Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hoyle: It is a marriage made in hell!

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I was not about to be so provocative as to describe it as a marriage made in hell--but that is what it would have been. I am interested to know what the amendment will be. Is it to be, as would not be allowed in another place, a wrecking amendment to remove the clause? Will it propose a change of ownership? If so, how would that apply?

I do not want to dwell too long on the matter. I shall merely say that this House is a revising Chamber. It is not a Chamber in which Opposition parties should seek, in collusion, to embarrass the Government and elevate that approach to an issue of high principle, which it is definitely not. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I feel that we are going down some very strange paths in this

5 Jun 2000 : Column 990

debate. I do not know what is the origin of all this speculation. I have already told the House that we shall table amendments that conform to our view of a better alternative to the Government's proposals. That is all that we plan to do. From then onwards, we shall follow the normal processes of Committee, Report and Third Reading.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I accept that. Indeed, I stated clearly that there were two different points of view. The view just stated reveals a remarkable innocence; namely, that no responsibility can be taken for what happens as a result of one's own actions. It is a point that should be examined.

My final point relates to the question of pensions, which has already been touched on by my noble friend Lord Hoyle. Concern has been expressed by those in NATS about their pension rights. The Government have stated their clear belief that the Bill contains enough protection and there is nothing to worry about. I can understand the concern that people have in regard to their pension rights. One point that the Government must answer is why it is necessary to write on to the face of the Bill protection for workers in London Underground and why it is not necessary in this case. That issue must be examined at a later stage of the Bill.

That said, I give the Bill my full support. In terms of ownership the Government's choices are ones that I should not necessarily by instinct have followed. But we have moved on. I do not believe that my noble friends Lord Macdonald of Tradestone and Lord Whitty, my right honourable friend John Prescott and the Minister for Aviation, Chris Mullin, would embark on a course that would lead to unsafe skies over and around this country. Therefore, I am prepared to trust their judgment. If there is a need to write greater safeguards into the Bill, we must examine that. However, the Bill takes matters forward a great deal and I wish it good speed.

7.16 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I should like briefly to turn the attention of the House to parts of this large Bill which have received less attention than they might merit. The noble Lords, Lord Hoyle, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Hogg, have raised my spirits in the past hour with regard to buses. While the future status of NATS and workplace parking levies are important, it is the quality of bus and rail services that is often of greater concern to the man, or more often the woman, in the street on a day-to-day basis.

If we are to tackle congestion and pollution, so eloquently described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, I suggest that the nub of the issue is the need to provide the high-quality, reliable public transport services that can convince drivers like myself that there is sometimes an economic, efficient and effective alternative. The structural reforms contained in Parts II and IV of the Bill should make a difference. We shall see. But I am particularly anxious that the

5 Jun 2000 : Column 991

needs, views and preferences of the passenger--or consumer--of local transport services are put at the heart of policy-making.

The Bill devotes a couple of clauses to this matter. I note that rail passengers are to have a new watchdog--the rail passengers' council and regional rail passenger committees were launched last month, replacing the old CRUCC and RUCCs. But it is worth recalling the comments of the Transport Sub-Committee in another place on initial provisions included in the Railways Act, the forerunner to Part IV of the Transport Bill. The committee argued that,

    "significant changes must be made if the Rail Users' Consultative Committees are to become influential and effective representatives of the interests of rail passengers".

That ought to include a name change, adequate funding and more freedom to run their own affairs.

True to form, the Government have since adopted the suggestion of a name change and a re-branding exercise. But aside from that, there are only some rather modest extensions to the powers and duties of the new RPC. It is not clear to me that that constitutes the kind of significant changes referred to by the committee.

A successful system of consumer representation requires not just the setting up of a new body and the usual group of dedicated but overstretched staff, important though that all is. The RPC also needs to be granted appropriate powers and duties and sufficient resources to exercise those powers effectively and carry out those duties.

A blueprint recently produced by the National Consumer Council provides us with a very useful guide. Based on its considerable experience, and following consultation with existing consumer bodies, it identifies key characteristics which identify a good consumer body. Top of the list is independence--independence in their governance and their management, and

    "from the industry, the regulator, and central and local government, particularly in their choice of work and in the views that they express."

So it is with some concern that I note that it is proposed that the Strategic Rail Authority should sponsor the rail passengers' council. The Strategic Rail Authority will act as a funding channel for the RPC, will have administrative responsibilities for the RPC, and will even appoint some of the RPC's members. Yet the authority is taking on regulatory powers and could even potentially become a service provider in its own right. There are circumstances under which, given its remit to represent the passenger interest, the RPC might wish to take a different stance from that of the authority. It might even wish to be critical of the authority's overall performance. Strategic Rail Authority sponsorship has the potential to compromise the RPC's ability to do this. The Minister may wish to reassure me in that regard, but I may seek at a later stage to introduce amendments to test the extent of the Government's commitment to establishing a more effective and independent consumer voice for rail passengers.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 992

I would like to be more certain that the rail passengers' council will have the resources it needs to conduct its own quality research and to lobby effectively. The Bill's silence on information is not particularly encouraging either. Without the power to access and publish industry information, the RPC's ability to champion the passenger interest could be seriously undermined. The Utilities Bill and the Postal Services Bill, currently being considered by the House, both establish new consumer bodies. They contain clauses which establish direct rights of access to regulatory and company information, and the right to publish advice and information supplied to public authorities. While far from perfect, the gas and electricity consumer council and the consumer council for postal services will have much clearer and stronger statutory rights than the rail passengers' council will have.

The GECC and the CCPS are also required to have particular regard to the needs of disadvantaged consumers, such as elderly or disabled people. It is a good principle, which should be extended to this Bill. The interests of such groups, as we have heard today, are of particular importance with regard to bus services, acting as they do as a lifeline for many. Those on low incomes and elderly people depend on buses to get them to work, to visit relatives or go to the local shops. We must make sure that we have regard to their interests.

In terms of consumer representation, circumstances are somewhat different from those of the railways, given the very local nature of bus services. But, while a statutory national body may not be appropriate, buses need a higher profile, and I am unclear how the Government intend to carry out their stated intention of strengthening the voice of bus users.

Research for the Cabinet Office people's panel--that fast-disappearing body of volunteers--has found higher dissatisfaction with bus services than with train services. There are significant concerns regarding reliability, frequency and personal safety. Indeed, a recent Welsh Consumer Council survey found that only 43 per cent of passengers feel safe on a local bus at night.

As we have heard tonight, buses do matter to consumers. I am concerned, therefore, that bus services do not receive the attention that they justify, given that they make up two-thirds of all public transport journeys. I sometimes wonder whether their low profile reflects the fact that there are not too many politicians, national or local, or indeed journalists, to be found on the local No. 39 or No. 73 bus.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to my concerns, and, if I remain worried, to bringing forward amendments during the further stages of the Bill.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, first, I congratulate the three noble Baronesses who made an outstanding series of maiden speeches: Lady Cohen of Pimlico; Lady Scott of Needham Market; and Lady

5 Jun 2000 : Column 993

Gibson of Market Rasen, with whom I worked closely on this and other matters for many years in the TUC. They will all be making a notable contribution over the coming years. I simply add that we look forward to the day when noble Baronesses outnumber us noble Lords in the House.

I shall be giving strong support to the Bill, with one exception--aspects of the air traffic control proposals, on which I shall in due course raise some issues, partially in the context of European air traffic congestion. My noble friend, Lord Whitty, may wish to respond to some of those points, even though he may not wish to buy me a drink afterwards.

In broad terms, the Bill's logic as regards road, rail and local transport plans, road user charging and the workplace parking levy is first class. It represents the culmination of a radical rethink of transport policy in recent years. That rethink began, it is fair to say, in the period of the previous administration, but we have seen under the present Government a bold implementation of new ideas which would have been unlikely without a Labour administration. The main Opposition party's approach to congestion charges is, in the light of the background, regrettable.

