Transport Bill

– in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 9th November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household) 4:40 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Transport Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 38 [Directions in interests of national security etc.]:

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 1:

Clause 38, page 24, line 32, at end insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State may give to any person holding shares in a licence holder a direction requiring him to do or not to do a particular thing (which may include transferring a share or shares in that licence holder to such person and on such terms as to compensation and otherwise as the Secretary of State may direct), if the Secretary of State considers it necessary or expedient to give the direction in the interests of national security.").

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, now that the European Commission has referred the legality of the BAA golden share to the European Court of Justice there must be a real possibility that the rights given to the golden shareholder by the NATS articles of association will be rendered unenforceable. On this side of the House, our interest in the rights attaching to the golden share are not in retaining control of the company, but in protecting national security.

The treaty recognises the right to override the provisions as to establishment and free movement of capital in the interests of public security and it is important that the Bill includes full powers for the Government to do, in the interests of national security, what they could have done by exercise of rights attaching to the golden share. In this way, if the rights attaching to the golden share are struck down, at least there will be a comparable power in the Bill for the Government to act on grounds of national security. That should not be challengeable by the Commission as it relies on one of the permitted exceptions.

The powers contained in subsections (1) and (2) of the clause to give directions to a licence holder or holders cover some of the rights attaching to the golden share, for example, those such as issue of shares and appointment or voting rights of directors. But the major protection afforded by the golden share is the right to restrict an individual holding to 15 per cent and, judging by the Commission's press release, this is also the Commission's main target. That right is not covered by subsections (1) and (2) because, if that provision in the articles is found to be in breach of the treaty, the right to claw back any holding in excess of 15 per cent--the only way a licence holder can force a shareholder to transfer shares--will not be enforceable. A licence holder will therefore be powerless to enforce any direction the Secretary of State makes to a licence holder to claw back shares. The power the Secretary of State needs is to direct the shareholder to transfer the excess--or indeed any--shares. The amendment is designed to give the Secretary of State this power.

It would be dangerous for the Secretary of State to rely on provisions in the partnership agreement. There is nothing in the wording of the relevant treaty provisions to suggest that a partnership agreement is immune from attack by the Commission any more than articles of association. In any event, if there were a subsequent flotation--and the provisions of the articles of association are clearly geared to provide protection in that event--any safeguards in the partnership agreement will fall away.

It would be equally dangerous for the Government simply to sit back and say they will fight off the challenge by the Commission to the comparable provisions in the BAA articles. The duty of the Government is to make proper provision in the Bill to safeguard national security in the event that the European Court rules against the United Kingdom in the BAA case. At present, there is a yawning gap and this amendment is intended to fill it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 4:45 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I understand the objectives of the noble Lord in moving this amendment. However, we have already made clear that it is the duty of the Government to safeguard national security and the amendment would not override that. It is not simply the golden share which safeguards national security in this structure.

We have taken great care to ensure that national security is protected throughout the PPP proposals. It may be helpful to the House if I set out the different layers of protection for national security which are already in place. Clause 38(2) of the Bill provides that the Secretary of State may, at any time, give such directions to a licence holder as he considers necessary in the interests of national security. Clause 94(1) provides that the Secretary of State may give directions to any listed person in any time of actual or imminent hostilities or of severe international tension or of great national emergency.

Clause 28 provides that the Secretary of State may apply to the court for an air traffic administration order, so that an administrator can take control of the assets of a licence company in various circumstances. Such circumstances include a situation where the company has been or is likely to be in contravention of the Section 8 duty to provide a safe system for the provision of air traffic services, or where the company is, or is likely to be, in breach of an enforcement order. In either case it would be inappropriate for that company to continue to hold its licence.

In the licence, schedule 3 provides for its revocation in various circumstances, including, first, where a licensee fails to notify the Secretary of State of any change, transaction or arrangement of which it becomes aware which would enable a person or group of persons directly or indirectly to control or materially to influence the policy of the licensee, or would enable that person or group of persons to do so to a greater degree; or, secondly, that such a change, acquisition, transaction or arrangement takes place despite the Secretary of State issuing a notice of objection that, in his opinion, it would be against the interests of national security or relations with the government of another country.

The strategic partnership agreement, which is a contractual agreement between the Government and the strategic partner, will require the approval of government directors for the raising of loans and the acquisition or disposal of material assets. It will require the prior consent of government directors for the appointment of the strategic partner's executive directors and ensure that the strategic partner must offer first refusal to the Government if it proposes to sell any of its shares in NATS.

That range of protections deals with the issue of national security. The special share is therefore only one of a network of controls which ensures a high level of protection for the public interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, pointed out, the articles of association also provide, under the special share, the principal right to veto certain events, including amendments to certain articles and the issue of any shares by NATS. In addition, those articles will prevent any shareholder, other than the Government and the strategic partner, holding more than 15 per cent of voting share capital. In any case, this will only be of relevance following a flotation of NATS. At present, of course, the Government have no intention of permitting such a flotation.

In addition to those powers attaching to the special share is the further range of protections in relation to national security which are provided in the legislation itself, in the licence and in the strategic partnership agreement. The real motivation behind this amendment may be concerns that the ultimate owner of NATS or of the strategic partner or part of the consortium which forms the strategic partner could at some future date turn out to be unsuitable. It is clear that we have a number of powers under the Bill to prevent them taking action or not taking action which would be against the national interest. Those include acquisitions, buying in and raising loans from sources that would be inimical to the national interest.

Although I agree that the protections offered by the golden share are important and will be liable to any challenge in the European Court, I can also assure the noble Lord that there are several other protections for national security. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed reply, particularly for his reference to the fact that the special share, or golden share, is only one of the protection measures and that national security does not rely solely upon that. The noble Lord must admit, at least, that there is a danger that the Commission may adopt the same stance on this golden share as it has on the BAA articles of association. I know that the European Court will take some little while to make a decision on that issue, but I hope that the Government are right to be confident that they can withstand challenge on this matter. We have had many experiences where the Government--of whatever party--have thought that was going to be the case, but in the end it has turned out not to be.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question about the strategic partnership agreement to which he referred. Will that agreement be made public? Will we be able to see it when it comes into existence? If the noble Lord cannot answer at this stage, perhaps he will write to me on the matter.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I shall be very happy to write to the noble Lord on this point. A straight "yes" or "no" answer is not appropriate in these circumstances. It would be in part, but I shall lay out the answer in a letter, if I may.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful. I would rather the Minister wrote to me than gave me an answer now which might not be quite correct. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 108 [Local transport plans]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 2:

Clause 108, page 67, line 19, at end insert ("in a manner consistent with their environmental responsibilities").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4.

When I think back to that rather distant past when I was young man, one of the problems I had when I was growing up was that my father and I almost always found it easy to agree as to ends but had huge difficulty in agreeing as to means. I sometimes feel that that situation fairly aptly delineates the differences between the two Front Benches in this House. Perhaps it is not surprising that now and again we box and cox with our ideas. I say that because the Minister will perhaps tweak me for seeking to insert these amendments into the Bill when he knows that, in principle, I am not in favour of laying down too much legislation, particularly in regard to local government.

This is the era--so the Government tell us--of joined-up thinking and joined-up government. While I understand that, and give them credit for trying, it does not appear that that joining-up gets as far as the field of legislation. My first amendment seeks to rectify what I see as that particular deficiency.

Part II of the Bill is about nothing if it is not about environmental improvement. Integrated transport systems are about nothing if they are not about environmental improvement. This part of the Bill makes it a requirement for local transport authorities to produce transport plans with the specific aim of trying to smooth transport flows, reduce environmental pollution, reduce noise, reduce congestion--all the little decisions that local authorities can take to improve matters and to make the environment better for their communities. If they succeed at this micro level they will also succeed at the macro level of atmospheric pollution.

But in this era of joined-up thinking and joined-up government, somehow the words "environmental improvement" are omitted from the face of the Bill. Of course, the Minister will say--and he will be correct in saying it--that other environmental legislation applies to local authorities and they have to take note of it. So they do. But it seems to me--and this is where we have the debate about means--that if we are dealing with legislation that is aimed at improving the environment, we should say so. The Bill is deficient without it.

My second amendment concerns the need to co-ordinate transport plans with structural planning or unitary development planning where it is appropriate. The issue here is somewhat different but of equal importance and concerns the question of joining-up systems. Planning legislation is voluminous, complex and separate, but there should be some mention in the Bill of the need to pull the two together.

It is a serious issue. Is transport a constraint on development, or is it simply a technical problem which has to be resolved subsequently? We get no idea from this legislation, which deals with the transport side of the issue, of what is or might be the relationship between the two. My experience is that transport is not considered as a constraint on development but as a problem to be resolved subsequently. I should like to think that the two issues will be rather better co-ordinated than that. One only has to think of the huge amount of development--however real or ephemeral the figures may be--that it appears the Secretary of State in another place wishes to impose on the south-east of England to realise what are the transport implications. One can begin to see the absolute necessity for thinking very carefully about the transport issues involved in that kind of intensification of the development of the South East.

This is not the appropriate time to go into the validity of those figures but we all, as a society, have to face those issues. We should be looking at the face of the Bill--again simply as a matter of what I would call the unifying psychology of the Bill--to bring the mention of transport planning and the mention of development planning into the same phrase. The Bill would be the better for it.

These are two simple amendments. I do not think that the Minister will disagree with either of them in principle--but, like my father, he disagrees with the means.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, I sympathise profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. How can he work the word "environment" into this issue? As he said, it is all implied, and what is implicit in the legislation is very clear. We could mention all kinds of things. I think that the noble Lord has worked incessantly, probably over midnight lamps with his Front Bench, asking, "How can we establish our environmental credentials?". There is no better way than mentioning the word "environment"--but the noble Lord has not used his best endeavours today.

As I was responsible for environmental affairs in Europe, no one can complain that I am not concerned about environmental matters. I am; but I do not see any sense in introducing the word "environmental" in this context. No one will look more carefully than I at the issue of environmental protection where necessary. But to include the reference at this point in the Bill is not necessary; it is implicit in the existing provision.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 5:00 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I have never seen the Bill as overriding authorities' responsibilities in regard to the environment, nor, indeed, the requirement for them to put matters with which this part of the Bill is concerned in the context of--and make them subject to--local structure plans.

I hope that the Minister will confirm that the present regime ensures that the issues raised by the noble Lord are at the top of the agenda. We recently passed the Local Government Act 2000, which places a duty on local authorities to prepare strategies for promoting and improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. The reason for imposing such a duty was to ensure that such considerations overarch and encompass the plans that each local authority is required to introduce.

Noble Lords may recall that some 40 duties were referred to. Admittedly, we did not have this Bill before us at the time, but it seems to me that in that sense it is no different. I hope that in the year 2000 the creation of local and structure plans is totally integrated with transport. The plans would fail if they did not have complete regard to transport.

It would worry me to insert a reference to the environment in such a way as to suggest that, where there is no reference to the environment, it is not an issue. I hope that we are moving towards the position where our legislation ensures that we have regard to environmental matters at all times.

Clause 108 requires local authorities to develop policies to promote efficient transport facilities and services. I hope that it is the case that the term "efficient" now encompasses "efficient environmentally". The current much discussed examples--and I admit that there are different views--relate to global warming; namely, emissions and the effect on climate (flooding, for example). If transport policy is such that its use of fuels allows emissions to increase, which is what I assume the noble Lord has in mind, that means that it is not efficient because of the other effects on the way in which we operate.

If the Minister can use this opportunity to confirm the definition of "efficient" these days, the noble Lord may have achieved something. Other than that, I do not think that the amendment before the House is necessary.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, despite the familiarity that we have developed during the course of the Bill, it was slightly odd to be cast in the role of the noble Lord's father!

The noble Lord is right to some extent. We all have the same objectives. But there is a difference between what is provided in legislation and how that piece of legislation goes towards forming the bigger picture. We do not duplicate in legislation--legislation is long and complex enough for us not to rewrite in each piece of legislation parts of other legislation.

As was stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, to write in the word "environmental" at this point in the Bill would be an attempt to bring other legislation into it; and, as the noble Baroness said, every local authority is already required to fulfil the statutory obligations placed on it, in, for example, the Local Government Act 2000 or Part IV of the Environment Act 1985. That piece of the legislative jigsaw is provided by provisions in those Acts, and there is no need for duplication.

Clearly, we need to bring all these matters together. The guidance that we shall provide for this Bill, as we do for other Acts, will achieve that. The administrative procedure is such that it tries to pull those things together. Indeed, one could argue that the whole raison d'etre of my department is to bring together transport, environment and planning considerations. I am all in favour of consistency, but I am not in favour of the duplication of legislation.

Amendment No. 4 also relates to consistency--in this case between the local transport plan and the relevant development plan. Again, I am seized of the importance of consistency between the two planning regimes. Indeed, it was this Government who recognised the importance of the linkage between land use, planning and the provision of a truly integrated transport system. I take issue with the noble Lord in terms of what is now the regime. Everyone who is familiar with transport knows that previously these matters were followed up after all the planning decisions had been taken. Now, under planning policy guidance--in particular under Clause 112--that is all brought together in the way we expect planning authorities to operate.

