The Government should accept amendment No. 135. If they have a quarrel with the words and think that there is ambiguity, I will happily withdraw it, with the purpose of bringing it back in better shape on Report, but unless or until the Minister makes such a commitment, I am minded to press the amendment to a vote.
The Government think that it is reasonable for the statutory undertaker to agree with the street works authority, in advance of street works, a reasonable
period in which the works should be carried out, with an end date. If that end date is not met, penalties flow. The Minister talks about when we have a dedicated traffic manager in the local authority, and Opposition Members have said that we think that that is a good idea. A traffic manager, with a responsibility for maintaining the network and the free flow of traffic, should be able—indeed, should be required—to agree a reasonable period for the execution of the work that it has in mind with the part of the local authority that is responsible for highway work. That period can then be publicised. Amendment No. 135 does not involve a sanction other than public odium, but at least there is some sanction.
You may be aware, Mr. Beard—I do not know which part of London you come into Westminster from—that there have been road works outside Lambeth North tube station for, I think, two years. When the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)—he is not working today—is not in Plymouth, he is obviously waiting outside Lambeth North tube station uttering words that he probably would not wish others to hear about the incompetence of that authority in carrying out those works. For a long time, there was a sign saying that the works would be completed by, I think, April 2003, but as they still have not been completed, the sign has been taken away.
If ever there were an example of why the amendment is necessary, that is surely it. There are many other examples around London—at Vauxhall Cross and elsewhere—of works that seem to be taking an incredibly long time. That does not give the travelling public, pedestrians and so on the impression that highway authorities really have an interest in expediting works so that the highway can be restored to its previous state.
What is unreasonable about requiring a traffic manager, in cases in which there is no emergency, to agree a reasonable period for the execution of work and to publicise it? If the work is carried out at greater length than was agreed, there could be a public debate, including letters in the local paper and local councillors put on the rack for the local authority's incompetence. That is what we had in mind in amendment No. 135, and I am disappointed that it does not commend itself to the Minister.