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Lord Lucas: What I am after is information, certainly at this stage. I am pursuing two earlier sallies. On one, I tried to bring central government under the same regime and duties as local authorities. The noble Lord says that that does not need to be done, as everything is being done in a rather informal way centrally. That is fine, but show me the information that will be used to make the decisions, otherwise I will find it very hard to believe that the Government are taking their duties seriously. I am happy to receive a written response on that. I want to know the Government's information sources.
Viscount Brookeborough: Before we move on, I want to ask a question that has intrigued me. It may have been asked before I came into the Chamber, in which case I apologise. In terms of Ministers acting, why does the Bill require a "Minister of the Crown" yet a group of "Scottish Ministers" in all cases? Incidentally, several Scottish Ministers would have to meet, so could write down anything that they did.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: It will depend on what the particular Minister or Ministers in Scotland are responsible for, and on which Minister of the Crown is appropriate in the circumstances. That is all that is meant. I am also advised that it is standard drafting practice; that is really reassuring, is it not?
Lord McNally: I want to inquire on another aspect of the gathering of information. As I said, the utilities are almost all in private hands. One point made to us is that the way in which they are asked to co-operate varies from local authority to local authority, and from region to region. They are concerned that they will be asked consistently to reinvent the wheel in answering questions or providing information. It was urged on us that there should be some common template of information in various regions and local authorities, which would make it easier for them to co-operate in providing information.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I suspect that there will be a standard format, but that what might be asked of a utility in one area may have to be different from a request made of a utility in another, because of varying circumstances and the way in which an emergency
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impacts differently in a different locality. I am thinking of how a flood may vary in extent between two or three regions, depending on geography and the nature and persistence of the incident. The questions may be standard, but different points may have to be asked of one of the power providers or water utilities.
Viscount Brookeborough: I have one last point. In a situation that has been declared an urgency or emergencythat may be a threat to people's liveswhy does one need statutory power to ask for details of anything that has an effect under the Bill? I do not understand why one needs the power to be statutory. Having declared the state of affairs, one should be able to ask anyone anything that has a bearing on the situation.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Because that is how we are governed in this country. It is subject to law and statute, and is challengeable through the judicial process. But the noble Lord is rightif an emergency is declared, certain things will have to follow and will flow. In essence, the legislation acts as a guide and a framework for action and activity.
Lord Lucas: I should be grateful for the reply he promised to the first question. Would the Minister please extend the letter to my second questiondo central Government envisage that they will be able to lay their hands on the information that local authorities are accumulating under Clause 6 and similar provisions in the Bill; and if so, under which power could that happen? Or is it because there is no restriction?
The Government propose making two minor and technical changes to the list of responder bodies in Schedule 1. Each of these amendments has become necessary as a result of legislative changes made by recent Acts of Parliament. Our dear old friend the Fire
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and Rescue Services Act is one of them. It renames "fire authorities" as "fire and rescue authorities". A consequential amendment is needed to the entry in Schedule 1. In addition, functions in relation to fire and rescue authorities in Wales are conferred, for the first time, on the Assembly. In the light of that, a consequential amendment is needed to Clause 16, covering the involvement of the Assembly, to ensure that Assembly consent is needed before legislation is made under this Bill in relation to fire and rescue authorities in Wales. This reflects the approach taken under the Bill in relation to other responders which are subject to Assembly oversight.
The Health Protection Agency Act is another measure which has a bearing on the Bill. It creates a new body called the Health Protection Agency as a statutory body. The existing HPA, which is a Special Health Authority, will cease to exist. An amendment to Schedule 1, which refers to the HPA as an SHA, will be required.
I also note that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has tabled a number of amendments intended to probe the rationale for including rail freight operators in the Bill. I look forward to hearing what he has to say on that issue and to having the opportunity to respond. Rather than deal with those amendments now, I shall do so after the noble Lord has spoken to them. I beg to move.
Lord Berkeley: I rise to speak to the three amendments in this group which stand in my namethat is, Amendments Nos. 84, 85 and 86. It is logical that we talk about all these responder bodies together, although I believe that there are a few omissions from the list and I know that other noble Lords want to add some others, but that is all part of the debate.