One has only to go round those parts of northern Europe with the population density of England--I say "England" advisedly, because population density is the key to much of the debate--to observe that a high degree of social and environmental planning is essential. Market forces in the conventionally understood sense do not "rule, OK", so we have to construct markets that actually work with the difficult realities of what economists call market externalities. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the Bill addresses these matters more effectively than we did in 1968.

The Government are to be congratulated on getting the transformation of transport policy overwhelmingly right, notably in the innovation of congestion and parking charges and hypothecation. Here the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, may have got his comments out of balance. The money will be recycled, and it is not an on-cost to industry in quite the way in which he portrayed it; if we look at the arithmetic we see that it is not an on-cost to industry if it is to be recycled through hypothecation. That is the whole idea behind hypothecation. Maybe that will come out in more detailed debate.

We now have a large investment plan for the next three to four years, with the comprehensive spending review to 2004-05 and the 10-year planning horizon to 2010. That is extremely welcome. On the question of the public finance initiative and the public-private partnership, if I am reading the auguries correctly, the fashion for PFI has somewhat receded, notably for county roads. In the case of major road projects, we have seen all the difficulties of shadow pricing and so on, and I do not think that the fashion now is quite to go the whole hog to PFI as a subset of PPP in order to deal with it.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 994

We have also passed a high water mark in the fashion for saying that just because Treasury rules are restrictive--true--we have to privatise everything that moves--not true. We should change the Treasury rules and, for example, agree to adopt the European benchmark which is less restrictive.

It is common ground that the decision about a public/private partnership for air traffic services was taken at a time when the need to raise revenue was the Treasury's paramount consideration. It is now said that management expertise was the starting point. That was not how the document read a year ago. Let us remind ourselves of why NATS is not a sensible candidate for what might be termed whole hog privatisation, which the Opposition now apparently advocate. NATS is not at present subject to any formal regulatory regime but sets its charges and recovers its costs in accordance with Eurocontrol charging principles. The Secretary of State proposed in the 1998 consultation paper that, since NATS was a monopoly provider of en route air traffic services, those and any other monopoly part of its business should be subject to statutory economic regulation when it came into the private sector.

It is clear that, as revenues are to be controlled, the privatisation will operate in a rather unusual context, in that the only profit-related side of the equation subject to management control will be costs, which are overwhelmingly staff costs. That is where control will lie on a day-to-day basis, even though outside the core business, which must be traffic control, there are no doubt very imaginative schemes to look at world markets and so on.

I notice that the Airline Group, which includes British Airways, British Midland, Virgin and so on, is considering making a bid to be the PPP strategic partner. That appears to be very odd. It is a bit like the regulated rail operating companies making a bid to run Railtrack's signalling operations. It is all very well for the airlines and IATA to welcome involvement in air traffic control, but do they really want to have responsibility effectively at both ends of the safety equation? Have they looked at the due diligence side of it? Will we not introduce one of the ambiguities that we have experienced in the case of Railtrack? Even at this late stage I believe that there is scope for Ministers to allow themselves greater latitude. On that basis some constructive amendments--I emphasise "constructive"--will need to be considered.

As to safety and conflicts of interest, it is all very well to say that each of the locks will be in place, but what will be the pressures if, say, the Airline Group is the preferred bidder? Of course airlines have an enormous vested interest in safety. It is not a question of the airlines as an interested party making the ultimate decision as to landing intervals at Heathrow Airport or who is to land first. That is a caricature and it will not happen. However, in this situation perception is extremely important and one must be seen to be Caesar's wife. Many people have qualms about an airline consortium controlling air traffic control. There are alternatives which are not necessarily any

5 Jun 2000 : Column 995

better. For example, one can think of Lockheed Martin, or almost any other company, putting up a proposal for consideration. It is a bit like expecting the French Government to suggest that French airspace should be controlled by British Aerospace or Lockheed. I doubt whether they would even let it be controlled by Thomsons.

Sir Roy McNulty, Chairman of NATS, has written to everyone to draw attention to the fact that Europe is still divided into a multitude of national air services. He remarks that,

    "The airlines are crying out for reform and more aviation experts are speculating that some form of consolidation [in Europe] will happen, another factor being pressure from the European Commission for a single European sky".

That is another piece of Brussels-speak which no doubt we shall learn to love.

Does all of this lead to a single European private monopoly? Surely not. Perhaps the Minister can elucidate exactly what the scenario will be. Given that it is notoriously difficult to break down the national governmental defensiveness of the French, the Spanish and so on, are Ministers satisfied that other countries are ready to privatise the European sky? How can we negotiate on a privatised basis if the rest of Europe sees a single European sky as an intergovernmental exercise? Will they have the power simply to override the Bill at that stage, or is it so flexible that we can make it up as we go along? How can BT, or whoever, commit its capital on that basis?

To summarise, is there agreement on the following points: first, that skies are a natural monopoly as far as concerns air traffic control; secondly, that revenues are determined in detail by Eurocontrol; and, thirdly, that that control means that the company will not be able to maximise shareholder value as regards the core business? After all, the CBI and others have always claimed that detailed regulation of prices is incompatible with the competitive market. That was always said at the time of prices and incomes policy, and I have the scars to prove it. Price controls do not operate in that way in the privatised utilities. Within a legislative framework they have scope to change their pricing structure. In the case of airspace, it is an external body, Eurocontrol, that sets the actual price with a degree of rigidity.

I believe that in due course Eurocontrol should run the lot. As that is where we are heading, why do we not recognise it? I am not sure whether due diligence will throw up difficulties for potential bidders given the inevitable constraints. Surely, the biggest question is how European airspace is to be controlled when it reaches full capacity. The delays, which increase exponentially, can to an extent be dealt with by greater integration, which I advocate. However, to an extent delays are a consequence of peak period congestion. How can we possibly visualise a single European airspace without it being derived essentially from an intergovernmental agreement? Watch this airspace!

I predict that, whatever emerges from this Bill, we may have to unscramble it in two or three years. At Committee stage the question will arise how the legislation can be amended when very few of these

5 Jun 2000 : Column 996

matters are dealt with in the Bill, which is itself hard to follow. Unless we consider those matters now, including the balance of shareholding, I am not sure when they can be debated and be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

I very much associate myself with similar questions raised by my noble friends Lord Hoyle, Lord Hughes, Lord Clinton-Davis and others. In particular, I support the proposition of my noble friend Lord Hoyle that there should be some employee representation on the board of any new operating company concerned with air traffic control, as opposed to the stakeholder council which is one stage removed. Air traffic controllers enjoy a very high reputation in Britain. One of the casualties of the present debate is that, at a time of growing pressure upon air traffic controllers, their perception is that a cold wind is beginning to blow, as my noble friends have already attested. It is essential to retain the goodwill and confidence of pilots and controllers, who form a key relationship, in the system.

I am sure that we can find solutions to the problems. For their part the unions have entered into a serious dialogue. I hope everyone accepts that they are motivated by the public interest as well as the legitimate concerns of their members who are engaged in an exacting profession. I join my noble friends in saying that this has been a very constructive debate, and I trust that the Minister will be able to take on board some of the points that have been raised in it.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, this is where I came in! Three months after entering your Lordships' House I was a Front Bench spokesman for the Liberal Party on the last inch-thick transport Bill. Before that Bill came to this House I knew nothing about transport; and a month after it passed from your Lordships' House I knew nothing about transport. However, for a couple of months in between I knew almost everything there was to be known about transport. I do not know whether the same will be true of this Bill. It is true that I know a little more about transport than I did then. It is also true that I hope to forget a great deal about transport after the Bill is passed. In the meantime, I shall do my best to learn from noble Lords.