Again, the guidance that we provide for those planning operations, and for local transport plans, very much emphasises this point. Simply to insert the word "environmental" at this point in the Bill is not an effective way of doing so. To go further would lead to duplication. Consistency is provided by fitting together the different pieces of legislation and following that through with appropriate guidance. We are clearly of one view as regards the ends; I hope that the noble Lord will take at least some of my points in relation to the means.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. In his way, he made precisely the point that I was making. I do not want to get into trying to discuss what our relationship might be--that would lead to complete confusion, just as it would between myself and the Minister--but it does make the point.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her comments. There is a danger that in reading the Bill one could misinterpret the word "efficiency" and leave out "environmental". The Minister did not answer that specific point.

I am well aware--as I should be after serving a long time in local government--of the statutory duties of local government. I am completely in favour of not rewriting legislation that is already written elsewhere. However, I return to my point: one needs to keep all the ideas flowing together. That was the reason why I brought those thoughts together in the amendments. Local authorities do this in their management structure, disregarding the guidance that is provided by government. They recognise the need for this.

I am not convinced that we have got the balance of this legislation completely right. However, I hear what the Minister has said. For now--indeed, as we are finishing the Bill, for ever--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

moved Amendment No. 3:

Clause 108, page 67, line 24, at end insert--

("( ) In developing policies in respect of transport facilities and services of the kind mentioned in subsection (2)(a), each local transport authority shall take account of the need to secure that proper arrangements are made--

(a) to enable persons who are disabled to transfer in safety and comfort between different modes of transport; and

(b) to ensure that such persons have safe, comfortable and effective access to stations and other transport interchange facilities.").

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14. I shall leave the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to address Amendment No. 26, which has also been included in this group. I moved a similar amendment to Amendment No. 14 in Committee on recommitment but subsequently withdrew it. At that time it was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who, unfortunately, cannot be here this afternoon. I understand that he is in Australia.

Amendment No. 3 is purely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 14. However, it would clarify Clause 108 as regards people with disabilities. It would ensure that local transport authorities must consider the particular safety and comfort problems caused by disability when developing their policies. It would also ensure proper access for disabled people where there is interchange between different types of transport.

Amendment No. 14 requires that train station operators provide facilities for licensed taxis at their stations. Licensed taxis either already, or soon will, provide spacious wheelchair facilities for all passengers, as well as a regulated fare and a well-trained driver, who must have local knowledge. They are a vital part of the transport network, not just for disabled people but also for many sections of the community, as the Government recognised in their integrated policy.

The amendment is a straightforward measure that has widespread support among the disability community and would ensure consistent and fair treatment for all those who need to use an accessible vehicle as part of their public transport journey. The amendment would prevent train station operators from signing exclusive contracts with minicab operators. As the House may know, although licensed taxis are subject to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, minicabs are not. Already, in areas such as Cambridge and Eastbourne, passengers can get off a train to find that the services of a licensed taxi are not available within the station, as exclusive contracts have been signed with minicab operators.

In Committee on re-commitment the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, argued that this proposed new clause is unnecessary, as, in the Government's view, the implementation of Sections 21 and 33 of the Disability Discrimination Act will ensure that there are wheelchair-accessible vehicles available at railway stations. My understanding from advice that I have received is that that is not the case. The Government seek to rely on the implementation of the DDA through individual court cases being brought against specific station operators. This would clearly be costly and ineffective; indeed, it could lead to inconsistencies across the country. I have been advised by parliamentary agents to the London Taxi Board that, to quality as an offence under Section 21 of the DDA, it must be shown that it is "impossible or unreasonably difficult" for disabled passengers to make use of a service. The board advises--not surprisingly--that on account of this wording a successful claim under the Act is,

"only likely to occur in the most extreme cases".

Section 33 of the Act states that the Minster has powers to designate transport facilities where a station operator has entered one of these inclusive contracts. But the implementation of that section will not be sufficient. Unless the Minister concerned is aware of all the cases where there are no accessible vehicles available and is able immediately to designate facilities to provide similar services to the local taxi fleet, there will be inconsistencies across the country. The situation would surely be unacceptable. Therefore, this amendment is the only way that an equality of service for the elderly and disabled can be guaranteed.

If the Government are genuinely committed to ensuring that accessible transport is available to those who need it, when they need it, surely the obvious solution is to accept this simple amendment and thereby guarantee a universal provision of wheelchair-accessible vehicles at railway stations throughout the country. The Government's proposed solution to the issue is really no solution at all: it will leave elderly and disabled passengers with no guarantee that there will be a suitable vehicle for them on arrival at train stations. That surely goes against the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act, which is intended to provide equality for all.

The Government are also aware that there is tremendous support for this measure from all sides in both Houses, and from many disability organisations. The amendment also has cross-party support in this House, as well as the support of members of the All-Party Disablement Group. An Early-Day Motion on the issue was signed by 124 Members of the other place, many of whom, I understand, have written to the Minister urging him to accept this amendment. It is also supported by a number of disability organisations, whose names I shall not mention this evening. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour 5:15 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I support the amendment. However, I must confess that I am most puzzled by this whole debate. If ever I saw an open-and-shut case, this is it. Yet the Government seem to be resisting it time and time again. My noble friend Lord Whitty seems to be digging in his heels and insisting on rejecting this amendment. I have read the Hansard reports on the previous debates very carefully. I am sorry that I was unable to be present for them.

As I say, I am most puzzled because I begin from the premise that disabled people today are no longer living in back rooms and afraid to go out. They have raised their expectations and now travel wherever they want to go. Increasing numbers of them travel by train and visit all sorts of places because they are entitled to do so; they want to do so; and, indeed, they are going to do so. So the picture has changed. It is not a matter of a few eccentric disabled people travelling around: many disabled people are travelling by train. There is no point in beginning a journey if you cannot complete it. Goodness knows, enough people have been deterred from travelling by a few floods because they have made the trains late. People have decided not to travel because of the delays--some have said that they could not come to this House--and so on. But here we have the Government expecting disabled people to travel on a train and, on arrival at their destination, find that there is no accessible licensed taxi. I do not understand that kind of thinking. It is beyond me.

There is evidence to show that these station organisations are in fact creating such contracts with firms that cannot carry disabled people. What is the point? What is the reason for it or, indeed, the rationality? My noble friend Lord Whitty says that the Disability Discrimination Act will cover the situation. I fought for years for the DDA. In fact, if I may say so, I brought forward the first Bill in the House of Commons that led to the introduction of that legislation. I had great hopes for it. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, the DDA is not the solution because it is cumbersome and controversial. Moreover, any time that people to go to court under the legislation--it is, by definition, almost controversial--they cannot be sure of winning. So, in the minds of disabled people, that increases anxiety instead of certainty. Why cannot the Government accept the amendment? It would ensure that accessible taxis were available outside railway stations. It is as simple as that.

I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the House, so I shall conclude my remarks. There are 8.5 million disabled people in Britain. If my noble friend is not careful, he will find that every time a disabled person takes a train and finds that he cannot get off without encountering difficulty and problems--like carrying suitcases to distant taxis--I am afraid that his name will be taken in vain. He will be held responsible for all these difficulties because, as has been said, we shall not have another transport Bill for some time. This is the time for my noble friend to think again.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to support both amendments. I think the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was slightly underplaying his amendment, because it is actually a good one, but the substantive amendment does guarantee an important link between the train stations and other forms of transport. It is one link in a chain--I realise it is a cliche--and if you break one of those links, the whole thing fails: end of story. It does not really matter how good the train is if you cannot get from the station to your destination. Certain minicabs may well be able to accommodate certain people, but it cannot be guaranteed.

Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen pointed out, if you are in a wheelchair you may just about be able to get into certain types of cab. The same argument applies if you happen to have a bad leg or have a pram with you, but let us leave that aside for the moment. You may just about be able to get into a certain type of cab if you are prepared to go through the indignity of being bundled into the back and having the wheelchair pushed around, and so on. As to trying to go to court over it, I suggest that that might be something of a nightmare. Do we have to feed the lawyers any more?

Let us consider the position of the licensed taxi operators. They have acquired expensive vehicles, which are accessible. They are required to make sure that you can actually get into the cab. That is part of the deal imposed on them. In many parts of the country they originally operated from saloon cars. A little fairness here is justifiable, I think.

My Amendment No. 26 comes towards the end of the group and suggests that the operators of licensed taxis should have sufficient training to enable them to help people in and out of their special vehicles. It was inspired by conversations with several taxi drivers who simply did not know what to do or how to give appropriate help. When a new taxi is acquired, I suggest that a few hours' training, as a condition of the licence to operate, would enable a driver to give appropriate help. I suggest that this amendment is a very useful add-on to the main amendment, Amendment No. 14; but it is consequential.

Amendment No. 14 would guarantee that such a link between stations would apply to everybody and not just to a few. I would suggest that arguments to the contrary are undoubtedly inspired by a degree of commercial greed, or potential greed. I commend the amendments to the House.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, I have the most enormous sympathy with what lies behind these amendments. What has been said by the three previous speakers is exemplary and I commend their sentiments wholeheartedly. I am a great fan of the black cab in London--those driven by members of the London Taxi Board--and I agree very much with the first sentence of the briefing paper which the taxi board has produced for this debate. It says that the licensed taxi is a vital part of any successful integrated transport policy. It provides a unique link between other forms of public transport, fulfilling demands that cannot be met by the bus, train or tube, especially late at night.

However, I am very unconvinced that Amendment No. 14 achieves what noble Lords seek. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to the Early-Day Motion in another place, which repeated the assertion that licensed taxis had been excluded from forecourts at some stations, such as Cambridge and Eastbourne. Those are rather curious examples. Towards the end of the time that I was working for the British Railways Board I remember a very bitter dispute between the board and the Cambridge licensed taxi owners' association over the level of charges levied for the right to ply on the station forecourt. In 1995 that resulted in taxis moving to a local authority rank 50 yards from the station entrance. That meant they were obviously providing a much worse service than previously.

The situation now is that there is an agreement between the train operating company which manages Cambridge station, the West Anglia Great Northern Company, and the same licensed taxi owners' association, which allows all licensed taxi drivers who are members of the association back on to the forecourt. That agreement specifies that 30 per cent of the taxis have to be accessible to disabled people. I am told by the train operating company that it would have preferred all taxis serving the station to be accessible, but at the moment in Cambridge there just are not enough licensed vehicles to be able to provide such a service.

In addition to specifying a minimum proportion of accessible taxis, the agreement also allows the train operating company to impose other standards, such as controls on fares for longer journeys out of the city centre and the requirement that taxis are there to meet trains during quieter parts of the day and not just at peak times. This last requirement is extremely important and is very much in line with what my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke was saying. By entering into contractual arrangements of this sort, the train operators can attempt to match the provision of taxis to the full train services which they run.

A reference has been made to Eastbourne, where another curious choice has been made, if I may say so. There the train operating company has an agreement with Sussex Taxis Ltd, which issues individual permits in respect of taxis. It provides that the association must provide at least 50 per cent of the permits to taxi drivers other than those who are members of the association, and that any hackney carriage which applies must be issued with a permit. Again, there are minimum standards for the levels of service provided.

I am afraid that if Amendment No. 14 were to be accepted, it would, first, create a statutory regime which would be inconsistent with the Disability Discrimination Act. It would also limit and severely curtail the ability of train companies to control the supply of taxis at stations and to provide or maintain levels of service and reassurances which are already in place around the country. As a result of that, we could paradoxically find ourselves giving the general travelling public a poorer deal, and indeed make the situation worse for disabled people. For this reason, although I sympathise so much with what lies behind the amendment I cannot support it this evening.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, can I just say that the taxis are back on the forecourt at Cambridge?

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, I support warmly Amendments Nos. 3 and 14, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, so clearly and comprehensively. As we now all know, these provisions would ensure that accessible taxis are available at stations for elderly and disabled passengers. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, says, but the agreements he talks about are all individual, are they not? It is not an overall policy. I feel that it is necessary to ensure that accessible taxis can use station forecourts. This amendment is necessary to avoid a break in what would otherwise be a seamless door-to-door journey. As I understand it, this amendment would not stop any other arrangements being made with other cabs as well.

My noble friend Lady Masham supports wholeheartedly these amendments. I am glad to say that she was transferred yesterday to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where I hope she will make a good recovery following her accident which, as your Lordships probably know, was precipitated by canine interaction rather than by a road traffic accident.

The fully accessible black cab--I am delighted that the whole London fleet is now accessible--has made a huge difference to the lives of many people with disabilities, particularly those with arthritis and those who are wheelchair users. Many, including myself, simply cannot manage to get into a minicab unaided. It may be possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and others have said, that, given an easy car, various bits of equipment and given a strong, good-tempered driver, you may be able to transfer with help; but you cannot guarantee that such a person and car will turn up.

