Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:09 pm on 9th November 2000.

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

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.