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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the 1991 Act includes the possibility of such powers but, as with the charging elements, they were never triggered by the previous administration. We, like the previous government, have tried to seek agreement on them. However, if those clauses were enacted, I am not entirely sure that they would achieve rapidly what my noble friend requires. They would require the utilities merely to keep a record of newly placed or located facilities. There are a large number of historic facilities under our highways which, I regret to say, are not effectively mapped. A full inventory could be built up over time by the use of those powers, and that is one of the approaches that we are examining. But that would not instantly give us a total picture of the network.
Lord Hankey: My Lords, what is the Minister's attitude towards GIs and the ability to plan services on one integrated computer system, as other countries are doing? It is surely an approach that we, with our high population densities, ought to be able to take.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the present code of practice requires co-ordinated notification which should be capable of translation into an electronic-based system of planning. At the moment we are short of that. One of the matters that we are looking at in the
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I can comment on the precise number of trees affected. Clearly, there is a problem here in that the only powers of local authorities relate to reaching agreement on timing and insisting on that only on the basis of traffic disruption. There are some powers related to noise, but local authorities have no general powers to deal with environmental considerations. Once we have the basic system right perhaps that should also be considered.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, while many people are annoyed about their roads being dug up, they are even more annoyed to see holes being left for days, weeks, months and even longer without anyone working on them? What can he do to ensure that once a road is dug up some action follows?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, either of the proposals that we have put in the consultation paper would charge utilities and others who dig up the roads on a per day or overstay basis. Clearly, either would be a disincentive to remaining there for longer than needed.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm or not that the additional powers that it is common ground are needed should be devolved to the local authorities? Does he agree that, although one accepts that the priority lies with the public utilities--always in the case of an emergency--the situation is now wholly out of control and residents should be given some notice, consideration and a chance to cope with it?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, while there are national provisions related to notice and consultation, the powers to which I refer and the charging procedures under the consultation would accrue to local authorities. Local authorities would have the ability to apply those powers or not in particular cases.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Street Works Bill which was a Private Member's Bill introduced in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole? Is he also aware that my honourable friend originally hoped that that Bill, which would have gone a long way to solving the problem, would receive government support which, following a sudden change of mind, was withdrawn? Can the Minister say why that support was withdrawn?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, if we take that option the agreement would be, as now, between the local authority and the utility, cable company or whatever as to the length of time the hole would be in the road. There would be a prior agreement. If that time was exceeded penalty charges would accrue.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, when road repairs break down shortly after they have been undertaken who is responsible for ensuring that the work is redone to a proper standard, particularly in rural areas where this situation seems to occur on a number of roads?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord refers to the repair of the road rather than the utility facility, which is clearly covered by the utility's responsibility to its customers. As to the road, it is required to return the road to an adequate standard. From time to time in order to avoid traffic disruption the utility must do a makeshift job and then return. Clearly, it is desirable that that second digging up of the road should be avoided wherever possible, but it is even more important that the road is returned to an adequate standard.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government continue to press for early progress towards further reductions in nuclear weapons. We hope for early ratification by Russia of START II and a successful outcome to discussions between the United States and Russia on a possible START III treaty. The Government announced significant reductions in Britain's own nuclear deterrent in last year's Strategic Defence Review.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, bearing in mind that a few hundred of these awful weapons would be more than sufficient to devastate the planet, it is profoundly shocking that this huge stockpile should have been with us for so long and there is little prospect of diminishing it? Does she believe that it is time that a new initiative comes out of
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is shocking that there are so many of these weapons. Noble Lords will be aware that Her Majesty's Government have been clear in their commitment to nuclear disarmament. In last year's Strategic Defence Review we reduced our capability significantly. We have also committed ourselves, and led the world in terms of transparency, to ensuring that this matter is addressed with vigour. We continue to ask all our partners to join us in this endeavour.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is to be congratulated on raising this important subject? Does she also agree that the matter should not be left as it is now but that public knowledge of the danger in which we live should be increased to the point where the danger can be seriously reduced before a disaster does the alarming for us? Is it not better to take firm action now and for all countries to do the same so that the disaster that most of us fear may happen does not take place?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are already taking firm action. We have a clear internationally agreed way forward towards nuclear disarmament. The next steps are further major reductions in the arsenals of the two major nuclear powers, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty. We continue to press for early progress in all these areas despite the difficulties that are well known to your Lordships' House.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the greatest problems is that there is a large stockpile of these weapons in the former Soviet Union, not just in Russia but also the Ukraine and elsewhere, in deteriorating condition, with lousy security implications? Does the noble Baroness also accept that the United States has done much more to assist in the disposal of that stockpile than the United Kingdom or our West European allies? Will the Government consider whether we and our European Union allies should be doing more?
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