I do not like talking personally, and I try very hard never to overstate the case, but it does need to be said that we are not just talking about comfort and convenience: we are talking about health and safety. If a paraplegic, for instance, gets a bruise or a scrape from a bad transfer when getting into or out of a car, it may take a long time to heal and it can turn into a pressure sore. That will cause problems for many months.

I turn now to Amendment No. 26. A clear case has been made for the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I was rather dumb not to add my name to it as it concerns a matter close to my heart. I find that many taxi drivers do not know how to use the small y-shaped strap which anchors a wheelchair to the floor. Usually they claim that they have not seen it or do not have it. I try to persuade them to find it. Someone told me that a taxi driver had at first claimed that he did not have such a strap. He then found it and was shown how to use it. He said, "That is fine. Now that I understand how to use it I shall use it with other people". It is simply ignorance and, therefore, fear that prevents people using these straps.

If accessible taxis cannot enter stations that will scupper the idea of the seamless journey. I do not think that Theseus would ever have got out of the labyrinth if his ball of string had a break in it. "Seamless" means just that--without a break. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is a listening Minister, and has shown that on other disability issues. I very much hope that he will be able to accept the amendments. If not, and if the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, decides to test the opinion of the House, I urge noble Lords to support him.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 5:30 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I add my voice to the "heavyweights" in your Lordships' House who have tabled these amendments. The quality of life of many disabled people is, as we all know, dependent on their ability to travel independently. If disabled people are able to access employment, education, leisure and other everyday activities, it is essential that they must have the means to reach them. They must have access to transport services and the choice of services to meet their individual travel needs. The need for accessible services, especially taxi services in rural areas, is particularly acute. Provisions on accessible vehicles should be reinforced and enshrined in this Transport Bill. I therefore support the three amendments and trust that the Government will see fit to accept them.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I support the concept behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. He is trying to achieve seamless journeys. I do not know whether he will achieve that; we shall have to explore the matter. The integrated transport White Paper, A New Deal for Transport, published two years ago, states at paragraph 3.93 on page 56:

"We are bringing into effect the requirements for new rolling stock on the railway from the end of this year".

I am sure that many noble Lords will have seen the new rolling stock. I believe that it offers many good facilities for disabled people. I hope that soon the insulting practice of making people in wheelchairs travel in the guard's van on some of the old trains will come to an end. That is an insulting practice and it is also jolly uncomfortable and cold for the people concerned. However, the seamless journey continues beyond the railway. Paragraph 3.93 further states:

"For buses and taxis the implementation dates are being set following consultation. We have consulted on an implementation date of 1 January 2002 for taxis and a range of dates according to different bus and coach types".

That paragraph appears to indicate that the consultation went well and that implementation dates have been set. I shall be interested to hear whether the implementation dates are still valid. If something goes wrong, will disabled people have to go to court to secure what I consider are their rights in this regard, or is there some other means of securing them? I shall be interested to hear my noble friend's response.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken, I sympathise greatly with the sentiment behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I hope that the Minister can reply to a few questions on this issue. First, what are the advantages--the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, has to some extent already mentioned this--and disadvantages to the travelling public of the contracts which have been drawn up between train operating companies and local taxi operators? No doubt all of us, whether disabled or not, have arrived at a station only to find that there are no taxis available. The travelling public, whether disabled or not, need to be certain that taxis will be available at stations. My understanding is that the contracts I have mentioned impose requirements upon the taxi operators concerned to make taxis available at all times of day, not just at peak periods. I hope that the Minister will comment on that matter and say whether those arrangements have helped both disabled and non-disabled passengers.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also mentioned the situation at Eastbourne and Cambridge. I have received briefing from the Association of Train Operating Companies. The briefing informs me--as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said--that licensed taxis (that is, those which are wheelchair accessible) are certainly not prohibited from entering station forecourts and must be issued with a permit if they apply for one.

Further, I understand that the rail regulator is in the process of providing a code of practice on train and station services for disabled passengers. Will that code of practice--which must be obeyed by the train operating companies as a licence condition--be expanded to cover facilities for accessible taxis? That would be a totally secure means of solving the problem as the issue of the licence is dependent on abiding by the code of practice.

The amendment would guarantee the provision of accessible vehicles at stations. Reference has been made to the powers of the Disability Discrimination Act. Does Section 33--I understand that that is the relevant section--apply to railway stations? If that is the case, surely it would meet the problem. I am sure that we all have great sympathy with the case that has been made. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to my questions and to other points that have been made.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I did not intend to speak in the debate and I shall be brief. I too have been lobbied, quite properly, by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). I have co-operated with that body on a number of occasions in terms of putting across its point of view here. But it seems to me that the proposition here is a simple one; namely, that it should not be possible for a station manager or owner to issue an exclusive contract to groups of ordinary cars, or to groups of companies providing them. Outside London there are hackney carriages which comprise ordinary cars, as well as the black top variety. Only if black top cabs are able to enter a station forecourt are people with disabilities likely to be able to get a taxi which suits their needs. That is what this matter is all about. If the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is satisfied with the Minister's response, that is one thing. However, if he is not, we shall be tempted to support him.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour

My Lords, I add my support to these three amendments which would enable disabled people to rest secure in the knowledge that they could complete their journeys rather than be abandoned at a station late at night at which point it is impossible to go further. I urge the Government to accept the amendments.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, it is probably sensible if I concentrate most of my remarks on Amendment No. 14. There has today been a wide range of representations in favour of the amendment from inside and outside the Chamber. I recognise the strong feelings. I do not believe that any noble Lord is against the objectives of the clause: effectively to provide guaranteed accessible transport at stations for people with mobility problems. However, there is also a significant degree of misunderstanding and, in some cases, misinformation in relation to how the contracts against which the amendment is directed would work.

I need, therefore, to address some central points. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, asked me to indicate the advantages and disadvantages of allowing such exclusive contracts. I bow to no one in my respect for the taxi trade and the efforts which the taxi trade in London and elsewhere have made in converting their vehicles into accessible vehicles. There is a clear trade interest here, as well as the interests of the disabled. They do not always entirely overlap although they have much in common. But in relation to the exclusive contracts, there can be significant benefit, whether that is for the licensed taxi operation or a minicab operation. Although there are not many of these exclusive contracts around the country at present, banning them would deny the public as a whole, including disabled people, possible improvements in service.

First, a contact can ensure that taxis or minicabs would be available at all times of day--not just the peak hours which suit most drivers. At the busiest times there will always be a decent supply of taxis. However, as we all know, off-peak that is not the case. Yet passengers, in particular disabled passengers, need to be guaranteed that there is a vehicle present. These exclusive contracts are one way--it is probably the most effective way--to ensure that every time a train turns up at the station there will be a vehicle available for that passenger.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, that is interesting, but what happens if one cannot use the taxi available?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 5:45 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I shall come to that point, if I may.

The first point is that an exclusive contract can, for the general public, provide a service which is not guaranteed in other circumstances. A contract enables the train operator to impose the condition of a proper supply of vehicles throughout the day at all times when trains arrive at the station.

An exclusive contract can also affect the question of fares. As noble Lords will know, fares are controlled by the local authority; but in many stations--Cambridge, for example--one may well be going outside the area controlled by the immediate local authority to one of the villages in Cambridgeshire. As an aspect of that contract, an operator can require control of fares which go beyond local boundaries which otherwise are not controlled. Noble Lords will be familiar with this: at times there is exploitation of that situation.

A contract can also be helpful to passengers in setting clear standards for vehicles on presentation and accessibility. That is where an exclusive contract could benefit disabled people in particular. A contract can be used to require the provision of accessible vehicles--taxis or minicabs--to serve railway stations. For example, a train operator could require that a specified proportion of vehicles should be accessible.

Several noble Lords referred to the situation at Cambridge. I understand that the train operator's contract requires that a minimum of 30 per cent of the total number of vehicles must be wheelchair accessible. It is also my understanding that that 30 per cent is a higher proportion of accessible cabs than operates in the fleet of licensed taxicabs overall in Cambridge. A survey by my department of local licensing authorities as at the end of December showed that of 147 licensed taxicabs in Cambridge only 30 were accessible to people with disability--that is a lower proportion than that required through exclusive contracts. That situation may well have improved since December. Nevertheless, that was the situation then. Therefore disabled travellers can benefit and can continue to benefit because the number of accessible vehicles can be increased over time until the figure approaches 100 per cent.

Noble Lords need to ask themselves what would happen if the amendment were passed. In the immediate situation, nothing would happen. If the amendment became law today there would be no change. That is because the amendment defines an accessible taxi as one,

"which conforms to or is exempt from taxi accessibility regulations made under section 32 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995".

That is a perfectly sensible definition. However, many noble Lords will be aware that, so far, regulations under the DDA have not been made. The amendment would not come into effect until those regulations are made and that will not be until after we have consulted on proposals for the regulations. That will take place during next year. Until those regulations come into force with proper arrangements for transition, taxi accessibility requirements (or the lack of them) are entirely the decision of local taxi licensing authorities. The position inevitably varies from place to place.

If the amendment were passed, the number of accessible taxis will not increase. That number is a matter for local authority requirements now. When the regulations for the DDA come into force, it will be a matter for those regulations. Until that point--perhaps somewhat paradoxically given the views of the supporters of the amendment--the only exception where it could be enforced now is where there is an exclusive contract of the kind the amendment seeks to avoid setting down specific requirements for accessible vehicles made by train operators under contract. Those train and station operators can impose requirements going beyond those of the local authorities.

Nevertheless, noble Lords may say that when the DDA regulations and the amendment come into effect they will guarantee accessible vehicles at railway stations. If we do not do that, is there a similar assurance? This is a more complex issue than may have been made out in the debate. There may be a contract with a taxi company. In that case, the vehicles would of necessity conform with the DDA regulations irrespective of the amendment. As an alternative, if the train company makes an agreement with the operator of minicabs because that seems to give the best service, the question of accessible vehicles becomes very relevant. I take the point that the DDA does not apply to minicabs. However, the DDA comes in in a different respect, under this amendment and amendments made during the passage of the DDA in this House.

Section 33 of the DDA expressly provides that the Secretary of State can designate transport facilities where the operator has made a contract with a private hire vehicle operator; and the Secretary of State can make regulations applying any taxi accessibility requirements to the private hire vehicles used under the contract. So an answer is already provided after the DDA comes into effect. Where a train operator judges that it is in the best interests of the passengers to let a contract to a minicab operator, the interests of disabled passengers would need to be taken into account. Under Section 33 the Secretary of State would be able to ensure that that is what happens. He could designate the station and impose taxi accessibility requirements on those vehicles. In that way the benefit of the contract would be achieved and accessibility could be ensured.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister clarify one point? Are we talking about taxis that someone can use in their wheelchair in all cases, or about taxis that are adapted so that the seats swivel out, allowing people to transfer into them from their wheelchair?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, the Secretary of State will be able to impose the DDA taxi requirements on minicabs operating under such contracts. He can designate that any cabs operating under an exclusive contract from a station operator have to meet the same accessibility requirements as licensed taxis.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, does that mean that people have to be able to enter the taxi in their wheelchair?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Yes, my Lords.

Some may wonder whether the Secretary of State would designate every station that entered into such an exclusive contract. That is a fair question. I cannot bind every future Secretary of State, because every case needs to be examined on its merits, but I am sure that the various legislative requirements on the Secretary of State to take into account the interests of disabled people would result in Section 33 being used when accessibility was not provided under any contract that excluded other operators providing accessibility. The section imposes a legal requirement on taxis, so the Secretary of State has only limited room for manoeuvre on the requirements that he can frame under the regulations. Noble Lords can be reassured that the Secretary of State will operate in that direction.

The Government fully understand the concerns behind the amendment, but we feel that the combination of measures already provided in the Bill and the DDA meet the interests of disabled people and that in almost all circumstances they should enhance the availability of accessible vehicles. The ability to reach an exclusive contract means that the presence of an appropriate proportion of accessible vehicles can be ensured. The station authority cannot ensure that if taxis are generally plying for hire.

Access to public transport for the disabled is a key part of the philosophy of the Bill and the Disability Discrimination Act. We believe that we have come up with a combination of measures that will ensure the availability of such vehicles.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend assure us that, after the enactment of the Bill, he or another Minister in his department will see the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and anyone else who put their name to the amendment to ensure that the regulations address their concerns, as he has said that they will?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am willing to talk to anyone who is concerned about the issue. We have to take a decision on the amendment today. Passing it might make the situation worse for disabled passengers and travellers and for the general public. We have consulted our statutory advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. It shares our view that the amendment would not achieve what we all want. Your Lordships should take DPTAC's view seriously. It is keen for accessible taxis to be available at stations. We have agreed to explore with the shadow Strategic Rail Authority the scope for ensuring that train operating companies include a requirement on the proportion of accessible vehicles in any contract. That would be an interim measure in advance of the introduction of the DDA taxi regulations, which will address the issues more fully, and the other provisions that would enable the Secretary of State to require the application of such requirements in exclusive contracts with minicab companies.

