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Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords, I vehemently do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Parliament, through the consideration of the Railways Bill as it then was, gave this responsibility to the franchising director. The question of whether or not British Rail should be allowed to bid for franchises is not something on which Ministers can instruct the franchising director. Indeed they are specifically excluded from being able to do so.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is it not clear that what the franchising director is now doing is to accept the Government's original arguments which were designed to disentitle British Rail from entering the franchising stakes? Is not Mr. Roger Salmon completely denying the will of Parliament in relation to the blocking of the franchise applications that British Rail has made, and is that not an absolute disgrace?

Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords, it is not. During consideration of the Bill, British Rail was permitted to bid for franchises. However, the franchising director was given discretion to decide whether or not British Rail should be allowed to bid for specific franchises. The franchising director has exercised his discretion. That is not against the will of Parliament.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, in the light of the very large sums of money involved in these transactions and the allocation of the franchises, and the enormous impact which this could have on the travelling public, is the Minister really saying that the public or Parliament will never be allowed to know whether the bids of those allocated franchises were better, worse, more expensive or cheaper than those which would have been made if the Government had taken the advice of this House and allowed British Rail at least to have its bid considered?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the processes are firmly laid down within the Act. I have indicated that the Franchising Director has discretion. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that this is a commercial bidding procedure and it would not, therefore, be appropriate to publish information on a commercial procedure.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that the ITV franchises were allocated on an open bid basis and we learnt how much the individual companies had bid to secure the franchises, can the Minister explain why in this instance the situation should be different? Is it because in this instance the public are disbursing rather than receiving money?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we have procedures laid down within the Act for the allocation of franchises. Under the Act, that responsibility is given to the franchising director. The franchising director is exercising his responsibility in the way he feels is best to secure value for money and to secure franchises in the proper way. He has statutory responsibility under Section 5 of the Act. He also has objectives, instructions

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and guidance from the Secretary of State. He is operating within those objectives, instructions and guidance.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us feel a good deal of doubt that, even supposing British Rail were able to compete for the franchises, the OPRAF staff would be able to understand the value of the different bids? Is the Minister aware that the officials in that office seem not to understand the importance of a network approach to providing rail services and that, when the importance of that network approach is pointed out to them, they ask the consultees—namely, local authorities which have no access to the relevant data—to provide details as to what parts of the network and which connecting stations are the most important? Under those circumstances, would OPRAF even be able to make a judgment as to the value of one bid against another were British Rail enabled to bid?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords, of course it would. That is what the office has been specifically set up to do. There is no point in having a consultation exercise if one does not listen to the consultees.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will my noble friend convey to his right honourable friends the concern that Parliament ought to be in a position to understand what influenced a decision which in itself could have serious repercussions for the taxpayer? Since my noble friend has mentioned commercial confidentiality, will he ask British Rail whether it would have any objection to the information being published?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is not only British Rail which is involved in the process but all those other parties which are bidding. My noble friend requests that the process be made public. I have explained why the franchising director is unlikely to publish the information, on the grounds that he feels that the information is commercially sensitive.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the Minister said just now in an answer that the franchising director operated under the instructions and guidance of the Secretary of State. Will he tell the House whether the Secretary of State has provided any instructions and guidance with respect to allowing BR bids?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, as I explained to the House, under the Act the Secretary of State and Ministers are specifically prohibited from issuing instructions to the Franchising Director about whether or not British Rail should be allowed to bid for a certain franchise.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, perhaps I may return to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. He asked a direct question. If British Rail indicated that it was prepared for the information it had submitted to be made public, would that information be made public? Is the answer yes or no?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I have taken great pains to explain that this is a matter for the franchising director. The Act gives a specific role to the franchising director. There would be no point in having this set-up if Ministers immediately overruled every decision. This

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procedure has been laid down by Parliament and that role and those duties have been given to the franchising director. There is the ability for the Secretary of State to offer objectives, instructions and guidance under certain circumstances and on certain matters. Those objectives, instructions and guidance have been given firmly, have been published and reside in the Library of the House.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the Minister not realise that his noble friend is trying to prove the purity of the Government's motives and that all he is asking for is that these figures be published?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, of course I understand that my noble friend asks his Question with the best possible motives. It just happens that we do not necessarily agree with him.

Home Ownership: Government Proposals

2.55 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether and, if so, how the Prime Minister's plans to increase home ownership by 1.5 million are compatible with the Secretary of State for Social Security's plans to cut back income support for mortgages.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, 1.5 million additional households in home ownership over the next 10 years is considered to be a cautious estimate. It will be assisted by the growth of private mortgage protection insurance which will be generated by the income support for mortgage interest changes.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Social Security, in his reply to the Social Security Advisory Committee, said:

    "the Government believes that those taking on major financial commitments should ensure that they can sustain those commitments in the short-term if they are, for any reason, unable to work"?

Without wishing to argue with that, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he accepts that that is a proposal to restrict home ownership to those for whom insurance is commercially profitable. Is that compatible with extending home ownership by 1.5 million?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, to answer the last question first, yes. We are quite certain that insurance will be available to anyone who qualifies for a mortgage.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, will it be possible for the Government to get involved with those local authorities which are not particularly anxious to see an increase in home ownership? In so far as this is a laudable scheme, does the noble Lord not agree that everybody who has some authority, particularly those local authorities which do not indulge, should be given more encouragement so to do?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord.

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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, what have the Government against owner occupiers? Over the past two years they have reduced the mortgage tax relief from 25 per cent. to 15 per cent., thus putting up mortgage holders' costs considerably. Why is it that the Government are making a distinction between people who are buying their houses and those who are renting their houses? Why is it that those who are buying their houses have to take out insurance in case they become unemployed and those renting do not? It does not seem to me to be an encouragement to own one's own house if those who are renting their homes will have everything paid if they become unemployed without having had to insure themselves.

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