Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Borrie: My Lords, I am most grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and for the support of my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. I also welcome the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggesting that the amendment was too broad in including telecommunications. However, my response is to consider commercial enterprises. If telecoms are not functioning, so work is needed in the roads, they are losing business, money and work day by day. Therefore, telecoms, as an essential service, rank alongside electricity, water and gas in the year 2004. I have no apology to make for including telecommunications in essential services.

I shall have to read how the Minister responded. I detected a slight sign of irritation on his part that I had not accepted his reassurances in Grand Committee. However, there were a number of uncertainties in his response. I will look closely at what he said today. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 16:

"( ) A local traffic authority shall publish information (street works monitoring information) relating to the duration, location and extent of—
(a) street works within the meaning of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c. 22); and
(b) works for road purposes within the meaning of section 86(2) of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (highway authorities, highways and related matters);
on the authority's road network.
( ) The appropriate national authority may by regulations make provision with respect to the content of street works monitoring information and when it must be published."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this amendment deals with another "uncertainty"—as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, put it—to the reply given in Grand Committee. My amendment makes provision to ensure that local traffic authorities have a duty to publish information relating to street works—their location, their duration and their planned extent. It aims to enhance the accountability of the highways authority in carrying out,
29 Jun 2004 : Column 159
and the traffic authority in monitoring, such works. It also helps with the Government's often-stated intention to bring the local authorities more fully in line within the same requirements as apply to utility companies.

It remains the case that the highways authorities—which, as we know, are responsible for half of the street works—are also charged with approving and policing the works of the utility companies, which are responsible for the other half. This is in itself an unequal situation, which of course we have recognised during the passage of the Bill.

In Grand Committee, the Government said that they would encourage local authorities to make publicly available any relevant information. However, encouragement is not quite a good enough incentive. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, indicated that Section 53 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 covers much of what this amendment is meant to do by enabling regulations to be made by the appropriate national authority requiring local authorities to keep a register of undertakers' work and their own works. We all know that there is no duty to ensure that local authorities make that information about their own works available. That is the important point.

My amendment will provide the basic information on which others can check that highways authorities are carrying out their duties properly and will also enable greater coordination of works where possible. It will also enable the Government to assess properly the impact of the Bill on reducing congestion by reviewing not just utility works but local authority works and indeed any other works. I am aware that there have been concerns that this might create a bureaucratic burden for the local authorities. But they are already collecting and registering this information. We want to ensure that it is published and available to the public. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said, this amendment was debated in Grand Committee. I said then that in principle we would encourage parity between street and road works. The New Road and Street Works Act 1991 already enables regulations to be made by the appropriate national authority, requiring local authorities to keep a register of undertakers' street works as well as their own works for road purposes.

Regulations made in 1992 already prescribe that the description and location of street authority works for road purposes must be kept on the register. This could already be extended to cover duration under the existing legislation. Under the same Act it is required that, as long as the information is not restricted, it must be made available for inspection.

The amendment requires this sort of information to be actively put in the public domain. This is on the basis that it could then be used to establish whether authorities were treating utilities' works and their own in the same way. However, while some of the works
29 Jun 2004 : Column 160
and some elements of those works may be similar, others will be different. Information on the location, duration and extent of works would not necessarily provide for an assessment of equitable treatment of all works within an authority.

Authorities maintain and upgrade the roads as well as undertaking safety and quality of life improvements such as junction modifications, home zones, traffic calming and the like. Utilities' interests require them to occupy the highway in a different way. Parity is extremely important and local authorities will need to take this into account when considering their own works and those of utilities. If they do not it might contribute to the failure of their network management duty.

The draft network management duty makes this clear. This has been developed with the assistance of the utilities to ensure that it reflects their concerns. The question of how best to assess this falls to the monitoring and evaluation framework and the criteria for determining whether to intervene. As the guidance will be subject to parliamentary process, your Lordships will be able to satisfy yourselves that this is adequately covered.

We have just debated the principles underpinning the modernising government agenda. Again, our desire is to avoid placing this sort of prescriptive burden on local government. I hope that with these assurances, the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. He said my amendment produced a prescriptive burden. I think my amendment was rather unprescriptive and produced hardly any burden at all. He said that this should be dealt with in guidance. I shall study his response carefully. However, I am somewhat disappointed. We are trying to encourage open government, and I am sure that the noble Lord would agree in principle with that sentiment. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Guidance to local traffic authorities]:

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 17:

"( ) Subject to any guidance published by the national authority under subsection (1), the Mayor of London may publish further guidance to local traffic authorities in London in relation to Greater London Authority and strategic roads about the techniques of network management and any other matter relating to the performance of the duties imposed by sections 16 and 17."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I know this is a matter that we debated in Grand Committee and I am seeking—on I think a very appropriate day—some sort of assurance from the Minister that arrangements exist for the proper consideration of the strategic bus network in London.

On a day when the whole of the capital is about to be held to ransom by the most irresponsible action by the Tube drivers—one about which I believe the Government should take action, because I think we are seeing a monopoly being exploited to the detriment of all of us—we need to know that we have a bus
29 Jun 2004 : Column 161
network that is coherent and extends over several London boroughs. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that we have proper direction of that network and that it is not subject to the maverick concerns of any one borough. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I support this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has outlined the reasons behind it. We discussed at length in Grand Committee which roads might be subject to the guidance from the Mayor, a point which was certainly unclear. If most, if not all, bus routes could be included in such guidance, it would be a very important part of keeping London moving and of course filling the lovely buses that we have. It is an excellent idea and I fully support it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page