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Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, after the Minister's excoriation of the bureaucracy surrounding the Building Schools for the Future programme, I cannot help observing that the Government appear to have commissioned five people to undertake an independent review of school building. Be that as it may, I welcome the initiative to extend the Teach First programme. Another area where the previous Government took a valuable initiative was in the development of educational leadership. What are the coalition Government's plans for the future of the National College for the Leadership of Schools and Children's Services?
Lord Hill of Oareford: On the first point, five does not seem to be a completely outrageous number. In the composition of the review membership, we have a fairly broad spectrum of people with a range of perspectives which we hope will help us to find cheaper ways of delivering capital. On the second point, I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has spoken recently at the national college and I think that he is positive about the work that it does. As I have already said again today, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the work of the previous Government in encouraging national leaders. That was a successful programme on which there is much one would want to build.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for reading the Statement and for the sensitive and considerate way in which he expressed
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Undoubtedly, many good projects are left. They may not necessarily be for new schools, which may have to be put on hold, but for refurbishment of some remaining very dilapidated buildings. Are there any ways in which the coalition Government can put pressure on local authorities to honour some of the more extreme cases of dilapidation and to spend such money as they have in their budgets to help those schools which really need help now?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to my noble friend and I will reflect on her last point. In order to make it clear, as regards BSF and the first point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, on investment and what the previous Government did from 1997, I do not doubt for one moment the good intentions of that programme and what they set out to do. The trouble is that along the way, the programme became encrusted with processes that slowed things down, pushed up the costs and forced out some good things. Coming out of this review, I hope that we will get a better process that will help us to do better by our schools.
I just comment that there has been a certain difference between the actual Statement that the Minister read out and the way that he dealt in a rather emollient and sensible way with the interjections from all over the House. I much preferred his way of doing it to the extremely partisan Statement made in the lower House that completely ignored the fact that the previous Government built or refurbished 4,000 schools-the biggest infrastructure programme in education that has been seen in our lifetime.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, the Minister was right to praise the previous Government for a lot of the things that went on regarding education. Equally, though, I fear that the Statement in both Houses underlines some considerable mistakes that have been made and the wasteful way in which resources have been used.
Given all our concerns about special needs and schools in deprived areas, not least with the Academies Bill going through, I am thinking about the school buildings that are going to be left half-done, as it were. There is this attractive and clearly well qualified group of five people set up to look at some of these areas. Will the Minister assure us that they will be looking at both deprived areas and deprived needs as one of the major priorities for spending any money that they can find, and that they will move faster?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I will ensure that the terms of reference for the independent review are available. If they have not already been placed in the Library, they should be. I take the noble Baroness's point that it is precisely on those who need help most that one ought to be concentrating such capital as we have.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, in his brief time in this House, the Minister has earned the respect of the whole House for the way in which he has discharged his duties so far. I sympathise with him for having had to repeat what was really a pretty shameless bit of grandstanding on the part of his right honourable friend in another place.
However, my question now is concerned with the leadership issue that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston. Without any question, we are facing difficult times-they are going to be hard, whichever way the cake is carved up-and the people who are going to have to be fully committed and thoroughly supported as we go into this next period are teachers. Rather than just suggesting that his right honourable friend should perhaps not think too badly of the National College for Leadership, will the Minister tell the House that there will be significant resources available not only to train teachers to come into the profession but to reinforce and reskill the teachers already in it, who will need to be at the top of their bent as we go into the next decade?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Forgive me for my previous answer to the noble Lord, Lord Low. I was not being evasive; I did not know the precise nature of the commitment that we had given. If the noble Baroness will permit me, perhaps I can contact her and the noble Lord after today and, I hope, give a more precise answer to her question.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, there is support around the House for the emphasis laid, both in this House and in the other place, on the importance of the quality of teachers and teaching. We all support that warmly. I also associate myself with the positive comments about the initiative made on Teach First and the way in which new recruits to the profession have been brought in. Teach First is one of those initiatives that have been successful. The question that is not often asked is what it has to teach us for the continuing professional development of teachers already in post and for the future development of patterns of recruitment and training of teachers more widely in
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Lord Hill of Oareford: In the light of those comments, I will charge myself with asking those questions, as I think that the noble Lord makes a fair point. Given that what he mentions seems to be so successful, there must be points from it that have a wider application. We should make sure that we learn from them.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: If the House will forgive me, I will ask another question, as no one else wants to come in. In response to my earlier question, the Minister referred to the fact-and it is a fact-that the academies are concentrated in areas of deprivation. I asked him about equal treatment for schools in general. Will he give a categorical assurance that other schools in similarly deprived areas will have exactly the same criteria for new projects as the academies will have?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I understand the question and, although I do not want to go too much into the gory detail, I will say that there are two criteria. There is a point in the process of BSF called "financial close", which the Government are taking for the cut-off. It applies to maintained schools and academies. In addition, because academies are in areas of greatest need and deprivation, the Secretary of State will look on a case-by-case basis at whether any of them merit funding, either because a merger is in process or because new buildings are being built, without which children would have nowhere to go to school.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, but I hope that he will forgive me if, through inexperience and lack of knowledge, I do not adhere to his maritime theme, which was extremely interesting, but return to some of the more general themes enunciated in the debate. I make the brief reflection that this appears to have been a rather unusual and bizarre procedure: the distinguished Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made a speech after the first Statement, after which we immediately had a second ministerial Statement. I do not think that I have experienced that before. For the convenience of the House-I hasten to add that I am not stressing my personal convenience-it might have been better if the second Statement had started at about 6 o'clock, rather than 5 o'clock, so that we could have had a substantial additional portion of the transport debate before the Statement. The decision was reached through the usual channels, I suppose, but perhaps Ministers could reflect that their personal convenience should take second place to the general convenience of Members of the House.
A number of anxieties have been expressed in speeches in the transport debate about what will happen with the capital cuts programme in the department. One of
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There will presumably be quite serious cuts in railway infrastructure expenditure just at this crucial time when one needs additional spending, particularly in the freight sector-I see the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who is a great expert on this subject, in his place-so there will be quite a few anxieties. This is definitely not a personal observation on a distinguished politician in the other House, but the former shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is now the Secretary of State and so will quickly have to shed his culture of preparing the axe. He had assumed that he would be a Minister if the Tories won either on their own or in coalition but now has to change his tune and say that capital investment in transport projects is a good way of helping the private sector, as he did in his recent interview in the Financial Times.
Incidentally, I hope that means that it is a very good thing for the private sector and the public sector. I remain sceptical about the notion of bashing down the public sector-which has a stronger multiplier effect in respect of capital outlays on jobs, employment creation and general economic growth than any other sector, as figures certainly show-and relying entirely on the private sector to make the difference. That is a distinctly old-fashioned theory from pre-war days, which remains to be tested. Be that as it may, these are early days and even coalitions are known to learn from experience. This is an unusual coalition for us, and it is the first post-war one. We all hope that it will be very successful. I also wish the Minister on the Bench well in his task of handling this portfolio and speaking in this debate.
We know that there is a serious crisis facing rail freight. I have here the latest RFG magazine. I will, mercifully, not quote from it because of time, but it is an excellent magazine. I pay tribute to what the RFG says; it expresses very serious anxieties. I hope the Minister will spend at least some time in his remarks today dealing with the RFG's arguments, which merit close attention. I am anxious that we are to be more concerned with cutting transport outlays than outlays on defence or security. Defence expenditure is often very wasteful. In the whole world there is not a single conventional enemy facing this country. We are dealing only with terrorist dangers. We have to be very careful about priorities and the proper use of even scarcer capital resources.
The McNulty report, which came out in March, is an incredibly difficult document to fathom if you are not an expert on the detail. I refer briefly to the section entitled "Rail industry costs and finances", on page 15. It certainly needs a considerable brain to understand all the things in there, except to reach the general and harrowing conclusion that, for a mysterious reason which people cannot quite fathom, our infrastructure costs in terms of railway engineering remain higher than those not only in all other European countries
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I switch from that for one comment before I finish on High Speed 2. The Minister referred to the menace of drink-driving and what the Government are quite rightly doing. We wish the Government well in dealing with those matters. There are some horrendous recent examples of people who have been well over the limit and had some very nasty accidents. However, I hope the Minister will, if he has time, comment on drug-driving. This, too, is a growing menace. Sometimes there is a combination of both, but examples of drug-driving are growing. The police are very worried about it and more needs to be done.
I turn quickly to mobile phones. Even if they are fixed-rather than hand-held, which is illegal, as we know-they are, none the less, a major factor in reducing concentration when driving in increasingly congested conditions, not just in cities but on our country lanes. These are more and more congested, used not only by private drivers but by trucks and lorries as well. That, too, has to be tackled. It is utterly irresponsible, particularly for parents driving with children in the back, to talk into mobile phones and not concentrate on driving complications. Incidents can spring up in seconds and it can be too late to control the vehicle properly.
I have anxieties about High Speed 2. I remember the dramatic Statement made in March by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis-then the Secretary of State-in which he announced the plan for HS2. I am worried about the reference in the coalition agreement to this. It states on page 31:
The ominous warning we face is that the high-speed network might eventually be scrapped due to pressures on spending and the Government's budget cuts, subject to the comprehensive review in the autumn. Or it might be postponed, thus making it more expensive than it would have been. If that occurs, money will be wasted and we will not have the high-speed network that this country demands. Incidentally, it should go all the way to Scotland, not just to northern England. To achieve a harmonised economic system, we need a high-speed network over the whole country.
I have touched on a number of themes which the Minister, if he has time, should deal with, as there are great anxieties about the future. People are worried that this process will take much longer than we thought.
Lord Rosser: I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for securing this debate and enabling us to hear something of the Government's plans and intentions in the field of transport. I also congratulate him on his appointment. Earlier, the noble Earl told the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that he would give full answers to his questions when he wound up. I too have a number of questions for the noble Earl. I hope that I too will receive full answers.
One of the first decisions of the coalition Government was to announce that they would not proceed with a third runway at Heathrow. Perhaps the Minister could tell what us what the Government's view is on capacity at Heathrow. Do they accept that it is operating at virtually full capacity? Do they accept that the demand for flights at Heathrow will increase? If so, how much additional capacity at Heathrow-within the constraints of existing runway capacity-do the Government believe can be identified, or has the working group the Government set up recently on aviation in the south-east been drawn up in the hope that it might pull a rabbit out of the hat rather than on the basis that there is credible evidence that existing runway capacity can be increased?