The Bill, introduced so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, has four parts. Much attention has been paid to the first part on air traffic control. That is the part which least affects ordinary people in their ordinary lives. It is the part to which I shall pay least attention. I do not propose on behalf of my party to table any amendments to it. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, devoted 50 per cent of his speech to the first part of the Bill. Given his ancestral inheritance, that is not surprising. However, I believe that it was somewhat more than that part of the Bill deserves.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 997

Local transport is the issue which affects many of us most of the time. I shall seek to persuade your Lordships to set as many traffic reduction targets as possible. I am not sure that the Government are as committed to the reduction of traffic as they often say they are. In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, said that many road systems have yet to be built. I hope he did not mean that he hoped they would be built.

We believe that it is right to introduce targets for traffic reduction. There are obvious practical objections to a national target. However, there is a need to set targets: by the Mayor of London; by all unitary authorities; and within all local transport plans. There should be a special mention of targets in rural areas to be agreed with the Countryside Agency.

On buses and quality contracts, local authorities need more powers to set quality standards, avoid wasteful competition on routes, set frequencies of services and require inter-ticketing, bus/rail integrated ticketing and much better information. We shall support any noble Lord who tables amendments on that point.

Local authorities should retain responsibility where possible. We plan to amend Clause 134 in order to encourage local transport authorities to remove the age discrimination inherent in current pension legislation. That may be by the way but one should not miss the opportunity when it arises.

Part III relates to road user charging and workplace parking levy. It provides legislation to allow councils to introduce road user charging and the workplace parking levy. I believe that that is right. We shall do our best to support that part of the Bill.

As regards railways, the Strategic Rail Authority should be given as much power as possible. I have received briefing which suggests that British Rail is resisting that point. I believe that British Rail's position should be resisted. The Strategic Rail Authority provides a way of achieving a sensible set-up.

I revert for a moment to the issue of air traffic control. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, explained why we should not go along the route suggested by the Conservatives. I go along with that. However, he never explained why that part of the Bill exists. The noble Baroness, Lady Cohen of Pimlico, made an absolutely first-class maiden speech. If I had realised that I was listening to the maiden speech of Janet Neel, I should have known that it would contain the ingenuity, wit and style that it did. The noble Baroness explained somewhat more fully than the Minister the reason for Part I of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, put his finger on why Part I should not be encouraged. I do not think that Part I should be encouraged.

On the whole, the Bill is very good. Responsibility should be spread more locally, with the needs of individual members of the public being looked after. At present they want to use public transport as much as possible but are often frustrated in doing so. I wish the Bill well.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 998

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on this important Bill--a debate which has included notable maiden speeches from three noble Baronesses. Whether or not we have some specific expertise, it is a subject which is of great concern to everyone. I am glad that the Government are making an attempt to deal with some of the problems involved which sometimes seem so intractable. I am sure that all of us want to see an integrated transport system and we hope that the Bill will prove a major step along that road.

Sections of the Bill are highly controversial, none more so than the first part dealing with National Air Traffic Services Limited (NATS). I have read most of the material available and the Minister will not be surprised to learn that, with my trade union background, I have grave concerns about the proposals in the Bill. In opposition, my party was opposed to the privatisation of NATS. A former transport Minister famously told a party conference that "our air is not for sale"--and that has been thrown back at us from the Opposition Benches in the debate today.

Now we have the so-called public private partnership, with 45 per cent to be sold off to a trade partner and a further 5 per cent to staff, with the Government retaining the rest, including a "golden share". That is likely to be a partial sale, with the likelihood that, as with other privatisations, the rest will eventually be sold.

Of course safety is the key issue. That has already been dealt with adequately by other noble Lords, notably by my noble friends Lord Hoyle, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Lea of Crondall. Privatisation is not now exactly popular with the public, particularly in the light of the problems and justified criticisms of the privatised railway service. What concerns me most is that the staff who operate NATS and the pilots who obviously have a professional concern are unhappy about the proposals in the Bill. The pilots have serious reservations. They have said that the proposals will have many of the deficiencies of outright privatisation in, as they put it, distorting investment, penalising long-term projects and placing insufficient weight on factors such as user time savings and safety, exerting undesirable pressure upon operational safety and service quality, focusing instead on profitability and shareholder value, and rendering it more difficult for the Government to plan and implement their airspace policy effectively.

Furthermore, the unions representing 95 per cent of NATS staff have been outspoken in their opposition. They believe that there is no political case and no economic case either. NATS, they say, does not cost the taxpayers anything. All its costs are covered by charges to airlines. Nor is there a business or industrial case. NATS' standards of service are respected world-wide, a point repeatedly made in the debate. Charges to airlines have fallen in the past six years.

Alternatives have been suggested; for instance, NATS could be run on a non-profit-making basis as an independent, publicly owned corporation, or it

5 Jun 2000 : Column 999

could be turned into a trust. Selling half of NATS would bring in around £350 million--not much compared with the recent mobile telephone bonanza of £22 billion. The small concession of turning outright sale into a partial one has not set public fears at rest.

The safety issue may well be overstated. I welcome the assurances given by the Minister today that that has a high priority as far as the Government are concerned. However, it is a very large issue in the minds of the public, and the opposition of the very people who run the present system, which is widely respected, does little to allay those fears. I urge the Government to think seriously about what is proposed and in particular to enter into further consultations with the people closely concerned with the running of the present service.

Parts II and III of the Bill refer to duties imposed on local authorities and give local traffic authorities the right outside London to introduce user charges and workplace parking levies to help tackle congestion in towns and cities. Presumably London is to be dealt with by the new Mayor, who has already indicated that he favours congestion charges. I understand that the Government are not in favour until public transport has been substantially improved.

I must say that, unlike some noble Lords who have spoken, I am in entire agreement with that. I live in London but outside the main centre. Everyone knows that traffic in London is now appallingly congested. But it is far too easy to blame the motorists. Actually, congestion in London and other major towns is due not so much to the private motorist--few use their cars nowadays to drive through London during the week unless they have to--but to the proliferation of commercial vehicles, some of them enormous. Why they cannot be compelled to deliver at night instead of during the day I cannot imagine. That is the situation in many Scandinavian countries.

Let us hope that local authorities use the powers which the Bill gives them to prevent the appalling disruption of traffic such as has taken place in London during the past weeks. Camden High Street, for example, is alleged to have been dug up 85 times during the past year. Large stretches of London have been rendered impassable. That simply will not do. It must be possible to organise road maintenance, repairs or cable laying with less inconvenience to the public.

I welcome those parts of the Bill which give local authorities powers to take steps to assist the disabled. I recently became partially disabled and it was a salutary experience. I have a mobility problem at the moment; I cannot walk very well and stairs are a nightmare. But our Underground stations have been constructed by people who believe that it is absolutely necessary to have some stairways--mostly with steel-tipped stairs--before the unfortunate passengers reach the escalator, if such exists. For quite a while the authorities responsible at my local Underground station apparently believed that they were doing their duty by the public if they kept the "up" escalators going, but the passengers had to walk down. It is a very

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1000

deep station. Going downstairs for someone who cannot walk properly is more of a hazard than going up, as a fall can result in very nasty injuries.

Therefore, I want to make a plea for the partially disabled--and there are many of us about. Many local authorities believe that they have fulfilled their obligations if they have made arrangements simply for severely disabled people. If you are partially disabled and can hobble about a bit, well, you can get on with it. And if you happen to fall down and injure yourself, that really is too bad. I hope that local authorities will address that serious problem which affects not only the likes of me in this House but many elderly people. Looking around the streets one can see a large number of people who have such a difficulty.

Congestion charges, without substantial improvements in public transport, will simply make the situation a great deal worse. In London people will park their cars near Underground stations, adding to the congestion in the streets around and of course to the numbers travelling in the appallingly overcrowded trains during the rush hour--although rush hour now seems to extend almost throughout the day.

Those who are well off will continue to use their cars and pay the charge. People who are less well off will feel themselves victimised. New charges for motorists, on top of the current tax burden, will be deeply resented. Somehow or other, the Government and local authorities must come to terms with living with the car--at least for a long time to come, I fear. I am not at all certain that some of the propositions in the Bill will deal adequately with that situation. However, in general, I support the thrust of the Bill. I welcome the desire to introduce integration into our transport system and, generally speaking, apart from the reservations I have made, I wish the Bill well.

