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Lord Lucas: My Lords, not reallynot at this stage. If my noble friend Lord Astor chooses to indicate that he would rather I did not divideby a thumbs down or similar motionI will of course follow his advice. However, I thought that we had established the principle in Committee and on Report that there would be no retrospection, and now we find that there is this long period between commencement and the issuing of regulations when retrospection will apply. Furthermore, there will be no indication of the extent of the coverage or of the costs when they are incurred.
I thought that we had all agreed that there should be no retrospection, or at least not for more than six months or a year, which is survivable in the context of company accounts. The prospect of five years of retrospection is just not on and what the Minister said did not satisfy my concerns. I appreciate that the amendment is defective, but I hope that it is irritating enough to get the Government to correct it and put something in place that will work in principle. We all agree that utilities should pay their share of the costs. I hope that the amendment will make the Government hurry on the regulations so that they can.
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The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment about the inspectors' role in looking at road works. I am seeking a few words of comfort from my noble friend that those who do the roadworks well will get some reward for good behaviour because the inspections cost money. There has been a lot of correspondence between my noble friend and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, on this subject. I shall not go over it now.
The Government have commented that they see the role of using a stick to punish those companies that do not improve their service. However, they have said little about a corresponding carrot for those who do improve; that is, a reduction in the number or proportion of inspections, and therefore a reduction in cost, if a company's work is shown to be good. It would good to hear from my noble friend whether the percentage of inspections carried out will vary
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according to the previous performance of the utility, or maybe even the local authority. It would be good to see whether the Government will accept the principle that the better company should, after a bit, have the proportion of its works inspected reduced, even down to something like 10 per cent. Of course, if the inspections found that its work was getting worse, it would be perfectly reasonable to put the percentage up higher. It would be very nice to hear a few words from my noble friend about the carrot as well the stick. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I appreciate the spirit in which my noble friend proposes to delete an important clause of the Bill. But, despite bringing a nuclear weapon to his aid, I understand that he is seeking to air a concept and a principle that I find attractive.
As the noble Lord will know, it is certainly the case that in other areas where we have regulation it becomes lighter-touch when the performance record of the body to be inspected merits confidence. I think that that is the burden of my noble friend's remarks. I think it is an attractive concept and one that is not unknown to government in a number of areas. I will bear in mind the principle that he is identifying. We have quite a way to go before we reach conclusions on these issues so it is a helpful contribution.
But he will recognise that I defend the clause. It plays an important part in the Bill. If I thought that my noble friend was about to discharge his nuclear weapon then I would be taking great steps to dissuade him or to seek a nuclear bunker to which to retreat after he had done so. I hope that my noble friend will recognise that he has had the chance to articulate an interesting concept and we will look at it carefully.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that response. It is exactly what I hoped he would say. I had no intention of throwing any nuclear weapons in his direction. I was trying to convert my thoughts into an amendment that fitted into the Bill in order to get some very helpful words of comfort. I am sure he will understand why I chose the simpler option. I am very grateful to him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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