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Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the case for subsidised station car parks as a congenial and cost-effective way of relieving congestion has been made ever since the Buchanan report? Should we therefore conclude that this is one of those cases which is too sensible ever to get attention?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we are giving attention to the matter. Indeed, recently in the South West, a proposal from a train operating company to put up car parking charges encountered great local resistance and the charges were subsequently reduced.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it should be a condition on the franchisee that car parking charges are not hiked by 60 per cent--as happened recently at Reading--and that car parks are not let out to local offices? Cannot those measures be incorporated in the new franchises?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we can certainly examine the issue. It is not proposed that the franchising director should regulate car parking charges directly under the provisions of the Transport Bill. However, it is expected that there will be reasonable commercial and contractual incentives on operators to keep car parking charges to a minimum. The importance of car parking has been confirmed by the SRA and others as a result of consultation with customers.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the whole point of the exercise is to get people to leave their cars at the station and then use a train. Would it not be sensible if the authorities made a regulation to deal with this matter rather than leaving it to the random effects of economic pressure?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we shall certainly discuss with the SRA whether it is worth overturning the considerations of the previous administration in this regard. I should also say to the noble Baroness who tabled the Question that we are looking to the rail regulator to keep his eye on rail fares as regards competition.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, after years of rail fragmentation and confusion which are only now coming to an end, it would be very unwise to go into another extended period of dislocation--especially when we are on the verge of investing
Lord Peston: My Lords, I did not fully understand my noble friend's answer in connection with the competition authorities. Did he say that the competition authorities have no locus with regard to the setting of prices for railway journeys and no locus in regard to dealing with car parks, which in most cases are a monopoly? Is he saying that somehow the legislation was devised so that the competition authorities cannot deal with this subject?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: No, my Lords. I am saying that the Rail Regulator is the competent authority concurrent with the Director General of Fair Trading to enforce the provisions of the Competition Act in respect of rail fares. I was also saying, perhaps not clearly enough, that the regulator has received a number of complaints from the public and from Members of Parliament concerning recent fare increases. He takes the matter very seriously in considering whether to take any further action under the Competition Act.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, did I hear the Minister just now say that "we" are in the process of investing £60 billion in the railways? Do I assume that by "we" he means the Government? Can he say how much of that money is government money and how much of it is private sector money?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I said "we" in the context of the partnerships about which the Government are extremely enthusiastic. I should confirm that we will be putting in £15 billion of public investment through the 10-year plan, £11 billion of public resource revenue investment, and we shall look to the private sector to come forward with investment of £34 billion.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on previous occasions when the railways have faced significant increases in demand the reaction of the government of the day--of both parties--was to encourage the industry to choke off demand by putting up prices well above the rate of inflation? Can we be sure that, with the 10-year plan and the very welcome commitment to the 50 per cent increase in passenger usage, the rail companies will not be allowed to rip off the customers and will be required to invest in new facilities and new capacity?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we will certainly not encourage any traditional habits of pricing customers off the railway in that way. In fact the RPI-1 formula is in place for the next three years. I should also remind noble Lords that since 1974 real income has increased by 185 per cent, whereas the cost of travelling by rail has increased up by 150 per cent. However, the total cost of travelling by car has remained at 100 per cent. So we wish to make rail and indeed bus travel more competitive against car travel.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, enhanced, or closer, co-operation has been possible since the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty. We are not opposed to it and recognise that in an enlarged EU it may prove useful. The Amsterdam IGC also agreed certain conditions governing the use of enhanced co-operation intended to ensure that it protected the coherence of the EU, in particular the single market. The issue for the IGC is whether those conditions are too restrictive. We will examine proposals for change carefully.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Can she say what harm to British interests could conceivably result from France and Germany, for example, introducing a carbon tax or harmonising their corporation tax rate or co-operating on environmental matters, provided these did not cut across legislation on the single market? Is it not the case that Europe, with the Danish opt-outs, the British opt-outs and with the Schengen agreement, is already a multi-speed, variable geometry Europe? Is it not time that the Foreign Office stopped its obsession with so-called "influence" and "dining at the top table", and, if I may mix my metaphors, stopped behaving generally like a dog in the manger?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Lord should so describe Her Majesty's Government. It is not a description which I recognise or with which I could possibly agree. The noble Lord will know well that closer co-operation was set out in Amsterdam. The reason that those conditions were attached was so that there would be coherence within the Union. The noble Lord will know that the Government are committed to enlargement. We are one of the countries leading the way in relation to that matter. It is extremely important to those countries that wish to join Europe that they know exactly what they are joining. For that reason we do look at the conditions that were attached at Amsterdam. It is a new structure. We should like to wait to see how matters develop. But it is right to say that this matter is being talked about.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot but respectfully agree with my noble friend. We would wish to see a Europe functioning at its best. We believe that the system is there to allow that to happen. This Government are determined that Britain should remain relevant, as opposed to becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, is it not the case that subsidiarity is becoming ever more important, particularly with enlargement of the EU? Should that not apply at every level, from the region upwards? In anticipating the next Question, might it not help to prevent over-legislation at Westminster?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, subsidiarity is of course a matter of importance. But Her Majesty's Government feel, and with force, that we have to create in Europe a fair playing field for all countries so that we know the way in which we are going and the conditions which apply to all of us.
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