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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, although I must say that it was rather opaque. The fact is that governments have sanctioned large sums of money for the provision of bi-directional signalling on most of our main lines and it is not being used, causing huge delays to people. It also prevents the safety regulations being enforced because it is difficult to inspect track if the single line is not used. Will the Minister therefore take back that Answer and press officials as to how much use is being made of bi-directional signalling where vast sumstens of millions of poundshave been spent in providing it and it is not being used?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord thought the Answer was opaque. He has much greater experience of the rail industry than I have and I thought the reply was perfectly clear. The simple fact is that the overall position with regard to bi-directional signalling has not been changed. I
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, perhaps I may give my noble friend an example and ask him a question. Is he aware that the Strategic Rail Authority has announced that the franchise for the Great Eastern Ipswich to London service will be based on a total closure of the line every three weeks until 2012 so that the track can be renewed? That is a closure of 54 hours every third weekend for the next 10 years because the company will not be able to operate some trains on the single track remaining. Does my noble friend agree that that will seriously disadvantage passengers and freight? Perhaps he will encourage the industry and its contractors to come up with schemes that enable single-line working to be operated safely.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend is right; the priority is safe operation of single directional working on the railway. I do not have particular knowledge of the problems with regard to the service on the line he mentions but I shall look into the matter. Some unfortunate costs are attached to the massive investment being put into renewing track since Hatfield in order to guarantee that it is safe. That causes some disruption to the railways.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, is the Minister aware that those of us who spent some time at Didcot station at seven o'clock this morning would have welcomed a train arriving at any platform on any line and from any direction? Is it not somewhat depressing that the Strategic Rail Authority has lowered the punctuality thresholds for Network Rail and the services?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the second point is an important one. There are signs of a slow improvement in punctuality. The noble Viscount is right. We are starting from a base that is scarcely tolerable. We therefore want to see a more rapid improvement and that is why demands on Network Rail are an increasing tendency. However, I notice that the Opposition spokesperson does not care in which direction he travels so long as he travels.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that was an unfortunate occurrence. It is the case that now and again some accident occurs on the railway producing massive disruption to passengers. Rightly, passengers feel poorly done by when that happens. For example, huge anxieties were expressed and there were great swathes of public complaints some weeks ago after a railside fire put the Paddington line out of action. Such events occur. I hear what the noble Lord says about accidents not happening elsewhere, but I believe that in some systems they do.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while everyone has a right to expect the railway to operate as safely as possible, we are in danger of adopting double standards when we treat railways so differently from highways? Is there a proposal, for example, for the rules on bi-directional working on our railways to be applied to contra-flows on motorways?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is perhaps a little adrift of the Question. I believe that the only view to which we would all subscribe in this House is that we expect vastly higher standards on the railways than those we have been able to achieve on the roads, and we intend to keep it that way.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the measures to support combined heat and power announced in the energy White Paper, when taken together with the support measures previously introduced by the Government, can significantly help CHP. Although challenging, the target to which the noble Lord referred is achievable with sustained effort on the part of both the private and public sectors.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and declare an interest in the promotion of small-scale generation of electricity. Does he agree that combined heat and power achieves efficiencies of up to 90 per cent compared with 40 to 50 per cent for a conventional power station, and that CHP has so far saved 4 million tonnes of carbon emissions in the atmosphere compared with conventional generation? However, does the Minister also agree that market conditions have meant a substantial slowdown in the
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government are well aware of and committed to the energy efficiency advantages of CHP. The noble Lord is right; the market conditions reflected in the relative prices of gas and electricity have reduced the market signals for the choice of CHP in a number of installations. However, the changes which the Government have brought about, both in the CHP draft strategy which we shall finalise later this year and in the energy White Paper, will help to turn that position, as will the changes in the new electricity trading arrangements (NETA) regulations, which in part previously hindered the adoption of CHP in certain circumstances. A number of support measures are now in place to get us back on trend to achieve the target.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the reality is that the new trading arrangements have successfully reduced the price of electricity by 40 per cent at the wholesale level and have been very beneficial for consumers. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, they have had a dramatic effect on investment. What positive steps will be taken by the Government to change things? Unless something is done now, the electricity generating industry will be frozen in its old-time, inefficient and environmentally unfriendly framework. The opportunity will no longer exist for new investment to be made because it is uncompetitive and uneconomic.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in referring again to the changes in prices which have reduced the incentive for CHP. However, he is wrong to say that the Government are not already engaged in substantial support for that sector to offset those market signals. We have changed the climate change levy exemption and introduced enhanced capital allowances and a community heating programme of £50 million. As a result of the energy White Paper, power station consent applications will need to give full consideration to the CHP option. We have set a target for the Government estate for CHP. As I said, we have altered the NETA arrangements, which in some cases inhibited CHP adoption, and there are a number of other support measures.
I agree that hitherto we have not seen the market turn around. The success of these measures should come about over the next two or three years. As I said in my Answer, the target is challenging but we believe that we have the support measures in place to deliver it.
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