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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am assured by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and others on the task force that the police have said that they believe that they have all the powers necessary to deal with any events of the kind described. Yes, lorries were abandoned in Park Lane and, yes, in line with their operational independence the police took the type of decision which they felt was suitable at that place and time. Certainly, from this distance I would not try to second-guess those decisions.

However, the noble Earl is correct: the show must go on. I hope that, from what they have heard today, noble Lords will feel that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that the show does go on.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, noble Lords opposite blame the crisis on fuel duty. However, does my noble friend agree that the escalation in the summer was caused almost entirely by the doubling of the OPEC price? Therefore, a balance must be struck. We must stick to our Kyoto commitments, but it is the handling of the OPEC effect that has caused such difficulty, which of course includes the difficulty in relation to public finance.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, in my previous ministerial incarnation at the Scottish Office I was responsible for North Sea oil and gas, and went to bed of a night praying that the price of oil would rise from 10 dollars a barrel. As it began to rise inexorably, I was switched to transport. Therefore, the fact that the price has trebled in only 18 months has burned in my brain. I believe that OPEC's impact has been important.

However, other forces are at work here, too. We have a stable economy; we have the lowest unemployment for 25 years; we have the lowest inflation in Europe; and we have historically low and stable interest rates. Consequently, we also have a very strong currency. Although the price of, say, a litre of diesel in this country seems high compared with the cost in Europe, it is worth saying that, were the pound still at 2.45 deutschmarks, we would probably have the fourth or fifth most expensive fuel in Europe. Therefore, many factors impinge on this matter. It would be simplistic to imply that our continuation of the previous government's fuel duty escalator and our subsequent increases in duty were solely to blame.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, the noble Lord said that it had been concluded that it was too dangerous for the tanker drivers to take out their vehicles. Therefore--I believe that there is a degree of causation about this--it is the Government's plan that in certain circumstances military drivers should be employed. In terms of the danger, can the noble Lord tell me the difference between a military driver, who, of course, is under discipline and will obey orders, and an ordinary

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tanker driver? Will they not be in equal danger when taking out such a vehicle? Is it planned that military tankers should be protected by the police (which would be interesting), or are we going to see armed convoys? Is this not a slight reflection of the General Strike, and will the Government be very careful in their use of the military for these purposes?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, like any government, this Government would be most cautious in introducing Army drivers. However, it is quite clear that that power should be available in the last resort. We shall continue to work closely with the police and with trade unions to ensure that maximum safety is provided for the tanker drivers. In those circumstances, it should be possible to keep fuel supplies moving. If occasions arise when that is not possible, then of course we must have recourse to other help. That help comes most readily from the Ministry of Defence.

However, I stress that no magic wand can be waved. We would probably be able to keep 20, 30 or 40 per cent of fuel going should we be forced to rely on the Army alone. Therefore, we look to the support of every part of the community. We look to the Benches opposite to stand alongside the Liberal Democrats, the CBI, the trade unions and, indeed, a whole range of industries. Yesterday the retail industry stated that this type of intimidation is utterly unacceptable inside a democracy.

Lord Denham: My Lords, do the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, and Her Majesty's Government agree that at least some lesson is to be learnt from the quite extraordinary measure of support given to the protest by the general public, even though the general public itself was inconvenienced by it?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I accept that people have every right to feel aggrieved at what governments do and to support action in protest. However, I believe that, over time, the consequences of those actions have become clearer. People have had time to reflect and to see more clearly what could have happened as a result of the dispute. Therefore, it is no accident that, as reflected in the newspapers this week, we see a swing of opinion. I noted with interest that the Sun, the Daily Mirror and the Star as well as The Times, the Guardian and other newspapers have come out strongly against the protestors.

Should people persist with the threats that have been made recently, which would hit the sick and the vulnerable first and worst, then, as I say--I make no apologies for repeating the request--I hope that everyone in the House will stand up and declare firmly that that type of disruption has no place in a democracy.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I believe that we have come to the end of the mandatory time available, as set out in the Companion.