7.56 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as has already been said, this Bill does not affect London. But that, as your Lordships know, is because powers contained in the Bill have already been given to the Mayor and to the Greater London Authority, which becomes the first strategic local transport authority. It also becomes the body responsible for London's concessionary fares scheme, which has been funded by the London boroughs for many years and which is now being extended to the rest of the country.

However, no mention is made in the Bill of where the extra resources to pay for that will come from. Will the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions fund the scheme? It will cost most local authorities many millions of pounds. We are not talking about small sums but about considerable sums of money. Is it intended that such funding should be part of the SSA settlement or, perish the thought, that it should come from congestion charging? It is an important question which needs a response.

The measures in the Bill which are germane to London were discussed in detail during the progress of the Greater London Authority Bill, but some bear repeating, but repeating briefly after the noble

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1001

Baroness, Lady Turner, who raised them in her speech. They have a wide effect elsewhere. Perhaps fortunately in tune with the Minister's comments today, the new Mayor for London made it clear that he has decided to take no action on congestion charging for at least the next two years or until he is satisfied that proper alternative transport systems are in place and that there is a satisfactory method of identifying vehicles when charging for congestion.

That is self-sacrificing on his behalf as the money from congestion charging is the only way in which he will raise resources, apart from a small precept upon Londoners. But it is also wise as there is already ambivalence in the Government and from the Prime Minister--it was well expressed during the London local elections--over the whole question of the electoral popularity of the scheme and workplace charging in particular. We need to ensure that the population and the people who are to pay the charging are happy about it. In London, as elsewhere, a great deal of breath is expended on lamenting the problems of congestion and air pollution. The only result is these proposals to fleece motorists again for using their cars.

The corollary is, of course, whether motorists should be terrorised or financially penalised for using their cars unless and until each one is satisfied that there are proper alternative forms of readily accessible transport. In London this means a Tube that is reliable, clean, safe and frequent, and a bus service which is comfortable, frequent, reliable and which goes where passengers want to go. If co-ordination of services is inadequate, it will be neither just nor practical to imagine that people will abandon their cars and leave them elsewhere.

A problem also arises as to where the congestion charging starts. If one takes as an example the London boroughs, wherever that boundary is, there is a boundary outside it. The authority outside the boundary will be badly affected by people leaving their cars and jumping over the fence into the congestion charge area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, raised the question of the co-ordination of roadworks. We have recently discussed that matter many times in the House. In my view, it causes more congestion than many thousands of motorist journeys on roads which are not held up by vast building programmes.

Co-ordination with the Strategic Rail Authority must also be carried out. The authority will work with Railtrack and influence the work that needs to be done on track and signalling to enable more cross-London commuter trains to enter the network. Where new services are being developed and infrastructure is required, it is imperative that there should be a clear understanding that those should not be delayed because there is a disagreement between authorities over who pays for maintenance and who pays for new structures. Theoretically, Railtrack is responsible for the first and the Strategic Rail Authority will be responsible, by investment, for the second. I am

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1002

particularly concerned about that because in this respect the western London line badly needs new capacity to improve commuter services.

The setting up of the Strategic Rail Authority is most significant. In London its relationship with the Greater London Authority will be crucial for the strategic planning of the Underground, as well as much needed new lines, such as CrossRail and the Chelsea-Hackney line. As I have already said, investment, co-operation and co-ordination will be absolutely vital.

I return to the subject of congestion charging and the introduction of workplace taxes. As many noble Lords have said, they will have a far-reaching impact on the free movement of residents in and around the place they live and on the viability of business. Sterilising areas of the capital city could have a far more serious effect on its future viability than any congestion, perceived or real. I believe that that will apply also to any other metropolitan area in the rest of the country that introduces congestion charging.

With regard to the introduction of the strategic transport plans and bus strategic plans, I note and hear today that particular attention is being paid to the elderly and those with mobility problems. Much work has already been done on this in my part of London by another government initiative, Better Government for Older People. Recently, bus drivers on routes through the borough were faced with clipboard-bearing pensioners who took up their seats and settled themselves behind the drivers to gauge their driving styles. Bad marks for hard braking, fast cornering, lack of courtesy and speeding off at bus stops were all noted and reported to the drivers at feedback sessions in the garage. Who needs transport Bills? Let us ask the passengers.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, this has been a long but high quality debate. Many excellent contributions have been made, notably by our three maiden speakers and by many other noble Lords with experience and expertise. I should perhaps make two declarations of interest. First, I am leader of a local council which soon will be responsible for implementing the local transport plans. Secondly, I am a director of Manchester Airport, which is still (perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara) in public ownership.

On the whole, the Transport Bill is to be welcomed. However, to be effective the Bill will need to change both attitudes and behaviour. First, there is a need to change perceptions of public transport--a difficult task to achieve. The car is seen as a status symbol rather than as a means of transport. The impact of our experience of journeys is that we forget the ones that go well but always remember vividly the ones that do not. As a frequent user of the West Coast main line, I say that with some feeling. In addition, the perception of transport time is somewhat different. I understand that people perceive waiting time as three times as long as moving time. I believe that many of us do a lot of waiting on public transport.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1003

It is a difficult but not impossible task. Manchester Airport has begun to tackle some of those issues in a green commuter plan that it introduced in 1998. I am relieved that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is not here to hear me say that in 10 years' time it is expected that Manchester Airport will grow to deal with some 30 million passengers and that employee numbers will rise to some 30,000. Of course, an airport is a 24-hour operation. We must give consideration and find imaginative solutions to the problems, otherwise transport will not move around the airport. However, after two years we have already seen a 15 per cent reduction in the number of staff who travel alone to the airport by car.

Changes can happen. How do they happen? I believe that first we need to understand the lesson of shared responsibility. Everyone is part of the problem and everyone is part of the solution. I believe that we need to ensure that people understand the range of travel options and that those options must be explained fully. We need to provide quality facilities and services. At the airport we have a new bus service--Skyline--which offers frequent services operating both early and late in the day. We provide cycle parks, and soon a new cycle centre will offer maintenance and shower facilities. We offer discounts for employees on all forms of public transport.

I believe that the message that we must get across to people is that small changes in behaviour make a difference. In addition, as my noble friend Lord Whitty is well aware, having been invited a month ago to Manchester Airport to cut the first sod, the airport is planning a new £60 million ground transport interchange which will integrate buses, trains, the Metrolink and coaches. The airport is proud of its initiatives on transport but, as both Ministers are aware, it is concerned about its ability to continue them under the restrictions that will be imposed by vires issues. I believe that the airport authorities are in correspondence with both my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord Macdonald with regard to this matter.

As a local politician, I certainly welcome the increased responsibility that we have to bring forward local transport plans. To my mind, that fulfils the powers provided by Part I of the Local Government Bill to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of communities. The Transport Bill achieves all three at the same time.

There has been reference in the two speeches preceding mine to congestion charges. I shall therefore pass over what I was going to say about that. I regard it as a problem that has been passed to local authorities to deal with. It would be described in the rugby-playing circles of Wigan as "a hospital pass"; that is, something that is quite difficult to get away with. However, we shall do our best.

My noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester outlined some of the issues relating to Greater Manchester, and I feel bound to support his comments, particularly in one respect. Ministers will be aware that my local councillor is the chairman of

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1004

the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority. He is well known not only to present Ministers but also, I believe, to a number of past Ministers who have felt the need to talk to the chairman of the Greater Manchester PTA.

As my noble friend Lord Morris explained, we are proud that we are a centre of excellence. Greater Manchester has pioneered many initiatives on improving bus services in partnership with the more enlightened bus operators throughout Greater Manchester. That involves improving quality bus corridors with current investments of over £6 million. One such corridor operates at the end of my road. I believe that noble Lords will realise that it has now been renamed the "Road to Wigan's Pier".

