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Lord Lyell: Before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, perhaps I may ask for clarification. As one who uses sleeper and other rail services which begin and end in Scotland, can he enlighten me on whether there is any possibility of a clash taking place between Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State as regards aspects such as financing, particular services and timing?

The Minister will remember that I served on a committee that looked into the redevelopment of Waverley station in Edinburgh. We were told that, over the coming four to five years, Great North Eastern Railways were hoping to double the number of trains departing from Waverley for King's Cross.

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Can the Minister tell me whether it would be possible for clashes to occur as regards departures and so forth between the Secretary of State and Scottish Ministers?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I do not think that at this late hour it would be prudent to speculate on where future clashes might occur. The noble Lord has already pointed out that the areas where that form of guidance will be most appropriate will be on which days and times services will run, stopping places and so forth. Those are the normal operational functions of a train service and would be subject to discussion, consultation and resolution.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 295 not moved.]

Clause 207 agreed to.

Clauses 208 and 209 agreed to.

Clause 210 [Financial assistance etc.]:

[Amendments Nos. 296 to 299 not moved.]

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 300:

    Page 123, line 16, at end insert--

("( ) The repeal of sections 137 and 139 of the Railways Act 1993 (as set out in Schedule 30) shall not come into effect until similar or wider schemes have been brought into operation; and the Authority shall consult the industry on the content of such schemes.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendments Nos. 340 and 341.

Amendment No. 300 is a probing amendment. Sections 139 and 141 of the Railways Act 1993 provide the framework for giving freight facilities and track access grants for rail freight. Schedule 30 to the Bill repeals those sections. The amendment seeks confirmation from my noble friend the Minister that they will not be repealed until similar provision--it is to be hoped bigger and better--is put in their place and that consultation will take place first. I understand that the SRA is about to begin consulting on such provision. Nevertheless, it would be sad if there were a one or two-year gap between the repeal of Sections 139 and 141 of the Railways Act and the introduction of replacement provision.

Amendment No. 340 is of more substance. It proposes a rail freight council alongside the rail passenger council although much smaller. The amendment states that the council should be statutory and that it should provide representation for the industry.

The reason behind the amendment is that, whereas the passenger councils are statutory consultees and can find out about things, in the rail freight industry the only people who find out what is going on are the train operators, and not all train operators. There is a particular piece of information about terminals which is available only to members of the so-called "10 per cent club"--those who have 10 per cent or more of the business. In other words, the customers, the hauliers, the logistic service providers and others have no right

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to consultation on matters affecting the provision of the services. They must rely on their own efforts or the pressure of trade organisations such as the Rail Freight Group or the Freight Transport Association. But neither of those organisations has a locus.

The approach is not working. I shall not bore the Committee with too many examples; perhaps I may give just two. The last site which might have been suitable for a railroad interchange at Holyhead was a passenger siding. The local authority wanted to close the siding under a compulsory purchase order and build a new road to the port, which we thought odd as the Welsh authority's policy was to encourage rail freight. We only heard about it through some friends on the passenger consultative committee and we are still pursuing the matter. There is no locus for anyone in the freight industry to protest against that proposal, any more than there is in relation to the sale of infrastructure.

A network change proposal may again seem somewhat abstruse to Members of the Committee, but there is a proposal to close a rail freight terminal in Aberdeen and build two more in its place. The one that is being closed is directly next to the port, and the port says that it wishes to start rail freight. Again, the only two organisations that are consulted on that proposal are Railtrack and EWS railway, both of which, I believe, have a commercial interest in the new development.

That is not good enough if the wish of the Government is to get more freight onto the railways. It will mean more operators and more customers. It is a wide-ranging and a disparate industry--in the nice sense of the word. Therefore, I tabled the amendment with a view to trying to create something along the lines of the passenger council but very much smaller with a small secretariat and the members of the council not being paid, which I thought was appropriate.

