Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, when the Minister for Roads and Railways welcomed the franchises for South West Trains and the East Coast Main Line, particular emphasis was placed on the integration of buses and trains in the same service to create a network. It was thought that this was a good idea. When the Midland Main Line was recently franchised the Office of Fair Trading said that buses must be removed from the operator if it was to avoid

17 Jul 1996 : Column 830

a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Can the Minister explain to the House whether it is a good or a bad idea to have a network between buses and rail? Further, can he confirm that the real competition is not between rail and bus but with the motor car?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am interested to hear the views of the noble Lord about where competition lies between the different modes of travel. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced on 27th June that he intended to refer the acquisition of the Midland Main Line franchise by National Express to the MMC unless undertakings were given by National Express to remove competition concerns arising from the acquisition. I understand the current position to be that the Director General of the Office of Fair Trading is seeking such undertakings from National Express. In view of that, I do not believe that it is appropriate for me to comment further at this moment.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can the Minister indicate the extent to which the line that he takes this afternoon about the benefits to the public arising from his fragmented system is consistent with a letter from the customer relations department of Central Trains Limited? The letter states:

    "other rail operators do not discuss with us what plans they have for their services. Our priority has to be to provide the best service possible for our own customers".

East Coast replied to a not dissimilar complaint in the following terms:

    "The issue of routing has become very complex and both staff and customers alike are confused as to which lines their tickets are valid upon ... one franchise does not want passengers using its services if the payment for the ticket [goes] to another operator. As a result, the rules governing 'any reasonable route' are being given further consideration".
Are replies of that kind not absolutely inconsistent with the assurances that the Minister has given over a long period?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I regret that I have not read every single piece of correspondence from every single train operating company. However, the noble Lord may recall that a year or so ago there was a tremendous scare, fuelled by members of the party opposite, about the network benefits. It was said that through-ticketing would not exist and that all of this would go to the wall. That has turned out to be rubbish. Operators are obliged to provide through-ticketing to all destinations. Ticket inter-availability is being protected broadly in line with inter-availability of BR services. Railcards for the elderly, disabled and young people will continue. I believe that that firmly gives the lie to what was said about the abolition of network benefits.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister saying that the replies of Central Railways and East Coast--they are typical of many, many replies--are a tissue of lies?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I have not read the private correspondence put forward by the noble Lord. He cannot possibly expect me to comment on

17 Jul 1996 : Column 831

correspondence to other people from private companies. Networker benefits are protected. That is written down. Those are the rules, and they cannot be sidestepped.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, will the Minister tell your Lordships whether those eight franchise holders are paid the fuel rebate on the diesel fuel that is used? If so, how much is paid by the Treasury on behalf of taxpayers to the holders of those eight franchises?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not have that information, but I shall be delighted to find out and write to the noble Lord about it. He might be interested to know, on another fiscal matter relating to the eight franchises, that by year seven of the franchises, the net burden on the taxpayer will fall by about £186 million per annum, which will be some 61 per cent. compared to the budgeted levels of support for BR in 1996-97, net of administered profit.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Wait and see!

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord says, "Wait and see". That is not the case. These are contractual matters.

Charitable Events on Set-aside Land

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Under what European Community legislation the holding of charitable events on set-aside land is prohibited.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, Commission Regulation 762/94, as amended, lays down detailed rules for set-aside under the Arable Area Payments Scheme. Article 3(2) states that set-aside land may not be,

    "put to any lucrative use incompatible with the growing of an arable crop".
In a written communication to Her Majesty's Government the European Commission has stated that that means that local, social and charitable activities that are both fund-raising and incompatible with the growing of an arable crop may not take place on set-aside land.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed reply. Has the Commission given any indication that, if there were acceptable proof that only the charity gained from the event, it might accept the use of set-aside land for charitable purposes?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, in what it has said to us to date, it is clear that the Commission has set its face against that. We are continuing to argue with the Commission. In our latest letter to Mr. Fischler's chef de cabinet we have argued just what the noble Baroness has suggested to us.

17 Jul 1996 : Column 832

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that these provisions of the CAP whereby people are paid for not producing crops are one of the most obscene features of all Community legislation? Can we rely upon the common sense, if not the morality, of the Government to seek at the IGC to have the whole of this wretched apparatus destroyed?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord knows that we agree with him in many respects. I would not necessarily use the same superlatives as he did. But there must be better ways of doing things than the way they are done at present.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is sheer economic madness that there is set-aside land which may be used for a charity but which cannot be used? My local country church uses set-aside land belonging to a neighbouring farmer for a car park for the annual fete. Is it not ludicrous for that farmer to be deprived of set-aside money when he is not being paid? Surely that could be fixed if whichever charity is benefiting were to give to the farmer whose set-aside land it is a certificate saying that no payment had been made to the farmer. That should satisfy the European Union.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that the situation is ludicrous, but unfortunately that is the way it is at present. The farmer would not just lose his payment for set-aside land; he would lose all the payments on land of which the set-aside was set aside. It would be extremely financially difficult for a farmer who was caught allowing the church fete to use the set-aside land as a car park. That is why as far as we know all farmers are not now doing that. That is not a situation we find tolerable.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, when this legislation was going through the European Parliament did our representatives fight for charities or did they just let it slip through?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it has been our understanding since the legislation was passed and until the latest Commission ruling that we could allow charities to make reasonable use of set-aside land. So I do not suppose that it came to the attention of our MEPs at the time. But it is interesting to note that in a recent edition of Country Life David Thomas, the Norfolk Labour MEP, is quoted as saying that this is all due to MAFF and that the European Union is in the right. I hope that the Labour Party will teach its MEPs to understand what is going on in this country and to look after this country's interests rather than Europe's.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is it not true that Regulations are issued by the unelected Commission under delegated authority from the Council? Is it not true that Regulations are not even debated in national parliaments, although they become automatically legally binding in all the member states?

17 Jul 1996 : Column 833

Is that not just one more example of a gross abuse of our democracy made inevitable by our adherence to the Treaty of Rome?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, my noble friend is going just a little far.

Lord Carter: My Lords, will the Minister explain his first Answer when he talked about the use being incompatible with the growing of an arable crop? Does that mean that if one had a use which was compatible with the growing of an arable crop--of course, the land is to be set aside for the whole season anyway--it would be possible to use it for charitable purposes?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page