Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Attlee: My Lords, are we not perhaps looking at the problem the wrong way round? Should we not encourage the free use of essential vehicles all day long while providing limited facilities for private cars?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, that is the kind of issue that will be put forward and discussed as part of the review of transport policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, states from a sedentary position that everything is being reviewed. Perhaps much needs to be reviewed after 18 years of the previous government's policies, not least with regard to public transport. The review will offer the opportunity for all interested groups and representatives of interested parties to put forward measures. But it is clear that something must be done, particularly when we consider the effect on children's health of the totally unbridled use of the private car in urban areas.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the major cause of congestion is not bus lanes but the deregulation of public transport by the previous government? Does she agree that all our towns and cities are jammed full of buses of all shapes and sizes? What do the Government feel about that?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, there is widespread concern about the results of deregulation of public transport outside London because of the previous government's policies. When producing a White Paper for an integrated transport strategy, following consultation, we will consider this important area. My noble friend is right. In all too many cases people in suburban areas and particularly in rural areas have had their services reduced because it is in the interests of the operators to compete for the most financially profitable routes.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that 24-hour bus lanes have been operating in Reading for some while? They are a success, for the simple reason that people--certainly those who live in Reading--know that bus lanes are bus lanes and it is an offence for others to drive in them. Will the noble Baroness consider the Reading situation? It is not an experiment. Will she also consider whether contraflow bus lanes might help the flow of public transport, particularly in London and other big cities?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the fact that in Reading, as in many other local authority areas, successful plans have been put into practice which suit the local circumstances. I am sure my noble friend will agree that much depends on the geography of a place

1 Jul 1997 : Column 89

and the pattern of travel within it. But in cities and towns as diverse as Reading and Edinburgh very successful local schemes have been put into effect.

Funding Agency for Schools

3.10 p.m.

Lord Henley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they are advertising for a new chairman and board for the Funding Agency for Schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the terms of appointment of the present chairman, Sir Christopher Benson, and six other members of the board of the Funding Agency for Schools expire at the end of September. We have invited applications to fill these posts. That is consistent with the code and guidance issued by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. This is based on the very helpful recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. The remaining eight members of the board have terms of appointment extending at least to next March and, in four cases, beyond that.

Lord Henley: My Lords, if, as we understand, grant-maintained schools are to be emasculated and the funding for grant-maintained schools is to come from the LEAs, what function will the FAS (Funding Agency for Schools) have in the future? What then will be the necessity for appointing a new board and a new chairman to the FAS? Might it therefore be advisable to retain the existing members and board until after such time as the noble Baroness and the Government have made a decision on the future of grant-maintained schools and the FAS?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord opposite that it was his government who decided to extend the appointments of the members of the funding agency for just six months. In fact, it is entirely consistent with Nolan rules, when making a second appointment following an initial one, and perfectly reasonable to consider whether an appointment should be terminated or whether the person in that post should be reappointed.

So far as concerns the "emasculation" of grant-maintained schools, such is not our intention. We shall introduce legislation to change the status of grant-maintained schools and are discussing with the agency what that will mean for it. In the meantime, the agency will continue to have very important functions to carry out and will need a properly constituted board to oversee them. That board will have to continue its work for quite some time since, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Bill to make the changes will not be introduced until, at the earliest, some time in November and possibly later. It will be a large Bill and will take some time to go through both Houses of Parliament.

Lady Kinloss: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the expertise that has been built up by the

1 Jul 1997 : Column 90

Funding Agency for Schools in York will be retained and not wasted, if a new chairman and board are constituted? Can she also say, if a new board is constituted, whether it will still be based in York and so preserve the opportunities there for the jobs of some 150 to 200 persons?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, as I have already explained, the agency will continue to carry out its functions for quite a long time. So it will be necessary to retain the expertise of those staff who work in it. We are currently discussing with the agency what the change of status of GM schools will eventually mean for it; the position of the agency staff will need to be considered as part of that process. We have no intention of removing the agency, and those who work in the agency in York, from that city.

Lord Annan: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recollect that in the early 1980s chairmen and vice-chairmen of public bodies who were faintly suspected of holding liberal views were culled with an intensity and ruthlessness appropriate to cattle with mad cow disease?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I remember it well.

Imperial College Bill

3.15 p.m.

Read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.

Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

3.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Sewel.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Referendum in Scotland]:

The Chairman of Committees: I should inform the Committee that, if Amendment No. 1 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 2.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, leave out ("such day as Her Majesty may by Order in Council appoint") and insert ("2nd October 1997").

The noble Lord said: This is but a small amendment to start the ball rolling on this important piece of legislation. It seeks to insert the date of 2nd October 1997. The other

1 Jul 1997 : Column 91

amendment linked to Amendment No. 1 will mean that the Welsh referendum will also be held on 2nd October 1997.

