Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall go over the points raised by the noble Lord, but first I shall give some background.

Parts 3 and 4 of Schedule 1 set out a list of category 2 responders. They are the "co-operating" responders, who are less likely to be involved in the heart of multi-agency planning work, but who will be heavily involved in incidents that affect their sectors.

The duties on category 2 bodies are much less demanding, and reflect their supporting role. Category 2 responder status will mean that organisations will be required to co-operate with other responders through local resilience forums and to supply information where requested to do so.

Category 2 responders are generally organisations that already have direct responsibilities to the public, either because they administer risk sources or deliver essential services. In most cases, category 2 responders, which as we have discussed before, include the utilities, transport companies and infrastructure providers, are already subject to a range of sector specific civil protection duties by virtue of their licensing or regulatory regimes. We have given those bodies a more limited set of obligations in order to avoid confusion or conflict with these sector-specific regimes. Those are intended primarily to ensure that category 2 responders are more closely engaged with wider multi-agency planning. That is the framework thinking behind it.

The noble Lord seeks more explanation by tabling his amendments as they are. Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 would remove rail freight operators from the list of category 2 responders. The Government have given careful consideration to the membership of category 2. In doing that, we have undertaken consultation with key stakeholders, and have subjected it to two public
14 Oct 2004 : Column 491
consultations. We feel that, on balance, we have it right. We have no plans to amend the Bill in the way the noble Lord suggests.

Rail freight operators administer a significant risk source, and like passenger train operators, it can only be right that they are brought more directly into local emergency planning arrangements. Indeed, I am sure that the noble Lord would accept that it would be anomalous to include passenger train operators and not to include rail freight operators who share the same fixed network as both can be involved in local emergencies. It can only be right that they are both more firmly embedded in local civil protection arrangements.

The first consultation on the draft Bill demonstrated support among category 1 responders for the inclusion of rail freight operators in category 2. There is a feeling that these companies have not been as involved in local emergency planning arrangements as they might be, and that the Bill is a way of remedying that fact.

I understand the noble Lord is concerned about the regulatory impact that category 2 status will impose on rail freight operators. The Government are aware of the industry's concerns about the burden the Bill could impose on them. We conducted a thorough assessment of the costs and benefits of the Bill with that very much in mind. The public consultation on the Bill was accompanied by a partial regulatory impact assessment. We specifically sought consultees' comments on our assumptions. The main conclusion of the RIA was that the regulatory impact of the Bill on the private sector is small and that the costs are significantly outweighed by the benefits.

Cabinet Office officials are working closely with the full range of category 2 responders to ensure that the regulatory burden on them is kept to a minimum. I give as an example the current draft regulations which provide that responders need only be "effectively represented" at local resilience forum meetings. I understand that at a recent meeting there was a consensus among officials that all parties were content for Network Rail to represent freight carriers where that was thought most appropriate.

Furthermore, the guidance will give a clear indication of what is reasonable in terms of information demands, and ensure that the burden of information demands is kept to a minimum, so that there will be a common format for information requests, or to use the term of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, a "template", and there will be a need to justify the need for particular information requests.

The Cabinet Office is keen to continue its dialogue with the rail freight industry about any remaining concerns. I understand that a meeting has now taken place to ensure that that is taken forward. I hope the noble Lord shares my confidence that we can operate on the basis of a consensus.

The road freight industry has probably inspired Amendment No. 86. In contrast to the rail freight operators, road freight operators have not been included. A number of consultees argued that road freight operators should also be included within civil
14 Oct 2004 : Column 492
protection arrangements. The Government take the view that it would not be appropriate to include road freight operators at this stage. In part that is because of the practical difficulties of involving the numerous and—I think it has to be said—disparate elements of the road haulage community, if one can describe it in those terms, in local civil protection arrangements. Whereas there are only four major freight train operating companies, the number of freight operators is, as is fairly obvious, far greater and could put a strain on local multi-agency arrangements.

The noble Lord has argued that the burden imposed on rail freight operators will be a source perhaps of competitive disadvantage in relation to road freight operators. But, as we argue, the regulatory burden on the rail freight companies will in the event be small, and we are working with that sector to try and find ways of keeping this to the absolute minimum.

So I certainly understand the noble Lord's concerns. I think that the list of responders set out in Schedule 1 is the right one. However, the Bill is a flexible beast and Clause 13 provides that responders can be added to, or removed from, the list. This gives the opportunity from time to time to review and amend the framework, acting very much in the light of experience.

I have a horrible feeling that, had we not included rail freight operators in the list, the noble Lord would probably have been moving an amendment asking why that was the case. But we have, for the moment, covered that eventuality. We hope that the arrangements that we are putting in place with the flexibility and all the caveats work well.

Lord Lucas: I hope the noble Lord is not too distressed if I say that I would like him to add a written element to his oral directions. I, for one, could certainly do with some more information on what it is about rail freight which is so peculiarly dangerous. What are they doing? I mean, have coal and steel trains suddenly turned explosive? What is going on in the pattern of rail freight that is so much more dangerous than the pattern of road freight? Rail is—what, 6 or 7 per cent of the market?

Lord Berkeley: It is 11 per cent.

Lord Lucas: Then it is doing better, but road freight is still nine times larger. I think that chlorine, for instance, which is an interesting target for anyone seeking to disrupt a neighbourhood is, by and large, road freight. Certainly, many other substances that can be dangerous over a wide area—gas tankers, for instance—tend to be road freight. That argues that if we are to take an interest in what dangers are travelling around, road freight becomes pretty important. If we are to accept the argument that the Minister advanced, that rail freight operators can be represented by Network Rail, that argument applies equally to road operators. If we include them in the Bill in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has suggested, they can make arrangements to be represented by the Road
14 Oct 2004 : Column 493
Haulage Association. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, especially as the gander is nine times larger.

Lord Berkeley: I am truly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his support and to my noble friend for his response. I, too, would like my noble friend to spell out why rail freight is a significant source of risk. If he cannot do it now, perhaps he could write to me. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, road freight comprises 89 per cent of the traffic and road freight operators might feel a little insulted to be called disparate. Some of the companies are world class road freight logistics people and they have a very good representative organisation.

They would have to be asked whether they are interested in participating or be made to participate, but I strongly believe that if one is in, both are in—not just for competition reasons, but for everything else. They have as much information to provide as can the rail freight industry and ditto for the contractors. Can my noble friend write to me or give me a list of organisations covered by Section 8 of the Railways Act 1993 in Clause 23? Why is a company such as Carillion included for its rail operations but not included when it is digging up a motorway? That seems crazy.

So, as I said, I shall study my noble friend's answer with great interest to see whether I shall come back to the matter later.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Interpretation, &c.]:

[Amendments Nos. 79 and 80 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Category 1 and 2 Responders]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page