The Government appear to be working on the basis that internal flights within Great Britain will largely cease with the development of high-speed rail. When do the Government anticipate completing a high-speed rail link going north from London? What has been the reduction in flights per day between London Heathrow and Paris and Brussels following the completion of the high-speed rail link through the Channel Tunnel? What percentage of overall flights into and out of Heathrow each day did that reduction in Paris and Brussels flights represent? Have the additional flight paths that were presumably created been already taken up so that capacity is just the same as it was prior to the completion of the high-speed rail link through the tunnel? These questions are relevant to the reduction in airline traffic that would take place with a high-speed rail link going north from London.
There are, of course, strongly held different views about the expansion of Heathrow, but the case for expanding capacity was based not on domestic internal flight capacity but on international and in particular long-haul traffic capacity. High-speed rail is certainly thoroughly desirable and needed in its own right, but it is not an alternative to increased capacity at Heathrow. France has a network of high-speed lines, but it also has five runways at its main airport in Paris.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us more than he has done so far about the Government's approach to airport capacity, bearing in mind that they have already decided that one solution-namely, an additional runway at Heathrow-is not acceptable. If we cannot address the capacity issue, more and more passengers will go from this country to Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam, which do have the capacity, to connect with international flights, and more and more long-haul international flights coming to Europe will not fly into London. That will hardly be helpful to London as an international business centre, hardly helpful to generating economic growth, and hardly helpful to this country as a first-choice international tourist destination in Europe.
In the other place last month, the Secretary of State referred to Heathrow as Britain's premier hub airport and said that the Government would ensure that they protected its status. Can the Minister confirm that this statement means that the Government will not be pursuing the plans of the Mayor of London to build a new major airport well to the east of London?
Of course, one possible solution to ensuring that Britain does not lose out economically as a result of capacity issues at Heathrow is to work for international action to check the increase in air travel. Is that a course of action that the Government are pursuing or contemplating pursuing? Alternatively, are the Government looking to resolve issues of airport capacity at Heathrow and in the south-east by putting on further additional taxes or charges in the future which would increase the cost of air travel and thus dampen down demand in that way? It would be helpful if the Minister gave some indication of the Government's thinking on these issues in the light of the decisions in respect of runway capacity in London and the south-east, including the third runway at Heathrow.
I ask these and other questions on the basis that the Minister has initiated this debate, which is to be welcomed, and because he has some answers to the obvious questions that will be put to him, not because he does not have the answers. I also raise my points on the basis that the Secretary of State has already agreed to contribute £683 million to the £6 billion of 2010-11 budget reductions and that, on the face of it, safe and sustainable transport that generates future economic growth and prosperity is not normally promoted by cutting back on funding and increasing the likelihood of reductions in investment and levels of service-and further hikes in fares.
Can the Minister clarify some issues in respect of rail transport? Is it the Government's policy to encourage further increases in rail traffic by passengers and freight, and is it their objective to promote transfers of traffic from road to rail? If it is the Government's policy, by what means are they seeking to do it? Is it by further investment in the railway infrastructure through the construction of a high-speed line from London to Birmingham and then further north, and by electrification of existing routes such as the line from Paddington to Bristol and south Wales and one of the routes from Liverpool to Manchester? Are projects such as these going to proceed and, if so, to what timetable for commencement and completion? What is the timetable for the completion of Crossrail?
Are the Government going to ensure that older rolling stock is renewed and stations renovated and renewed, or will work of this kind be put on the back burner, bearing in mind that the Department for Transport appears to be one of those departments that will face the full force of the coalition Government's cuts? If there is a further 25 per cent cut in the departmental budget, where does the Minister envisage that the cuts might fall? To what extent will they be on capital expenditure and to what extent on revenue expenditure? Can the Minister give an assurance that the Government are not looking at the arrangements with existing railway franchise holders with a view to agreeing to reductions in service or increases in fares above those allowed under the current arrangements as a way of reducing
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On the subject of fares, can the Minister confirm what I believe has already been said-namely, that no adverse changes from the point of view of users will be made to the national concessionary bus fare scheme? I declare an interest as a beneficiary. The same issues of possible reductions in levels of service and higher fare increases apply in respect of bus travel. Local transport authorities already contribute heavily to the income of the bus industry, and any significant reductions in the money provided to local authorities by central government could have a major impact on the level and cost of bus services. What is the Government's policy in this regard? Do they intend to ensure that no decisions on levels of funding by central government should lead to a reduction in bus services or higher fares? Or is this an area that is going to take the brunt of the cuts and, if so, where does that leave the objective of pursuing a sustainable transport policy if it leads to a transfer from public transport to private transport, and in particular the car? What is the policy on bus quality contracts, which Theresa Villiers told the other place prior to the election that the Conservatives would remove altogether as an option outside London? Is that the policy of the coalition Government?
Do the Government have a policy for containing the level of travel by car? Do they have a view on whether car users should pay according to the mileage that they travel? If it is the Government's objective to further promote cycling and walking, to reduce the use of the car in particular, what additional resources are they intending to invest in this field, either directly or, for example, through local transport authorities, and what do they consider the impact of promoting cycling and walking further could be on existing or projected levels of car usage? In pursuit of further progress towards safe and sustainable transport, what plans do the Government have for funding or encouraging research and development into, for example, greater fuel efficiency and clean fuels in road, rail and aviation; and what level of investment do the Government intend to put into developing and encouraging the use of electric cars and vehicles?
In his opening comments, the Minister referred to the development of the canal network. The canals are part of our network for carrying freight. What is the Government's policy on further investment in appropriate parts of the canal system to increase freight carrying as part of their policy on developing safe and sustainable transport?
As the Minister will know, transport accounts for 21 per cent of UK emissions-and 92 per cent of that comes from domestic road transport. It is easy to talk about moving to a safe and sustainable transport system, but it is another thing to continue the progress already made-even more so when the Government and Ministers, despite the potentially devastating long-term consequences of climate change, appear interested in ever heavier funding cuts, to the almost certain detriment of a sustainable transport system.
The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, the reason why I am not as worried as others about the spending cuts likely to be imposed on the Department for Transport in the short term is that I believe that the next few years should be spent largely on planning for the future, rather than on short-term improvement measures. Immediate transport problems such as better road safety, overcrowded trains and airport security, important as they are, are relatively quick-fix issues. The really important decision is to establish what sort of transport network we will need in Britain beyond 2025, and how we can best start preparing for it. These major policy decisions will depend on questions such as how much we want or need to reduce carbon emissions-something that was alluded to by my noble friend Lady Scott-and also on assessing how much greater will be the demand for travel in 15 years' time; and how much we want to spread Britain's wealth, presently concentrated so much in the south-east, more evenly over the rest of the UK. These are the big decisions, and to a large extent they will determine the sort of Britain that we leave to the next generation.
Several reports, including the Government's Eddington study, show a strong correlation between transport and economic growth. An efficient, reliable transport infrastructure is essential if British businesses over the whole country are to thrive. In the debate on the gracious Speech, I stated what seemed obvious to me, namely that future transport policy must be based on a renaissance of the train. It is potentially the most civilised way to travel, environmentally relatively clean, relatively safe and relatively stress-free for the traveller. Of course, this will mean an inevitable upgrading and extension of our existing railway network, which we are assured is already in progress. We will have to be less dependent on the motor car in future, and if we have to dig up the British countryside, let it be for a railway line and not for a new road. With a better and cheaper train service, we may not need that proposed bypass after all.
It is hardly surprising that we in our party so enthusiastically welcomed the new high-speed train proposals, apparently supported by all parties-but we still need to be convinced that our allies in the Government are as enthusiastic about it as we are. This new high-speed railway cannot be a half-hearted, stage-by-stage, "let's see how much we can afford for the time being" project: it must be a totally committed, all-the-way project. The line must start from Scotland-Glasgow preferably, but I am biased so far as that is concerned-through Manchester, Birmingham and London and then on to the continent. Also, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, it must include Carlisle. In the Queen's Speech debate, the Minister-the noble Lord, Lord Henley-assured me that the Government's intention was indeed to take the line all the way to Scotland, but I still need assurance that that means from the outset-not a presumption that a second stage of planning would start once the line had been completed to Manchester or Leeds. It appears that High Speed 2 has so far been instructed to present proposals for the line only as far as Manchester and Leeds, and that is what makes me suspicious. In spite of the Minister's assurances, might the Government
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Scotland and the far north of England-here, again, I know that I shall get the support of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle-would find themselves at a considerable economic and commercial disadvantage if it were to take another 10 years or so for high-speed rail to reach them. To get the full benefit of high-speed rail, the line must go all the way. Immediately you find yourself having to change from a conventional to a high-speed train at somewhere such as Manchester, you might just as well have taken the plane in the first place. One of the other great benefits of high-speed rail is that it will make many of those atmosphere-polluting internal flights redundant. Here, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who does not think that it will make any difference. It would certainly make a difference.
Of course, it is unlikely that construction of the new high-speed railway line will start for at least five years, but that gives the Government time to assure themselves that they are taking the best possible route, time to negotiate terms with the objectors and time to get the best possible advice. I hope that they will not waste too much money on consultants. The advice of experienced engineers and chartered surveyors is what is needed, and that is whom the consultants will be consulting anyway. Furthermore, we should not assume that High Speed 2's recommendations are necessarily the best. The time delay will also give the Government the chance to satisfy themselves that when construction does start-in, one hopes, a much better economic climate than exists at present-they will have the necessary means to complete the job, all the way to Glasgow.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, as some of your Lordships will know, I spent 12 years on Surrey County Council, including a number of years as a member, and consequently chairman, of the highways and transport committee. I was among those councillors who particularly enjoyed the work of the committee. I think that its appeal was the practical and concrete evidence of its effectiveness-or not-on the roads, highways, byways and pavements of the county.
In preparation for this debate, I had a brief but useful talk with one of the current officers of the county council's highways and transport department, and it is clear that times are hard. Leaving aside the main roads maintained by Surrey County Council, there is, once again, great difficulty in maintaining minor roads across the county. This is not a new problem; it is one that recurs whenever the public finances are in a poor state. It appears that Surrey's new chief executive is going through the entire county budget with a fine-toothed comb. As a councillor, I have lived through similar times and it is not a pleasant experience.
In the context of this debate, the particular problem faced by Surrey is that of maintaining the safety of the minor roads system. For much of southern Surrey, it is the network of small local roads which serves scattered villages, farms, houses and small businesses. Where I lived, south of Dorking, I could have many miles to drive, depending on where I wanted to arrive and
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Unfortunately there is never the money available to ensure that this network, much of it based on ancient tracks, is really safe and fit for the traffic that it carries. That is particularly the case this year as bad weather exacerbated the damage and dwindling funds make it hard to finance the restoration of roads. It is not just in the relatively sparsely inhabited countryside that there are problems. In Surrey's towns and suburbs there are problems with cold weather damage that cannot all be dealt with. Engineers are obliged to prioritise the repairs. Those who benefit from those repairs are thankful; those who do not benefit complain.