The Committee has probably noticed that I do not attempt to delay the referendum by putting in the year 1998, 1999 or even 2000. That is unlike pension splitting on divorce (about which we have just spoken), which will go on into the rather dim and distant future. It will pinpoint in all our minds when this important referendum is to take place.

Indeed, the Government might find it useful--I am always in the business of trying to help the Government in the new configuration of this Chamber--if they have a target date at which to aim for the White Paper, for example, and for all the preparations that will be necessary in order to conduct the referendum. It seems to me, therefore, that 2nd October might be a very helpful date for them.

Equally, we must consider all those people who will run the campaigns on this referendum. There is of course the potential for four campaigns in Scotland and one campaign in England--unless we accept some of the other amendments, when there will be the potential for many other campaigns in Wales as in Scotland. But essentially as the proposal is before us, we should have a "No, no" campaign, a "Yes, yes" campaign, a "No, yes" campaign and a "Yes, no" campaign. Those members of the Committee who are not too long away from school will remember the question about tossing two coins: heads-heads, heads-tails, tails-heads and tails-tails--and the chances of gaining the desired outcome on each of those events. The referendum in Scotland is a little like that. The referendum in Wales is simpler, at least for the moment, and only requires a "Yes" or a "No" vote.

So there could be four campaigns, with four campaign managers and four teams. They, it seems to me, need time and certainty about when the referendum will take place. Then there are all the returning officers and no doubt we shall discuss them in a day or two when we come to the schedules incorporated into the Bill, which were previously draft orders, draft orders which would have kept the Committee here well into August. It seems a little careless on the part of the Government to plan like that. But I feel that the returning officers would find it helpful to know that they are aiming for 2nd October. Then there are all our friends in television, radio, the press and so on who, equally, want to know how to plan.

The point about the next two months, August and September, is exactly that: they are August and September. They are holiday months, especially August. I remember that when I suggested that we consulted on some consultation document and I named the month of August as one of the two or three months during which the discussions should take place the reaction of the then Opposition was predictable: how dare I suggest that people could possibly meet in August and discuss these great issues, whatever they may be? But this is a seriously great issue: whether to say "Yes, yes", "Yes, no", "No, no", or "No, yes"--I confuse myself when I think of all the options.

1 Jul 1997 : Column 92

This is a seriously great issue and in Scotland we are being asked to look at it during the month of August. While August may not be the peak holiday month for those resident in Scotland--I must not call them Scots; that appears to bring the accusation of ethnicity (I am happy to be called a Scot but perhaps that is politically incorrect nowadays)--many people in Scotland do take their holidays in August. Equally, a lot of people who are resident in Scotland are busy making money from people who take their holidays in August. They do not have time to consider the White Paper or all the literature that will be produced.

The month of August therefore is not the best possible month during which we should study this issue and vote. The noble Lord may tell me that the Government have not decided on which date we shall vote. I shall find that fairly amazing, but perhaps not surprising. I keep reading reports suggesting 4th September, 11th September, 18th September and even 25th September. In this amendment I propose 2nd October. I believe that that would give everybody a clear date towards which to work. It would also give those of us who are resident in Scotland the month of September and possibly part of August in which to study the issues and listen to the campaigns. It would give the people campaigning a proper time to campaign on this important issue.

I have little doubt that, when the referendum is over and if the Government side win that referendum, we will be told, when we analyse critically any Bill introduced afterwards, that the people have already spoken and we should not discuss the issue further; we should simply agree with what the Government are doing because the people agreed it in the referendum. In those circumstances, therefore, the referendum is extremely important. It will decide the tactics conducted both here and down the corridor by the government party.

Some Members of the Committee may think that I ought to have put the date as the first Thursday in November, or even perhaps the first Thursday in the new year. I have not checked my diary to see if that is New Year's Day. If so, it might be an appropriate day on which to hold the referendum. However, an end point would be a good idea and the end point I suggest would give us two months. We do not know when the White Paper will be published. I anticipate and hope that it will come during the course of this month, which will give us in this Chamber and those in the other place time to debate it. It will give my fellow residents of Scotland time to discuss the issues and listen to the arguments, taking into account any holidays that they may have. It will then give us time to assess what we should do before 2nd October.

I hope therefore that, for both Scotland and Wales where this is an extremely important issue, the Government will accept Amendment No. 1. Just in case they start in a negative frame of mind and do not accept the amendment, perhaps they will tell the Committee and the world at large--perhaps not the whole world

1 Jul 1997 : Column 93

at large but just the United Kingdom and particularly Scotland and Wales--on which date they intend to hold the referendum. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page