The amendment has further defects. It would impose a different duty from that proposed by the DDA. There is also an assumption that the regulator will be responsible for disability issues, whereas that responsibility rests with the Strategic Rail Authority.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister consider whether the objectives, instructions and guidance that are issued to the franchising director might be amended to make the nature of the exclusive agreements clear and to ensure that they fully reflect the points made in tonight's debate?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, we shall discuss that option with the SRA. That is one means of exerting SRA and regulator leverage on the issue. I shall certainly take that option seriously in those discussions. There may also be other options, but we shall look at that one seriously.

I have probably said enough about Amendment No. 14 for it to be clear that we share the motives of those who support it, but we do not believe that its full implications have been understood. I accept that the existing provisions are somewhat complex, but the amendment does not take them fully into account.

I have some sympathy with the objectives of Amendment No. 26 on training, which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. My department and DPTAC have issued advice to the licensing authorities and the trade on the issue. To answer my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the consultation on the regulations under the DDA will take some time, but we shall engage on it soon. When we introduce them, we shall also issue guidance on meeting the new duties. That will include references to training, subject to consultation with the trade. Training is obviously an ongoing process. We hope that all those who operate in the area have a commitment to training to meet the requirements of the DDA and other interests of the disabled traveller. I hope that that process meets with the noble Lord's approval and that he will not pursue the amendment in its present form.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to Amendment No. 3 as a paving amendment. I believe that, on its own, the amendment would have some attraction for us. Nevertheless, without the linkage to Amendment No. 14, it contains problems.

I make two points. First, the wording in the Bill is deliberately wide-ranging--over-arching is a word that I have often used--when it applies to our responsibilities to disabled travellers. The wording applies to all transport policy. Therefore, it would apply to transfer between modes, access to stations, as is covered here, and transport interchange facilities. Indeed, the matters which are the subject of this amendment are already referred to elsewhere in the Bill.

Of course, the noble Lord may argue that a few extra words in relation to interchanges would do no harm. However, this wide-ranging approach is quite deliberate. The problem with making specific references to particular points is that it is implied that if a matter is not mentioned at various points within the Bill, it is not relevant. We hope to avoid such an implication. We believe that the broader, over-arching provisions within the Bill in relation to the obligations to disabled passengers should be the vehicle by which we meet the obligations that the noble Lord's amendment seeks to address. Therefore, there could be a downside to accepting Amendment No. 3 as it stands.

As the noble Lord linked the amendment as a package deal with Amendment No. 14, my slight temptation to accept the amendment is probably not appropriate. I should have to oppose that amendment as well. However, the main amendment in this group is clearly Amendment No. 14. I hope that noble Lords will accept both the Government's good will in this matter and the rather complex arguments that I have perforce been required to make in order to explain why I do not believe it appropriate. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue these amendments.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 6:00 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this group of amendments. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said about Cambridge and Eastbourne. I am delighted that the situation there appears to have been resolved. However, that does not stop such a situation occurring at other stations in the future.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that banning exclusive contracts could mean that there would not necessarily be a certain supply of vehicles at stations to collect passengers. However, there is not a certain supply of vehicles to collect passengers at the moment. Last night my wife arrived at Canterbury East station and waited for half an hour. Still no taxi came, and no mini cab would have come either because it happened to be a busy time of the evening. Nothing in life is that certain.

The noble Lord also said that the exclusive contract, particularly in relation to cab firms, would mean that fares could be controlled. Fares for taxis are already controlled by the licensing authorities. So far as I am aware, that includes out-of-area fares. However, controlling fares is not always so easy with regard to minicab firms.

I know that at present not all taxis are accessible. However, more are becoming available as vehicles are replaced by those which are accessiblle. That is the not the case with regard to minicabs or ordinary hire vehicles. There is no way that the Minister can guarantee that in future minicabs will be accessible; nor can he guarantee what will appear in exclusive contracts, either for taxis or minicab firms.

I am always very happy, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, suggested, to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I enjoy his company and at times he talks a lot of sense. However, I am afraid that I still disagree with him about this group of amendments. He said that they contained technical difficulties. If this amendment is accepted, it will go to the other place where they will have an opportunity to correct any technical difficulties. I am sorry but I am not entirely satisfied with the Minister's reply and I should like to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 92.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 110 [Bus strategies]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 6:15 pm, 9th November 2000

moved Amendment No. 5:

Clause 110, page 68, leave out lines 34 to 41 and insert ("develop bus services in their area on behalf of their communities having regard to the economic and social well-being of their area").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 5 because I find the wording of Clause 110 at best unfortunate and at worst potentially damaging and misleading. Clause 110(1) states:

"Each local transport authority must prepare a document to be known as the bus strategy ... in order to secure that--

(a) bus services meet such of the transport requirements of persons within the authority's area as the authority consider should be met by such services,

(b) bus services meeting such requirements are provided to the standards to which the authority consider that they should be provided".

The Minister will be relieved to hear that I do not have difficulties with paragraph (c).

The first two paragraphs would be appropriate if the whole bus service were to be run under a quality contract system; but that is not what the Government envisage. They envisage that, wherever possible, bus services will run commercially. Where they do not run commercially, the next line of defence to ensure that bus services run where they are provided would be that there would be quality partnerships. Only as a last resort does one go into the business of quality contracts.

If one is dealing with a commercial service--a local authority's transport plan must take into account and provide commercial services, and the same would apply as regards quality partnerships--surely the operator of those services must have a very strong say in relation to the service that he is going to provide and what its frequency and quality will be. Equally, passengers--customers, curiously enough--should have a very strong influence over which bus services are provided or required in their locality.

Therefore, my own problems with Clause 110 are plain because Clause 110 makes the authority the arbiter of those matters in all circumstances. That clearly should not be the case. So I find myself in some difficulty.

I accept entirely that when one gets into subsidising bus services, the authority comes into the business and at that point--and certainly in relation to quality partnerships--the business of the authority is to decide the level of the subsidy. It should be left to the person running the service, perhaps in the light of that subsidy, to decide exactly what the quality and frequency will be of the service which he is going to provide and the price at which he will provide it. He will be taking a commercial decision in the light of what he thinks he can generate by way of income in addition to the subsidy that he has already received.

My feeling is that the wording of the clause as drafted is, at best, unfortunate. The purpose of Amendment No. 5 is to remove paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) from the face of the Bill and replace them with,

"develop bus services in their area on behalf of their communities having regard to the economic and social well-being of their area".

That means that the authorities have to look out instead of in; they have to look to their communities and at what they require. That is a far more positive definition of "purpose" than the present wording of the Bill provides.

The Minister will of course say that my intention is also that of the Government. I do not doubt that that is the case, but anybody sitting quietly and reading the Bill would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am slightly surprised at this amendment. First, Clause 110 does not bear the slightly sinister implications suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. It does not define or redefine the local authorities' bus powers in relation to the operators; nor does it introduce additional powers.

The provision deals with the bus strategy dimension of the local transport plans. It is surely the local authorities which should decide what should and should not be contained in that strategy. Of course, they are required to consult and take into account the views of the customers, operators, businesses and others who are concerned with the provision of transport. But at the end of the day it is what the local authority considers right that is important. Therefore I do not see it being logical to delete that requirement in the way that Amendment No. 5 seeks to do.

Moreover, the amendment sweeps away the useful provisions in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), which are rather more specific requirements on the local authority in its bus strategy than the broad-ranging,

"social and economic well-being of their area".

As with an earlier amendment, other government legislation requires that to be taken account of in any case. So Amendment No. 5 will neither improve the Bill nor be a logical expression of what we want local authorities to do. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. It illustrates a difference of approach rather than a difference of intention and purpose. That does not surprise me, but I find it disappointing, and I find the wording of the Bill unsatisfactory. None the less, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 139 [Information about bus services]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 6:

Clause 139, page 86, line 13, after ("area,") insert--

("( ) information about fares for journeys on such local services,").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, we agreed on Report to make it absolutely clear that a determination under Clause 139 in relation to bus information to be made available to the public should include information about bus fares. That was always our intention. Amendment No. 6 puts it beyond doubt. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for those comments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 144 [Civil penalties for bus lane contraventions]:

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 7:

Clause 144, page 87, line 43, leave out ("bus lane").

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, a similar amendment to Amendment No. 7 was moved on Report. At that stage we drew attention to the need to help the bus industry, which is facing a serious revenue crisis. That was underlined in the bus industry over the past year when we saw turnover rising slowly and costs no longer falling.

The bus industry is struggling. Wages and fuel costs are rising and it received little help in the Pre-Budget Report--in fact, none that I can see. There was mention of £13 million being added to the rural bus service grant. But such issues as possibly reducing the amount and scope of fuel duty rebate were not addressed. The object of bringing forward this amendment again is to underline to Ministers the plight of the industry. It is often referred to, as it was in the Chancellor's Statement yesterday, as being important. But, interestingly, bus fares have increased enormously compared with the cost of motoring.

The Government listened carefully to motorists. They listened to the hauliers who used, in my view, undemocratic means to bring their plight to the notice of the country. Bus operators are too busy trying to run their services in accordance with the regulations to take part in blockades and otherwise inconvenience the public. But I wish to underline that, unless something is done to give buses better, unobstructed access to the public highway, within the next couple of years the Government will face a situation where many bus services which are now run commercially will require subsidy, and many will have to be curtailed. I am sure that that is not an end the Government seek.

Therefore, I ask the Minister again to consider how that priority might be enhanced. This series of amendments was tabled in consultation with local government. It was the one thing they wanted, second only to camera enforcement of bus lanes, to ensure that buses can move on the streets of our cities. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I support the principle behind these amendments, as I did on Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has a point about the pre-Budget announcement yesterday. I was overwhelmed by the paragraph on introducing a green transport package where the first measure was a proposal to remove VAT from the purchase of cycle helmets. I am a cyclist and usually wear a helmet, and that provision will no doubt help me. But I am not sure that it is in quite the same league as sorting out the problems of yellow box junctions and buses. I cycle round London a lot and am really irritated by cars which stop in yellow box junctions. It is dangerous for cyclists and everyone else. But, more importantly, it stops the buses running.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned the plight of the bus industry--he is right to do so--but there is also the plight of the customers to be considered. The customers are not using the buses and therefore the industry cannot deliver the central plank of the Government's transport policy; that is, to get more people out of their cars and on to buses. I urge my noble friend, therefore, to see whether he can find a way of getting the same enforcement measures for yellow box junctions as for bus lanes. I am convinced that if people were fined £30 or £60 if they stopped in a yellow box junction and stopped the bus going through, they would not do it again. So I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I accept that the future prosperity of the bus industry, as well as the contribution that it makes to transport, particularly in our urban areas, depends on buses having unimpeded access through bus lanes and through the streets. We therefore provided an extension of local authorities' powers to allow them to enforce non-endorsable moving traffic offences. That included the issue of local authorities enforcing the yellow box junctions about which an amendment was tabled on Report.

But we are talking here about camera enforcement in an area which has not previously been subject to camera enforcement.

We believe that local authority enforcement represents a significant step change in the enforcement of road regulations law by bodies other than the police and that such an enforcement of bus lanes will make a significant difference. However, at this point we would not wish to take the further step of extending that to the more complex question of camera enforcement at yellow box junctions.

We know of only one limited experiment in which cameras were used by the Metropolitan Police to enforce yellow box junctions at Euston Road. We do not believe that that provides a basis for moving local authority camera enforcement into areas proposed by the noble Lord. In any event, as I pointed out at the Report stage, the amendments are defective. Amendment No. 9 defines a box junction by reference to a traffic order but the Traffic Signs Regulation and General Directions 1994 revoke the earlier requirement for box junction markings to be backed by an order. The amendment also attempts to define box junctions in primary legislation. Noble Lords have tried to do so by reference to the use of road markings described in specific diagrams in secondary legislation which is due to be superseded by a revised statutory instrument next year.

Primary legislation needs to be a little more flexible than that. We have all kinds of problems with previous road traffic legislation which has proved to be inflexible to the changing nature of roads. Therefore, it is not sensible to include these specific provisions in primary legislation.

I understand where the noble Lord is coming from. Perhaps at some point we will go down that road, but we do not have the experience that would enable us to do so immediately, nor is there the definition in the amendment. Allowing enforcement of bus lanes as proposed in the Bill is already a big step forward. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue the amendment.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I hope that there will be an early opportunity to revisit the issue, perhaps when road traffic law is again reviewed. I realise that the subject is highly technical but, in withdrawing the amendment, I emphasise that it is an extremely urgent matter if we are to have reasonably priced, attractive public transport in towns. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]

Clause 145 [Mandatory concessions outside Greater London]:

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 11:

Clause 145, page 90, line 10, after ("person") insert ("or young person under the age of 19 years and undergoing full-time education and training").

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this amendment to Clause 145 will add to those receiving concessionary fares young people between the ages of 16 and 19 who are in full-time education. We tabled the amendment in Committee and would have debated it again at Report. However, the groupings rendered it technically unavailable for discussion.

