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The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 35:


"(f) as to cases in which it is appropriate to draw the distinction between minor works and other more extensive works."

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 35 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 45. I recognise that the subject matter of minor works in the context of the Government's proposed permit scheme was well aired in Grand Committee, notably with amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. As he observed, it is explicit in the drafting of Clause 32(2)(c) that circumstances are envisaged when certain "specified works" will be exempted from the permit scheme. However, to repeat what the noble Lord said, these are not defined in any way on the face of the Bill.

I do not dispute the assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, that the Government need,

Nor do I dissent from the view that the fine detail of what constitutes "minor works" would be,

Nevertheless, there is merit in establishing the principle that the distinction between minor and more extensive works will be taken into account in drawing up the relevant regulations. That is what the amendment would do, although I am bound to say that Amendment No. 37 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, probably deals with the matter rather better than my effort.

Of course were the Minister to give an unequivocal assurance that the Government intend to draw up the regulations on this basis, the amendments would be unnecessary. In that sense, they are probing in nature, and I await the Minister's response with interest. I beg to move.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, it is important to examine the whole area of what is minor and what is not. I was made to think about it when my noble friend Lord Monson pointed out the noise caused by digging up his pavement for cable TV. He was worried that that was part of a telecommunications emergency. There is a difference which some people do not understand. The matter just needs to be thought out. That is why the amendment is worth thinking about.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, Clause 36(2)(c) already allows regulations to set out which works can be carried out without a permit—for instance, emergencies or very minor works; and there is the flexibility to vary requirements for obtaining a permit for different types of works.

As we made clear at an earlier stage of the Bill's progress, the working group looking at the details of permit schemes is considering whether certain minor
 
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works should be exempted altogether from the need for a permit. It goes without saying that the working group will be looking at today's discussions in Hansard to assist with its conclusions. The working group is also considering whether the level of supporting information that those applying for permits must supply to the permit authority should be reduced for lesser works. That seems sensible. There is no point in imposing unreasonable burdens on those carrying out works which have minimal impact.

However, it is also important to remember that more often than not the most significant factor in determining how disruptive individual works are is where they are carried out rather than how extensive they are. So, minor works in Trafalgar Square can be far more disruptive than major works in a residential road such as Chester Street in Belgravia.

We take on board the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. Given my explanation about the consideration being given for different treatment for minor works, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he say what attention is paid, in designating minor works, to the duration of the works? Although they might be small, they could continue for an unacceptable length of time.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a point that I mentioned when I talked about minor works in Trafalgar Square being far more disruptive than those in a quiet residential road such as Chester Street in Belgravia. The working group is looking at the question of what constitutes a minor work. Obviously, when it does so, it will take into account the amount of time taken for the minor works to be completed.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. On balance, I think I am satisfied that the Government intend to pay due attention to the distinction between minor works and more extensive works, notwithstanding the caveats that the Minister mentioned. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Borrie moved Amendment No. 36:


"( ) Without prejudice to subsection (2)(c), a permit scheme must include provision enabling works urgently required—
(a) for public safety, or
(b) in other specified cases appearing to the authority to constitute an emergency or otherwise to be urgent,
to be carried out without a permit."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. In the previous short debate, my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting said that Clause 32(2)(c) provided for a permit
 
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scheme to enable specified works to be carried out without a permit. He cited emergency works and minor works. The important point I want to make is that Clause 32(2)(c) does not mention either emergency works or minor works. It provides in general terms for a permit scheme to enable certain works to be carried out without a permit.

The purpose of my amendment is to exempt emergency works, which I would describe as works to deal without delay with gas, water escapes or electrical faults, from the permit requirements and similarly to exempt minor works. I say to my noble friend, and indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, that we have referred to minor works as works which,

to be carried out and that would be part of the definition. We think such works should be allowed without a permit.

In Grand Committee, my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting said that Clause 36(2), which we have not yet reached, already allowed for regulations to be made for the purposes of exempting emergency and minor works from the permit schemes. I do not think that Clause 36 specifically gives the Minister power to make regulations requiring emergency or minor works to be exempt from permit schemes, but merely to make regulations about procedures, publicity and what it calls "standard provisions" for permit schemes. Perhaps—I obviously put this in the form of a question to the Minister—he intends to make regulations imposing—because anything less than that would be not worth while—standard provisions on local authorities about what are emergency and minor works and to the effect that such should not require a permit. Perhaps he could answer that in his response. Anything short of that would leave local authorities free to make no exemption or to make an inadequately worded exemption in respect of emergency and minor works.

In Grand Committee, my noble friend Lord Evans gave the impression that any regulations made, presumably under Clause 36, would distinguish between dealing with the immediately potentially dangerous emergency situation which could be carried out at once without a permit and the follow-up work—the filling-in of the hole and the resurfacing—which perhaps would need a permit.

Although the Minister suggested that it was commonly the utilities' fault when delay occurred in filling up holes after emergency work was completed, his proposal that the latter part of the work should require a permit would cause bureaucratic delay while a permit was being sought. So there are many problems here. I suggest that Amendment No. 36, combined with Amendment No. 37, would help to make clear what is involved in allowing emergency and minor works to be completed without the need for a permit. I beg to move.
 
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6 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has raised an important issue. I certainly support all the sentiments that he expressed in moving the amendment, because these are crucial issues dealing with permits and emergency work. The general public—the customer—will not be forgiving if there is an emergency and it turns out that supply has been disrupted because we introduced a cumbersome system that did not allow remedial work to be carried out straightaway.


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