A more ambitious plan has been put forward to introduce a guided bus link from Leigh--probably the largest town in England without a rail link--into the centre of Manchester. All those schemes involve considerable public investment--some £53 million in the case of Greater Manchester--and create not a little local opposition when people learn about changes that will affect the way they live their lives. It is disappointing that the proposals for quality partnerships contain no provision for frequency and timing. I hope that that aspect can be reviewed. One understands the problems of competition, which my noble friend Lord Hogg explained in detail, but we do not want something that is already part of voluntary arrangements to be lost by the Bill.

The Bill does much to redress the balance in favour of public transport. The Bill creates possibilities for local authorities to improve the quality of life for local communities and I am glad to support it.

8.10 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I begin by reminding the House that I live in the one Scottish local authority area--Clackmannanshire--with no railway services, at least at present. My contribution hopes to reflect on the Scottish aspects of the Bill. Scotland's devolved position as regards transport is complicated. Transport in its many forms is partially devolved and partially reserved. We will become increasingly familiar with that situation.

The Bill concerns Scotland only in respect of air traffic, which is almost a wholly reserved matter--and sensibly so; the goods vehicles operators licence amendments; and railway improvements. The latter will be partially devolved, with Scottish Ministers having a duty to give direction, guidance and advice.

The Bill is silent in Scottish terms about roads, cycleways, footpaths, waterways and, significantly, ferries.

There is clearly reorganisation in the measures for the future governance of air traffic but I wonder whether there will be improvement. One outcome for which I am looking but doubt that I will find is a reduction in the price of air travel within Scotland--especially within the islands and remoter parts of the mainland and with respect to the Central Lowlands

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1005

and the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not see the same duty to develop air services as is placed on the Strategic Rail Authority with regard to railways.

The goods vehicle regulations are probably only technical amendments but I see them as levelling up the playing field by dealing with recalcitrant small operators. If only the Bill gave the same levelling effect to fuel prices and ferry fares in remote areas.

The railway changes introduce a clear duty for the SRA to promote the rail network and passenger and freight services, and to contribute to an integrated transport system. I hope that the SRA can deliver on that by finding co-operation with other transport operators. While the SRA will normally deliver passenger services by franchise, it has the power to procure rail services by other means. Although that will be used, I presume, as a last resort, I admire the flexibility granted by that measure.

I hope that we shall soon see positive confirmation of the re-establishment of goods services between Stirling and Kincardine-on-Forth, and of passenger services between Alloa, Stirling and Glasgow; the return of the Waverley route servicing the Borders, Edinburgh and Carlisle. That route has distinctly strategic potential and probably should never have been closed. Congestion on the West Coast main line should be reduced by that re-opening. I hope to see soon the extension of passenger services from Glasgow to Larkhall and Stonehouse, which should reduce commuting on the M74 into Glasgow.

The reopening of railways will be a major mark of progress in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and a tribute to acceptance of the need for forward-looking investment. I congratulate ScotRail on its new long-distance routes. The summer timetable introduces through passenger trains from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Wick and Thurso and to the Kyle of Lochalsh. That certainly contributes to the perception that the remoter areas are being recognised in a small way. Glasgow Queen Street will despatch trains to Oban for the southern Hebrides, Mallaig for Skye and the Small Isles; Kyle for Skye and the Outer Hebrides; Thurso for the Orkney islands; and Aberdeen for the Shetland Islands--although Bergen continues to be their nearest mainline railway station.

Only the Ullapool ferry to Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis and Tarbet for Islay and Jura are not served by rail. I doubt that they ever will be. All that is good but journey times remain substantial, as do ticket prices.

Transport is an essential element of any policy for remote areas. I see Scotland as 10 per cent urban, 45 per cent rural and 35 per cent remote in land area terms. The state should enable people to live and work--and have an economy--in remote areas and to share many of the benefits enjoyed by the urban majority. Remoteness and peripherality cannot be abolished but the state can help to mitigate the costs. People who live and work in remote areas have to do the travelling.

I end with this question: will the proposed disabled travel concession scheme extend to Scotland?

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1006

8.7 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, the noble Earl gave a most interesting and well-researched summary of the problems facing Scotland, to which I shall refer later. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group and an adviser to Adtranz.

I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his introduction to the Bill, which comes from a White Paper on transport integration that itself resulted from a major, extended consultation exercise. If it has taken three years to get this far, one can argue that the proposals have been signed up to by a large number of people involved in the consultation. Some of the ideas have already been implemented in the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

It has been commented that congestion charges should not be introduced until alternative transport schemes have been introduced. Let us not forget that 40 per cent of the population do not have access to cars anyway, so the sooner we can make buses run more reliably, flexibly and comfortably--and the sooner we can introduce better cycling and walking routes--the sooner more people will use them.

I am keen to see walking and cycling made safe, comfortable, convenient and integrated. Some people comment that cycling should not be encouraged because more cyclists will mean more accidents in which they get killed. It is the role of integrated transport to give the unprotected users of our highways as much thought and consideration as those who are safely cocooned in their metal boxes.

Turning to railways, I welcome the creation of the strategic rail authority and its objectives. I shall be suggesting a few minor changes in Committee, but the principle is excellent and it must be the only way of putting forward what I see as the rough legislation of the previous government.

The SRA must be strategic. It may seem obvious to say so but it is very, very important. It must be visionary and it must be proactive. It must know more about the railway business than those with whom it deals and it must know what its customers--passenger and freight--want. I suggest that, most of all, it must provide the policy leadership within which the industry must operate. It must work seamlessly with the rail regulator. It is encouraging that the rail regulator is now beginning to take action to ensure that the railways give value for money, performance and growth as well as encouraging competition. It is rather sad that it has taken five years to get this far, but at least it is happening.

At the moment I see the SRA as having to fulfil the important function of the refranchising process as well as encouraging freight. I hope that this is being undertaken within a strategy for developing all the passenger services, as well as freight, and that in the future the process will be a little more clear and transparent. The SRA has to give a lead to the industry and promote best practice and value for money as it will be spending large sums of taxpayers' money.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1007

I shall be proposing an amendment to bring station services within the regulatory framework. I would like briefly to explain this. Railtrack owns all the stations. However, except for some of the larger ones, most are leased to the train operating companies. The Association of Train Operating Companies is concerned that Railtrack does not have to lease stations again when the franchises are re-let and has indicated it would like to take some or all of the stations back as it could make more money on them. The train operators feel that they are closer to the customer and that they can better judge customers' needs at a station. Of course, they are going to be there for up to 20 years and so there is a great deal of logic behind that.

Another problem with passenger trains at the moment is the delays in introducing new rolling stock, and many ministerial words have been said on the subject. There are still thousands of new coaches parked up while commuters endure cattle-truck conditions. It is not good news for the industry.

My noble friend Lord Macdonald stated that there were interim proposals to alter the structure of the safety organisation on railways. I suggest that he takes the Government's example of a regulatory body separate from the operator, as is proposed for air safety. At the moment, thousands of trains are built to the same standards as operate at the moment in many other European countries, and there are no problems outside the UK with track circuits and interference with signalling. Railtrack seems to be so concerned about possible electrical interference from these trains that it cannot accept the trains with continental specifications, even though the new trains create only one-tenth of the interference of the existing trains, which of course had what are called grandfather rights. The same can be said about the size of trains going through tunnels and over bridges. Trains have been built to the existing size specifications and these have also been rejected.

The problem is that Railtrack is playing safe because, after five years of owning the company, it still does not know what it owns. It does not know the height or width of bridges, the loading gauges, the details of signalling or safe interference levels. This is exemplified by the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, which recently sent out inquiries for 1,500 new trains to replace the Mark 1 slam-door stock. In its inquiry document, the SSRA said that it could guarantee the technical accuracy of only 75 per cent of the infrastructure; it could not say which 75 per cent it was guaranteeing. It is difficult to build trains to that specification.