The benefits are obvious. Pupils who find the bus fares a problem would pay a lower fare, thereby encouraging them to stay on at school. Young people without their own cars would be better able to interact socially with their peers because of the lower cost of travelling by bus. There would also be a beneficial effect on transport policy. It is most important to encourage younger people to travel by public transport. An excellent example of that is the young person's rail pass, which encourages young people to travel by rail. Indeed, it is no drain on the resources of the rail companies and the overall effect of the card is beneficial to turnover, profits and so forth. Encouraging people of that age group to travel by public transport rather than by car will contribute to lowering congestion and perhaps accidents because they are particularly susceptible to them. The amendment may have the additional benefit of encouraging more people to use the bus services established by the Government's rural bus grant and other subsidised bus services maintained by local government.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, suggested that the cost of the extension would be prohibitive. Since then, we have worked to estimate the costs. Without going into a detailed consideration of the final figure, it suffices to say that a major bus company commissioned research on subsidising travel for people in this age group. The conclusions showed that if government policy were to extend half-fare bus passes to everyone in the age group the total subsidy in England and Wales would be £50 million. While that sounds a large sum, it is probably reasonable because in Derbyshire, a large county which runs such a subsidy, the cost is about £1 million. That shows that the two figures are in the same ball park. We believe that it would be a rational investment in achieving an important result.

In Committee, the Minister drew our attention to what is now Clause 147 under which the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales has powers to amend the details of the concessionary fares scheme. Will the Minister say when the Government might reconsider the proposal? In answer to an amendment tabled by us at Report, he told us that it was his intention regularly to assess the cost and effectiveness of the concessionary fares scheme. We believe that a good time to reconsider the people who might benefit from an extension of the scheme would be after an assessment. We should be interested to know whether the Government have in mind a structured reconsideration of who might have the benefit of the concession and, in particular, if and when they will consider its extension to the age group we have in mind. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, this is an extremely good idea. The noble Baroness mentioned £50 million as being the total cost of extending the scheme to everyone in the age group in England and Wales. However, as her amendment is confined to those in full-time education acceptance of it would cost a great deal less.

As the scheme is run across the age group on the trains, it is logical to extend it to buses. Although in many towns bus fares are reasonably cheap, they can be much higher when travelling out to the countryside--probably because the journeys are longer. However, young people who have just bought a car, or who are thinking of doing so, will find that a reasonably priced gallon of petrol and a bus fare compare badly. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend says about the amendment.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I understand why both the noble Baroness and my noble friend argue the matter in this way, but there are significant costs involved. Our estimate is that for the whole age group the cost would be somewhat higher than £50 million, although I accept that if it is confined to young people in full-time education the figure might be different. Nevertheless, it is a large sum. That figure would double our commitment in relation to pensioners and the disabled where we have already provided a guaranteed entitlement. In this House we have added the entitlement to people with disabilities. They are important steps, and inevitably there is an element of priority here.

The noble Baroness asked when I would review the situation and persuade the Chancellor to give me another £50 million. I cannot give a straight answer tonight, but clearly these matters will be kept under review. However, as the noble Baroness rightly says, under Clause 147 the Secretary of State has power to extend eligibility to such groups by statutory instrument. That is provided deliberately in order to be able to add particular groups, such as this one, when it is appropriate and additional finance is available. We believe that our immediate priorities are correct.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should like to go back to the review to which we referred. Will consideration of the eligibility of other groups extend also to what might be termed operational issues, for example, whether it is practical to operate the scheme on the basis of district council boundaries? As I said in Committee--it seems like many months ago--there is widespread concern in rural areas that the kinds of services to which people may want access are not available within their own district council boundary. Therefore, the value of the scheme may be limited.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, this clause relates to local authority-based schemes, as in the case of the concessions for pensioners and the disabled. Therefore, any extension under this legislation will apply also to local authority-based schemes. As far as concerns the particular operational aspect to which the noble Baroness referred, we would not have statutory backing to do that under the clause. However, without recourse to further primary legislation, under this Bill we would have the ability to extend the same provisions which now apply to pensioners and the disabled to this group, if such a decision was taken and the resources were available. Those resources, which are significant, would probably include the transfer of some private resources onto the public purse, because some private operators already provide reduced rate or free passes to schoolchildren. We would need to take that decision at a later point, but under Clause 147 it is possible to extend the provision under primary legislation.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he provide the Government's own estimate of the cost of the proposal in the amendment?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, the noble Baroness suggested that, according to one operator, the estimated cost would be £50 million for all young persons. We believe that the cost would be significantly more than £50 million. The exact figure depends slightly on how many of the existing facilities are taken onto the public purse, but it would be significantly more than £50 million. If it was restricted to those in full-time education, the cost would probably be half of that.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, the argument of the Government is that the costs are significantly more than the amount that my noble friend puts forward, which is based not simply on an estimate but a study with which she has been provided. Perhaps I may press the Minister for further information. This matter is material to the implementation of the provisions of Clause 147 to which the Minister referred.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I cannot be more precise. It would involve a substantial sum and a new decision by government to extend it to the whole of this group, or those in full-time education. I cannot give any commitment to do that today or state the exact net expenditure required. All I say is that the primary power to do it is already available.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I listened with interest, and a certain amount of disappointment, to the Minister's response. This is an important group of people who should be encouraged to use public transport, and there are good reasons for looking at the extension of the scheme at the earliest possible opportunity. However, I am unable to press my amendment at the moment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 178 [Preliminary]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 12:

Leave out Clause 178.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, Clause 178 seeks to introduce the workplace parking levy. My amendment proposes to remove that clause. I was moved to table the amendment when a fellow toiler at the cliff face of government legislation, who was also studying transport legislation in Scotland, discovered that the smooth monolithic face of the Labour Government on this issue had cracked. A long time ago he tabled an amendment to the transport legislation in Scotland, which is now in Committee, which would have removed the workplace parking levy. Miracle of miracles, within the past few days the Labour-led Government in Scotland have decided that my colleague's proposal is a wise one. They have accepted the amendment and tabled the appropriate consequential amendments in order for that to take effect.

The Minister may well argue that in the United Kingdom where there is devolved government some matters may be treated differently in different parts of the country. We have had that kind of debate in the past. Equally, it is true that an argument which has validity in one part of the United Kingdom almost certainly has validity in another. I believe that the concerns of Scottish trade unions would be shared by their English counterparts if they thought about this matter objectively. We believe that the amendment will help the Bill move forward.

I do not believe that we should treat Scottish opinion lightly. Slightly further on in the Marshalled List one finds a government amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, which deals with a little matter of rural speed limits. That particular amendment provides that the Secretary of State shall consult Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales. Clearly, the Minister takes Scottish opinion quite seriously. I believe that in the interests of the Bill we should agree with Scotland on this particular issue and remove the workplace parking levy from the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith drew my attention to this issue the other day and so I thought I might join in the debate. I am semi-disappointed--but only semi-disappointed--to see that it is the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, the all-purpose Minister, who is to reply. Goodness knows what the Government would do if the noble Lord ever left the Government. They would have to appoint four new Ministers to take his place. I had rather hoped that it would be the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, who, like myself, lives in Scotland. In his previous capacity the noble Lord would have driven his car--although I suspect he was driven--to the headquarters of the Scottish Media Group. That might have been subject to a workplace parking levy if it had not been for the actions of the Scottish Parliament. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is a Scot of second generation, if I can call him that, from the great McIntosh clan, I am happy to see him answering the debate, although he will not be quite as affected by these decisions as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald.

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament dealt with a transport Bill. Murray Tosh, a Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament, had tabled an amendment to remove from the Bill the workplace parking levy, on which one or two people in Scotland are keen. The Executive, in the person of Sarah Boyack, accepted the amendment. It was not a case of the Parliament voting against the Government; the Government accepted the amendment. It split the Liberal Democrats because those in the coalition--for example, those who have ministerial cars--agreed with Sarah Boyack in agreeing with the Conservative amendment to take the levying of workplace parking out of the Bill. But at least two of their colleagues--who clearly do not have Mondeos--actually voted with the Scottish National Party against the amendment tabled by my friend Murray Tosh. It will be interesting to hear whether the Liberal Democrats in this House have any views on the subject; whether they agree with Jim Wallace and his friends, or with Donald Gorrie and his friend or friends.

If we are not careful businesses operating on a UK-wide basis will be affected by different provisions in Scotland from those applying in England and Wales. I know that the Government will say, "Well, that is devolution", but we are talking about businesses which think that they operate on a UK-wide basis. I think that business will find it odd. It may make Edinburgh and Glasgow marginally more attractive than English cities as places for businesses to set up. So maybe I should not complain too much. But it seems to me to be odd. If there are too many divergent positions like this, the United Kingdom will begin to be less like one country and more like two separate countries. Perhaps the Government should consult Sarah Boyack and ask her why she decided, along with her colleagues, to abandon the idea of workplace parking levies; and perhaps the Government should consider doing likewise in England.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it is useful to have the candid admission that this is a wrecking amendment; or at least wrecking with regard to Chapter II of Part III of the Bill. One would be hard put to have a wrecking amendment for the whole Bill. I think that in the 18th century the Scots objected very strongly to being called North Britain. Now it looks as if the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, wishes England to be thought of as South Britain, or South Scotland even; and for us slavishly to follow the example of the Scottish Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, rightly said--I am in danger of taking on a Scots accent, but I shall try to avoid it--this is devolution. Indeed, that is what it is about. My understanding is that Scottish local authorities have expressed little interest in bringing forward workplace parking schemes in contrast with this country--may I call England "this country"?--where 26 local authorities have already joined our Charging Development Partnership. The Bill empowers local authorities outside London to bring forward a scheme in their area. It gives local authorities the discretion they want. It gives them the powers for which they have been asking. It is entirely appropriate that where that is the case we should continue to give them the discretion they want. They do not have to bring forward schemes, but if they want to--and it appears that they do want to--it is right that we should keep Chapter II of Part III of the Bill.

The analogy with the speed limit legislation is entirely false. Speed limits are a matter for GB legislation. It is not a devolved matter and could not be. It would be extremely confusing if there were different general speed limits in different parts of the country. On the other hand, workplace parking schemes are entirely different. We believe that it is right to continue with this proposal, as is the wish of local authorities in England.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Mackay for his support in this matter. I am also, surprisingly perhaps, grateful for the reply of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, although I do not agree with it. I would not suggest that England should slavishly follow anyone--if one may refer to "England" rather than "the United Kingdom". I still think of myself as being British and I find the distinction difficult. This is devolution. I can understand that some English local authorities might well be seduced by what appears to be an attractive idea, but it has some fairly severe downsides.

I did not mention the question of the speed limit legislation specifically to draw a parallel with it, but merely to emphasise that there are points at which consultation and the views of other parts of the United Kingdom have to be taken into account. In all government administration and in all politics one needs to be well aware of the perspective of what one is doing. The question is whether this idea, which is deemed appropriate elsewhere, might be deemed appropriate here also. The Minister has not given a sufficient answer to whether this part of the Bill is as all-singingly, all-dancingly good as he would like it to be.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, before the noble Lord decides what he wants to do with his amendment--he is clearly gearing himself up for a Division--will he reflect on the fact that not once in the course of the consideration of the Bill has he divided the House against workplace parking levies?

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention. When I tabled this amendment I specifically asked the Public Bill Office whether it was in order so to do. Having been told that I could--I would have accepted it if the Public Bill Office said that I could not--I have. We have discussed other amendments which sought to amend this part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. This is quite a new factor. When the Scottish Parliament--run by the Labour Party, which I believe is a fully paid-up branch of the British Labour Party--makes a decision that runs counter to the Bill, surely my noble friend is right to ask whether the Labour Party should not follow suit down here.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I thought that I had covered that point by implication when I referred to the perspective one should take when dealing with these matters. I had better not waste any more words. I wish to test the view of the House on the matter.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 105.

Division number 2

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 207 [Manner of exercise of functions]:

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 7:09 pm, 9th November 2000

moved Amendment No. 13:

Clause 207, page 124, line 17, at end insert--

("( ) The Authority may further its purposes, in accordance with any strategies it has formulated with respect to them, by means of competitions and tenders for the purpose of encouraging innovation and otherwise, provided that such competitions and tenders, where they relate to matters of material importance to the Authority's exercise of its functions, are conducted in accordance with rules that have first been approved by the Secretary of State.").

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, on Report, I moved Amendment No. 313, which suggested that the maximum gross train weight of a cement tanker vehicle should be 48 tonnes. The Minister who replied to the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, thought that I was seeking to maintain the weight advantage enjoyed by intermodal operators in the age of the 44 tonner. I made it clear that I would be in very deep trouble if the Minister accepted my amendment. His reply covered all the points for that debate. However, it is evident that the Minister's onerous duties prevented him from avidly reading the specialist trade press, which covered the background to my amendment. If he had done so, he would have realised that my amendment covered the SRA's recent intermodal competition.