Amendment No. 341 is an attempt to put into words a duty on Railtrack and others who may wish to close lines, services or anything else to consult with the rail freight council, assuming it exists, before the closure. That sad experience is all too common at present. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee: I support the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in his Amendment No. 340 and wish that I had thought of it myself. He has made some powerful arguments and I look forward to the Minister's response.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I share the envy expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Attlee, of the excellent scheme thought up by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

Baroness Wilcox: I tabled Amendment No. 357A on behalf of private consumers, to deal with concerns raised recently that current legislation is inadequate for ensuring that passengers are properly informed and consulted about service alterations. There was a reluctance recently to display notices at railway

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stations in relation to Thameslink 2000 closures--as had previously been the custom and practice. Although the authorities were eventually persuaded, some notices were in less than satisfactory locations. That episode highlights the lack of a statutory requirement to ensure notification of service changes.

Although changes may be advertised in local newspapers, the posting of notices at stations is optional. How many people read their local newspapers to learn of changes to their rail services? Such information should be available at the point at which the public regularly use the service. Passengers ought to be fully informed about changes to publicly funded services and have the opportunity to comment.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 300 relates to payments and grants for freight and seeks to keep the 1993 Act regime, which is to be repealed by this Bill, in place until the authority has set up a new scheme--which it will have the powers to do under Clause 210. It is the intention of the Government and the authority that there should be no hiatus in the provision of grants for freight, so I am happy to give my noble friend the reassurance he seeks.

I have greater difficulty with Amendment No. 340, for the establishment of a rail freight council more or less along the lines of the rail passengers council. Rail freight is not in the same position as rail passenger services, yet the amendments would give the proposed freight council much wider powers than those in the Bill for the rail passengers council.

The nature of freight services and the relationship between the customer and the service provider is different from that of passenger services. Freight operators already have a strong incentive to listen to their customers and resolve any problems they may encounter. The role of the rail passengers council and committees will be to speak up for passengers. Freight services tend to be used by private companies that are better placed to represent themselves and to take up complaints directly with the freight operator concerned. My noble friend is a good example of vocal advocacy for the industry. I do not see an equivalence between freight and passenger services in the way that my noble friend suggests.

My noble friend's amendment would also give the rail freight council power to specify that it must be consulted on any matter which it considered relevant to its duty. That is a very wide remit, which goes beyond any equivalent powers in relation to passenger services that are enjoyed by the rail passengers' council or its committees. To make such a council a statutory consultee on all matters relating to rail freight--major and minor closures, infrastructure sales, network changes and so on--goes rather further than the equivalent on the passenger side and may place an inappropriate and onerous burden on the authority. Therefore, I cannot accept my noble friend's amendments as drafted.

Amendment No. 341 goes on to require the authority to consult the rail freight council on proposed closures. It would give the authority a

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statutory power to require Railtrack to retain infrastructure, or take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the infrastructure can be reopened. The authority is charged with supporting freight interests. It will be able to take freight interests into account when considering passenger-related closure proposals. The authority will be able to define its own reasonable requirements of Railtrack in respect of the strategic capability of the network. The setting up of controls on freight assets and their disposal can be pursued through existing routes: the track access conditions and the existing conditions of Railtrack's network licence.

In addition, the rail regulator is currently considering a new licence condition which would impose on Railtrack controls for the disposal of relevant assets, including the disposal of land. Therefore, I believe that the objectives of my noble friend's proposed new clause are already met through the Rail Regulator.

Amendment No. 357A tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, would require the authority to publish notices of proposed railway closures at all the stations. We have some sympathy with this amendment, but there is a problem. The Bill makes the authority responsible for publishing proposed major closures. However, the difficulty in requiring the authority to publish notices is that it does not have power to do so without the station operators' consent. There are mechanisms within the existing framework to require operators to co-operate. Perhaps they should be examined further. However, the amendment makes me a little uneasy in that it places a statutory burden on the SRA to do something which it will be able to do only subject to a franchising provision, or licensing mechanism, which does not appear on the statute book. I prefer the arrangement to be symmetrical, whether it is done within or without the legislation. However, the noble Baroness makes an important point and, with her agreement, I should like to take the amendment away for further consideration.

With those reassurances, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment and that we may return to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness.

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