Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, again I resist all attempts of noble Lords and noble Baronesses to have me anticipate the issues in the appeals. The position in relation to Derbyshire is that five courthouses in west Derbyshire--two in Chesterfield; one at Ashbourne; one at Bakewell; and one at Matlock--are being closed and replaced by a wholly new building in Chesterfield, which will consist of seven courtrooms. That is the subject of an appeal to me. Also subject to an appeal to me is that three courthouses in south Derbyshire--two in Derby and one at Swadlincote--are being closed to be replaced by a single new courthouse in Derby, consisting of 11 courtrooms.

When such appeals come to me, I consider each on its own merits in the light of local circumstances. Typically, I address the quality of the existing courthouses and the facilities they offer; the feasibility and cost of bringing the existing courthouses up to modern standards; the efficiency of the distribution of existing court business among the existing courthouses; accessibility for all court users; the extra distance that some court users may have to travel; and the time taken to complete that return journey. When the parties to the appeals give me their full grounds, I shall consider them.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that throughout the country there is a great deal of dissatisfaction where courts have already closed? That was done as a cost-saving exercise, but it has not saved a penny. It has cost a lot more and has inconvenienced many magistrates, witnesses and counsel.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it must be appreciated that some people feel such an affection for particular courts that they almost constitute themselves as local preservation societies in order to keep them. However, some courts are quite incapable, at economic cost, of being brought up to modern standards, particularly for the disabled. The range of considerations I have already listed are those I apply in considering all appeals.

22 Jul 1998 : Column 879

Railway Land Sales and Future Freight Needs

3.12 p.m.

Lord Cadman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that, following their decision to allow the sale of former railway lands to proceed, the land requirements of the rail freight industry will be adequately provided for.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, procedures are in place to ensure that where former railway land has potential for future rail use it can be identified and the freight industry given the opportunity to purchase it. However, we recognise that concerns about property disposals persist. We have therefore asked the British Railways Board to carry out a review of its remaining property portfolio.

Lord Cadman: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. In view of the positive messages on this subject in the Government's White Paper, can the Minister tell the House what encouragement and advice are being given to local planning authorities by the Government to enable them in the short-term to make suitable land available for rail freight terminals? To what extent can local authorities be encouraged to invest in rail freight infrastructure?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's welcome for our review. I should point out that the British Railways Board will suspend land sales while the review takes place in order to give just those interests the opportunity to express views about potential sites. Local authorities already have an opportunity to ask for sales to be put on hold if they think that there is the potential for rail freight use. We are considering revising planning guidance to local authorities, as well as planning guidance at regional level in the regional transport plans. However, we also intend to issue revised planning guidance to facilitate more freight to be moved by rail. When preparing their development plans, local authorities will be expected to consider and, where appropriate, to protect opportunities for rail connections to existing manufacturing, distribution and warehousing sites adjacent or close to the rail network.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that in both rural and urban areas land no longer required for rail transport could be of considerable service to the cause of conservation by extending the ecological resource and perhaps by providing "green lanes" for public access, peace and enjoyment? Could those purposes be given a higher priority?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there has to be a balance, and we have recognised that. The land which the British Railways Board owns and which it took into ownership in 1994 was considered not to have any

22 Jul 1998 : Column 880

potential for future rail use. Our views about the potential for rail have expanded since then. We have therefore had to scrutinise whether land can be made available for transport use. My noble friend rightly points out that some areas of land may have no potential for transport use but could be used for other well deserving purposes. The Sustrans scheme, which uses disused railway lines for cycle paths, while maintaining the possibility of using them in future for rail, strikes that balance extremely well.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in the light of Mr. Prescott's announcement about discouraging the use of cars, will the Government bear in mind the necessity of producing a great deal of extra space for car parking at rural railway stations?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, part of the purpose of the integrated transport White Paper is to ensure that we facilitate the use of public transport. We are doing that in a variety of ways, including investing very large sums of money in providing quality public transport. For some people, the ability to leave their car at a railway station will be important, as the noble Lord pointed out. We are considering how to ensure that they can do that--and do so securely. The security of vehicles, and sometimes of drivers, has been a problem in the past.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's statement that the British Railways Board has been asked to reconsider its holding of railway land. As chairman of the Rail Freight Group, I very much welcome all the rail freight measures in the White Paper. However, can the Minister explain a little more about the timetable for the British Railways Board's review and its consultations with the industry? When might the board be likely to report back to government, as is stated in paragraph 4.35 of the White Paper?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am tempted to say, as did my noble friend, "very soon". We are in the preliminary stages. I understand that today we have received an initial response from the British Railways Board about the scope of the review. We shall want to consult relevant interests, but we do not want a long drawn-out process. We need some clarity and to be certain about the portfolio. We should be able to achieve that clarity within a sensible period of time.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, can the Minister say how much land is owned by the British Railways Board? What is its estimated sale value, and what has been provided for in the budget to reflect that sale value? If the land is not sold, from where will that money be found?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, firm estimates relating to receipts from the sale of railway land were taken into account by the Government. I shall write to the noble Lord with the exact details. One must look at overall transport needs. We have set up two new funds