On Report, the Minister graciously and generously agreed to write to me on all the questions that I posed to him when moving my amendment, and before this stage of the Bill. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive a letter from the Minister. On one hand, I have to say that I am extremely surprised that the Minister's officials have let him down in this way. But, on the other hand, it is perhaps not so surprising, as the questions were certainly not part of a fishing expedition. It may be that the Minister will give us some of the answers when he comes to reply. That would be helpful, but I think that your Lordships would have preferred to study his letter carefully as it would have been drafted.

Perhaps it would help the House if I ran over the questions again. First, I asked whether it was correct that the winner of the competition was selected without ensuring that the safety case could be made to the relevant authorities. Secondly, I asked the Minister whether he was confident that the cement tanker trailer was robust enough for road, let alone rail use. Thirdly, I asked about the status of the Mega 3 rail wagon; in particular, whether it is registered with Railtrack, how many of the wagons are in existence and whether there are any technical difficulties with the wagon.

On Report, I mentioned that I had received some worrying briefing material about the competition. Experienced Members of your Lordships' House are well aware of the need for caution in such situations. It is disturbing that I have not yet received a letter. It is clear that credible competitions of this kind will involve substantial sums of public money. It would therefore be appropriate for the Secretary of State to exercise some form of control. If he did not, the SRA would determine the need for the competition, its rules, the size and number of the prizes and then judge who was the winner. This would not compare well with the principles of, say, public procurement. Can the Minister give me an assurance that this did not occur in the inter-modal competition?

I believe that it is important to make it clear that I see no problem with holding competitions per se; we need only to insert the appropriate controls. My amendment seeks to do just that. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Earl that he has not received a letter from the department. I thought that we had written to him. Indeed, I have here a copy of what I had thought had been sent to the noble Earl. However, given that the noble Earl said that he was repeating the questions he had put to me, I am not entirely sure that the letter, as drafted, would answer all of them, although it would respond to some. However, I am not certain whether that is of any help as regards the amendment before the House, because the amendment confers a wider application. It would give a permissive power to the SRA to further its purposes by means of competitions and tenders. The noble Earl has specifically asked questions in relation to a past competition. I hope that, when the noble Earl eventually receives it, my letter will clarify the past position.

In relation to the amendment, I should point out that substantial powers are already on the face of the Bill. The SRA will, in effect, have a "tool box" of powers and duties which it will exercise. Clause 207(4) also contains a "value for money" duty. Furthermore, the Secretary of State can give directions and guidance to the SRA as to what it should do to achieve its purposes in a way best calculated to balance the various considerations contained in Clause 207. However, the SRA's duty to obtain value for money in the financial assistance it gives cannot be overridden by any directions and guidance.

Competitions and tenders may well prove to be the best way of securing value for money in a particular case. The authority certainly does not need a separate enabling power such as this amendment would provide. For that reason, there is no real need for Amendment No. 13.

With regard to franchising, the Bill already provides a detailed framework for a competitive process. The House debated this framework when we considered the amendments tabled to Section 26 of the Railways Act 1993. The Bill provides the assurance of a competitive process, either by a formal invitation to tender at the expiry of an existing franchise or by an equivalent process. However, this approach may not be appropriate in all circumstances, for example, in relation to awarding freight grants. There, the SRA will measure applications for grants against the appropriate criteria rather than testing the market.

As regards the wider issues raised by the amendment, the SRA will encourage innovation. It will work in partnership with the private sector. The shadow SRA's current approach to franchise replacement already demonstrates this. Our objective is to secure the earliest possible delivery of better rail services while providing value for money both to the passenger and to the taxpayer.

The amendment also suggests that the Secretary of State should lay down the precise procedures under which the competition process should operate. That is slightly at odds with the approach normally adopted by the Opposition in relation to the powers of the Secretary of State both in this Bill and elsewhere. I find that a little confusing. I hope that the noble Earl will feel that I have addressed the intention of his amendment and that he will agree that the Bill already provides for the SRA to act in the way he seeks. I hope, too, that my letter will address his concerns in relation to the past procurement process. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Earl will not seek to pursue his amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his interesting response. Of course, the Bill concerns the establishment of the SRA. This amendment relates to what has happened with the SRA in its shadow form. Can the Minister tell the House how large were the prizes in the competition and whether they have been distributed to the winners? If not, why not?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I cannot respond to the noble Earl at this point. I am quickly reading through what I now feel is the "phantom" letter--which also will not provide the answer.

I promise to write another letter to the noble Earl. This time, I shall deliver it by hand.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I am more worried about Civil Service procedures here rather than the issue of the Minister delivering letters by hand. However, I thank the Minister for his reply and for the way he has taken on board the intention of my amendment. We may return to the issue by other means. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Clause 247 [Standards]:

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 7:15 pm, 9th November 2000

moved Amendment No. 15:

Clause 247, page 162, line 13, after ("of") insert ("technical").

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 15, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 16 to 22. On Report I moved Amendment No. 285, which, had it been agreed, would have deleted Clause 245 from the Bill. Now that I understand the purpose behind what is now Clause 247, such a drastic course of action is not necessary. However, a problem still exists here.

The clause is designed to give the Secretary of State the power to implement the EU directive on the inter-operability of high-speed railways. My difficulty here is that the clause is drafted far too widely. It gives power to the Secretary of State to make regulations for any standards, not merely technical standards, and far less technical interoperability standards. What is in place to stop a future Secretary of State from using the powers conferred in this clause to solve the railway problem of the day, which might not even be a technical problem?

I should have liked to restrict the clause to only technical interoperability standards rather than standards. In the end, however, I recognised that this would have been unduly restrictive, so I have merely inserted the word "technical" in the appropriate places. There may be other reasons why the Secretary of State might wish to introduce technical standards. On this point, I should like to make it clear that I have no difficulty as regards the Secretary of State setting standards, even if they emanate from Europe. That must make sense.

In his response to my amendment on Report, the Minister indicated that the 1996 directive goes wider than the existing directive and includes staffing and operational aspects. This realises our worst fears. It could allow the Secretary of State to say how the railway staff are trained, dressed and even what their working hours might be. Are there not other provisions in our railway legislation that cover safety and other operational aspects?

I find these provisions very unsatisfactory. I am sorry that I did not pick up on these difficulties in advance of Committee stage. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I oppose these amendments. The clause is absolutely essential in the move towards encouraging more efficient, more frequent and generally more cross-Channel freight and, I suspect, passengers as well.

The big problem of the European rail freight industry and the rail passenger industry--I shall not give a long lecture at this time of night--is that each member state has done its own thing. I certainly commend the European Commission for the initiative it has taken. Technical standards are a major part of it, but not the only part. The amendments would constrain the clause to "technical" standards. It must cover everything--including some of the matters mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee--if it is to be at all effective.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, interoperability is very much in the interests of the British rail industry and our whole approach to integrated transport. I understand the noble Earl's concerns, but it is necessary to go beyond the word "technical" because we cannot pick and choose which part of the legislation we implement. We have to transpose the directives in full and it is necessary for regulations to be made which allow all of the standards promulgated under these directives to be given effect in the UK.

The term "technical specification for inter- operability" used to describe the standards being produced under these directives--as it would be as a result of the noble Earl's amendment--is a bit of a misnomer. Although the scope of the high-speed rail interoperability directive is primarily concerned with what everyone would understand as technical matters, the standards thereunder will also include operational matters. The scope of the conventional rail directive is wider still and does include matters such as staffing, operational and telematic aspects, in addition to the technical standards for infrastructure and rolling stock.

As the noble Earl suggested, there are other safety regulations and powers, but they do not necessarily cover the whole spectrum of interoperability standards. It is essential therefore that we legislate for the wider powers. Many of these subjects are outside the scope of existing health and safety at work powers and, to ensure that the implementing regulations can cover all of them and that offences and penalties can be created for non-compliance, we must ensure that the regulation-making powers are not limited to technical matters in the narrow sense envisaged by these amendments.

An additional benefit of the clause as drafted is that it will give further powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations to cover areas of the railway industry where a need for standards has been identified. For example, it is possible that recommendations may arise from the Cullen inquiry that are not covered by existing health and safety at work powers, and we could use these powers to put those recommendations into effect.

The noble Earl is right to say that these are wide powers. They are wide because they are necessary to implement the directives. They also give the additional flexibility that is appropriate in this context. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about the need for cross-Channel rail freight. It is very desirable. I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I shall study his comments carefully. I shall obviously have no opportunity to bring back this matter and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 22 not moved.]

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

moved Amendment No. 23:

Clause 247, page 162, line 29, leave out subsections (6) to (9).

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, some may think that this amendment deals with exactly the same issue as the previous amendment. It does not. The amendment deals with the new attempt by officials to goldplate yet another perfectly sensible EU directive and further alienate the people from the EU.

I do not believe that it is necessary to create any specific offences. No person manufacturing, installing or even operating railway equipment would not want to adhere to the technical interoperability standards. First, there would be no point, as the objectives of the directive are laudable; secondly, the persons involved are highly responsible, and if they were not they would be experiencing severe difficulties with the regulatory authorities; and, finally, if there was a management failure which caused a problem, the HSE would get involved, which has available a wide range of sanctions--and it has sharp teeth.

For the Minister to convince the House that the directive has not been goldplated, he will have to tell us where in the directive it states that the member states must create criminal offences. I have studied the directive very carefully and I cannot find where it suggests that member states should create criminal offences. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, many regulations implementing European Community new approach directives, of which the interoperability directive is an example--other railway directives may also be examples--contain a free-standing regulatory regime which specifies offences and penalties. If the subsections in the amendment were to be deleted, the Government would be restricted to creating offences and penalties only to the extent permitted under the European Communities Act in relation to the implementation of directives. In relation to any wider use of these powers, there would be no such powers except in the areas already covered by the health and safety legislation.

As I said at Report stage, we envisage that these penalties will be at a similar level in respect of offences created under regulations made under this clause to those which are already available for enforcement of railway safety, in particular the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The wide scope for the penalties that can be imposed is because existing legislation provides for unlimited fines to be imposed in certain cases. The Government consider it essential, therefore, that similar offences should carry the same penalty, irrespective of which set of legislative provisions apply.

The proper implementation of EU directives requires appropriate steps to be taken to enforce them. That may include criminal sanctions--it frequently does--in relation to directives which deal with safety.

I hope that I have convinced the noble Earl that provisions on penalties and enforcement are necessary in order to fulfil the requirements under this, and potentially other, railway directives. I hope that he will not pursue his amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. As it is unlikely that anyone will be charged with any of these offences, I see little point in pursuing the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 24:

After Clause 263, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:("Type approvals: exemptions

:TITLE3:TYPE APPROVAL: INDIVIDUAL EXEMPTIONS

. In section 63 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (obligatory type approval certificates, certificates of conformity and Minister's approval certificates), for subsection (5) (power to make exemptions by regulations) substitute--

"(5) The Secretary of State may make provision for securing that, subject to such restrictions and conditions as may be specified by or under the instrument by which the provision is made--

(a) the use of vehicles is exempted from all or any of the preceding provisions of this section for purposes specified in the instrument or in such an area as is so specified,

(b) goods vehicles are exempted from the provisions of subsection (2) above, and

(c) there are issued in respect of vehicles or vehicle parts, in such circumstances as may be specified in the instrument, certificates of temporary exemption exempting the vehicles or vehicle parts from the provisions of subsection (1) above for such period as may be provided in the certificate.

(6) Subject to subsection (7) below, the power conferred by subsection (5) above is exercisable by regulations.

(7) That power is exercisable by order in relation to--

(a) specified vehicles, or

(b) vehicles of specified persons; and an order under this subsection may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order of the Secretary of State."").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, this amendment has been brought forward in response to representations on type approval made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, at Report stage.

The current wording of the Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to exempt vehicles from type approval only through regulation. Type approval is a system that is used to harmonise vehicle safety and environmental standards, thereby reducing technical barriers to trade. It is gradually being extended to cover many more vehicle types and more vehicle components.

The amendment, which would replace Section 63(5) of the 1988 Act, gives extra flexibility by adding to the existing regulating power an order making power. This has been limited to specified vehicles and specified persons, thereby distinguishing when regulations and orders should be used. I believe that it meets the noble Earl's concern that specialised vehicles would be caught by type approval.

The added flexibility to exempt vehicles by issuing an order will help ensure that as many generic classes of vehicle as possible are included within the scope of type approval. But where specialised vehicles--for example, prototypes or vehicles which are constructed for specific purposes, such as carrying abnormal loads--could not meet all the type approval requirements, they could be exempted by order. I believe that was the objective of the noble Earl's intervention last time. I thank him for bringing the point to our attention and I trust that the amendment will meet with his approval. I beg to move.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the amendment, and for his detailed explanation. In the overall scheme of things, it is a very small change; but it is a very useful change, and I thank the Minister.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 7:30 pm, 9th November 2000

moved Amendment No. 25:

After Clause 263, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:COMPULSORY GOODS VEHICLE WEIGHING SCHEME

(" . In the Road Traffic Act 1988, after section 41 insert--

"Compulsory goods vehicle weighing scheme.

