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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the question of recovering some of the costs of the damage done to roads by traffic is constantly under consideration. It is true that British hauliers probably pay more than hauliers in any other country. Although in an ideal world one would like to recover the full costs, in the real world our hauliers are competing against lorry drivers and lorry companies from other countries and we must keep the competitive aspects in mind.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, reverting to the Question, if there is over-capacity in the industry--which I believe there is, although I am not sure--does not that support the case for a reduction in fuel costs?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I cannot follow the noble Lord's logic, though I am sure that there is a point that I am simply missing. It is important to look at the industry's ability to compete. Competing while making reasonable profits raises complex difficulties. They involve matters such as the purchasing power of increasingly consolidating sectors, such as retail and manufacturing, and the fact that in some ways haulage is one of the more vulnerable links in the supply chain. People are therefore forced to work for margins lower than they may prefer. This makes for an efficient economy, but it also makes for some disgruntled employees in the companies working within it. The Road Haulage Forum is working with associations and trade unions
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that one of the issues at the time of the fuel crisis was competition from Europe? Can he confirm that the competition from Europe in terms of the actual business taken is very minimal indeed?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, this is again a complex area. If we take what is known as "cabotage"--in other words, foreign lorries coming in and taking business from inside Britain--yes, it is very low. According to the most recent surveys, it is probably only one lorry journey in every thousand. On the other hand, competition in hauling goods across the Channel has become more intense and has affected sections of our lorry fleet. We look to give those sections as much protection as we can.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be unwise to do anything about any existing over-capacity in the road haulage industry while the railway freight industry is in its present condition?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, we have had a gratifying increase in the amount of freight carried by rail in recent years. I look forward to that continuing in future, with the billions of pounds-worth of investment that have been set aside for rail freight within the 10-year transport plan. In terms of its relationship with road haulage, the inexorable growth in areas of haulage will still allow rail freight to expand. I do not see them as contradictory sectors; they can increasingly work together. As I said, over-capacity is a complex problem. There can be seasonal periods when there is something of an under-capacity. It also depends partly on regional pressures inside the United Kingdom. The statistics that many noble Lords may have seen refer to a 30 per cent over-capacity. Those figures are some four years old and I would not lay too much store on the methodology that produced them.
Lord Macdonald: My Lords, it is true that foreign trucks are coming in with diesel that is not the ultra-low sulphur diesel that we incentivise and prefer. However, I should point out that British trucks can fill up on the Continent--and very cheaply, too, given the strength of the pound--and that they too can bring "dirty diesel" into Britain. I am delighted to say that the use of ultra-low sulphur diesel, which has a target date for implementation across Europe of a few years' time, is almost universal in the United Kingdom because of the co-operation of our oil companies and the discounts given by the Chancellor for ultra-low sulphur diesel.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as a Privy Counsellor himself, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, will be aware that all members of the Privy Council are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen and are bound by the individual oath that they take on becoming members of the Privy Council. I am not aware of any present intention to issue a general reminder of the obligations that the oath imposes.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in recent years there has been a tendency on the part of some Privy Counsellors to "go public" instead of obeying the ancient convention of confidentiality?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is thinking of some of the instances, of which all Members of the House will be aware, in which people have perhaps written about experiences which could be said to fall under the terms of their oath. As I said in my original Answer to the noble Lord, it is for individual Privy Counsellors to decide what action is necessary in order to ensure that they meet those obligations.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it would be a great pity were we to be deprived of the memoirs of former Prime Ministers? Does she further agree that it would be a great sadness to many of us if we could not have the pleasure of reading the revelations contained in the autobiographies of, for instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Mr Heseltine?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the content of the memoirs. But if he is suggesting that someone should automatically take advantage of matters about which they have learnt in the context of their Privy Council membership, that is slightly more controversial.
Lord Renton: My Lords, the noble Lord is not going to be answered. Surely it is in the national interest that Privy Counsellors who are members of different parties should be encouraged to discuss matters of state which are above party, such as defence and foreign affairs? In order for that to be done effectively, it should be done while obeying the convention of confidentiality. Does not the Government accept that opinion?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that the Government accept that opinion. The noble Lord's original Question was about the obligations on individual Privy Counsellors to maintain their oath. The noble Lord may well be aware--although I was not aware before he asked his Question--that apparently it is regarded within the confines of the oath that a meeting of the Privy Council is taking place when only two Privy Counsellors speak to each other. I therefore had to remind the Chief Whip that he and I were both speaking in the terms of the Privy Council while sitting on the Front Bench.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, lamented the breach of confidentiality by Privy Counsellors, he was mistaken in adding the words "in recent years"?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as always, I defer to the noble Earl in his historical sweep and his view of these matters. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is concerned about the fact that these confidences are widely spread through the activities of the modern media. Those might not have been present at the time to which the noble Earl refers.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that she is as happy as I am that the traditional arrangements that have always existed between the Leader of this House and the Leader of the Opposition have been maintained and carried on, that our conversations on Privy Council terms have remained confidential, and they have always been in the interests of this House?
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, reverting to the whole question of confidentiality referred to in the Question, does not the responsibility of a confidence freely received and given confer an obligation on a section of the population that is much greater than the Privy Council? It is usually a matter of honour that the confidences are received on the basis that they remain confidential. Is it not an obligation on us all?
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