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Lord Tope: My response to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, is that whatever might have been possible or appropriate in a parish area, I view with horror bus stops all over London being moved overnight and the chaos that would be caused. Far be it from me as a London borough councillor to support such action on the record; I would rather have the clarity which made it unnecessary.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I do not want to reopen the issue, but I disagree that a gathering of borough council representatives would sort out such issues. He has given a better illustration than many of why that would be inappropriate. The role for the Greater London Authority is strategic. The issues we are discussing here are not strategic in which case they should be clearly and wholly the responsibility of the particular London borough councils. They do not need to meet in an assembly; they deal with it on their own. That is the clarity we seek in the Bill.

Lord Whitty: While it is true that I have expressed some sympathy with the need for us to reconsider certain areas of the Bill, I do not feel the same sympathy for these amendments, certainly as expressed tonight. I would not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in accusing the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, of being an extremist--

Lord Bowness: He said I exaggerated, and I plead guilty to that.

Lord Whitty: I do not accuse anyone of being extremist. I have never accused my noble friend Lord Dormand but now I begin to wonder. However, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and others are exaggerating the problem. We are not talking about a two-tier structure. We are not replicating the problems which I acknowledge existed in the days of the GLC. We are talking about how a borough carrying out works on its roads which are likely to affect a GLA road or the road of another borough should notify the GLA and the other borough.

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I cannot see the objection to that. Are Members of the Committee suggesting that boroughs should not notify the GLA or other boroughs when they are undertaking work which affects other authorities' roads? It is bizarre that people have become worked up to such an extent about this mechanism. After all, the provisions are modelled on arrangements with which people are familiar--the arrangements for designated roads and priority route. The concept of "affect or likely to affect" is well established. Indeed, in August 1992 the traffic director for London issued guidelines to all chief executives and borough engineers about the practical arrangements for notification of highways and traffic proposals. That situation already exists and when the mayor is in place he will be able to issue guidance on the operation of the provisions. If modifications are required, they will take place under the guidance. For example, some clauses would allow for minor or emergency use of highway or traffic powers to be excluded from the requirement for consultation.

The amendments seek to change the formulation which has stood the test of time. It is not an innovation or a reinvention of the GLC. We do not believe that any of these changes are necessary or desirable. Indeed, they could be counter-productive to the whole spirit of the GLA and TfL operating in conjunction with the London boroughs. If I have missed something, no doubt Members of the Committee will tell me now or at a later stage, but I believe that the amendment could be counter-productive and that we should keep the formulation as it is. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My noble friend Lord Bowness and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to the problems with the old GLC. Fortunately, those problems occurred well before my time. They referred to problems which inevitably lead to duplication and delay on minor matters. Unless we keep the GLA as a strategic authority, we could fall into the same trap. I am not sure that we could draft an amendment to follow the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. If we could, I am sure that the Clerks would advise against tabling it. We may return to the issue at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 296CD to 296D not moved.]

Clause 211 agreed to.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare moved Amendment No. 297:

After Clause 211, insert the following new clause--


(" . The Secretary of State may by regulations make provisions for and in connection with the establishment and operation by or on behalf of--
(a) the Authority,
(b) any London borough council, or
(c) the Common Council,
of schemes for imposing charges on undertakers of street works in Greater London.").

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The noble Lord said: I have tabled the amendment because I worry that if for political reasons a mayor were elected who did not want to introduce a road tax, or any form of it, he would have little opportunity to raise money and do many of the things a mayor might want to do in the city simply because he was restricted to the £3.4 billion, which is currently his budget, 95 per cent of which will be accounted for on the first day.

One of the many things that annoys Londoners--and I do not suspect that the rest of Britain is any different--is continually to pass holes in the road and see no one working on them. In any one day now, I have fun travelling through London and counting how many holes I can see. On average, it is 14 and, if you are lucky, two of them are being worked on. There is one famous one outside LWT which has half-a-dozen cones around it. It only stretches into the road 2 feet and 3 inches but, every morning and every evening, the traffic is held up because vehicles have to stop to let each other pass. That hole is remarkable because I have never seen anyone working on it. We are now investigating who is not working on it. If that were not funny, it would be tragic.