41ZA.--(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring the weighing of any goods vehicle using a major road freight facility, port or premises and the provision of a weight report to the driver of the vehicle.

(2) In particular regulations made under subsection (1) may make provision with respect to--

(a) the method of weighing such goods vehicles;

(b) the form and contents of the weight report;

(c) the number of such reports that must be provided to the driver;

(d) the driver signing and returning a prescribed number of such reports to the operator of the facility;

(e) the keeping of copies of such reports by the operator of the facility; and

(f) the production of such copies by the operator on the request of prescribed public authorities.

(3) Regulations made under subsection (1) may provide for exemptions from the requirement under subsection (1) for--

(a) specified classes of goods vehicles;

(b) specified classes of major road freight facility, port or premises; and

(c) specified circumstances.

(4) A weight report provided in accordance with regulations made under this section may be produced in evidence in any proceedings for an offence under this Part relating to the weight of a goods vehicle.

(5) In this section "major road freight facility, port or premises" means any such facility, port or premises--

(a) having facilities for the carriage of goods by road, and

(b) having an annual throughput of more than 25,000 goods vehicles each exceeding 30,000 kilograms gross vehicle weight, or more than one such facility, port or premises where they are under common management, control or ownership, share a common access to the highway and together have that annual throughput.".").

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, this amendment stands also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.

I have altered the amendment since I brought it forward on Report, to make it even more flexible: to permit under subsection (3) regulations to provide exemptions for places where heavy lorries are weighed. The purpose of the scheme is to reduce accidents and damage to roads and bridges from overweight lorries. In the context of some 3,500 road deaths a year, the best estimate is that about one in five involves a heavy lorry--so we are talking about 700 deaths a year, plus all the serious injuries that are caused. It is clear that overweight lorries cause a disproportionate number of accidents, because they are not capable of stopping and manoeuvring in the same way as those that are not overweight.

It is worth pointing out that road damage goes up to the fourth power of the weight of a vehicle: so, if my maths is correct, a 50-tonne lorry causes 2½ times the amount of damage that a 40-tonne lorry causes. It is significant. In addition, it is unfair on those who obey the law that those who do not can carry extra weight and therefore receive more payload and revenue.

The purpose of the scheme would be to ensure that, where premises have more than 25,000 lorries a year through the gate, all lorries leaving would have to be weighed and the drivers given a print-out of the weight. If the driver chose to continue driving and was stopped by a member of the inspectorate or the police, he could be charged with knowingly driving an over-weight vehicle.

I suspect that, given modern equipment (a dynamic bridge) the weighing can probably be done in much less than a minute. How much would such a system cost? As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said on Report, it would cost about £20,000 to install. So, spread over 20,000 lorries a year, at £1 per lorry, it would almost be paid for in the first year. It is very cheap.

How many weighbridges would be needed to cover the sites? I have done a check on the major ports, and about 15 ports or port areas would be covered. The best estimate that I can obtain from the industry is that there would be a further 150 to 300 other sites in the UK. Of that number, some, like quarries, already have weighbridges, because they sell their material by weight, as do oil companies. They have a means of measuring the weight because, obviously, they do not want to supply more than they sell. I suspect that such places as supermarket distribution centres would not need them at all and would be given an exclusion, because virtually all their lorries would bulk out before they weighed out. So, I think that in the end quite a small number of weighbridges would be needed. Some of those who operate common user facilities could probably make some money by providing facilities for those whose lorries were found to be over-weight to unload some of their goods and store them for future collection.

So such a scheme is practical. The question is: is it necessary? In 1997, there were about 15,000 convictions nationwide relating to light and heavy vehicles that were overweight. If we take as an example the biggest port, Dover, about 1½ million trucks go through it. I recently heard that, about five years ago, Kent County Council set up a weighbridge in Dover for quite a short time. Over the period of those checks, 40 per cent of lorries that came through the port were found to be overweight. On 20 per cent of those, the county council took action. Even taking a figure of 20 per cent, if it is multiplied by 1½ million, that makes 300,000 convictions a year, had the scheme continued for a year. That is roughly 20 times the number of convictions for the whole of the UK in 1997. The reason the council did not continue the scheme for very long was that, when the Treasury heard about it, I am told that it said, "Ha, ha, we'll have all the fines. We're not even going to allow you to offset the cost of the operation", which was quite significant. So, after a few weeks, the county council thought that it was on a hiding to nothing and that there was no point in continuing.

Dover and other ports are special cases. But according to a Written Answer that I have received, at least 5 per cent of lorries at other sites would be found to be overweight. If we take away those that do not overweigh, it leaves a higher figure.

In response to my amendment on Report, my noble friend Lord McIntosh basically said that such a provision was not necessary and that the Government were doing this anyway. He told us about the design weight compared with the legal limits and about bulking out and weighing out. It is true that 70 per cent of lorries bulk out--which leaves 30 per cent which do not; they weigh out. My noble friend talked about reputable operators, of which there are a great many--though not always, I suggest, through Dover! But there are certainly a large number of reputable operators overall.

I agree with my noble friend that a balance has to be struck. This amendment provides an effective way of doing so. It is cost-effective. If we are looking at a site in Dover, and if one machine were enough, if my calculation is right, it would cost less than 10p per conviction. That is good value for money.

What my noble friend did not say last time--this is my reason for tabling the amendment again--was what, if the Government did not like my amendment, they intended to do instead, apart from continuing to talk to the industry. There has to be an alternative. Whatever the commitments in the Government's excellent White Paper, they are being diverted. The commitment to reducing damage to roads and road accidents is being overtaken by the need to placate the truckers. It is ironic that the truckers will probably see very little of the 8p that the Chancellor is alleged to have offered them yesterday. I suspect that it will end up with the major customers; it will probably also end up with the oil companies, which will put up their prices to compensate.

I hope that the Government will at least consider this proposal. If they will not accept my amendment, perhaps they will offer proposals or a timetable for bringing forward some other provision which will enable the large number of overweight lorries to be put in check and brought to justice. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendment. It seeks to bring some much-needed discipline to road haulage, particularly international road haulage. I have read the effectiveness report of the Vehicle Inspectorate. It is a long and detailed document. It indicates that, of vehicles stopped--which, I accept, are a selected proportion of vehicles, because many that are thought to be compliant are not stopped--up to 20 per cent are overloaded. When that is set against the fact that, of the defects found by the Vehicle Inspectorate when heavy lorries are inspected, the top three categories, which far outweigh the rest are brake defects. So we have lorries that are overloaded, with faulty brakes. That is completely unacceptable. I find it rather strange that society and government, which seek to impose onerous standards on rail and air operators, are so reluctant to act in this area where it is known that there is gross abuse of the law.

In designing the amendment, we sought to deal with the places where it is known that abuse is greatest; namely, at ports. However, we were advised that to single out ports, even if we weighed British and foreign lorries equally, would still be regarded as discriminatory under European law. Therefore, in order to comply with European law, we had to add some inland depots. We chose some of the larger depots that do not automatically weigh vehicles. Some places, like quarries, weigh in any event. They have to do so because that is part of the bill of sale relating to the contents of a lorry.

Weighing lorries is not a very onerous business. The lorry is driven over a weighbridge and the weight of each axle is clocked up on a clock that everyone can see--like a big digital clock that you might find at a railway station. It would only be necessary to detain any lorry that was found to be overweight. Therefore, most lorries would pass automatically.

A study of the vehicle inspectorate's reports shows that lorries that prove to be overweight almost always have other faults. Lorries whose drivers have worked over the hours' limit, which are badly maintained and otherwise in breach of regulations, almost always come from among the population that weigh heavy. Those concerned disregard all the regulations. They are not selective. They do not just overweigh; they do everything that is wrong.

In the interests of fair competition, road safety and the protection of our road network--which is in a pretty poor state--I believe that the Government ought to take the matter in hand. The Government have gone to a great deal of trouble on the question of vehicle excise duty for lorries. The consultation document on reform of vehicle excise duty was published today, with a questionnaire for everyone to fill in about VED. I am sure that many people would like a consultation on road safety for vehicles, especially as regards the weight of vehicles. I urge the Government to consider this amendment most carefully. This proposal has widespread support among reputable haulage companies, as well as among the population at large who suffer from the effects of overweight lorries and the damage that they cause to the environment and to health.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 7:45 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, although I have much sympathy for this amendment--indeed, I was involved in its gestation--I sometimes wish that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, would locate his lorry-bashing mode switch and turn it to the "off" position. However, there is a real problem in this area. An effective targeting of enforcement effort is the objective of the noble Lord's amendment.

Ports are large generators of lorry traffic operating at or near maximum gross weight. In particular, the ISO shipping container transport business is extremely competitive. The necessary skeletal trailers are in abundant supply, second-hand and are very cheap, simple and robust. A high standard of livery is not required in this industry, which contrasts strongly with other sectors of the industry such as the parcels business. To put it simply, it is a cut-throat business with many operators ready to step into the market and sail very close to the wind.

In that market situation, what is an operator to do if he is invited to move a container that he suspects is overloaded? Unless there is a reasonable prospect of being detected or stopped, many would just cross their fingers rather than lose a customer. A similar argument can be applied to the unaccompanied ro-ro trailer business. However, if this amendment were agreed to, it would be impractical to move an overloaded vehicle out of the port area, or, for that matter, any other freight facility covered. But perhaps more importantly, those consigning goods to the UK would be rather more careful about sending an overloaded vehicle or a container which could not legally be moved by industry standard equipment.

There will naturally be concerns that this amendment could result in a considerable amount of unnecessary and time-consuming weighing. I do not believe that that will happen. If I did, I would be opposing the amendment on the grounds that it would be unnecessarily burdensome on industry. The usual type of weighbridge now in use is of the dynamic axle type, described by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. There is, of course, the question of the cost of the equipment. But I believe that that would be negligible compared to the total cost of a major freight facility of the type that your Lordships are discussing.

Further, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has responded to the suggestion that I made on Report; namely, to allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain facilities. He would have to be careful not to end up with only the ports being affected. Noble Lords also need to be aware that it is fairly standard practice for facilities such as supermarket distribution centres, parcel company hubs, steelworks, large factories and quarries all to have their own weighbridge facilities. I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about supermarket distribution centres because they generally have a dynamic axle weighbridge to ensure that none of the vehicles leave the centre overloaded. They have such facilities, first, to ensure that they do not fall foul of the law; and, secondly, in order to maximise payload.

There is a problem with smaller goods vehicles being overloaded. But this amendment is targeted at larger and heavier vehicles. Noble Lords will be aware that there is a considerable traffic of heavy vehicles that have been loaded to capacity by volume rather than by weight. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned that fact. However, it would be possible for the Secretary of State's regulations to provide that weighing is unnecessary if no axle on the vehicle weighs more than, say, seven tonnes. That could be very easily determined by a "Go or No-Go" weighbridge. As that weighbridge would not be used for enforcement purposes, it would not need to be of evidential accuracy and, therefore, it would not need to be very expensive. I shall not weary the House at this hour by describing how that could be done. However, I can assure noble Lords that it would not be difficult.

Finally, we may be forgetting about the driver. An experienced driver should be able to detect if his vehicle is seriously overloaded. But if he was just running near, or possibly slightly over, the maximum weight, he would spend the whole journey worrying about the situation. That would not be good for his health, nor would it be good for road safety. He would inevitably tire faster and might lack concentration. However, if he had a clean weighbridge ticket, he could relax in the knowledge that he was operating within the law, because most of the other things that can go wrong are within his control.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I shall start by recognising that the scheme set out in this amendment is very different from that which we considered earlier. I am grateful for the consideration that has gone into its framing. It is much less all-embracing and, of course, it is permissive. I do not believe that it goes as far as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would wish us to believe. I do not think that it would be possible for the Secretary of State to make exceptions and say that one major facility should be covered by the scheme and that another should not. That would be going too far. Indeed, if that were to be done, it would almost certainly be challenged in the courts. Similarly, for reasons that are self-evident, it is not possible to have a scheme that covers only the ports, as recognised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.

My noble friend has repeated the points that I made in response to the earlier amendment and I do not feel disposed to rehearse them again. However, I should emphasise that road safety is enormously important to this Government. We are proud that we have the best record on road safety, but we are not complacent about it. We are always looking for better ways of improving safety. When we are looking at ways to improve safety, it is important for us to consider the best use of resources. Clearly we are concerned with road safety, with issues of road damage and with issues of unfair competition--especially between good operators and less-good operators.

Perhaps I may summarise the fundamental trouble with this amendment without repeating what I said previously. The very locations that would be covered by the scheme are those where it is least likely that there will be overloading. The locations with over 25,000 movements a year are fundamentally those locations used by the larger operators. We said last time, and I think it was generally agreed, that the larger operators are much less likely to be guilty of overloading than the smaller and more dodgy operators, who will simply not appear on the weighbridges to be set up under this amendment.

