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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord's strength of feeling, but the matter is straight forward. Twenty-five nation states are now involved in the European Union. It is important that if decisions are to be made on changing the voting system, 25 parliaments should make the decision, but not 25 parliaments plus 12 second Houses. One has to obtain 25 nation-state views. If, in your Lordships' House and another place, an agreed view comes forward, these issues will not arise.
However, the noble Lord will know well that, when we deal with secondary legislation, your Lordships' House can put forward its view and the Government will respond and listenbut at the end of the day, we could end up in a position where we had two different views. It is eminently possible for that to apply. It is the Government's view, put forward in the Bill, that it is
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important that one view comes forward, because one view, mixed with the other 24 views from 24 other parliaments, must prevail.
Moved, That Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be suspended until the end of the Session so far as is necessary to give Her Majesty's Government the power to arrange the order of business; and that Standing Orders 43 (Postponement and advancement of business) and 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be suspended for the same period.(Baroness Amos.)
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, in the context of the circumstances that have given rise to the business Motion, the Delegated Powers Committee met this morning and concluded that there was no way at all in which, in such fast-moving circumstances, it could continue to give advice to the House on amendments that are moved over the next two days and that, therefore, in the watches of the night, Members of your Lordships' House would not be able to rely on our customary vigilance.
"(1A) An Executive that has been consulted under subsection (1) in relation to a franchise agreement where the services to be provided under the agreement are or include services for the carriage of passengers by railways within the passenger transport area of that Executive may, before the expiry period of 60 days following the date on which that consultation began, make a statement to the Secretary of State specifying
(a) the services for the carriage of passengers by railway which the Passenger Transport Authority for the area in question considers it appropriate to secure to meet any public transport requirements within that area, so far as relating to the provision of services of the same description as those to be provided under the franchise agreement in question;
(b) any minimum level of quality to which any services so specified are to be provided;
(c) any requirements with respect to the fares to be charged to persons using any services so specified; and
(d) any minimum level of quality with respect to the operation of any station within the area in question which may be required by any such franchise agreement.
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(1B) Where a Passenger Transport Executive for an area in England submits a statement under subsection (1A) the Secretary of State shall ensure that the services, and any minimum levels of quality or requirements with respect to fares, specified in that statement are provided for in any franchise agreement into which he may enter in respect of the services in which the Executive have an interest.
(1C) The Secretary of State need not do anything under subsection (1B) if or to the extent that it would
(a) have an adverse effect on the provision of services for the carriage of passengers or goods by railway (whether inside or outside the area in question); or
(b) increase the amount of any expenditure of the Secretary of State in respect of railways under agreements or any other arrangements entered into with any franchise operator, any franchisee, or any servant, agent or independent contractor of a franchise operator or franchisee, and the Secretary of State considers that the Executive would not fund that increased expenditure."
The amendment relates to the powers of the passenger transport executives, which were created in 1968 by a late and lamented Member of the House, Barbara Castle. Since that time, the passenger transport executives have been parties to agreements to provide train services in their areas. The aim of the amendment is to keep that arrangement in place. In the Railways Bill, the government are proposing that the passenger transport executives will lose their powers as co-signatories of franchise agreements, even though they are expected to be funders of the services involved.
I cannot understand why the Government are protesting at the amendment. At first, when the PTEs were left out, we thought that that was an oversight, but it strikes me as an absolute contradiction for a government who have said that they are in favour of regional government and in favour of letting powers be exercised locally to take away from the bodies that they created the power to be co-signatories to an agreement to which they contribute financially.
I have tried hard to deal with the objections raised in Grand Committee and on Report by the Minister; namely, that on one or two occasions passenger transport executives have delayed signatures for what could be described as political reasons. We have imported into the amendment the fact that the passenger transport executive authorities will, when the agreement is presented to them, have 60 days in which to be co-signatories.
The PTEs believe that the powers are important because, if they are not co-signatories, their power will be taken away, and the franchisee will take little notice of them. They will cease to be, as it were, a material part of the agreement.
