New Clause 1 - Power for operator to upgrade or share apparatus

Part of Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 22 Mawrth 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State 9:25, 22 Mawrth 2022

I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling the new clause, which relates to the automatic rights for operators to upgrade and share existing apparatus. To be clear, those rights are already contained in the code, and apply only to agreements completed after the 2017 reforms to the code came into force. The new clause suggests the introduction of a 21-day notice requirement for operators that want to exercise these rights where apparatus is situated on land owned by an emergency service provider.

I very much appreciate the intention behind the new clause, and am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for briefly sharing with me last week some of the instances that he has in mind. Of course, it is important that emergency service providers are aware of work on their sites that may have an impact on their daily activities; I am sympathetic and alive to that. I have tested the issue with officials in the last week, and they suggest that in that context, it is crucial to look at the scope of the paragraph 17 rights, which authorise only activity that will have no more than a minimal adverse impact on the appearance of the apparatus and will impose no additional burden on the other party to the agreement. Clearly, the rights are therefore available only in very limited circumstances.

Of course, operators may need to upgrade and share apparatus that will have a greater impact on a site provider than paragraph 17 permits, and they should be able to do so, but in those circumstances they must obtain the site provider’s agreement or seek to have the required rights imposed by the courts. In contrast, the automatic rights in paragraph 17 are available only in very limited circumstances. The conditions in paragraph 17 specifically exclude activities that would impose an additional burden on a site provider. Activities that disrupted a site provider’s daily business, or created new health and safety risks, would be very unlikely to satisfy that requirement.

Operators that upgrade or share their apparatus in ways that go beyond the paragraph 17 rights, and which do not have a site provider’s permission or court authorisation, will be acting outside the parameters of the code. As such, they may be liable to any legal remedies or sanctions that are applicable to their actions. If an operator is in doubt as to whether the paragraph 17 conditions are satisfied, it would be sensible for it to discuss the planned works with the site provider. I am not aware of any instances in which an operator has relied on its paragraph 17 rights to carry out upgrading and sharing activities that have gone beyond the scope of what that paragraph allows, but if the hon. Gentleman is aware of occasions when that has happened, I would welcome further details and information about them.

At present, we think that the scope of activities permitted by paragraph 17 is so narrow that a specific notice regime is not required. Putting one in place would undermine the policy intention of the rights, which is to enable limited upgrading and sharing works to be carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the new clause.