government consider offering a prize to an entrepreneur who can invent such a machine?
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, although much of the existing dislocation has been caused by the activities of water companies, by and large the field goes much wider? In view of the Minister's Answers to previous Questions on this subject, does he agree that the Department of Trade and Industry has issued open licences to many of those who now dig up the roads? Do the Government have any powers either to revoke those licences or enable the people of London to exert their will in this matter?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I have said in the past, 86 companies have the right under telecommunications licences to carry out work which is a major cause of holes in roads. This is part of a major programme to install the infrastructure that we need for the 21st century. We do not intend to reduce the number of licences because we believe that this is an essential piece of infrastructure. Within the terms of the Act and European legislation we must adopt a fair policy towards all companies.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, a few weeks ago in a debate initiated by my noble friend, the Minister announced that Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act would be implemented. Can the noble Lord tell the House what progress has been
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the regulations are being drafted. It will take a considerable time as this is a complicated matter. However, we hope to achieve our aim before the end of the year.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the Minister contact the chairmen of the companies concerned and tell them what pests they are? They give the appearance of lacking the manners or wit to understand the annoyance they cause. Surely, the Government should give them a friendly prod.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we are perfectly aware of the situation. The question is how to devise a course of action which will improve the situation rather than simply expressing aggravation about it.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, overall this is an area which is the responsibility of the House itself, not Her Majesty's Government. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is himself well placed to offer ideas on, and to contribute to, the wider understanding of the work of the House of Lords. There are many other noble Lords in all parts of the House--obviously, it would be invidious to name them--who are equally successful in promoting public awareness. I would be encouraged if the House was accurately judged as an important part of the legislature and Peers as hard-working Members of Parliament, rather than, as is sometimes the case, colourful characters in a bizarre comic opera. But, as always, it is the responsibility of Peers themselves, individually or collectively, to achieve that.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for her reply. Does the noble Baroness agree that the great British public is in a state of almost complete ignorance about what is said and done in this place and that that is an evidently self-defeating state of affairs, as recent research and polling data make clear? Is the Leader of the House also aware that, as far as I have been able to assess, we spend less than one penny per head on public information and education about the entire workings of this place?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, since the autumn of 1996 the House has had a dedicated information officer who does a very good job of work. It has also had a dedicated inquiry service since 1998. I refer the noble Lord to his helpful contribution to the debate in this House on 10th May on the workings of the House of Lords in which he said that the Information Office carried out its work "brilliantly". I suggest that we are fairly well served at the moment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, can I tempt the Leader of the House to agree with me that the best way that noble Lords can stimulate involvement in and public awareness and approval of this House is by actions such as voting against the Government on closed lists for European elections, student fees, free post in London mayoral elections and Section 28? Will the noble Baroness encourage the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, not to "cosy up" to new Labour too much but occasionally to join us in the coming months to increase public approval of your Lordships' House by similar defeats of the Government?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I certainly do not intend to fall to the noble Lord's temptation to intervene in the relationship between the Conservative Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Benches. I point out to the noble Lord that the dedicated information service to which I referred in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, had its busiest day on 11th November 1999 when this House passed the House of Lords Act.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the pre-legislative scrutiny by committees in the Scottish Parliament has proved very popular in engaging both the public and civic organisations? Since the Leader of the House made a speech in this House 10 days ago about the possibility of dealing with more legislation by way of committees and electronic voting, will she come to Scotland to see these methods working very successfully in practice?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I always welcome any opportunity to visit Scotland. As I have not yet had an opportunity to see the Scottish Parliament in action that is a particularly attractive invitation. Several points were raised in our useful debate on the workings of the House of Lords on 10th May which referred to some of the very good practices in the Scottish Parliament. That is an attractive invitation.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a good way to inform the public about what we are and what we do is by each Peer having a website to tell the public about the work of the House and the
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I very much welcome my noble friend's energy in this regard. It is up to individual Peers to create the appropriate impression of their work in your Lordships' House. As I understand it, the website of the House of Lords is being redesigned to make it more effective and easier to manage for users both in the House and outside. I look forward to seeing the extent of that redesign.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, can the Leader of the House tell noble Lords how many hits the website has had over, say, the past three months and how high up the search engines it is, since those are the two factors which really matter?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I do not have the precise figures broken down in that way. The only information I have, which I believe covers both the dedicated call line and website hits, is that inquiries are running at about 2,500 to 3,000 a month. If I can obtain the more detailed information that the noble Lord requests I shall write to him.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I speak also to all the other amendments in my name. As we reach the final stages of this short but important Bill there is one issue above all others that we have debated at earlier stages which remains to be resolved. I refer to the question of whether the new duty on local authorities to assess and meet the needs of eligible young people should extend beyond the limited period allowed for on the face of the Bill. The case for extending this duty beyond a care leaver's 18th birthday up to and including the age of 21 is, I believe, overwhelming. It is a case that was strongly recommended by Sir William Utting in his report on the review of safeguards for children living away from home and was endorsed wholeheartedly by the Select Committee on Health in another place.
I am certain that the Minister needs no persuading on the merits of these arguments. Indeed, it is clear from all that he has said that the issue for the Government is not whether extended support should be given to care leavers, but when. That issue depends on the availability of resources. Those of us who have worked in government departments will know how easy it is for others outside government to make demands on the budget when the reality for Ministers is a good deal more complex and difficult. Quite often, chief among those difficulties is the process of obtaining agreement from the Treasury.
However, one significant thing has happened since we first began debating the Bill last December and since we last debated it on Report; namely, the pledge from Ministers of very substantial additional resources for the health budget with effect from next year. In the light of that announcement, is the Minister able to say anything more on funding? In making that request, my hopes are high. A number of amendments, grouped with my amendment, have been tabled by the Government on the issue of extended support. Without wishing to pre-empt the Minister's remarks, I believe that I am right in interpreting the amendments as a significant move by the Government in the direction of the position that I and other noble Lords have been asking them to take. I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in letting me have the text of these amendments on Friday and for the helpful explanatory letter which accompanied them.
If I have understood the government amendments correctly, they represent very good news indeed. They appear to fulfil the undertaking made by the Minister in Committee on providing extended support for care leavers for training, education and employment. Equally, they appear also to encompass the continuing support proposed in my amendments. I should be grateful if the Minister could answer two questions. First, if the government amendments are accepted, the new duties to be placed on local authorities will apply to care leavers, or "former relevant children" as they are termed, up to the age of 21. Can the Minister say whether that means until the child or young person reaches the age of 22 or, as I slightly fear that it means, up to but not beyond his or her 21st birthday?
Secondly, I am sure that it will be of immense interest to the House if the Minister can now say when the Government propose to bring the new provisions into effect. The noble Lord may be unable to be too forthcoming. I am reminded of Sir William Utting's
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