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Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I doubt that they do, given their lack of support for the Government's partial privatisation. I have been in discussion with one of the trade unions in relation to this Bill, and the noble Lord will be aware of the line that we on this side of the House took in another place. No doubt we shall be taking the same line, when we come to it, in this place.
Turning to Part II of the Bill concerning the bus services, we believe that those schemes are also botched. We support non-statutory bus quality partnerships, although we do not see why there should not be an arrangement for including requirements on frequency or timing of services. But quality contracts are just designed to reregulate the industry and re-establish the local monopolies that failed in the past, and that is opposed by the bus industry.
We are also concerned that hidden away at the end of Clause 142 of this huge Bill is a subsection that gives Ministers power to remove the fuel duty rebate currently given to bus operators. The industry predicts that fares would have to rise by 15 per cent to compensate. I look forward to hearing the Minister explain how that will encourage more people to use public transport. By contrast, we made it policy to extend the rebate to community transport schemes. That is a common sense move that will help local transport.
Part III of the Bill--"Road user charging and workplace parking levy"--returns to a familiar government theme; that of more stealth taxes. The Government already take £36 billion a year from the road user. Now local authorities will be given the power to charge people to enter town centres and business will be taxed for each employee car parking space. Studies suggested that the congestion tax would have to be nearly £10 a day to have any deterrent effect on reducing congestion. The workplace parking tax is just a new tax on business and proposed charges include £250 per space per year in Birmingham and as much as £5,000 in London. The workplace parking tax is vehemently opposed by industry, which points out that if the tax is paid by the employer, it is just another tax on business and will not stop anyone using their cars; if it is paid by the employees, it will fuel demands for inflationary pay rises as they will no doubt wish to recoup the money immediately.
Many questions are still unanswered in relation to how the schemes will be operated, who will be exempted and where the money will go. But my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith will be concentrating particularly on this part of the Bill. We will be specifically interested to learn why the Government,
The final part of the Bill is to do with the railways. The Government introduced draft legislation for creating a Strategic Rail Authority in the last Session. We do not need a Bill to give Ministers more power over rail; we just need a Secretary of State who knows how to do his job. It is one thing to call rail industry figures together once a year and shout at them for the sake of a good headline; it is another to have intelligent discussions that help to deliver investment incentives for the industry and real benefits for passengers and freight.
We do not oppose a SRA in principle, which can act as persuader and facilitator for increased investment in the industry. However, the railways provisions in the Transport Bill have been described as "renationalising the railways by the back door". No wonder rail company share prices have slumped. Not only is the rail regulator being politicised, but the powers given to Ministers and the SRA threaten to bring more bureaucracy into decision making. The danger is that every major rail investment decision will become subject to Treasury control--just what privatisation was intended to remove. The Minister mentioned how successful privatisation has been in bringing much increased new investment into the railways. Once more, the rail industry will be spending more time in negotiation with Treasury Ministers than in creatively improving the railway.
The whole Bill is full of measures for increased taxation, regulation and control. It shows that the Government do not have a clue about the concerns of the travelling public. Britain needs a modern, forward-looking, safe and efficient transport network, and this Bill fails to contribute much to that objective.
There are several questions that the Minister should be answering. Has there really been a U-turn in government thinking on transport, as recently reported? Are the Government going to revive the Conservatives' plans to give more communities the bypasses they need? Are they going to deal with the bottle-necks and road improvements that have got worse over three years of stagnation? Are they going to restore the cuts in the trunk road and motorway network? Are they going to start reducing fuel duties to make our transport industries competitive once again? Are they going to see sense and not impose any more taxes on the road user? Are they going to stop legislating for restrictions and controls on our railways and buses so that they are free to invest and develop their services for their passengers? Will they go for a common-sense and straightforward flotation of NATS to create a free-standing British company that will act in the national interest?