22 Jul 1998 : Column 881

specifically to address infrastructure needs within the rail network. That would be one possibility of making good any shortfall in potential receipts.

House of Lords' Offices: Select Committee Report

3.20 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Assuming that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, moves his amendment it may be for the convenience of your Lordship's House if any noble Lord who wishes to raise a matter on any other part of this report should do so during the debate on the amendment. While that is strictly a departure from our normal procedure we have done it before. It saves time and will avoid the need for two debates. It also avoids the need for me to inflict more than one speech on your Lordships. I am very conscious of the very weighty business that is to come before your Lordships this afternoon.

Moved, That the 6th Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 130) be agreed to.-- (The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

    The Committee has met and been attended by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Gentlemen Usher of the Black Rod.

    1. Sub-Committee membership

    Lord Acton was appointed to the Refreshment Sub-Committee.

    2. House of Lords Annual Report and Accounts

    The Committee approved the Annual Report and Accounts for 1997-98.

    3. Old Palace Yard

    The Committee approved a scheme to refurbish Old Palace Yard. The scheme will be undertaken in three stages during the summer recesses of 1999, 2000 and 2001. No Peers' car parking spaces will be lost as a result of the scheme, and access to the House will be maintained during the works.

    4. Seating in the Chamber

    The Committee agreed to make permanent the arrangement whereby the space in the Chamber behind the Table is reserved for disabled Peers.

    5. Staff pay

    The Committee took note of the pay awards to House of Lords staff for 1998; the cost to the pay bill will be 3.9 per cent.

    6. Lords' Reimbursement Allowances

    The Committee took note of an increase in the bicycle allowance to 6.4 pence per mile, with effect from 1 April 1998.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end insert ("except paragraph 3 which shall be referred back to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee for further consideration").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall try to be brief in moving the amendment in my name on the Order Paper. Paragraph 3 of the report of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee deals with Old Palace Yard.

22 Jul 1998 : Column 882

The report merely says that the sub-committee approves the scheme to refurbish Old Palace Yard. Old Palace Yard is basically known as the Members' car park. If we go to the report of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of 30th June when this matter was discussed the proposal was that a sum of £2 1/3 million be spent on refurbishing this car park and adjacent places. No doubt that decision was regarded as unexceptional at the time but matters move on. I believe that the reputation of this House may be damaged. On Monday the long-awaited White Paper on transport was introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister. In that he makes very great play of the need to remove cars from city centres. If two days later your Lordships say that they are to spend more than £2½ million refurbishing the car park at the front of the building, it will be a mistake in perception and public relations. As the work proceeds every taxi driver who goes past will point out this folly to his passengers. The passengers of every bus that passes will grumble to each other. A constant stream of foreign visitors will believe that this is yet another example of the aberration of the British. There is a serious risk that it will not do the reputation of this House any good during this period.

I have said before in debates that I believe that at times we are fobbed off by the Chairman of Committees with the comment that the matter in question has been considered by the relevant committees and brought before this House. Consequently, let us look at what was said at the meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee when this matter was proposed:

    "In conclusion, it was proposed that the Sub-Committee should examine the proposals in detail before confirming they should go ahead. The Chairman of Committees said that this would be impractical: the proposals had been thoroughly examined and revised by the Sub-Committee and the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and any deferral would greatly delay the project".

It is like a Russian doll. One opens it up to find another one inside. One must probe further and further back to discover the original decision. It is rather like radio astronomy. I hope that in this case noble Lords will make an exception to the good work that goes on and agree to take another look at it for the sake of the reputation of the House. Matters have changed since the original decision was taken. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page