I do not intend to delay the House long. The provision is a fundamental flaw in the Bill. I do not think I have ever had so many messages from people of every political opinion saying that something was wrong and that it needed to be changed. Unless we get
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a satisfactory answer from the Minister, it will be necessary to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I support the amendment. I have been involved in discussions with the Minister, and I am very grateful to him for that. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, in the amendment he has sought to meet the concerns of Ministers that the signatures to franchises could be delayed by PTEs getting difficult.
Given the time that it has taken to award some franchises over the past three or four years, 60 days is not a long period to delay franchises. It is nothing; in fact, it is very short. The key is that at least it gives PTEs, which, after all, represent a local community on transport matters, a say in what happens. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, they often contribute to better services, improved rolling stock or whatever.
The Government's agenda is to devolve power where possible, but here the Bill seems to be contrary to thatit is clawing everything back to the centre. It makes one think that, unless the service happens to be a commuter service into London, no one will take any interest in it, as that is the only service that civil servants use. I hope that that is not true; it would be a great misrepresentation of what is happening in this country.
The other thing that I would like to dispel is a story that has been put around and mentioned by the Minister on a few occasionsthat is, if PTEs are allowed to be signatories, the next stop will be the Mayor of London, Transport for London, the Greater London Authority or whatever. It should be clear to everyone that the Greater London Authority and Transport for London are not PTEs. Whatever one may think of what the Mayor and his organisations do in LondonI think that they have done an extremely good jobthis arrangement has absolutely nothing to do with them. Regional PTEs are at stake, and the amendment puts forward a good compromise that should have the support of the House. I fully support it.
Lord Snape: My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my continuing interest as an employee of the National Express Group. I am probably speaking in opposition to what the National Express Group believes. I have not discussed the matter with it, but I understand that ATOC, the umbrella organisation of train operating companies, takes the same view as Her Majesty's Governmentthat is, that passenger transport executives/authorities should not have a direct role so far as concerns franchising. I hope that it does not get me the sack from the group if I say that I disagree entirely with the view expressed by ATOC.
Having heard my noble friend on the Front Bench reply to this and similar amendments in Grand Committee and at other stages of the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House, I understand the Government's point of view. I cannot see any justification for the measure, although of course it is
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inconvenient if people elected locally take exception to, or insist on, services that may or may not be provided in the area for which they are elected representatives or if their appointeesthe passenger transport executivesadminister those areas on their behalf. However, the fact is that it was a Labour government who created the passenger transport executives/authorities in the first place back in the 1960s. As I have saidI do not wish to go down the same road, or railway line, againmany of the local services that now exist around our major cities outside this great city are there because of the efforts, finance and dedication of local councillors who serve on passenger transport authorities and those whom they have appointed to run passenger transport executives.
I see on the Cross Benches a former chairman of British Railthe noble Lord, Lord Marsh. I do not know his view on the matter but, as someone who had to lobby him on behalf of various organisations, I can understand that he, like members of the Government, occasionally felt that such lobbyists were a bit of a nuisance and that he should get on with the job of running the railway industry. I notice that he is far too polite to agree with me but, although he did not tell me so at the time, I suspect that he thought that about me and about some of the other people who lobbied him during his distinguished career as the chairman of the British Railways Board.
The fact is that, although it is inconvenient, local democracy is worth supporting. As has just been said by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, it is surely inconceivable that a Labour Government who profess to believe in devolution and local decision-making should exclude those who have a direct responsibility for providing train services from any involvement in signing the franchises to provide those services in the first place.
Even at this late hour, I urge my noble friend to reconsider the matter. I have not lobbied him myself because, after what I said the other day, I decided that he was bigger than me and that I had better not take that chance. I hope that he will bear in mind the depth of feeling among those of us who habitually bore your Lordships on such matters. We may well be boring your Lordships again on this occasion, but I hope that my noble friend will accede to the justice of the course that we are putting forward and agree about the issue of local democracy.
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