Then there is the situation where people ask, "Do you know they are digging the same hole again? Three months ago, they told us it was for the electricity. Now it is cable television and, in six months' time, they will tell us it is for the gas. Does it not seem simple that they might ring each other up and all agree to dig the same hole at the same time?" "No", is the answer. They are all running their own private lives. They are not going to bother to ring anyone else up. There are holes being dug in the road on one side of the Thames. And if you cross the river, there are holes being dug on the other side. They do not even talk to each other on both sides of the Thames.

I have a simple solution for the Minister, a practical man who, I know, would like the mayor to be able to capture money from these people without having to bother the voters. Would that not be wonderful? I suggest that we tax these blighters per cone per foot. Then they will start ringing each other up. I suggest to the Minister that they will be on the phone to each other all the time saying, "Are you digging a hole to lay your television cable next week because we are digging a hole to put the gas in?" "No, I am filling in another hole where we put in the electricity." If I, or any candidate, or any human being, going for this job were able to say, "I am going to charge them per foot per cone," I do not think you would find many people objecting, whereas the Minister well knows how many people are complaining about the road tax.

Of course, the chairman of BT, the chairman of British Gas, the chairmen of the electricity companies and the chairmen of cable television companies may ring to complain. That is fine. Half-a-dozen of them will be complaining. I have no problem with that at all. I realise that the Minister will not be able to take my actual wording, but I hope he will be able to return in the summer with his own wonderful clause, his own amendment.

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I agree very much with President Truman's attitude to these things; namely, that it is amazing what you can get done if other people take the praise. So I say to the Minister that it can be his clause and he can take the praise. I simply want it to be included in the Bill. The Minister is a man who understands how the other place works, and he will have noticed that there was a Bill in the other place to do just this. He will have seen that the Bill failed. He will have seen that the Member who brought forward the Bill made it absolutely clear that the Government approved of it. I would be surprised if the Minister were not able to leap up and say, "This is wonderful, we shall accept this amendment." New York has eight ways of raising tax; this Bill has only three. I say that if anyone who wanted to be mayor removed those three, at least this provision would still exist to bring in the money.

I ask the Minister to take the matter very seriously. I accept that the amendment will not be accepted today. I accept that the Minister will be unable to rise to the Dispatch Box and please me with this small pleasure. But I hope he will be able to rise to the Dispatch Box and say, "We agree and we shall return with an amendment at a later stage." I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: That was a most interesting prefiguration of what the mayor might or might not do in certain circumstances. The assumption that mayors would not be willing to use the powers contained in the Bill to raise taxes for congestion charging or levies on workplace parking is one we are all noting with interest. However, it is impossible not to have some sympathy with the main thrust of the amendment.

When I lived in Richmond, my husband and I decided that the King's Road was the trial area where people were taught how to dig holes and how to fill them in again. In the 10 years or so that we commuted into London, not daily but on a fairly frequent basis, never was there a time when there was not a hole in the King's Road. We thought it was the classroom for undertakers to teach their lads how to dig a hole and fill it in again.

An interesting idea would be to have something approximating to the lane rental charge now levied on people who undertake work on the motorway. I think it could be argued that obstructions on London roads are quite as serious in their effect as obstructions on the motorway. If those mending the roads take longer that they should, they should pay a form of damages to the Highways Agency. That idea perhaps has some merit.

We want people to dig holes only when they really need to; when they are acting in co-operation with each other and with the Highways Agency, and for the minimum amount of time. Nothing is more irritating than to see small amounts of work being done on one day, nothing being done on the next day and then, five days later, they are back again. Meanwhile, the traffic has been held up in the rush hour. There is a place not two miles from here where that is happening at this very moment.

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I am a little reluctant to accept what the noble Lord, Lord Archer, says in relation to the role of mayor, but what he has to say in relation to the cost of digging holes in the road has some merit.

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