I remind the Committee that I am talking about the transport section in category 2 under Part 3 on page 25 of the Bill. Under that section, the various lists of organisations and bodies which must respond include all licensed train operators under Section 8 of the Railways Act 1993. In fact, the Bill does not quite refer to licensed train operators but to those who hold licences. It includes Network Rail, 25 or so passenger train operators, about eight contracting companies which have licences and carry out maintenance, such as Balfour Beatty, Jarvis and Carillion, and currently, I believe, six freight operating companies. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.
The problem is that, as many of those companiescertainly all the maintenance and freight onesare open-access operators across the network, which means that they can go anywhere, I am told that each would have to attend at least two meetings a year with each of the 43 police forces. These people are all in the private sector and, we hope, have profits to make, but the provision places an enormous obligation on them. Therefore, I question why rail freight operators and contractors are included in the list.
I can see why infrastructure managers across all modes are included; I think that that is reasonable. They include London Underground, Transport for
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London, airport operators, harbour authorities and highway authorities, and I think it is reasonable that they should all be included. But when talking about those who operate on these pieces of infrastructure, where are the road freight operators? Where are the bus companies and the shipping lines and airlines? They are in exactly the same position as the train operators.
I then ask: what is the purpose of all those people being included? If, in an emergency, the Government wanted to see freight moved around, I imagine that they would probably go to a logistics trucking company rather than a rail freight company because it would be so much more flexible.
Contractors are included in the list. If it is necessary to include contractors so that the Government can do what they want on the railways, does not the same apply to the roads, the highways and the motorways? Often, the same companies are contracting on the roads. The same applies to shipping and airlines. Therefore, why are the train companies and the freight companies, in particular, included as an operator above the ground?
I have received a great deal of briefing from many people on this issue. One representative of the Association of Chief Police Officers opined that the reason was that the Home Office thought that rail freight was still in the public sector and therefore it could be controlled. That situation is 10 years out of date and I am sure that the Home Office does not hold that view but, frankly, rail freight and road freight are both in the private sector. They both compete very hard and very effectively, and I strongly believe that, if one is in, both are in but preferably they are both out.
That is all that I want to say in relation to the first two amendments, other than that I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Scotland for the number of letters that she has exchanged with me on this subject over the past few months.
Since the previous day of the Committee stage, I know that some freight operators have met officials and I believe they have received an assurance that they do not need to attend 86 meetings a year because Network Rail can do it for them. I think that they are happy with that but, if that is the case, I suggest that my amendment should be accepted and that those operators should not appear on the face of the Bill; they should simply let Network Rail act on their behalf.
Finally, I read a very odd comment in a letter from my noble friend Lady Scotland. She said that rail freight was included, not because it might help in an emergency but because it was a threat. In other words, it might be blown up, so it needs controlling.
The same view has been expressed by very eminent people who have been putting together London's Olympic bid. I discovered that the bid to the Olympic Committee in Geneva said that all rail freight would be stopped from going through Stratford, which is a major hub for rail freight, during the six or seven weeks of the games because it was a threat.
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Eventually I found out who put the bid together and I asked why they had said that. The response was, "We thought that the Olympic Committee in Geneva would like to hear that". I said, "That is not a very good reason. Did you not consult the Government's security people? They are called Transec". They are part of the Department of Transport, as many noble Lords will know. The answer from the Olympic bid people was, "Nowho are they?" They had not consulted them, nor the Metropolitan Police, so I took it upon myself to offer them a meeting with both of those bodies. The meeting went very well and I now have letters from both of those bodies withdrawing their objections.
If it is standard government policy that freight trains blow up and lorries do not, we need to look at the detail. Certainly the Metropolitan Police and the Department for Transport security people say that that is not so. I urge my noble friend to look at this matter again. I shall certainly not press any of my amendments today. I am merely looking for an explanation. Perhaps we can move on to ask what is really necessary to suit the needs of this Bill, and not give people unlimited numbers of meetings around the country just because it says so on the face of the Bill.
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