However, whether damaged roads are in the country or in the towns and villages, their poor condition prevents them serving the economic needs of the people. I have made only a brief speech and I want to ask two brief questions. Can we yet estimate how much money there is to deal with post-weather damage to the roads? Are the Government satisfied that utilities are meeting their obligations correctly when they have to repair the highways?
Lord Berkeley: I, too, congratulate the Minister on opening this debate, but in doing so I reflect that he must be feeling a bit lonely. Eight Liberal Democrat colleagues are speaking but none of his own Back-Benchers. It makes me wonder whether his Back-Benchers support the coalition's transport policy; perhaps he will tell us when he winds up.
and use drug analysis instead. They are rather different in their effect-and their cause, probably. The Minister mentioned that in his opening remarks. First, can he explain how removing speed cameras will contribute to a reduction in road accidents? As we are talking about roads, perhaps he can also explain whether the Government will reduce the blood-alcohol limit from 70 milligrams to 50 milligrams, which I understand would save 200 deaths a year. That sounds good but maybe we will not get that either.
Secondly, on the HGV road user charges, perhaps he will explain what is green about that policy. It will help the UK haulage industry to compete with foreign lorries but unless the charge is quite high it will not help the environment very much.
However, in the Financial Times a week or so ago, the Secretary of State for Transport said that he would increase rail fares more than inflation. As the noble Lord, Lord Snape, mentioned earlier, that would surely reduce the number of passengers using the railways and encourage more people to go by car. What is safe and green about that?
Will the Minister confirm whether the Government are removing the advance stop lines at many intersections, which are there to create a nice green box for cyclists to go into? Apparently Ministers believe that cyclists are slower than cars so the cars should get away fast. That is a policy for reducing rather than increasing the number of cyclists on our roads.
I fully support that. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, got there first and I am grateful to him for his declaration on my behalf. I am also one of the 100-strong membership of Network Rail, to which my noble friend Lord Snape alluded.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to my noble friend, but perhaps he had better wait to hear what I have to say. Infrastructure management and privatisation became Railtrack's responsibility and most noble Lords would, I think, agree that that was a disaster. In management and engineering terms, it was a good way of siphoning perhaps £4 billion of public money straight from the Government to shareholders, but it did not last very long.
The new Network Rail is, I believe, much better than Railtrack in the sense that the network is in a much better condition. It is reliable and there has been a lot of investment in it. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and others have said, the costs are getting very high. The Office of Rail Regulation has required Network Rail to halve its costs over 10 years, and we are about half way through that, but it still has a long way to go. As regards the value-for-money study chaired by Sir Roy McNulty, the document referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is very significant. He was given a number of options and was told, first, to cut services; secondly, to grow services with increased costs, which is clearly unacceptable; and, thirdly, to do it cheaper-and if you do not do it cheaper, you have
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Noble Lords and people outside have come up with many ideas about what to do with Network Rail, which could range from a new management team to deliver cultural change, to breaking the company up into regional businesses, and, of course, the usual story of vertical integration-nationalised or in the private sector. However, we must be careful about the problem that we are trying to solve. It is easy to refer to benchmarking and great savings, but one must look at the detail and I suggest that the devil is in the detail.
I am against breaking Network Rail up. I certainly support Merseyrail's idea of having a separate network there, probably extending to Wrexham, and to do a little bit of benchmarking. Of course, Transport Scotland is promoting a new line to the Borders, which will be designed, built and operated entirely without Network Rail. Therefore, that will produce some benchmarking. However, I calculate that if, for example, Scotland was separated off into its own infrastructure, there would be five passenger operators there and as many freight companies. The bureaucracy of the extra agreements between all these people in different areas would make it more complicated rather than less.
The problem with Network Rail is that, although it is far from perfect, the extra costs are in what we might call the sticky bits-the laws, the processes, the standards and the procedures that seem to govern every action. The other day, I was on a train going down a freight branch line when we were stuck on the main line for about half an hour. I asked the Network Rail person on the train, "What's the problem?". He said, "Well, they're unpadlocking the points. In my day, 20 years ago, it took one person five minutes and now it takes three people 20 minutes". It is the same job, so why does it take that long? Yesterday, I received an e-mail from some people stating that it was time that the railway did some research into dogs and their owners walking perhaps on a footpath beside continuously welded track. They said that the dog might get excited or worried by the whine of a train approaching and pull the owner on the lead towards the train and hurt the owner. I thought: why do we want to bother with things like that? If people cannot control their dogs and have the lead wrapped around their hand several times, why does the industry need to talk about research? Those are two stupid examples, but unless we start at the bottom and ask, "Do we need those standards at all?" and all that goes with them, we will not get anywhere.
Some suggest that Network Rail should be sold off, but we tried that with Railtrack, did we not? I think that we should improve what is there and define what kind of company it should be. It has decided on its own that it should emulate a public limited company and get efficient going forward with maximum achievements and, of course, maximum bonuses. That is its decision. No one has asked it to do that; the Government have never asked it to. It justifies that on the basis that it is like a plc. It is nothing like a plc, because it cannot go bust. We all know that no one
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Should it not have some public interest duty to influence its activities? I do not think that the membership structure has worked. Network Rail effectively still appoints most of the members. We do not hold the company to account; that will not change. There are various alternatives which I hope that the Minister will consider. One of them has been mentioned before: a two-tier board, with the higher one to ensure that the public interest in the railways is maintained. Alternatively, members could all hand over their membership to the Secretary of State. When I put that to a Minister he said, "That's fine. What happens if the members don't want to hand over their membership?". The answer is simple: turn off the finance. That might focus their thoughts. The third alternative is a mutual, with a small number of members elected by all interested stakeholders. That would give members legitimacy and a smaller number.
The real issue is that the board and the management need to reflect Network Rail's public interest role, as well as driving efficiencies. It must drive them much more strongly from within. Iain Couch has done well up to now, but we now need someone else. It needs a new team dedicated to creating the most cost-effective, cost-efficient and least bureaucratic infrastructure manager in the world. I suggest that the figure of two to three times the best cost, which we have heard in this debate and from the regulator before, comparing Network Rail with other infrastructure managers, is mainly due to bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy that must be cut through with a sword, because I do not want bits of the network to be lopped off because we cannot do it cheaper, we cannot run Parry People Movers or anything else. As someone else said in this debate, we do not need high-speed lines for Parry People Movers.
I hope that the Government, in considering what to do with Network Rail, will not throw the baby out with the bath-water but will make strong intentions clear that it must change. Whether that should be done from without or within, I do not know, but I will certainly support such change.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley-in fact, I have changed the order of my speech, which will be devoted to two-wheeled transport, to start with cycling, whereas I had intended to start with what are inelegantly now called powered two-wheelers. He made some interesting remarks about cycling. Not only do I follow him in speeches, I follow him on the road on many occasions. He is much quicker than I am, although we have a similar bicycle. He rides expertly. His bicycle is more highly geared than mine because it has been hotted up. He rides speedily with extreme expertise and I only wish that most of the other cyclists that one comes across rode in such a mannerly way. That is part of the problem with cycling in terms of its relationship with other road users.
The noble Lord raised an interesting point, of which I was not aware, about the discussion about doing away with cycle spaces at traffic lights. That
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Viscount Falkland: I understand the noble Lord's point. I thought that I intimated that I agree with him. He did not mention the unfortunate accidents, often involving young women, at traffic junctions, although I hoped he would. They get caught between the kerb or the side of the road and a large lorry turning left. A lot of those who have been caught in that situation bear some responsibility. One is enormously sorry for the injuries that they suffer and the deaths that occur, but there is a lack of road sense. However, we cannot expect everybody to have the road sense of the noble Lord. Quite apart from making the lorries put special mirrors on, local authorities and the Government must look carefully at making sure that there is some kind of marking or indication at those junctions to make vehicles go wider, so that if people do find themselves in that unfortunate position they have some way of escape.
The problem with cycling generally is that a lot of people are inhibited from cycling, and I do not blame them, as I have said before in your Lordships' House. Yesterday, I took a ride from Kensington Gardens across Chelsea Bridge. The other side of Chelsea Bridge, alongside Battersea Park, is notorious because all the cycle lanes are full of parked cars. On a Sunday, traffic is particularly bad because people are out at the weekend and are not paying particular attention. I had to stop before a car that was parked in the cycle lane to let the traffic, which was going so fast, pass. I felt so insecure until it had gone past, and then I went into the middle of the road again.
My original question on this subject was answered well by the previous Government, but nothing is done about it. They explained to me what constitutes illegal use of a cycle lane. Yesterday, those vehicles were blatantly in the wrong place and creating danger. How can we expect people to enjoy cycling and to encourage their children to go cycling when they meet that kind of hazard at a weekend?
The last Government's approach, which I hope will be continued under this Government, was to have a cycling policy that encourages people to take up cycling. However, I hope that they will take special care for the safety of cycles, particularly by enforcing certain basic laws. There is absolutely no excuse for cycles to be ridden at night without lights. Not only does it endanger cyclists themselves, it puts motorists into a position where they could be involved in a fatal accident for
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With the Olympics coming up and more cyclists expected to come to London to enjoy our parks and the good aspects of cycling in the city, unless something is done before 2012 the Government ought to put out a warning for cyclists coming from countries which have a more favourable cycling culture. I mention Holland, France and others. The warning should say, "You are coming to England. Enjoy yourself and bring your bike, but be careful because you are going to meet indifference to cyclists on the part of other road users". Taxi drivers look upon cyclists as a necessary nuisance, something they do not do to motor cyclists. Also in London, vehicles have a way of coming alongside cyclists and intimidating them. That is not something you would find in Paris, Brussels or Madrid, and I have cycled in all those places. As I say, unless something is done, there are going to be fatalities. Foreign visitors are going to die. Therefore to have a hire scheme, as the Mayor of London is suggesting, would be excellent if you ignore all the dangers. But to do that with the situation as it is-bad roads and rude, uncivil and intimidating road users, whether they be in commercial vehicles or in cars-encouraging people to come here and hire cycles or bring their own is just not fair.
I do not want to take too much time, so I shall move on quickly to motor cycling. Successive governments seem to have shied away from having an integrated policy as regards motor cycles. Motor cycling in Britain is not an inconsiderable activity. We are told that, if one includes those who ride scooters and mopeds, around 15 million people are riding regularly. It brings around £7 billion into the economy. The manufacturing business, which disappeared almost entirely at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s in the face of Japanese competition, is now coming back. British manufacturers, on a smaller scale, are actually doing rather well. I refer particularly to the Triumph Company. Some 20 years ago the name was bought and the business has been built up to become one of the most successful motor cycle manufacturers in the world. There are factories in Hinckley, near Coventry, which I have visited many times. The company has incorporated the best technology from around the world, particularly from Japan. Mr Bloor, who started the company, is dedicated to having a British business. He hoped to use more British components in the machines, but he did not reach his target because of lingering differences with the Japanese with regard to maintaining quality and delivery, which, I am afraid, is still part and parcel of our industrial heritage.