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Transport Bill

4.16 p.m.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.--(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston moved Amendment No. 295:


    Before Clause 253, insert the following new clause--

("Charges for street works on highway
CHARGE FOR WHOLE DURATION OF WORKS

.--(1) In the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, after section 74 insert--
"Charge determined by reference to duration of works.
74A.--(1) The Secretary of State may make provision by regulations requiring an undertaker executing street works in a maintainable highway to pay to the highway authority a charge determined, in the prescribed manner, by reference to the duration of the works.
(2) The regulations shall not require charges to be paid to a local highway authority unless the Secretary of State has approved it for the purposes of the regulations by order made by statutory instrument.
(3) The regulations may prescribe exemptions from the requirement to pay charges.
(4) The regulations may prescribe different rates of charge according to--
(a) the extent to which the surface of the highway is affected by the works,
(b) the place and time at which the works are executed, and
(c) such other factors as appear to the Secretary of State to be relevant.
(5) The regulations may--
(a) prescribe more than one rate of charge in respect of the same description of works, and
(b) provide that charges are to be paid in respect of any works of that description at the rate which appears to the highway authority to be appropriate in relation to those works.
(6) The regulations may make provision for the determination of the duration of works for the purposes of the regulations.
(7) And they may, in particular, make provision for works to be treated as beginning or ending on the giving of, or as stated in, a notice given by the undertaker to the highway authority, in the prescribed manner, in accordance with a requirement imposed by the regulations.
(8) The regulations may make provision as to the time and manner of making payment of charges.
(9) The regulations shall provide that a highway authority may reduce the amount, or waive payment, of a charge--
(a) in any particular case,
(b) in such classes of case as they may decide or as may be prescribed, or
(c) in all cases or in all cases other than a particular case or such class of case as they may decide or as may be prescribed.
(10) The regulations may make provision as to--
(a) the application by local highway authorities of sums paid by way of charges, and

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(b) the keeping of accounts, and the preparation and publication of statements of account, relating to sums paid by way of charges.
(11) The regulations may create in respect of any failure to give a notice required by the regulations a criminal offence triable summarily and punishable with a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(12) The regulations may require disputes of any prescribed description to be referred to an arbitrator appointed in accordance with the regulations.
(13) The first regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of them has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament; subsequent regulations shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
Regulations under sections 74 and 74A.
74B. Nothing shall be taken to prevent the imposition of charges by both regulations under section 74 and regulations under section 74A in respect of the execution of the same works at the same time."
(2) The reference to the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 in Schedule 1 to the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999 is to be treated as referring to that Act as amended by this section and section (Charges where works unreasonably prolonged).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 295, I wish to speak to the other amendments in this group, also standing in my name.

In response to an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in Committee, I announced that the Government would consider whether we could bring forward amendments on Report to provide powers for highway authorities to levy a charge on undertakers who carry out street works from the first day of works--the so-called "lane rental". I am glad to say that the amendments before us now fulfil that pledge.

In that regard, I must confess that I believed that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was pressing a matter beyond what I considered to be possible. However, such was his persistence and eloquence that I and colleagues looked at the matter again and again to ensure that it was fully referred. I am delighted to say that we finally concluded that we had been tardy and that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, had been right.

I should make clear that the Government fully recognise that gas, telecommunications and other undertakers have statutory rights to carry out street works as part of providing the public with services which we regard as essential in a modern society. On the other hand, businesses, public transport users, pedestrians, private motorists and other road users are entitled to expect the minimum disruption from those necessary activities.

A number of measures are already in place or are in the process of being introduced to minimise the disruption caused by street works. However, the Government are well aware that there is no room for complacency. As noble Lords may recall, last year we consulted interested parties on a number of options for reducing disruption from street works. After considering the responses, we announced in April this year our intention to activate Section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. That will allow

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highway authorities to charge utility companies in respect of street works which are unreasonably prolonged.

We have now prepared draft regulations which set out the detailed arrangements for operating a scheme under Section 74. Those are currently out to consultation, and we hope to be in a position to lay them before Parliament by the end of the year. Copies of the draft regulations and the other consultation documents are in the Library. The regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution.

However, we fully recognise that it may be necessary to introduce further measures if the Section 74 arrangements do not result in a sufficient reduction in the present level of disruption.

