I beg to move amendment No. 35, in
page 14, line 29, leave out subsection (2).
The amendment would remove the ability of the national authority to require a local authority to have a permit scheme. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne quickly seized on when the Minister indicated earlier that he had no intention of imposing permit schemes. If he has no such intention, there is no need to have the provision in subsection (2). I hope that he will agree to the amendment.
The fact that the Whip has moved our business forward quickly means that several of my amendments will not be discussed, but I want to make one point in opposition to the hon. Member for Christchurch.
We must consider the business constraints of operators, who do not want problems with different local authorities having different permit schemes. The Minister's ability to bring such authorities together is critical. However, will he assure me that, if that power is used, any Minister will consider the issues of authorities that cross regional boundaries and ensure that regional transport plans cover them? For authorities such as my own, which borders on three regions, that is an issue.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I see the transport directors of the Government offices for the regions on a monthly basis, and I have made that point to them, as issues of infrastructure and other traffic matters do not stop at regional boundaries.
The hon. Member for Christchurch, when not in ideological mode, is in amnesiac mode. I did not talk about anything other than the charge, which was the imposition of a national, universal permit scheme. In some instances it is appropriate for a permit scheme to be imposed, in the last resort, on two adjoining highway authorities. That is why it is in the Bill, however quickly and sharply it was alighted on by the hon. Member for Spelthorne. That applies in the cross-regional example and in conurbations and, at the risk of sounding London-centric, it would be worth considering it for adjoining London boroughs, where there is clearly a case for the scheme to traverse the two boroughs rather than just one—but only in the last resort. We therefore think that the reserve power is appropriate, and I urge my colleagues to resist the amendment.
I beg to move amendment No. 165, in
page 14, line 41, at end add—
'(6) The Secretary of State shall consult, and take account of the views of all affected parties or their representatives when preparing or considering permit schemes.'.
I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this amendment. It is about consultation, and he has already told us that he thinks it much more important to consult with local authorities, utility companies and others than with members of this Committee. If he believes that, I hope that he will accept this.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any permit scheme is practical and balances the need to minimise congestion with the need to provide essential utility services. It would iron out possible areas of concern or confusion so as to minimise the risk of disputes, enabling everybody to focus on minimising congestion, which is what we are all about. It is obvious that everybody has to work together for the new system to be effective, and the Government have said that they are willing to consult on permit schemes. However, it would be helpful to those who are going to have to operate under the regime to know what the Minister thinks about consultation.
Because the scope of the Bill provides for permit schemes to limit the timing and location of works, utilities are concerned that they could be told where to place apparatus in the street, which would impact on their costs and provision of services to customers. The provision for permit schemes to dictate the timing of works—date of commencement, duration and hours of the day when they can take place—would have a significant effect on their costs. Overnight working substantially increases costs, including subcontractor
charges, and may lead to subcontractors saying that they do not want to be involved in the work. That is especially likely in the parts of the country in which there is a bit of a building boom, including London.
A host of important issues is involved, and I hope that the Minister will accept this reasonable amendment specifying the need for consultation.
The hon. Member for Christchurch makes entirely reasonable points and it is an entirely reasonable amendment, but I am not going to accept it.
I agree that those who are likely to be affected by permit schemes should have an opportunity to comment on the proposals. We shall, therefore, consult with local authorities, utilities, including telcos, and a wide range of other bodies on draft regulations and guidance in the wake of the Bill. However, to consult further on every single permit scheme that comes to the Secretary of State for approval—there will have been a good deal of consultation by that stage—would be otiose and bureaucratic. If the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment, I shall undertake to ask the group that we have set up to enable utility, local authority and other representatives to look at the regulation of guidance to consider how consultation should be undertaken locally as part of the overall regulation and guidance for the Bill. That is a far more appropriate way of ensuring that there is guidance for local consultation than imposing a duty on the Secretary of State in respect of every scheme.
I am grateful to the Minister. Does that mean that he will report back to Committee members before Report, so that we can consider whether we need to table any amendments on Report?
I cannot promise that I will do that before Report as this matter has only just unfolded, but I will do so as soon as I can, and certainly before the Bill has been considered by both Houses. However, I hope that there will at least be a draft or some early emerging thoughts from the working party on regulations and guidance between now and the Bill's consideration in another place.