Motor cycling is an important area, but I am bothered about the Government's seeming hesitation over creating a properly integrated policy that includes powered two-wheelers-I use the expression again-and wonder whether it is to do with an overriding fear about safety. Safety is always a problem with a vehicle as unprotected as a motor cycle. However, motor cycles are actually
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The main attitudes prevalent on the roads these days are those of not caring or not having consideration for other road users. That is the overriding concern. It is why the previous Government incorporated the European Commission's plan for testing new riders. The new test, which is taken almost as it was constructed and designed in Brussels, has been adopted and a great deal of money has been spent on testing centres and new testing programmes. It has proved a disaster so far. The test is far too complicated and there have been a number of injuries when people are required to show how to skid properly. You learn that through experience, when you are being careful, I hope; you do not need to be tested. In the old days, when you were tested by a man with a millboard who poked his head out from around a wall, the test was perfectly adequate. There were no more accidents in proportion with other road users than there are now.
Young people trying to get into motor cycling now find it extremely difficult. It may be the aim of the Government not to encourage motor cycling but to get rid of it altogether. I do not think they will be able to do that but, given the way in which they are locating these new testing centres an average of 23 miles away from an applicant's home, and given that the cost to a young man of a licence for a larger bike is more than £1,000, it will not encourage young people to take the test. One of the great hazards on the road is the number of people who are riding without insurance and road tax. Although the police have increased their methods for finding such people, the more of them who are on the road because they cannot afford to take the test-somehow they get hold of a bike and manage to avoid the police-the more chances you have of accidents. If the Government are producing the test to reduce the number of accidents, it will do the opposite.
That is the end of my observations on two-wheelers for today. I intend to come back to the issue as the coalition proceeds. I hope that we will see something a little less lily-livered from the department than we had with the previous Government. I stood down from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Motorcycling because I did not like the way in which my colleagues were paying lip service to what I thought was the uninformed and rather condescending manner of visiting Ministers and officials, none of whom had ridden a motor cycle as far as I know. Having said that, I am on the warpath; I hope others will join me.
Like so many other transport issues, aviation, unfortunately, has disappeared from the Minister's radar. It is not his fault, I hasten to add, but is essentially the
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Aviation is an essential part of Britain's economy. It accounts for about 1.5 per cent of our GNP. It generates more than £80 billion in gross value added to the economy. It is a massive employer. It contributes nearly £5 billion in tax revenue. It carries no fewer than 240 million passengers per year and well over 2 million tonnes of freight. European aviation makes a huge contribution to the economy of the whole area.
Of course, there is an emissions problem-we hear a great deal about that in this place-but the 6 per cent of carbon emissions for which it is responsible is far less than that of power stations, domestic sources and road transport, which respectively account for 31 per cent, 22.5 per cent and 21 per cent of our emissions. So let us get this problem in perspective. Enormous environmental gains have been accomplished during the past 30 or 40 years. Air transport is now infinitely quieter. Fuel efficiency has virtually matched this. Air traffic management and flight control have improved. I am absolutely certain that progress in all these respects will continue, notwithstanding the present economic difficulties from which we are suffering.
Safety is of course paramount. By any reckoning, the United Kingdom's fatal accident rate, which is something like 0.08 per million flights, is absolutely remarkable. Although it dwarfs the worldwide accident rate, which is still very low, this statistic is worth emphasising. I do not want to tempt fate, but the history which British aviation has to relate is very significant.
To perform well, aircraft need airports. Heathrow, our principal airport, has reached saturation point, yet the argument for a third runway, approved by the previous Government, is now rejected by the present coalition. What is proposed? We cannot get by on silence, yet that is what we get from the Government; that is what was asserted today from the Minister. To pretend that we can get by with Heathrow as it is is fanciful. In this respect, they are the do-nothing Government.
There are, of course, other airports, as my noble friend Lord Rosser pointed out. They would welcome this inertia-Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam-and BA proposes that Madrid may be the answer, but that cannot be so for the multitude of potential passengers in northern and middle Europe. The effect of this sterile situation on British aviation would ultimately be disastrous. Heathrow and British aviation would not altogether go down the tube, but they would be consigned to the role of bit players compared to their rivals. Inevitably, that would leave a deadly imprint on our economy.
I turn to the immense challenge to aviation, indeed, to our way of life, posed by volcanic ash, which has not so far been mentioned. Unfortunately, the world's scientists have not fully comprehended this particular
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My own union's chairman and general secretary visited Iceland in the past few days in a quest to procure more information at first hand. Although it is still early days, we will await their report recognising that it will add to our knowledge of the problem and, let us hope, point the way to solutions. It goes without saying that, if their report should prove to be helpful, it will certainly be made available to Ministers.
So far, the loss sustained by the first volcanic ash eruption is immense. No less than £5 billion is the total cost to our gross national product matched by tremendous losses in productivity. Airports were shut down and no fewer than 67,000 passengers in Europe were affected by this phenomenon. A possible repetition of this disaster cannot be dismissed.
As my noble friend Lord Adonis, who was Secretary of State for Transport under the Labour Government, has stressed, the role of the EC and Eurocontrol must be co-ordinated in Europe. Supporting the Single European Sky initiative in a speedier way is absolutely imperative, besides other essential work. Inconveniences to passengers, losses to airlines and the evaluation of risk have all got to be undertaken. Indeed, as a result of the work so far done by the EU Transport Council, that is happening. I hope that notwithstanding the present Government's hostility to Europe, that invaluable work will continue unabated. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, can give us an assurance as far as that is concerned when he winds up.
There must be international action in this field. That is why the Transport Council has called for international experts in a working group to examine scientific methods of investigating and combating these threats in time for further and urgent consideration. We will have a meeting of the ICAO General Assembly in September, so it is urgent to have answers to these problems from the Government. This natural phenomenon may strike rather earlier than September. What would happen then? Of course, the effects would be inflicted on airlines and airports, but passengers would also be affected. What have the Government got to say about that possibility?
In conclusion, first, my hope, and that of the British Airline Pilots Association, is to ensure that flight-time limitation regulations are scientific and that there is no regression from UK standards. Secondly, I hope that there will always be complete honesty and openness in promoting flight safety. There can be no room for doubt about that. I should like to make two further pleas, which I think should prevail. Future legislation should provide for flight data monitoring as a tool to identify safety trends and not for disciplinary or discriminatory purposes. We should avoid any legislation which would allow cockpit video recorders to become mandatory. I hope that these matters will all be considered by the Minister and the Government, not necessarily today, but certainly in the near future, and I hope that the Minister will write to me about them.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, we all have aspirations and we know how we could spend a tremendous amount of money in improving the travel facilities in our country. In Wales, we would love to see the electrification of the line from Paddington to Swansea and possibly for it to go even further. Some day that might happen. But we wonder sometimes if the money already spent was wisely spent. We have the new signalling project on the Cambrian line, which cost £90 million. I wonder what the Minister will say about what will happen. Will that pilot be continued in other places? This expenditure seems to have been rather wasted. We could have had instead, say, 90 new railway carriages or much else, if only that money had been thought through at the beginning.
Other problems are arising and needing attention in Wales. I live quite near the port of Holyhead, which is a major port linking not only the UK mainland but also the European mainland with Ireland. There are dreadful worries about the crossings. It is a long journey for someone from eastern Europe who wants to drive a 40-tonne or more lorry from Dover, the north-east of England or other places on the south coast to Holyhead. What is the problem? I have been told that the problem is secure rest areas where lorries, including their freight, can be safeguarded. There needs to be immediate attention to providing such rest areas with adequate toilets and washing facilities. What does the Minister have in mind to tackle this problem on the journey from England to the north-west of Wales?
The reverse journey is easier because the drivers are not tired. They will have had a rest on the ferry crossing from Dun Laoghaire or Dublin to Holyhead. They are rested before the journey through the spectacular scenery of north Wales. There are problems. Then they go over to England and there is a long journey back to Poland, Lithuania or wherever.
How can we tackle this problem in a positive way? We know that many of the vehicles on that road have been found to be defective in one way or another. The Dalar Hir examination centre near Holyhead has a stopping point where these vehicles are examined. The figures I have are for 2008: 2,270 lorries were examined and 1,167 failed these compliance checks-that is, around half. Of these, 10 of the 11 from Romania failed the test, as did 10 of the 12 from Italy, 136 of the 229 from Northern Ireland, 688 of the 1,322 from Ireland, 135 of the 312 from the UK and 51 of the 129 from Poland. Why did they fail? Failures were often due to bad brakes or excessive weight. There are on-the-spot penalties now, and since they were introduced, something like 22,000 foreign drivers and 12,500 UK drivers have been penalised.
Someone suggested that we should look at the effectiveness of VOSA, that it needs to be reviewed and its remit widened so that it includes co-operation with highways agencies, the police and the UK Borders Agency. We should look again, at the BMA's suggestion, at reducing the legal limit for alcohol from 80 milligrams to 50 milligrams. That would bring us into line with the rest of the European Union.
Accidents can also be reduced-they will not happen-by very simple and inexpensive measures. I stand here as a proud Welshman today because the
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I was travelling along that road only last Friday, and already foliage and branches are hiding the wording on the road signs. I have travelled that road hundreds if not thousands of times, but I found myself thinking, "Oh. Am I going the right way? Am I going to Conwy and Betws y Coed, or wherever it might be?". Someone who was not familiar with the road would be even more confused. Confusion leads to distraction, and distraction will lead to accidents.
We are happy that there are fewer accidents on our roads. Comparing 1994 to 2009, in Wales there has been a reduction of 45 per cent in accidents to pedestrians and cyclists, which is something to rejoice in, and a 26 per cent reduction in car accidents, but only a 17 per cent reduction in accidents to motorcyclists. Clearly we have to look at this again and pay extra attention to the safety requirements of motorcyclists. I am sure that some of my colleagues on these Benches will be able to give us a great deal of advice on that.
Finally, secure rest stops for lorry drivers could be introduced without being very expensive. On the ferry crossing from Holyhead to Ireland, people could have a rest, but perhaps those who are unfamiliar with the English language-and less familiar with the Welsh language, which is on so many of our signposts-could use that time to learn a few of the phrases and to understand a few of the road signs that they will meet along those Welsh and English roads.
