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European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) Order 1999

8.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order concerns an agreement designed to extend and deepen economic and political co-operation between the European Union and Jordan. The Association Agreement with Jordan was signed on 24th November 1997. It forms part of the EU's objective of creating a free trade area with the Mediterranean region by the year 2010.

The agreement aims to strengthen relations through increased political, economic and commercial co-operation. It includes steps to liberalise trade and harmonise Jordan's economic structures with the EU. This process should create new opportunities for trade and investment, bringing benefits to business and consumers in the European Union. It will help to create the right climate for stable economic and social development in Jordan. It contains provisions for

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improving political dialogue and co-operation on issues of mutual concern; for example, the environment, drugs and transport. The agreement represents an important development in the European Union's relations with the Mediterranean. Once implemented, it will provide the basis for a new level of communication and co-operation at all levels.

Britain has a longstanding and close relationship with Jordan. The death of King Hussein was a matter of great sadness and regret to all of us. When the Prime Minister met King Abdullah shortly after the death of his father, he assured him of Britain's solidarity and support at this time of transition for Jordan.

At the General Affairs Council on 22nd February, the United Kingdom reiterated the UK's support for EU assistance to Jordan at this difficult time. EU Ministers concluded that the Commission should table proposals for extra EU assistance to Jordan soon. We look forward to those proposals.

I ask the House to support these important objectives and to send a clear signal of our close relationship with, and commitment to, Jordan by giving its approval to the principles behind this agreement. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Traffic Areas (Reorganisation) (Wales) Order 1999

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 10th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of the order is to create a new Welsh traffic area to replace existing arrangements where North Wales is part of the north western traffic area and South Wales is a separate traffic area.

Traffic areas exist for the purpose of administering the system of licensing for operators of public service vehicles--that is, buses and coaches--and heavy goods vehicles, and for the registration of local bus services outside London. Great Britain is divided into eight traffic areas. Licences are granted by independent traffic commissioners appointed to those areas.

Operators must have a licence issued for each traffic area in which they have an operating centre, specify such centres and how many vehicles may be kept at each. The licence holder must inform the traffic commissioner of the registration marks and changes of vehicle specified on the licence.

The order makes detailed provision for dealing with licences affected by the boundary change to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of traffic commissioner functions and responsibilities.

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Broadly, the order provides that, on reorganisation, a former South Wales traffic area licence becomes a Welsh traffic area licence; a north western traffic area licence which specifies only operating centres in Wales becomes a Welsh traffic area licence; a north western traffic area licence which specifies operating centres in both England and Wales is split (in consultation with the licence holder)to create a Welsh traffic area licence for the operating centre and vehicles based in Wales, and an amended north western traffic area licence for the operating centres and vehicles based in England; where as a consequence, an operator finishes up with two Welsh traffic area licences, those licences would be amalgamated in due course (within five years).

Specifically, the order amends the Traffic Areas (Reorganisation) Order 1990 by defining the limits of the north western traffic area to exclude from it the former counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd and to add the areas of those former counties of the present South Wales traffic area to create a new all-Wales traffic area. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 10th March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation of the order. Before saying anything substantive I should like to declare an interest in that I am president of the Heavy Transport Association and no doubt I have several members in the affected area.

When I first saw the order I skimmed through it, but I noticed on page 4, Article 2(1)(b) a reference to "good" not "goods" operator's licence; that typographical error should be corrected.

It was not apparent to me at the time that the traffic area office for Wales will be in Birmingham. I accept that the previous government would have had a single traffic area for Wales for reasons of economy, and that initially the office may be in Birmingham, but the situation has now changed. The Government have set up a Welsh Assembly. How will Welsh goods vehicle operators and PSV operators feel about having to correspond with a traffic area office in Birmingham, in the centre of England? It does not concern operators only, but some people may wish to object to a goods vehicle operator's licence and will have to communicate with Birmingham. These objectors often raise sensitive issues; for example, access to and egress from premises in residential areas. They could be made by relatively unsophisticated, if sensible, people. Therefore, objectors may lack confidence if, in the light of the existence of the Welsh Assembly, they have to communicate with a traffic area office in England. The objectors do not have to pay for the traffic area office but they do have a stake in it. Presumably there are Welsh speakers at the Birmingham traffic area office, but it would be much easier to recruit them in Wales.

I believe that there will be a certain amount of disappointment that post the setting up of the Assembly the traffic area office will be in Birmingham and that the money for operating that office will go to Birmingham rather than somewhere in Wales.

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I am sure that the Minister will point out that the DVLA is in Swansea, but that covers the whole of the UK and it has to be located somewhere. It certainly does not need to be in London, and for obvious economic reasons Swansea is a good place to locate it.

The Minister will also tell us about IT problems. These problems were known before the election. The Government have been in power for two years. There are only 8,000 operators in Wales and therefore the amount of data to be handled by the IT system is not excessive. Can the Minister say how old the IT system is which operates in Birmingham?

The Minister in another place was asked about the timescale for moving the office to a location in Wales, but she could not help honourable Members in Committee. I hope that the Minister can be a little more helpful this evening because we are very likely to ask that question.

I am grateful to the Minister in another place for supporting my proposed Bill to facilitate the impounding of illegally operated goods vehicles. However, that could not work very well without a first-class IT system. It would be desirable if operators were able to notify the traffic area office electronically using the Internet. When I wish to buy electronic or mechanical components, I can do so on the Internet through RS Components. It took humble me only an hour to master the system. It would be of great benefit to operators if they could make their notifications immediately electronically.

In conclusion, I am content, but I believe that post-devolution the people of Wales will be surprised to find themselves communicating with an office in England rather than in Wales.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am taken back, by nostalgia, to the days when I used to argue on behalf of local bus operators, very profitably, in front of the North West traffic commissioners, who will no longer have any sway over my part of Wales. I am concerned that South Wales appears to be gobbling up North Wales, which is entirely against the principles of devolution, as discussed in the Government of Wales Bill.

However, the references to Birmingham do not appear in the order. I would have assumed that the bringing together of these various areas is in order that the powers may be devolved to the Welsh Assembly. If that is the case, where is the office to be located in future?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I did not notice that the traffic area office was to be in Wales: I found that out when I was reading the proceedings in another place.

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