I am sure the House will agree that this is not the way to get trains on the line on time, at the cheapest possible price. Indeed, there are those who suggest that the whole process is designed to reduce Railtrack's risk to a minimum rather than create a safe railway within the guidelines set by government through the Health and Safety Executive and the Railway Inspectorate.

I believe operators and manufacturers need clear specifications for the infrastructure--the heights of bridges, signalling and power supply--if, with

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1008

Railtrack, they are to provide the best and safest value for money. Transparency and complete separation of safety regulation from Railtrack must be the long-term aim. I hope that a start will be made soon in setting up proposals for an overall transport safety body, judging road, rail, air and sea by the same criteria. My noble friend will be pleased to hear that I shall not be putting down such an amendment to the Bill as it is much too early, but it needs to be considered.

Turning briefly to freight, I was heartened that the CBI, the Freight Transport Association and the rail freight industry have come together to demonstrate the need for the industry to have efficient choices between road and rail for freight. The industry is committed to improving services and, with proper investment, it can double its traffic within 10 years, alongside the growth of passenger traffic, which will probably be around 50 per cent. That will have a significant effect on the number of lorries and, more importantly, will provide choice for the industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said that rail freight growth was insignificant and that it would be more than overcome by the growth in road freight over a few years. If I remember correctly, this goes back probably 20 years to the time when the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, was Minister of Transport. He said that, even if rail freight were doubled overnight, it would take up only two years' growth in road freight. The fallacy there was that he was including milk floats in his definition of road freight, and one does not want to take milk floats as part of what could be diverted to rail--unless it is new deliveries for United Dairies.

I support the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to complete the work that was not finished last year of bringing in enforcement measures for the lorry regulations in his Bill. I would certainly welcome similar penalties for overweight lorries coming into the ports. There is a well known story that the first lorry over the new weighbridge in Southampton last year weighed in at 60 tonnes and broke it. I know that that is apocryphal, but the situation still needs to be looked at. There is great support from the road freight industry for such moves. I shall support such an amendment if it is tabled.

Another matter to be considered is extending the rail freight grants and maintaining them until the new ones are in place. We need more flexibility so that operators can develop turn-up-and-go services without having contracts in place. There is an argument for extending the same grant for short sea freight.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, started discussing reserve and non-reserve matters in relation to Scotland. It was interesting because I have recently been involved in trying to re-open a service between Menstrie, Alloa and Stirling for some important rail freight business. The British Rail Property Board, now called Rail Property Limited, owns the first part of the track and Railtrack the rest. Unfortunately, the property board will only sell it to Railtrack at the same price as it wanted for a supermarket development which the Government thankfully stopped. If any money is to go to Railtrack to help it to do that, it has

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1009

to go to the SRA. But I believe that the money has to be voted from the Scottish Executive rather than from the department here. We need to do some work to see whether a simpler scheme can be devised.

Another matter which I would like the House to consider is the idea of a rail freight committee to match the rail passenger committee. Many people will say that the industry can look after itself, but it is not always consulted on closures. There was a serious closure proposal in Holyhead. It was proposed that the last possible terminal for rail freight in the town was to be sold off as a compulsory purchase deal to the local authority. But at the same time the Welsh Assembly has a policy of encouraging rail freight. It was for a new road into the port. But it would have been nice to have been consulted about that rather than having to rely on passenger colleagues telling us about those matters.

The major problem for rail freight and passengers is land. I have talked about passenger and freight growth. If they are to increase by 50 or 100 per cent in 10 years, there must be land for car parks at stations and for rail freight terminals. The British Rail Property Board has been selling off land for years. Many colleagues here have helped to slow down the process. But there is still a risk that land which could be used for car parks and terminals will be sold off for commercial developments. If there are no car parks, there will be no passengers. If there are no freight terminals, there will be no freight.

My honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for railways, Keith Hill, said in another place that the Government believe that strategic sites could be retained for up to 20 years by the Strategic Rail Authority. I am not sure that that message has finally got through to the SRA and the rail property board. We must explore that in Committee. It is extremely important that terminals, car parks and occasional land re-opening--such as the Menstrie branch which I mentioned earlier--should not be sold off for supermarkets but should be retained for future use by rail passengers or freight.

In conclusion, I welcome this Bill. It is long overdue. I am sure that it will do what is required of it. If it does, its length is immaterial. I shall certainly play my part in seeking to bring it to a positive conclusion.

8.31 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, after some 30 authoritative speeches, I shall restrict my comments to two particular aspects of the Bill; namely, that in relation to air and that in relation to local authorities and charging. I want my comments to reflect the impact which the provisions of the Bill will have on those living and working in rural areas.

Environmental considerations are high on the list, especially as regards air quality and noise pollution. The steady increase in both commercial air traffic and private flying is not compensated for by the drop in military traffic. I am concerned that this Bill, from a Government who invoke a mantra of "joined-up" in a

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1010

variety of circumstances, has done nothing to advance the progress of meeting their obligations arising from Montreal and Kyoto. For example, there are no constraints on the NATS replacements to ensure that they function to standards which reduce the amount of time that aeroplanes spend above our airports, doing circuits or stacked in columns miles high. As far as I can see, there is nothing in the Bill which ensures that airlines using our air space must adhere to minimum seat occupancy rates or freight densities. I do not know whether the Government have considered that and perhaps the Minister will clarify that issue when he winds up. That is particularly surprising when one contemplates the wealth of detail contained in Schedules 4 and 5 as they rule on everything from compulsory lands to new towns and planning to water and drainage.

I am sure that I shall be told that our friend "competition" will take care of all that. If one could only be certain that competition is ever the bringer of unalloyed benefit. There is always someone who suffers. I fear that the unregulated increase in air traffic, which other noble Lords have indicated will continue, will cause massive damage to our environment. It may be that in 20 or 30 years' time, our grandchildren will be cursing us for not making better use of this Bill.

Local transport authorities will have many duties and already the detail of potential conflicts is reaching my in-tray. However, I note that Clause 100(3) lays down a statutory duty for the LTAs to have regard to education transport requirements--mainly school buses. So far, I am not aware that the Government will require the local transport plans or either of the quality initiatives to cover specialist, abnormal or innovative transport ideas. We have spoken of many of those in recent debates. Those are particularly important for rural dwellers, low earners everywhere and for those who are still in full-time education. They need to attend classes, go to interviews and take further training at times and in places which do not necessarily match up to publicised public transport schedules.

The provision of information would also be helpful to them. That would be strengthened were a statutory duty to be placed upon the providers of bus services, for example, to publish information about interconnecting services with rail links. I gave one example; namely, that the 7.8 a.m. from Middle Puddle arrives at 7.58 a.m. at Lutterworth Station Road and connects with the 8.7 a.m. to Leicester and London and the 8.11 a.m. to Nottingham. That is a small example but it would help enormously.

Many noble Lords have spoken this evening about their concerns in relation to the charging system and workplace charges. Road-user charging schemes may be applied to many a busy and overcrowded route. I am concerned lest they encourage cars, lorries and other vehicles to divert down country lanes and through villages and market towns. That must not happen.

I hope that in Committee we shall be able to devise a method of ensuring that all charging schemes are monitored and allowed to continue only when they

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1011

have reduced the volume of traffic in absolute terms and without having adverse effects elsewhere. Not only should they be monitored but they should be assessed also to see, for example, the impact on local businesses in neighbouring local authorities, one of which has charges and one of which does not. Such businesses may move from one authority to another in order to avoid the charges.

The Bill requires the local transport authorities to consult a variety of interests in the production of their local transport plans. Many of the county councils involved will doubtless "copy" the parish councils in their areas. But I have searched in vain for anything in the Bill which can be interpreted as new statutory powers for parish councils to deal with transport matters in their own territory. Again, perhaps the Minister will comment on that in his response. Rural communities may find themselves disadvantaged and with no adequate means to counter it.