It is rumoured that the consultation document A Safer Way is suffering in a policy vacuum under the new Government and that we could be back to square one with regard to road safety strategy beyond 2010. I wonder what priority the Government are giving to the publication of the road safety strategy and targets beyond, say, 2012. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in expressing deep concern that road safety professionals working at local level may no longer be able to argue their case for road safety funding and that road safety research could be dramatically scaled back. Success in road safety over the past years is evident, but the trend will not continue without effort and adequate funding.
On the matter of funding, I should add that the amount of road safety support grant that is spent on speed cameras is lower than the amount that is brought in from fines, although this is reducing annually due to alternative solutions such as average-speed cameras and speed awareness courses.
I wonder, as an aside, whether the Minister is aware that if police vehicles in all 43 forces were the same in appearance and had the same equipment on board, there would be efficiency savings. Forces already receive substantial discounts through shared procurement contracts, but there are yet further savings to be made by standardising vehicle design.
On the subject of vehicle design, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned battery-powered vehicles. That set me wondering. What is the price of a second-hand battery-powered vehicle? If the batteries are no longer powered, what is the cost of replacing them? How long do they last? What levels of CO2 emissions are produced in manufacturing new batteries?
The North report has, in general, received solid support and would bring us into line with most European Union countries. It has been acknowledged that alcohol increases the risk of having a collision, as other noble Lords have said. It is estimated that up to 65 lives-some think that the figure is higher-would be saved annually if the drink-drive limit was reduced. That does include drink-related casualties in Scotland. It makes sense to reduce the blood alcohol level and I ask the noble Earl when this will take place, as rumours are flying around that the Government might not implement the recommendations.
The North report also calls for new powers for the police to do random breath testing. We know that in practice the police can stop any vehicle that they see being driven on a road without reason and, if they suspect the driver to have been drinking, they can ask for a breath test. However, most drivers do not realise that. If the police had the ability to do targeted random breath tests, that would increase the perception of risk of being caught and discourage that small number of people who are still prepared to drive while over the limit. I should add that random breath testing is being successfully used in a number of other countries. I declare my interest as an honorary member of the roads policing central committee of the Police Federation of England and Wales.
When the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill was passing through our House, I had two amendments accepted that, I have to admit, some people might have considered to be of more relevance to another Bill. However, the purpose of one of those accepted amendments was to introduce roadside evidential breath testing. The kits are, I believe, already in production, but there is not yet an agreed technical specification against which they can be evaluated. As such, they are not yet approved for evidential use in this country.
The benefits of these breath kits are very wide and they would be an excellent addition to lowering the limit according to the North report. At the moment, somebody who fails the breath test at the roadside is taken to a police station where an evidential breath test is taken. The time between the two tests can be up to two hours, depending on how busy the police station is, during which time there is a reduction in the alcohol level. The roadside kit would give the actual reading at the time the driver was stopped and can be used in court. In turn, this would create the potential for huge savings in bureaucracy, and increase public perception of the risk of detection. I ask the Minister when approval will be given to these meters.
We read that 80 per cent of drivers understand that speed cameras are an essential part of the approach to casualty reduction. As the support grant has been reduced and pre-emptive action is based on perceptions of ministerial comments, it seems that the system is under review. However, it is an offence to exceed the speed limit, so people who receive points on their licences are in control of their vehicles and should not complain. There are alternative casualty reduction measures such as average-speed cameras, active speed management and the potential for technological solutions to mobile phone use and other distractions. I understand that the NDORS scheme-the National Driver Offending Retraining Scheme-which reduces recidivism, has been well received and therefore must save lives. Average-speed cameras are obeyed by most drivers and should be used more widely.
Roads policing is fundamentally important. It is often forgotten, or overlooked against local policing considerations, that the biggest and most transient community is on the roads. The roads are also the place where our citizens face the greatest risk of death, injury and damage to their property. Criminal activity and the networking of criminal groups are facilitated by using road vehicles and carry a whole host of examples of criminals, poor drivers and aggressive people with behavioural problems when behind the wheel. Most people think that the roads policing officer is concerned only with bad driving or exceeding the speed limit. That is not so. I always say that they are police officers first and roads policing officers second. Therefore, their arrest record for non-driving offences is very high. However, when a road is closed for investigating a serious collision, people become very angry. It has to be considered as a crime scene, with time spent on extracting and tending to the living, removing the bodies and examining the debris and marks left on the road. After all, there is always the issue of dignity, respect for the dead and the right of the family to know how their loved one came to die. I often wonder why this attitude differs completely when a road is closed for, say, examining a house fire that might involve arson or the death of a person. That road might be closed for some days but people do not complain, even though the scene is off the public road.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging debate tonight. I do not envy the noble Earl who has to sum up in a few minutes' time. He has been shot at from all directions. I first make a suggestion to him. There is probably the scope for immediate cost reductions in the way we run our railway. There has been an offer from ATOC-the Association of Train Operating Companies-and, I believe, the roscos which hire the rolling stock, to be allowed to make some suggestions on how money might be saved. There is such a thing as the service level commitment, which makes franchises run certain trains which must stop at certain stations. In these times, when we are searching for economies, the opportunity should be taken to allow the professionals
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I am sympathetic to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on the Equality Act. I raised this issue when the Act was going through your Lordships' House and was told that the House of Commons was dealing with it. However, it did not deal with it and the issue remains a very serious threat to British flagged shipping. If the regulations are carried out, our merchant fleet would be greatly diminished. However, I cannot share his sympathy for the Greek shipping magnates who found New York a less comfortable place. I wonder whether they find Athens any better at present.
I am pleased to hear that there will be an effort to make foreign lorries pay for using our roads. I am anxious to see some sort of lorry charging scheme introduced because, apart from anything else, it would be a way of managing the use of our roads. If we are not going to build any new roads, we must better manage those we have.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the next generation of propulsion for heavy lorries. Although we can look forward to electric cars, I do not think that the prospect of electric lorries is very near, certainly not at the weights proposed. The need to expand the rail freight network and the rail terminals is urgent.
I was rather interested in the renaissance of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who managed to contain much of his criticism when he sat on the government Benches but now seems to believe that he can open fire with all barrels at the coalition, which has existed only for a very short time. Much of what he said comprised speculation about what might happen, not a response to announced policies.
I shall be a little controversial now and talk about the bus industry, which is in a parlous financial state. It is burdened by the concessionary fare scheme, which was introduced by the previous Government without the necessary funding. I believe that the Treasury intends to cut the bus service operators' grant, which used to be known as fuel duty rebate. If the Government do not have enough money, it may be necessary to make a small charge for concessionary fares. If local authorities and the bus industry do not have the money, the ironic situation will arise in many shire counties whereby people may have a free bus pass but there will not be any buses on which to use it. Thought needs to be given to that.
Like other noble Lords such as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, I welcome the North report, which is expertly argued. I look forward to hearing the Government's intentions with regard to implementing the random tests and the new blood-alcohol level tests.
I noted what was said about phasing out speed cameras. However, one of the greatest problems is people who drive without insurance. While they are not necessarily picked up on a speed camera-although they might be-the automatic number plate recognition vehicles are very good at picking out uninsured and unlicensed vehicles. I should have thought that most law-abiding citizens and law-abiding motorists would welcome further use of those to remove from the roads people who are not paying their share.
I believe that the best hope for new investment in the railways is reform of the franchise process. The noble Earl will no doubt have seen the article in the Times this morning in which Virgin Rail says what it would do if its franchise were extended, and no doubt it would do so. But I take what it says there as the first instalment of what we should expect from it. It has done pretty well out of the current franchise and we should expect passengers on that railway to be amply rewarded for any extension given. The Minister with responsibility for railways made a Statement in the other place on 17 June, inviting comments on the reform of franchising. I hope the noble Earl will make sure that copies are available in the Library of this House so that people here also can comment.
My noble friend Lord Dykes referred to cheaper European standards for railways and light rapid transit. This is a very serious issue. When we say that it is cheaper on the continent, we mean that it is half price or less on the continent. It is not a small gap. The Government should investigate carefully why the costs here are higher because we need to know the answer.
My next point is the serious issue of railway and bus fares. Talking as an economist, I would point out that the elasticity of demand for railway and bus travel used to be 6 or 7 per cent, so that if you increased fares by 10 per cent, you lost 6 or 7 per cent of the passengers but you were better off. The latest research, to which I direct the noble Earl's attention, shows that the current figure is nearer to 13 per cent. So if you increase fares by 10 per cent, you will lose 13 per cent of your passengers and you will be worse off-fewer people will be travelling and more will be diverted to the roads. This is an extremely serious issue and proper attention needs to be directed to it before any snap decisions to increase rail fares are made.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I am concerned about the whole question of appraising transport projects. At the moment, this is done by an exceedingly complicated econometric process which employs large numbers of staff in the department, and by consultants who get most of the work. Work is also done at the local government level. I trained as an economist, but, at about the third or fourth page of such appraisals, there were so many Greek symbols and equations that I could not understand what they were saying. I am sorry, but any system of appraisal that is too complicated for the average person to understand is probably past its sell-by date. We need something new.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Snape, in saying that the sooner Merseyrail is transferred away from Network Rail and the sooner it can maintain its own network, the better it will be. That will allow cost comparisons, perhaps not between the costs on Merseyrail and elsewhere but between what Network Rail quoted for doing the work in Merseyside and what it would cost Merseyrail to do the work itself. There is no safety implication because Merseyrail is run by Serco and NedRailways, both of which are very respectable and unlikely to let standards drop.
There was an article yesterday in the Independent on Sunday about the successor to Iain Coucher, stating that Network Rail had engaged head hunters to scour the place for international big hitters to come in. Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that we have
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I endorse the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, about the signalling system on the Cambrian line. It might seem a minor point, but Network Rail has spent £90 million developing the scheme, which does not work-and it proposes to spend more. Occasionally you have to say, "Enough is enough, we are not going to be pioneers in this technology but followers when other railways elsewhere have ironed out the bugs from the system".
Electrification is an extremely important thing. I say to the noble Earl, for goodness' sake get the priorities right-electrify those parts of the railway that give the quickest return for cash flow. Here I speak against my own railway, the Great Western. I would not spend money there because it is so long before you get any return. However, if you electrified the Midland main line north of Bedford, you would get immediate returns-and as you move north to Leicester, Sheffield, Leeds and Derby, more cash would come in and the scheme would quickly be self-financing. We must remember that the diesel trains on the route are capable of being fitted to pick up electric current, because they have diesel-electric engines.