So, we shall be reviewing the situation to see whether further measures may be required; for instance, a lane rental scheme allowing highway authorities to charge undertakers from the outset of works, even where these do not overrun an agreed deadline.

New Clause 295 provides for regulations to implement such a lane rental scheme. But it does not attempt to set out every last detail on the face of the Bill. Should we decide that we wish to activate this power, we shall want to consult extensively with interested parties, including highway authorities and utilities, on the detailed arrangements.

The 1991 Act already requires undertakers to notify highway authorities about the execution of works. We envisage additionally that any lane rental scheme would be underpinned by a requirement for undertakers to produce formal notices informing authorities of each of the key dates for individual works. So, for example, they would have to produce a notice announcing the actual start date of works and another stating the date on which the reinstatement of the road surface was completed. These notices would allow the authority to calculate the rental charge for which the undertaker was liable.

We should make it clear that should we decide to introduce regulations activating the power to operate lane rental schemes, authorities will not be forced to put such a scheme in place in their area. After all, it is quite clear that the disruption caused by streetworks is a greater problem in some parts of the country than in others. Given this, subsection (2) makes it clear that authorities wishing to proceed with a scheme will need to submit details of it to the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly, as appropriate, for approval.

In considering whether to approve a scheme, we shall want to satisfy ourselves that authorities are acting responsibly and that the detail of the scheme is commensurate with the disruption caused by streetworks in their area. It would not be acceptable, for example, if it became clear that an authority's motive in introducing a scheme was purely to raise extra revenue for itself.

While it is our intention to address the detailed arrangements for lane rental in regulations, the amendment does set out some of the issues that we shall want to cover there. These might include, for instance, the level at which charges should be set, and

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how these would vary according to the location, extent and timing of works. We should also want to set out what exemptions there might be from a requirement to pay lane rental charges, for instance for emergency works which have to be carried out at very short notice.

Whatever the detailed arrangements for operating the lane rental scheme might be, should the Government decide to proceed to laying regulations these will be subject to affirmative resolution. Noble Lords will, therefore, have the opportunity to scrutinise the proposals in detail at that stage.

New Clause 296 modifies the existing power in Section 74 of the 1991 Act for the Secretary of State to issue regulations which require undertakers to pay a charge to the relevant highway authority where their works exceed the deadline which had previously been agreed with the authority.

As I explained earlier, draft regulations under Section 74 are currently out for consultation. However, when preparing these, it became apparent that in any scheme for providing for highway authorities to charge undertakers, the authorities would need clear evidence of when works began and ended.

Following discussion between the relevant parties, it was agreed, as with lane rental, that the best way to provide this evidence would be for the regulations to provide for formal notices to be given by undertakers to highway authorities stating the start and close of works. However, the 1991 Act does not currently provide the power for requiring such notices. Also, although Section 74 provides that an undertaker may inform the highway authority that his original estimate of the duration of works is likely to be exceeded, there is no power to require that this be done by way of a notice from the undertaker to the authority, or to prescribe the contents of such a notice. The new clause thus provides for such notices to be given, and for their contents to be prescribed in regulations.

Section 74 of the 1991 Act already provides for a number of matters relating to the levying of charges to be dealt with in regulations; for instance, the time and manner of payment of charges and the ability of the authority to waive or reduce payments in certain circumstances.

However, in order to bring the arrangements into line with those for lane rental, the amendment also provides for a number of further areas to be dealt with in regulations. So, for instance, the regulations may allow for certain works, such as emergency works, to be exempted from the requirement to pay charges.

Amendment No. 337 is a simple tidying-up exercise to make it clear that as a result of the changes we are making to the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, an undertaker will now be obliged, rather than given the option, to submit a notice to the relevant highway authority containing a revised estimate of duration where he considers that works are likely to exceed the original deadline agreed with the authority. This will make it far easier for the authority to track the progress of specific works.

2 Nov 2000 : Column 1135

Finally, Amendment No. 338 makes it clear that the revised power to make regulations under Sections 74 and 74A of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 applies only to England and Wales.

Roadworks is a devolved matter for Scotland, and it is for the Scottish Parliament to make separate provision in primary legislation, should it choose to do so. I beg to move.


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