My fundamental objection to this amendment is that it is an indiscriminate approach to weighing all lorries of a certain kind. Those lorries of a certain kind are the least likely to be guilty of overloading. In that case, targeted enforcement of the law is much more appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked a legitimate question: what would we do instead of the amendment? I think I said last time that we are working with the Road Haulage Forum and we are looking at the possibilities of mobile weighpads. We do not have a timetable on it yet but we hope to move quickly and we want to follow the excellent advice of the Commission for Integrated Transport and establish a modern, intelligence-based enforcement system, involving better targeting of inspections and additional tools. This makes efficient use of resources and will minimise disruption to responsible hauliers. The amendment would affect all lorries indiscriminately and particularly those of responsible hauliers, which would make things difficult.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that explanation. I do not accept some of his comments. It certainly is not targeting the good and responsible hauliers or the experienced drivers. I suspect that those who are overweight will at some stage have to go into one of these big facilities, because that is the way life goes. It does not actually stop anybody doing spot checks on the motorway but the problem is: will they get done?

I was a little hurt by the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about "lorry bashing". If I am bashing lorries, they are illegal lorries. I wanted to make it clear that they are unfair on the competition and this also has a serious road safety implication, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said. I have no problem with that: I am pleased to continue to do it. However, regarding the large number of responsible lorries and experienced drivers, we have all encouraged them and must continue to do it. That was something mentioned yesterday by my right honourable friend the Chancellor as something which should contribute significantly to that aspect.

I think we have debated this quite enough. It is tempting to talk about dividing the House, but it will not do any good. I shall read with great interest what my noble friend has said, because this is something we should take forward and keep pressing the Road Haulage Forum and the Government to achieve the end result that more lorries will be checked, particularly those suspected of being overweight, so that they may be brought to justice. One good way of doing that would be for those who do the checking to have hypothecation of the charges and not to suffer from Treasury-imposed cutbacks. In the light of these remarks I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

moved Amendment No. 27:

After Clause 264, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:POWERS TO CHARGE FOREIGN GOODS VEHICLES AND LARGE PASSENGER VEHICLES ENTERING THE UNITED KINGDOM

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State may by order implement a scheme for the charging of foreign lorries and large passenger vehicles on entering the United Kingdom.

(2) The scheme may apply different charges for different classes of vehicle.

(3) Before implementing a scheme under this section the Secretary of State shall consult United Kingdom local authorities, road haulage and passenger vehicle operators, the European Commission and any other bodies which appear appropriate.

(4) The effects of the scheme must be reviewed annually.

(5) No order may be made by the Secretary of State under this section unless a draft of the instrument containing it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 27. I am enormously grateful to the Minister for drawing my Britdisc Report stage amendment to the attention of his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has of course seen the value of it and hopes that it will pacify the haulage industry somewhat. That is why he announced it yesterday; but that is all he did. There does not appear to be much detail available.

In Committee I moved a similar amendment, which applied only to vehicles carrying abnormal loads. In his reply at col. 553 on 26th July, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, drew the Committee's attention to the eurovignette directive, which would limit the maximum cost of a vignette to 1,250 euros: about £800. Does he believe this will be enough to have the desired effect of making foreign hauliers pay their full track costs, and is that the objective of having the Britdisc? To be fair to the Minister, the proposed reduction in VED will be welcome and I am sure that the Minister will say that both have to be considered together. Will the Minister seek a relaxation of the vignette regime from our EU partners or will he adhere to the current EU maxima?

Some of the extra costs arising from increased foreign lorry flows fall disproportionately upon certain local authorities. Will any of the receipts from these charges go directly to them or will they all be kept by the Chancellor?

The brief Statement by the Chancellor yesterday in another place was stated to be an intention, but little in the way of a timescale was given. As we know, time travels very fast. The Britdisc has been our policy on these Benches since April 1999. When will the Britdisc be implemented? It would seem that there is no chance of getting the scheme off the ground before the next election. I hope we shall see it in the election manifesto of the party opposite. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is right. I summoned the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my office immediately after the debate, and demanded that a Britdisc should be put in place. He, as he always does, listened very carefully to what I said and agreed to it. No--you cannot do that sort of thing from the Dispatch Box: irony never works!

Of course the noble Earl is right in saying that the Chancellor only gave the barest outline of his proposals in his pre-Budget report. It was already a very long report and it is difficult to include all the detail. However, I can confirm a number of points which he may find helpful. First, as I said last time, we are not talking here about a eurovignette; we are talking about something more comparable to the individual scheme which Austria operates. Even so, we would first have to conform to the maximum limits of charges, which have only been in force since last year. They were agreed after several years of difficult negotiations between member states, and they may be renegotiated at a future date, although currently there are no plans to do so.

The second point is that any vignette or Eurodisc of this kind would have to apply to UK lorries as well. I rather teased the noble Earl last time by asking if it really was his policy to add the eurocharge to the existing VED. He will be aware of the Chancellor's announcements on VED yesterday and he will also be aware that in repeating the Statement in the debate following the repetition of the pre-Budget report Statement I said that it would be our intention to temper the wind to the shorn lamb. In other words, we would be looking at the possibilities of reducing VED to UK hauliers to compensate for the fact that they would have to pay this extra amount.

The noble Earl asked me about timing. This is a proposal, as the Chancellor made clear, for consultation. It requires consultation with the haulage industry of course, but it also requires consultation with our European partners and I cannot give him any date for the implementation of it, any more than I can give him any more details at present of the options on which we will be consulting. There is no point in making up our minds about the details if we know we are going to be consulting about them. I believe that the eurovignette scheme took at least 18 months to come into force, even though there were already detailed plans in place when a decision to go ahead with the scheme was taken. We are not at that stage yet and I do not wish to mislead the noble Earl by encouraging him to think that it is going to happen very quickly. We are not at that stage yet. I do not wish to mislead the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, by encouraging him to think that it will happen quickly. He may know better than I when the next election will occur, but even so, as I say, I do not think that it will happen quickly.

I am grateful for the noble Earl's welcome to the Chancellor's proposals. The Chancellor will be grateful to him for that. I hope that I have eased his mind on such details as can be given. I hope therefore that he will not press the amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 8:00 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's response. He said as much as he could at this stage. We look forward to the consultation on the proposal. One day it will come to fruition. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 28:

After Clause 266, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:("Quiet lanes and home zones and rural road speed limits

:TITLE3:QUIET LANES AND HOME ZONES

.--(1) A local traffic authority may designate any road for which they are the traffic authority as a quiet lane or a home zone.

(2) The appropriate national authority may make regulations authorising local traffic authorities who have designated roads as quiet lanes or home zones to make use orders and speed orders of such descriptions as are prescribed by the regulations in relation to any roads designated by them as quiet lanes or home zones.

(3) A use order is an order permitting the use of a road for purposes other than passage.

(4) But a use order may not permit any person--

(a) wilfully to obstruct the lawful use of a road by others, or

(b) to use a road in a way which would deny reasonable access to premises situated on or adjacent to the road.

(5) A speed order is an order authorising the local traffic authority by whom it is made to take measures with a view to reducing the speed of motor vehicles or cycles (or both) on a road to below that specified in the order.

(6) The appropriate national authority may make regulations specifying procedures for the making, variation and revocation of--

(a) designations, and

(b) use orders and speed orders, including procedures for confirmation (whether by the appropriate national authority or any other body).

(7) The appropriate national authority may give guidance to local traffic authorities about matters to which they must have regard in determining whether or not to designate a road as a quiet lane or home zone.

(8) In this section--

"the appropriate national authority" means--

(a) the Secretary of State as respects England, and

(b) the National Assembly for Wales as respects Wales,

"cycle" has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Act 1988,

"local traffic authority" has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984,

"motor vehicle" means a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads, and

"road" has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

(9) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and may make different provision for different cases or areas.

(10) A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 28 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 29.

Both these new clauses have been prepared in response to Liberal Democrat amendments which were withdrawn at Report stage on the understanding that the Government would bring forward our own amendments at Third Reading. We were sympathetic to the objectives of the Liberal Democrat amendments.

In the case of quiet lanes and home zones we have, I hope, achieved the essential objectives of the Liberal Democrat amendment, though with some significant differences. I think that we would agree that in terms of achieving the road safety targets which the Government set themselves in the road safety strategy, the creation of home zones in urban and residential areas and tackling the problems of speed in our rural lanes and villages are an important part of that.

Amendment No. 28 would give legal status to the concept of home zones. It gives the appropriate national authority power to make regulations which in turn would enable local traffic authorities to make use orders and speed orders. Use orders will be particularly valuable in home zones because they will give legal status to uses of the road for purposes other than the traditional one of "passing and repassing". Speed orders would enable the local traffic authority to introduce speed limits in individual quiet lanes and to reduce speed limits below the current levels.

Amendment No. 29 which concerns the rural road hierarchy is slightly less complex. It embraces the essence of the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats at an earlier stage. It commits the Secretary of State to undertake a review of all the considerations required to implement the rural road hierarchy; to address the problem of speed which is a hazard and inflicts environmental pollution on much of our countryside and, after consultation, to publish a report within 12 months. I believe that these amendments will make a major contribution to road safety. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward the amendments in response to the amendments I brought forward on Report. I am particularly pleased to see legal identity being given to home zones and quiet lanes. I welcome the flexibility which the proposed new clauses give to local authorities in this important area of road safety. However, the devil, as always, will be in the detail. Much will hinge on the regulations and guidance. Will the Minister say when that will be forthcoming?

I would appreciate some clarification of subsection (6) of the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 28, which states,

"procedures for confirmation (whether by the appropriate national authority or any other body)".

I feared that this might mean that the Secretary of State's approval would be required for each individual scheme.

I am rather disappointed that the issue of precedence has not been covered in the Government's amendments. On Report, the Minister said that he would redraft my amendments to meet his quibbles. I suppose that I am quibbling at his use of the word "quibble" because precedence is fundamental to the concept of home zones. That is certainly the experience of our Continental neighbours. We were keen to see the enabling powers put on the face of the Bill and are therefore disappointed to note that they are not included in the amendment. Earlier this evening when we discussed a workplace parking levy, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh--rightly, in our view--said that the purpose of workplace charging was to give local authorities a tool and that it had been included in the Bill in response to the demands of local authorities. After consultation has taken place and after representations are made, if it becomes clear that there is a demand on the part of local authorities for powers to change the precedence, will the Government consider including that matter in guidance in the future?

I particularly welcome the rural road hierarchy and the commitment to a 12-month review and the publication of the results of that review. I was interested to note that the Bill refers to a link between speed limits and accidents. That measure will be welcomed by many rural dwellers for whom that matter is a constant concern. Does the Minister see lower speed limits on minor rural roads as a desirable outcome of the review? Once the review is completed, will primary legislation be required to change the hierarchy, or can that be done by statutory instrument?

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for bringing it forward. It is good to see quiet lanes and home zones included on the face of the Bill. I have two questions. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, mentioned priority for pedestrians. Can the use order be used to specify or designate priority for pedestrians, or does that matter require primary legislation? Secondly, an interesting road sign has been approved by the European Union. I believe that it is called E30. It depicts an attractive little house and kids playing football. Would local authorities require approval to erect such signs when home zones are established, or could they erect them anyway? I think that would be rather nice. I hope that my noble friend will comment on that.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am grateful for the general welcome for the amendments. I hope that I can respond to some of the points that have been made. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked what authorities other than local authorities would be involved. In London it could be the GLA. Although, initially, individual consents may be given, that may change in time.

We hope to issue guidance as soon as possible. That almost certainly means next year. As regards my view on speed limits in rural lanes, the road safety strategy, and my frequent elaboration of it, indicate that I believe that in many cases 60 miles an hour--that is the default speed on single carriageway roads--is not appropriate in many rural lanes. However, each local authority can assess the appropriate speed for an individual rural road or lane.

As regards the issue of priority or precedence, I accept that our amendment differs in this respect from that tabled by the Liberal Democrats at an earlier stage. We believe that we can achieve that objective through existing powers. We believe that the absolute priority that is established in some Continental legislation is not appropriate. We are considering the position, say, on a zebra crossing where pedestrians have the right of way but they are expected to cross in a reasonable time. Where children are playing in a home zone, clearly one would expect the car to slow down. However, one would also expect a provision whereby the children would make way in order for the car to reach its destination.

To lay down precedence in absolute terms would not be appropriate. We are talking here about the obligation on the car driver and other road users to act reasonably in the context of the road that they were using. A home zone would be marked by clear signs. Whether or not they would be the signs described by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, such zones would have designated low vehicle speeds which could be 10 miles per hour or lower. All the existing important provisions as regards due care and attention, consideration for other road users and so on would apply. If one adds all that up, creating a new offence of failure to give precedence, given the difficulty that might arise in certain situations, would not add very much.

We are proposing that there would be a special reference and special supplement to the Highway Code explaining how road users should behave in home zones. I hope that that answers most of the questions. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.