I will finish with two points. First, I bring to the noble Earl's attention the fact that railways can be a significant growth engine. Most noble Lords will remember what Iain Duncan Smith said last week about people living in houses where they had security of tenure, but who had never worked. He talked about moving those people somewhere where there was work. I draw the attention of the House to three examples: the line from Alloa to Stirling, the line from Falmouth to Truro, and the Ebbw Vale railway. Each has caused a large increase in the use of the railway, much of it by the sons and daughters of the people who live in houses, who have taken to commuting to Cardiff, Edinburgh or places like that. The Ebbw Vale work was done by local government in Wales, because Network Rail not only quoted a much higher price, but said that it could not do it anyway, which was hardly encouraging.
Lastly, the noble Earl referred to the continuing support for Crossrail. It is very important that we continue with Crossrail and Thameslink. It is important that the problems with Thameslink at London Bridge are sorted out-and whatever we do in the way of economies, we should not economise on the central sections of those lines. We should provide full-length platforms so that, as demand grows, we will be able to provide the most comprehensive service. I hope those few points will give the noble Earl something to think about.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I, too, begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on his new ministerial role with regard to transport. Of course,
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My noble friend Lord Berkeley pointed out that every member of the governing parties speaking in support of the Minister in the debate was a Liberal Democrat. Not a single Conservative is interested in transport, or if they are they fear the worst-namely, that with the former Chief Secretary as Secretary of State for Transport, the cuts will be implemented with a degree of force and venom. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will have recognised-not just from Labour Benches this evening, forcefully though the points were made there-that sustainable transport, and its role in generating future economic growth and prosperity, requires some government expenditure and investment. That point was also put ably and very strongly by those on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that some of the more obvious generalisations that he made in his opening remarks will not suffice to meet the very real questions that have been raised on both sides of the House during this debate. To take one obvious area, what did he mean when he said that Heathrow needs to be better but not bigger? What does that mean in terms of the airport's effectiveness? What is feared on all sides is that the approach to Heathrow will merely benefit competitive international airports as Heathrow is unable to cope with the expansion of traffic. The noble Earl may be suggesting that growth in aviation will somehow be choked off by the depth of the recession, but it would be a double dip with a vengeance if we reached that stage. I hope that, in replying to the debate, he will address the crucial aspects of aviation.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who made a typically thoughtful speech. He always speaks so well on railways but this evening I was very grateful to him for being the only contributor to mention buses in any depth. The Labour Party is concerned about the future of bus transport in this country because it is by far the most critical form of transport available to the least well off in our society. The least well off will have to sustain the impact of the reductions in benefits and support systems that have already been heralded, and if bus services are withdrawn that burden will also be borne by them.
We have our anxieties. After all, it was clear during the election that the Conservative Party took an entirely opposite view from its Liberal Democrat coalition friends. No doubt some form of reconciliation will be worked out at some point during the coalition, although I have not seen much sign of it yet. It was clear during the election that the Conservative Party was against the continuation of bus quality contracts, yet there cannot be a single contributor to this debate who is not aware of the anxiety across the country about bus services. I mention one area alone on which I have
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The second great issue emerging from the debate-I pay great tribute to the Liberal Democrat coalition Benches here-was the need to separate out some necessary cuts in public expenditure. We all recognise the driving force of the necessity for cuts but we are concerned to ensure essential long-term investment. Without that, we will have no possibility of delivering the rail system that has been rightly identified on all sides as an important contributor to the transport system of the 21st century. We cannot deliver that rail system without the necessary investment. That means choices, of course, but there is concern about electrification, which must go ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, emphasised in his contribution. It also means the HS2-the high speed rail system. It is important that the Government are called on that issue. I know that there are general expressions that nothing has been abandoned yet, but neither has there been the slightest evidence of any action that would suggest a government commitment to high speed rail.
A number of other issues were raised. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, began the debate by emphasising road safety. As a former president of RoSPA, I took that almost as a personal compliment and raised my hat to him, metaphorically at that stage-it has to be metaphorical even at this stage as I have not brought my hat with me. A number of other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Simon and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, emphasised road safety. It is important that the Government pay due attention to that. No huge expenditure is needed to effect improvements, and some clear ideas were suggested in the debate. I have to say that for the noble Earl to make road safety the top priority in his opening remarks might look to some of us, perhaps suspiciously, as a slight cloud to cover the inadequacies of the Government's proposals on other more critical issues.
It is quite clear that rail is all about investment. My noble friend Lord Snape raised the issue, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, emphasised it, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley, with his vast experience, suggested that the Government should look closely at the question of governance. I know what the Government are doing now; they are considering how Network Rail can effect economies. That is no bad thing; I will not criticise the Government for starting at that point as long as they consider more than economies, not just
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I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will again recognise that we addressed the issues through Network Rail after inheriting an absolutely chaotic system from Railtrack. It is clear that through experience we have seen areas in which Network Rail is not working as efficiently and effectively as it needs to, and I hope that the noble Earl will address himself to that.
I hope also that he will consider the rather more different perspectives that were expressed in the debate. My noble friend Lord Liddle indicated the significance of the national parks, particularly in Cumbria and the Lake District. They are concerned about the extent to which their beauty and the very thing that they seek to protect is being threatened and partially destroyed by an excessive amount of road traffic from people going there to appreciate them.
On road pricing, the nettle must be grasped at some stage. I know that the Conservative Party in opposition had to defend Chelsea and Kensington-after all, a vast number of representatives of their position in this House live in Chelsea and Kensington. I am therefore not at all surprised that it was concerned about congestion charges there. However, if the Government think that we can address road transport issues in the longer term without making progress on road pricing in areas of intense congestion and on the overuse of the motorcar in areas that need protection, they will not be as farsighted as they ought.
There is a range of issues for the noble Earl to address, but he did not take on his role expecting an easy ride. He will certainly not get an easy ride from his noble friend Lord Falkland, who will continually berate him on uneasy rides on two wheels, whether they are cycles or motorbikes. I know that that will be raised in future debates.
Foreign trucks were mentioned again today, and the issue of road pricing ought to commend itself to the Government and be examined. We were concerned about the extent to which those trucks do not meet safety standards, but there is also the question of whether foreign heavy lorries ought to meet their proper costs when using British roads. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will address himself to those more distant issues.
Another important issue that may not have been entirely anticipated-that is, until we saw the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on the speakers list-was marine traffic. I am today in a blissful position on the opposition Front Bench of not having to answer his five questions. It is the responsibility of the Minister to identify marine transport and trade issues and to respond to them. None of us should underestimate their significance to the British Isles, and although the noble Earl may not have time to address himself to every single point in his wind-up speech-I know how difficult that exercise is-I hope that he will at least write to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, with answers to his questions.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords for their kind words about my new appointment. We live in a country with a proud transport history, where for generations a network of canals, rail, road and international gateways have underpinned the strength of our economy and the freedom of our society. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions today. Without exception, they have been thoughtful and interesting, and valuable to me. I have long been a strong believer in the potential of transport, and I am honoured to be able to initiate and respond to today's debate. This is the first debate to which I am responding for the Government, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if there is any room for improvement.
I see my role as representing and answering for my department in the House of Lords and, most importantly, drawing your Lordships' views to the attention of relevant Ministers. We are fortunate that my right honourable friend Mr Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State, is already providing clear direction and strong leadership in the running of the department. We have always enjoyed robust and constructive debate on transport matters in this House, and we are passionate about safety. My right honourable friend has made it clear to me that he values our views and that he expects me to articulate them, as appropriate, at ministerial level. That is one reason why this debate is so important. I assure noble Lords that I will personally review Hansard over the next few days.
Noble Lords have already privately been making very helpful suggestions about how to secure best value for limited funds while avoiding the trap of special pleading. Every area that we ring-fence or protect will mean greater reductions elsewhere-I am sure that all noble Lords understand that.
The noble Lord, Lord Snape, referred to my note to him. If the result is a speech of the value and quality that he made, I will invariably write to him when I initiate a debate. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, talked about the coalition. I attend ministerial meetings several times a week and I can assure noble Lords that they are very good and benefit the coalition.
Spending cuts are obviously difficult. We are in the early stages of a new Government, and Ministers are considering the full range of transport policies. In the coming spending review, we will be adopting a rigorous approach, reviewing all the department's projects and programmes to ensure that they represent value for money and are consistent with the Government's objectives, including the need to reduce the deficit.
Many noble Lords talked about Network Rail. It is vital that Network Rail's governance structure enables the company to work effectively on behalf of passengers, freight customers and wider industry stakeholders. Only an accountable and responsible infrastructure operator, one able to offer the best possible results for both operators of rail services and their users, can enable a modern, 21st century railway network. We are thus examining the current structures and incentives of the industry to see where there is room for improvement and where more accountability is needed. Of course, the McNulty report will help. The needs of passengers must be at the heart of the UK's railway. The independent
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Turning to franchise reform, my right honourable friend Theresa Villiers announced on 17 July that the Government had launched a franchising policy review. That resulted in the cancellation of two outstanding competitions, Greater Anglia and Essex Thameside. A consultation will be launched later this month, and will focus on coalition agreement priorities, such as increasing franchise lengths and giving operators incentives to invest. The conclusions of the consultation will be announced at the end of the year.
Many noble Lords have talked about high speed 2. The Government propose to establish a national high-speed network as part of our programme of measures to create a low-carbon economy. Given the cost and scale of such a network, the Government recognise that it will need to be achieved in phases. Demand for travel between major British conurbations is expected to increase significantly over the next 20 to 30 years, leading to severe congestion and overcrowding on our existing systems. The previous Government therefore set up HS2 in January 2009 to look at the feasibility of and the business case for a high-speed rail line between London and the West Midlands. It also considered high-speed services linking London, northern England and Scotland.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, talked about the condition of local roads and related issues. I read the ICE report State of the Nation and the markings for local roads were not good. The Government have confirmed that the £84 million announced in the Budget in March for repairs to local authority roads in England, following the damage caused by last winter's severe weather, is not part of the £683 million in savings. It is for each local highway authority to decide how best to use that money, but Department for Transport officials wrote to each authority in March emphasising the need to consider using long-term treatments rather than ad hoc patching.
The noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Rosser, talked about electric vehicle infrastructure. In our coalition agreement, we are committed to mandate a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Detailed planning work will need to establish how many charging points and what type of technology will be necessary to achieve that commitment. Understandably, motorists fear not being able to recharge away from home, but the reality is that most journeys will not require a recharge because they are so short.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Clinton-Davis and, particularly, Lord Davies of Oldham, talked about Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. In addition to our commitment in the Queen's Speech to reform the economic regulation of airports, in a Written Ministerial Statement on 15 June,
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The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, talked about the problem of volcanic ash. With regard to ash and aviation, safety is obviously paramount. In response to this unprecedented volcanic ash situation, aviation authorities followed clearly established international protocols. The whole of Europe has been in the same position acting according to the same aviation safety rules ensuring that safety was not compromised while uncertainties remained about ash concentrations. Europe's initial reaction to this unprecedented volcanic ash situation was to follow established international guidance based on experience that aircraft should avoid encounters with volcanic ash. The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority continue to work with the industry to facilitate work on this programme.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, talked about aviation growth outside the south-east. We have not yet decided on airport expansion at airports other than Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, but have created a task force, chaired by my right honourable friend the Aviation Minister and made up of key players from across the industry to develop a fresh approach to making best use of existing infrastructure and to improve passenger experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in his interesting speech, talked about the problem of equal pay in the shipping industry. The European Commission's view is that Section 9 of the Race Relations Act 1976, which currently allows seafarers on UK flagged ships to be paid differential rates of pay according to their nationality, is in breach of European law. We agree that Section 9 is in breach and propose to use a regulation-making power within the Equality Act 2010 to correct the position. We are aware of the possibility that some ship owners may flag away from the UK if differential pay is outlawed and there remains the option of allowing differential pay for non-EEA nationals if the Government wish to do so. We are aware of the serious concerns of interested parties and are anxious to test the arguments and evidence before reaching a conclusion.
The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Berkeley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, talked about cycling. The Government are keen to promote sustainable travel, including cycling and walking. Future central government spending decisions on walking, cycling
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The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Berkeley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and others referred to the North review. Sir Peter North's report covers a wide range of issues that we need to consider carefully with other government departments. In doing so, it is important that we investigate fully the economic impact of any suggested changes to the law, taking account of the current financial and economic situation. Our priority will be to tackle drink and drug driving in the most effective way possible to protect law-abiding motorists. We will respond to Sir Peter's report in due course and I look forward to reading it carefully during the Summer Recess.
The Government have made a clear commitment to introduce devices for drug driving. The law does not need to be changed to permit screening either in a police station or at the roadside, but does require devices to be type approved by the Home Office. We hope to see a specification published before the end of the year so that devices can be assessed against the required standard. If devices meet the standard, or can be adapted quickly to do so, it may be possible to have drug screeners in police stations within a year or so.
Lord Berkeley: I thank the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. Can he explain what the economic benefit is if 200 fatalities are avoided each year when the drink drive limit comes down? I do not quite see the link between the economics and death.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, there are considerable costs involved in implementing Sir Peter's report, particularly in terms of court time, the whole of the offender management system, and the result of banning people from driving when they are not currently being banned. There could be unintended consequences. I suggest that, as I will do, the noble Lord reads the report very carefully.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised the issue of speed cameras. We recently announced reductions in local government funding, and road safety funding will contribute £38 million to the savings of £309 million from transport. It will be the responsibility of local authorities to decide how to manage these budget reductions in a way that will allow continued delivery
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The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and others referred to buses. The Government acknowledge the importance of good local bus services in providing access to facilities and employment opportunities, particularly for those without access to a car-a point strongly made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We are committed to encouraging partnerships between bus operators and local authorities to improve these services. At the same time, there is huge pressure on the country's finances and bus services must be economical. We are determined to get value for money from bus services supported by the public purse.
On the question of quality contracts, yes, they are in place. As the guidance related to quality contract schemes has been published in full, local transport authorities are perfectly entitled to consult residents on their plans to make use of the new regulations to improve local bus services for passengers as they see fit. The Government are waiting for the outcome of the ongoing inquiry into the local bus market before making any decisions on whether changes are needed to the current regulatory framework for bus provision.
The Secretary of State has ruled out for the duration of the Parliament national road pricing for cars on existing roads and any preparation for such a scheme beyond that time horizon. Details of how a national HGV road user charging scheme could operate and the delivery timescales are being actively considered. Any compensation mechanism for UK hauliers is for Her Majesty's Treasury to decide.
I hope I have satisfactorily answered all the questions. Where I have not, of course, I shall write to noble Lords. We have heard many points of view, a lot of which I agree with and some of which provide me with food for thought. However, there is one thing above all on which we can agree: only through securing a system
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, I confirm that in my view the statutory instrument is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Britain used to have a pensions system to be proud of but, due to years of neglect and inaction, we are left with fewer people saving into a pension every year, and the value of the state pension has been eroded, leaving millions of people in poverty. We are taking action to address that and will deliver on our responsibility to reinvigorate the pension landscape. But too many of today's pensioners are already paying the price exacted by allowing the value of the basic state pension to be eroded over time.
We will halt that decline by ensuring that the basic state pension rises in line with whichever is the greatest of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. But for those who are already paying the price-those who have been let down by the pensions system-it is absolutely critical that they get the help that is available from pension credit.
Pension credit means that no pensioner needs to live on less than £132.60 a week-or £202.40 for couples. Those with severe disabilities, caring responsibilities and/or qualifying housing costs may be entitled to more. But, like other social security benefits, pension credit has to be claimed, and we know that significant numbers of pensioners are not getting the help that they are entitled to.
Latest figures show that some 2.7 million pensioner households, which equates to 3.3 million individuals, are in receipt of pension credit. However, it is estimated that more than 1 million pensioners could be entitled to the benefit who are not claiming it. Research shows that this is due to a range of factors. Predominantly, these include pensioners incorrectly thinking that they are not entitled to any help. Others are reluctant to go through what they see as a demeaning means test whereby they are required to open up their bank books to the state to verify the details of their personal finances. This is in many ways unsurprising. Due to
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It is quite clear that we have to explore new approaches, but we have also to be sure that taxpayers' money is properly targeted. For some time, lobby groups such as Age UK have argued that we have all the information that we need to do away with the need for pensioners to make claims at all, and to make automatic payments.
Data that we already hold about people's financial circumstances have been used to help target take-up activity. However, this information is not specifically collected to decide entitlement to income-related benefits. The indications are that the department is not yet in a position to estimate entitlement with sufficient accuracy to offer a fully automated pension credit payment system now. Indeed, I think it has been generally accepted that the study that we are now planning to conduct is not intended to see whether a system of automatic payments can be rolled out in the near future. The previous Minister of State for Pensions acknowledged this when she said, in reply to a Question, that the previous Government had,
I am not interested in what we cannot do, but rather in what we may be able to do by using more effectively the information that is already available to us. We need to start from somewhere, and this study will help us to understand what might be possible in the short to medium term. It will help us to explore what opportunities there are to use data more innovatively to drive take-up in the longer term, while ensuring that, in this difficult economic climate, taxpayers' money continues to be properly targeted on those in the greatest need.
We therefore propose to take forward a modest research study later this year in which awards of benefit will be made for a limited period of 12 weeks to a random sample of some 2,000 pensioners resident in Great Britain based on the information that we already hold and without the need for a claim. The study is being designed with a view to meeting the following objectives: to provide information about how a system that makes more use of personal information that the Government already hold to pay people pension credit might be received by potential recipients; to evaluate ways of using the data available to us to improve take-up under the present pension credit regime; and to deliver evidence about how, in the long term, a reshaping of the benefit or acquisition of better data might enable us to radically streamline the process for awarding pension credit. On the study's conclusion, there will follow an extensive and detailed evaluation of the pilot to see how it has delivered against those objectives.
The regulations make provision for the study. In particular, they set out the provisions for identifying potential participants, calculating the amount of any benefit payable and the manner of subsequent
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The development of these draft regulations has involved the ongoing input of a number of external stakeholders such as Age UK, to name but one. However, I express my gratitude to all those who have been involved in getting these regulations into the shape we see before us today. I commend them to the House.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing the regulations. It comes as no surprise to those of us who served on the Committee for the proceedings of the Welfare Reform Act 2009. Section 27 presaged the Motion tabled by my noble friend Lord Freud this evening. To that extent, it is business as usual.
These are interesting regulations, for a number of reasons. I would like to use the context of this evening's debate to raise one or two issues. It is a tactical provision and an important piece of legislation for a number of reasons that I will come to the moment in terms of how it widens the extent of well understood and well honed social security tenets of legislation.
It is tactical because it seeks to underpin the concept of means-testing. In so far as that gets more money into pensioner households which are eligible and which are not claiming, that is welcome. But at the outset of this Government, if we are looking in the long term and thinking strategically, is more efficient means-testing what we are really trying to be about? That is an important strategic question.
It is early days for the new coalition Government to come to a final conclusion about that, but we are beginning to run out of time on a wider horizon. If you look at the proposals that were contained in the Turner commission some years back, the understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Turner, had when he made his recommendations was that there would have been more discernible movement by now in the direction of a universal basic state pension, which produced a threshold of earnings, such as 30 per cent of average earnings. It would be a base; a first-tier provision on which other things could be built. We are not getting there fast enough.
This is a limited project both in terms of time because it will run for a 12-month period, and in terms of scope, because we are devoting only £1 million of the DWP departmental expenditure limit-although that is £1 million not available for other things in very trying circumstances over the next comprehensive spending review.
We have got to think carefully about the signal that this is sending. We have to ask whether it is credible, even if this pilot is swimmingly successful, that the 70 per cent of pensioner households which do not currently get the entitlement which they are due suddenly become, as if by magic, able to get this automatic payment after a deemed application. Where does that
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The State of the Nation report, which was helpfully produced by the department just after the election, talks at page 38 about the disincentives to save that can be created by means-testing. It refers specifically to pensioner credit in that regard. Although this is a very limited project-it pays benefit automatically for 12 weeks to families and the Pensions Policy Institute certainly suggests that as things stand 30 per cent to 40 per cent of pensioners will be eligible for pension credit and means-testing in the future-we have to bear in mind that this may be a project that ends up being of little value if the strategic decision is to go in the other direction and to head down a unified first-tier pension provision which gives a sustainable income for pensioner households.
It is an important signal in that you could raise expectations in the minds of pensioner households that this would be the way forward and that they would be sent money through the post. I do not think that we can do that. Looking at the financial framework that we are facing for the next three years, I do not think it is realistic that the department could find the money out of the annual managed expenditure of the departmental settlement-whatever it is-on 20 October. If this pilot is successful and a way to automatically send pension credit to pensioner households is found, it could cost £5 billion. I will put it no higher than this, but I doubt that there is £5 billion in the annual managed expenditure of the budget over the next comprehensive spending round to pay for that. We need to be very careful about how we evaluate this, how we sell it and how it fits into the long-term strategy of the coalition Government.
As I said earlier, deeming applications to have been made is a substantial revision of social security law, as is the automatic payment. The idea that people can be sent money in the post without having made an application in the first place is a radical departure from everything that we know and it needs to be treated with very great care.