I turn to the theme about which other noble Lords have spoken earlier; that is, the economic impact of the workplace parking levy on business. I do so in the knowledge of the figures produced by several numerate firms within the engineering community.

Let us assume, for argument's sake, that the level set is £250. That is a cautious assumption. It may be much higher in many regions and perhaps as high as £3,000 per space in London. For a large company with 2,000 to 2,500 car parking spaces throughout the UK, the cost would be in the region of £500,000 to £625,000 per annum. The burden of those charges on that business will be massive.

Let us take, for example, a certain large engineering company with a number of sites throughout the UK. It has said that the additional cost of the levy will put pressure on the business's profitability and may lead to employment cut-backs. That particular company has already taken steps to reduce its staff's dependency on cars for getting into work by introducing special bus services and car-share schemes. It seems that regardless of its efforts, because the company has 23,700 spaces, the result of the workplace parking levy will be a bill for that company of nearly £6 million.

Another large national company believes that the levy will lead to job cuts and has already taken steps to encourage its employees to consider other forms of transport with the introduction of free minibuses, cycle racks, showers and car-sharing schemes. The company also operates shift working and flexible starting times. Overall, the firm has some 6,500 car parking spaces throughout the UK which would cost it some £1.6 million.

Other noble Lords, and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, said quite clearly that the move is a tax on business. Indeed it is. Given the examples which I have outlined of the effect on big business, what will be the effect on small and medium-sized businesses? Many are based rurally and have no alternative. At present, bus services, if they exist, are infrequent, so cars have to be used. That is not a choice but a fact of life. Not only is that a necessity; it is convenient and enables small businesses to do more business.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1012

If a local authority introduces the new user charges and a neighbouring one does not, I fear that we will see businesses, especially the smaller ones, move to the area in which the authority does not charge. That could put greater pressure on rural communities at a time when many are struggling to survive.

We welcome the concept of better integrated local transport systems. I, too, follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and include walking and cycling, which are important. However, in Committee we on these Benches will look carefully at the detail and the practical implications of the Bill for the consumer, the user and particularly those in rural areas who are solely dependent upon their car for getting to work and doing business.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Elder : My Lords, I believe that the Bill represents a major advance in the development of an integrated transport policy in this country. It is over 30 years since such a decisive step has been taken to revitalise our public transport services and initiate a comprehensive modernisation of transport services across the board, coupled as it is with a great deal of new investment.

During the course of the debate we have heard of a number of possible amendments. I should certainly like to add my support to one; namely, the extension of a freight facilities grant for coastal and short sea shipping. That has been a declared policy objective of the Government. I very much hope that this opportunity to put that into effect will not be missed and that support for an amendment might be forthcoming from all parts of the House.

There has been broad-based support for the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority. Recently, one or two contributions have been made commenting on aspects of how these matters affect Scotland. During the course of detailed discussion of the Bill, I hope that it will be possible for the Government to give reassurance that what is contained in the Bill does not change the agreement reached during the passage of the Scotland Act and set out in what has become known as the "McLeish Settlement" and regarded rightly as an important matter in Scotland. It relates to the role of Scottish Ministers in giving direction and guidance to the SRA in relation to Scottish services and the circumstances in which it might be proper for the SRA to disregard that guidance in the light of other guidance received.

To ensure clarity in this area and avoid any possible recourse to law when disagreements arise, it might well be that having this settlement built into the Bill rather than based in a ministerial statement would be preferable. After all, Ministers change. More permanence might be more reassuring.

The part of the Bill which has attracted the most comment is Part I, which relates to the proposals concerning the restructuring of NATS. First, I wholeheartedly welcome the Government's commitment to the two-centre strategy and the building of the new facility at Prestwick. This has been

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1013

keenly sought and will greatly benefit the economy of Ayr and Ayrshire. The overriding factor in all the discussions and for all those involved in the debate has been safety. At the heart of the issue are fears that a private sector company cannot provide the necessary guarantee of safety. I find that argument rather curious.

I have heard rehearsed before, not least by the Deputy Prime Minister in relation to Sellafield, in terms of the argument of safety in the public and private sectors, that it might be possible to dispute whether or not recent discoveries of problems there were due to a move towards privatisation or whether such problems came to light when the pre-privatisation audit was undertaken. What is beyond dispute is that Dounreay, which has never been considered for privatisation, has a record which, although improving, has been far from exemplary and is still far from perfect. Being in the public sector is no guarantor of safety.

If, indeed, the link between the pilots and ground staff is key, it seems extraordinary that this should work well when the pilots are in either the private or public sectors, but only if NATS staff are wholly in the public sector. The provision of ground services, perfectly satisfactorily, by the private sector in a number of UK airports is deemed to be irrelevant by most critics.

I have no doubt that the ethos that has built up in NATS is of great importance; perhaps even more important than the rules that apply. I dispute that all that must change on the introduction of a PPP. The unions have expressed their concerns. I hope that they will continue to press for any sensible improvements in the proposed regime. Ministers have again made clear that they would be prepared to listen to such suggestions, but I do not believe that the basic scheme should be substantially altered.

I understand also that doubts might emerge when a company is seen to cut staff to boost its profits or its Stock Exchange position. But I really doubt that the Stock Exchange would take kindly to a company, part of which had as its prime purpose safety, compromising that safety for short-term financial reasons. That seems an unusually unsophisticated view to take of the stock market. Would institutional investors really be happy to see a company in which they held shares taking steps to undermine its ability to deliver on its core business? Of course not.

Profits can come from a variety of sources, not least from growing the company. The proposed PPP enables NATS to obtain the funding necessary to ensure that the system in the future is as up to date and sophisticated as the increase in traffic which we all expect will demand. No one should underestimate the scale of that task or the potential benefits of remaining ahead of the field in this very competitive market.

I am wholly in favour of the public sector doing and being encouraged to do what it does well. But however strongly that view is held, we have to face up to the fact

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1014

that there are some things which the private sector does better. It is a recognition of that reality which is behind the Government's proposals.

The Government have sought to combine the very real expertise in operational matters that NATS has with private sector managerial standards which NATS equally clearly lacks. There is nothing intrinsically wicked about that; quite the contrary. It is plain common sense.

For those opposing the Government, a search has been on to find a proposal, not because it is best and nor, indeed, because the individuals support it, but because it might maximise opposition to the PPP scheme. I fear that maximising opposition will mean there will be some very odd bedfellows indeed. Those in favour of the complete privatisation of NATS will find common cause with those who oppose the introduction of the private sector at all. That is not a sensible way in which to proceed.

Perhaps even more importantly, I doubt whether it will be in the long-term interests of this House if we are seen as the place where a battle can be taken when it has been lost in another place. There is a world of difference between the second Chamber amending and improving and providing the time for consultation and reflection, and the second unelected Chamber overturning a clear government proposal backed by the other place by a clear margin. I very much hope that will not happen and that the proposals charting the way forward for NATS will be supported here as they were there. I wholeheartedly welcome and support the Bill.

8.48 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee : My Lords, the debate has been marked by a length and range matching those of the Bill, and particularly by three maiden speeches, different in content but similar in the authority of the speakers. I am delighted that we have another three effective women in the House with a great deal to offer. The congratulations of this House sometimes smack of protesting too much because we are flowery in our language. I hope that the three maiden speakers will accept the sincerity of the congratulations which have come from all quarters.

The Minister described the Bill as the first comprehensive Transport Bill for over 30 years. It has been said to me that the only thing integrating the Bill is a set of staples. That is a little harsh. As stated by my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, transport is a facilitator not an objective in its own right. It is important for achieving economic development, including access to jobs; in land use planning, housing and health. We have talked often in this Chamber of the problems of children with asthma.