I hope that my noble friend will look very carefully at the use of pilots. Perfectly understandably, he is still finding his way around the department. I do not say this critically because most of the pilots had a merit in their own right when looked at individually, but over the distance they became completely incoherent. It was impossible for observers to track the evaluation and what happened to them. I suspect that many of them bit the dust quietly. The whole notion of "pilotitis" was getting out of hand in the previous Administration. I am just warning my noble friend that the department might encourage him to do that. He has to be very stern and very sure that if he introduces pilots he really means them. He must take the value out of them and make sure that they are not just a waste of time for everyone involved.
Staff resources will be involved because it is complex. I am absolutely sure that my noble friend is right. Trying to stitch together the bits and pieces of data that are available legitimately and lawfully to the
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On the operational questions, a lot of the problems have been ironed out in the extensive consultations that have been conducted. I welcome that. I recognise too that the stakeholders who have been asked are a lot more welcoming to the order than I am sounding today. However, there are still some questions in my mind. For example: why is this money being paid for only 12 weeks, monthly in arrears? Did someone guess that, or is there a reason for having 12 weeks of payments and then they stop?
A second question that is obvious but to which I think I know the answer is that if an underlying entitlement is detected from this automatic payment, presumably people are entitled to pursue that genuine entitlement. Once week 13 comes along and the money stops coming, they can go to the Jobcentre or phone the Pension Service and get a proper claim. I assume that that is axiomatic and will not be a bar to long-term entitlement, if entitlement is indeed found.
I have a slight objection to the pilot excluding people who do not have access to direct credit. The people with bank accounts are the people who are organised; the people who we are trying to help most are the folk who do not have bank accounts and are still using alternative means. Now, there are not many of them, and statisticians may say, "If you take too many of them into the pilot, that may skew the pilot", but some of them should be in the pilot to draw statistical conclusions from, because there are still significant numbers of people in that category across the United Kingdom.
Why we are excluding religious orders is an interesting question. "What have we got against monks and nuns?" I ask myself. I have no way of understanding that, except maybe that they live in a residential setting.
May I have an assurance, just for Daily Mail purposes, that this money will not be sent to people in Spain? I think that regulation 10 means that people in Spain will not be sent cheques automatically, having been deemed eligible for pension credit, because that would be in nobody's interests.
I hear myself sounding quite niggardly about this, but there are some important issues here that I hope the Government are thinking through. My question to
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order before us. I will not rise much to his opening salvo about the state pension, except perhaps to remind him gently that it was a Conservative Government who broke the link with earnings, and it was the previous Labour Government who, on coming into office, had to address the abject situation that many pensioners found themselves in, hence pension credit. That is how the previous Government lifted hundreds of thousands of pensioners out of relative poverty. Perhaps, though, that is for another debate.
It goes without saying that we support the pension credit pilot, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, acknowledged, has as its basis the provisions of Section 27 of the Welfare Reform Act 2009. Maximising the take-up of income-related benefits is an effective way of tackling pensioner poverty. We know that, despite considerable take-up activity, a significant number of people who are entitled to pension credit are still not claiming it.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that the regulations are, in his view, basically tactical in enshrining means-testing as part of the system. I remind him that the package on which the pensions system is based stems from the Turner commission: improvements to the basic state pension, relinking it to earnings, and improvements to S2P, particularly the flat rating. The other component is, of course, auto-enrolment, on which we await the results of the review that is under way. My noble friend Lady Hollis, who is not with us today, has strong views about wrapping pension credit, S2P and the basic state pension into one pot.
We note that the limited consultation that the DWP undertook before the election showed general support for the pilot, although, as ever, with some reservations. Clear communications are, as the DWP's response to the consultation acknowledges, of paramount importance. We are likely to be dealing with many people who are vulnerable and who could be distressed at seeing ad hoc credits appearing on their bank statements.
A condition of eligibility of receiving benefit under the pilot is that a person must receive retirement pension that is paid by way of direct credit transfer to
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The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, also touched on a question that arose about the design of the pilot, which involves the payment of just three four-weekly amounts. Is that sufficient to provide the information to satisfy the objectives of the pilot? Given the set-up costs of the pilot, it would be a pity if the opportunity were missed to provide a secure evidence base. On what basis is the Minister satisfied that the three-month period is sufficient to meet the objectives for which the pilot is designed?
The pilot is to cover both the guarantee credit and the savings credit, so the spread of amounts of payments could be quite wide. Is the Minister also satisfied that the proposal to select 2,000 at random from the entitled non-recipient population will pick up a sufficient range of circumstances to enable a comprehensive evaluation of the differing reasons for lack of take-up?
Of course, the pilot has to be seen in the context of other campaigns that are under way to improve the take-up of benefit. Perhaps the Minister could give us an update on these. Specifically, could he tell us about the outreach programmes and the current volumes of face-to-face visits that are being undertaken? What progress is being made on the programme that allows one phone call to access three benefits-pension credit, council tax benefit and housing benefit? Will this continue alongside the pension credit pilot payment?
The noble Lord will recall our deliberations towards the end of the Welfare Reform Bill on the renaming of benefits and the campaign by the Royal British Legion to improve the take-up of council tax benefit by designating it as council tax rebate. If memory serves, we had common cause on this; the noble Lord indicated that it had the support of his party, particularly the now Prime Minister. Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made on this and the current timetable to bring it to completion?
The relationship between pension credit and housing and council tax benefit is important. I understand, for example, that no capital limit is applied to the latter two if a person is in receipt of the guaranteed credit. Both elements of pension credit can be the passport to social fund payments, both discretionary and regulated. Do the amounts paid under the pilot not count for these passporting purposes? If this is the position, is there a risk that, by claiming housing benefit separately during the course of the pilot and/or refraining from claiming pension credit until the end of the pilot period, an individual might miss out, albeit for a short period?
We welcome the pilot. As I have said, it is another means of improving the take-up of pension credit. It is encouraging to see it move forward, notwithstanding the more disagreeable rhetoric that typically emanates from this coalition Government around the welfare system, focusing on fraud and error and itself creating a climate that will deter some people from claiming
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Lord Freud: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. Several points have been raised, which I will endeavour to respond to. I start with the question of my noble friend Lord Kirkwood on means-testing and the signal that it gives out. Whatever system we end up adopting-whether we go for a higher basic pension, as he suggested he supported, or stay with means-testing-there will always be the need for some sort of safety net, given that it is a contributory system. That does not send a message that the Government want more means-testing at the heart of their vision. Nevertheless, it remains the case that we want to ensure that pensioners get what they are entitled to.
The noble Lord asked this pointed question: if there are no plans to roll the system out nationally, what is the point of spending a goodly sum, £1 million, in the present climate? When you look at the scale of the problem, with 1 million pensioners not getting the help that they are entitled to, despite the efforts of PDCS and third sector organisations, we need to think innovatively. Clearly, we are not in a position to roll out a fully automated system today, and we need to build up the evidence base to establish what kind of information we need to get people more of the help that they deserve. The cost of the study was queried by my noble friend Lord Kirkwood. The current revised estimate of the cost of the whole study is £800,000.
Will we have the necessary information to evaluate at the end of the study? There are several elements to the evaluation. We will be asking a sample of the customers to participate in a face-to-face interview and using research contractors who know how to encourage participation. The interviews will be carried out in the place most convenient to the participants-probably in their own homes. Then we will track the take-up of the pension credit of people who have participated in the pilot. Those data are gathered automatically as part of the administrative system. Finally, we will gather the claims data from those who claim pension credit as part of the pilot. Again, that will be done via our own systems.
Homing in on the point on which I touched just now on national rollout, there are no plans for a national rollout. This is a study to help build the evidence base to see what we may be able to do in this area in the future. The complexity and the staff training required are not as daunting as my noble friend Lord Kirkwood suggested. The study will be run by a centralised team rather than small groups across the country. The definitions of income and capital are very much based on the definitions used in standard pension credit. If there are any changes, these will be introduced to make them simpler. We do not have any concerns about our ability to train staff to administer these payments effectively.
My noble friend mentioned the Daily Mail in connection with possible stories about lots of money whizzing off to the Costa Brava. The pension credit is not an exportable social security benefit. Therefore, I assure him that we will select people to take part only if they are resident in Great Britain.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about process. Pensioners can claim housing benefit and council tax benefit alongside pension credit in a single phone call without the need for a signed claim form. Their calls to the 0800 claims number from a BT landline or from the six largest mobile phone networks are free. The noble Lord asked whether 2,000 was sufficient as a sample size. We are confident that 2,000 participants will deliver a sufficient range of circumstances to build a meaningful evidence base. He asked about recovery of money in different ways in terms of the interplay with other claims. I make it absolutely clear that under no circumstances will anyone receiving a payment under these regulations be asked to repay a penny. We will make sure that participants in the study are made fully aware of that fact.
Both the noble Lord and my noble friend asked about the 12-week length of the pilot. It was important to balance two factors; namely, to make the pilot long enough to collect enough meaningful information and to protect public funds which are in short supply. The determination is that 12 weeks is a reasonable compromise between those two objectives.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about passporting and the exclusion of housing benefit and council tax benefit, as it is called at the moment. If we had added in those two benefits, it would have added a significant level of complexity and cost to the pilot. From the outset it was never the intention that the interaction between pension credit and housing benefit and council tax benefit should be factored into this study. Clearly, we expect to learn more about issues such as people's attitudes to receiving automatic payments of benefit, which may have wider application to other benefits such as housing and council tax benefits.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Perhaps we can just be clear on this fairly narrow point. If somebody in receipt of payments under the pilot refrains during that period from making a claim for pension credit, is there a risk that they could be disadvantaged? If they have a claim for pension credit, I think it will open up some passporting opportunities. I was probing whether that passporting will exist in the interim if a payment is made under the pilot which is not the result of an actual claim to pension credit at that stage.
Lord Freud: I thank the noble Lord for that question. I will go back and double check this, but my understanding is that this pilot is entirely separate from any other activity. If an application which took in the passporting opportunities was made in the normal way during this pilot, there would not be a countervailing claim on the money paid by the pilot.
I have just received some support, for which I am more than grateful, confirming my understanding-it is therefore more than my understanding. The position is that there is no risk of disadvantage. If someone claims pension credit, they will get the full claim plus any passporting money, in addition to the pilot funds.
I turn to the question raised by my noble friend and the noble Lord on how many pensioners are paid directly into a bank account. More than 90 per cent of pensioners receive their pensions through direct payments into either a bank account or post office account. I refer to the standard pension to which they would be entitled. We are talking about a small group who do not receive their payments in that way.
Let me draw my remarks to a close. The research study, through these draft regulations, will allow us to explore what potential exists to use data more effectively to improve the take-up of pension credit, to make more automatic awards of pension credit in the future when better data are available, or to simplify the benefit rules. Importantly, it would also help to throw light on whether people are happy about personal data being used in this way. I therefore commend these regulations to noble Lords.
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