I welcomed the context in which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford put the Bill. He suggested that it cannot address the growth of population, but I join him in pausing for a moment over the Minister's description of air traffic as, "inexorably expanding". The Government seem to be in danger of taking the slightly defeatist, weary view of

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1015

air traffic that they do of road traffic. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will take the opportunity to explain the Government's attitude to traffic volume and growth and their effect on the environment. As we know, the Government pledged to reduce the rate of growth, rather than an absolute reduction in levels. That reminds me a little of the claim of the Conservative government that they were being successful when they were reducing the rate of growth of inflation rather than reducing inflation itself.

Sustainability is mentioned in the Bill, but not as an overarching objective. I believe the Government said that they will keep under review the contribution of the railways to sustainable development objectives. That made me wonder which comes first, the cart or the horse--no transport pun intended. Nor is there an overarching objective of equality of access. Those who have, for instance, mobility problems, have a specific interest in integration.

A thread which ran through the debate is that of safety, particularly commented on by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. On that note, I am sorry that the opportunity has not been taken in this Bill to address the question of speed limits on roads.

Safety is of course particularly important in the context of NATS. The Minister told the House that this is not a sale without safeguards; that there will be a legally-binding contract. Speaking as a solicitor, I would prefer to see statutory provision rather than a reliance on contract. We are told that the government director on the board of the company will have a special responsibility for safety. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister can tell the House, particularly in the context of plans for an offence of corporate manslaughter, whether or not there will be Crown immunity.

One only needs to travel on a plane which loses its take-off slot to realise how fine is the timing; how delicate is the task of air traffic control, although I am sure other noble Lords have noted that the blame is always placed on Belgian air traffic control. One only needs to read reports of what is termed rather euphemistically as an "air miss", (in my language almost a collision) or of airlines which cut very fine the amount of fuel they carry, relying on not being stacked over airports, to realise the problems involved.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that the Government have not begun to justify the proposed share structure and the possible dilution of the Government's interest in the plans contained in the Bill. Is it not true that, yet again, the PSBR rules are obstructing investment, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, hinted (perhaps more than hinted) and that accountancy is obstructing the best decision making? Of course I appreciate the need for investment, but I worry about some of the arguments. The noble Lord, Lord Elder, repeated the argument of NATS that profitability can be increased by growing the business and exporting know-how. I do not deny that that may be a possibility, but I suspect that the opportunities for doing so must be limited. I note also in the Bill that the general duty on the Secretary of State puts airlines and airports before customers.

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1016

Members of the Benches opposite have had some fun about the co-operation (or otherwise) between the Opposition parties in relation to these proposals. It was said that we are just playing politics; that we will have talked about whether and how we will oppose the Government. Thanks for the idea; perhaps now we will. As my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood said twice during this debate--it did not stop the accusation continuing--there has not been discussion. Perhaps there should be, because politics is about real aims and outcomes and not about playing. But I am puzzled that, given the less than wholehearted support of the Government Back-Benchers for NATS, one might have thought that they would not play politics but would look for a way of persuading the Government to think again. I do not know whether their approach is their search for an excuse for not having to vote where their mouths are.

I turn to local transport plans and parts of the Bill that we welcome far more. I welcome the acknowledgement of the role of local authorities, although I confess that I should like to see them set more in the context of regional policy as well as other areas. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw talked about the enforcement of bus lanes. That leads one on to arguments about resourcing the police or possibly transferring the responsibility for enforcement. But I accept that the Bill cannot cover everything.

With regard to buses, as my noble friend Lord Bradshaw illustrated, integration and competition do not lie easily together. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, said that through ticketing on a multi-modal basis is the ultimate test of integration. I suggest that so too is integration of information; for example, being able to find out before one gets on a train what is happening with the bus service at the other end of the line. I trust that local authorities will share their customary enthusiasm for innovation in the use of new technology in providing information. They have certainly shown an innovative approach in the use of "old" technology--that may not be the right description when one talks about "walking buses" to which the right reverend Prelate referred. But I too am aware of schemes which have been very successful.

I look forward to the discussion in relation to the scope of quality partnerships, and agree with those, including the Local Government Association, who argue that they should extend to fares and frequencies. Also, during the course of the Bill, I shall seek assurances that standards include the standards of driving buses and the training and retention of drivers. I am sure noble Lords will be aware, either through experience or through the media, of the real danger in which some passengers are placed through sloppy driving.

By definition, quality partnerships should include everything that the partners wish to include, subject perhaps to legislative minima. I am puzzled as to why the Bill limits the criteria. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, rightly spoke of the specific needs of rural communities, to which partnerships should have regard. And we will also be discussing the issue of equality in the area of concessionary fares. The noble

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1017

Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned those and the Liberal Democrats support equality in that area. I would prefer to see the Bill deal with that rather than a legal challenge to the unequal provision currently on offer.

I turn now to congestion and workplace charging. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and other Members of the Conservative Benches described them as taxes. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, spoke of congestion charging being a "last resort". I believe that we need now to look for the solution of last resort, given the problem of congestion. We also need to be clear whether congestion charging is about dealing with congestion or about raising money. I believe it is the former. I agree with Members on the Conservative Benches about the importance of hypothecation and additionality. Those are matters which will assist public confidence in congestion-charging schemes.

Throughout the Bill the Secretary of State needs the consent of the Treasury--the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, referred to this--and one wonders whether joined-up government might now allow a Secretary of State not to have the statutory constraint of having it spelt out that he needs to go to the Treasury. I feel that we would accept that as a way of governing generally rather than having to have it spelt out on the face of the Bill. We on these Benches will also be tabling amendments, as we did in connection with the London scheme, to allow local authorities to borrow against the income stream from these schemes.

We want to see local authorities have maximum autonomy and discretion in dealing with such schemes, including charging at out-of-town retail and leisure sites. We also think it is important--I am sure local authorities will be able to work out suitable mechanisms for this--to be able to link workplace charging with green travel plans, as has been mentioned. I must confess that I have some doubts about the likely effectiveness of workplace charging, which I believe will have no effect on through traffic, but that may be because of my experiences in London. I shall willingly accept the judgment of local authorities in that respect.

I utterly agree with other noble Lords who have mentioned the need for charging to follow public transport improvements. That is why, in our view, it is necessary to allow local authorities to borrow in order to invest in public transport. In a briefing that many of your Lordships will have received, the AA says that such schemes,

    "must have an honest framework".

We must take seriously the concerns that are expressed about the mechanisms and the detail involved. The CBI has also expressed some concerns. It is because it supports congestion charging in principle that one must take such concerns most seriously.

I turn finally to railways. The Strategic Rail Authority, if not the strategic transport authority, is required because of the tangle of provision--or failure

5 Jun 2000 : Column 1018

of provision--which was so roundly condemned by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and others. I confess that I am not satisfied with the separation of, on the one hand, its purposes and, on the other, the duties regarding the exercise of its functions. That seems to me to make both sustainability and integration with other modes of transport secondary issues.

I also note that the franchise director has been set an objective of increasing the number of passengers travelling by rail. That seems to me to miss the point to some extent. Would it not be better to increase the percentage, as absolute numbers are dependent on other factors such as the success of the economy? I should like to see a formal relationship between the work of the SRA and local transport plans. Issues such as safety at stations require a close relationship. I should also like the SRA to have regard to regional transport strategies and, indeed, to contribute to their development.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, referred to the Metrolink service in that city. To a large extent, that service uses existing track that is no longer used by heavy rail traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, referred to non-operational land. I share the concern that land which might be used, for example, for modal interchange should not be lost and that the role of the British Rail Property Board and Railtrack should not be allowed to be that of a commercial property developer. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, the real problem is land.

In conclusion, it was not only the beady eye of the indomitable chair of the Transport Committee of another place that led to such opposition being expressed during the course of today's debate to a major part of the Bill. We on these Benches support much of the Bill--the parts which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said, affect most people. But we shall want to tweak those. However, we do not support the proposals for NATS.

9.4 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to wind up this interesting and good-humoured debate on the Bill, although I suspect that there will be many long nights ahead of us before the Bill is passed. We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I now have little idea of how long my speech will take--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page