This Bill is a resounding "no" to all those questions. The whole thrust and tone of the Bill is wrong. It is based upon the belief that Whitehall and the town hall knows best and that ordinary people will welcome
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in introducing this Bill, the Minister reminded us of how long it has been since a comprehensive transport Bill went through our Parliament. My noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who was sitting next to me, remarked that he had only dealt with "little" transport Bills. That reminded me of how often one finds oneself sitting next to, behind, or in front of someone who has been a Minister of Transport.
My first purpose today is to welcome those parts of the Bill--broadly, Parts II, III and IV--which give partial legislative expression to the concept of integrated transport and to ideas of sustainability that were expressed in the transport White Paper. Fears were widely expressed among the NGOs and by those active in the transport industry that the Government are less committed than before to practical implementation of integrated transport. I hope that that is not true.
In the past, investment in transport infrastructure, particularly in roads, has been a stop-go affair varying with the strength of the national finances. I hope that the Government are not slipping back, as the purse strings are slightly loosened, into governments' old habits of promoting an unbalanced boom in road-building once again, just as the population at large is beginning to resign itself--even to accept--a need to use existing road space better and to invest in public transport. In Committee we shall be putting forward amendments to various parts of the Bill. Such amendments will have at their core a desire to improve the Bill in respect of better integration.
Another general concern in the Bill is that of road safety. We welcome the inclusion in Clauses 241, 242 and 243 of the provisions to tighten enforcement of licensing of HGV operators. If the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, decides to bring forward the provisions of his Bill, which do not appear in this Bill, I believe we shall be minded to support him. I also note and welcome the Minister's assurance of the importance of safety as an element in local transport plans.
I noted with pleasure the inclusion of Clause 245 during the passage of the Bill in the House of Commons. The Minister has already referred to this clause, which relates to school crossing patrols. I welcome his indication that further amendments to complete that process will be brought forward in Committee. This reflects one of the Government's commitments in the road safety strategy which was issued in March of this year. But the Government made other commitments in that strategy that we
We shall be bringing forward amendments to that effect, as I indicated during the debate on the road safety strategy in your Lordships' House on 13th March of this year. In responding to my comments and to those from Conservative speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, seemed willing to accept that approach. Therefore, I hope that our objectives can be achieved by agreement. I shall also be writing to the Minister to see what progress has been made with the next tier of important actions deriving from the safety strategy that are currently under consultation.
In tackling this Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, observed, has considerably increased in both length and weight during its passage through the other place, we shall also have to give due attention to the many government amendments, especially those passed without discussion during the Report and Third Reading stages in the House of Commons, as well as those that are about to reach us. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, I believe that at least some of those mentioned by the Minister seem welcome.
I turn to Part I of the Bill. The Government will not be surprised to know that we oppose their plans for the part-privatisation of NATS. Of course, we are not alone in opposing them; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has just indicated that the Conservatives oppose them. However, I suspect that our agreement will end there. The airline industry and airline pilots have expressed concern in this respect, and the RAF is reported to be apprehensive at the possibility that air traffic controllers employed by a non-British company could be sharing tasks and expertise with them.
The Minister made much of the large government holding of shares in NATS under the PPP. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, pointed out, that share could be reduced to as little as 25 per cent. Air traffic controllers themselves oppose the part-privatisation and, when polled, the British public has shown itself to be overwhelmingly against the idea. The House of Commons Select Committee was scathing in its condemnation and large sections of the Labour Party and of the parliamentary Labour Party still adhere to the policy that the party held before the last general election. Their feelings showed in the results of the votes on 9th May in another place.
It is all for nothing. We, and many other objectors, accept that a division between the regulatory and service delivery functions is desirable. We also accept that the Government, whether or not we agree with them, are committed to seeking to fund investment in NATS outside the public sector borrowing requirement. But there are alternative options for achieving those objectives without losing the public sector safety-first ethos, which has given NATS its unrivalled position as a world leader in air traffic
Turning to the railways, I start by noting that there is considerable concern in the industry about the potential for legalistic dispute between what are in effect two regulators--the Office of the Rail Regulator and the Strategic Rail Authority. An interesting comparison can be made with the gas and electricity industries, which, under the Utilities Bill, will have a single regulator, as compared to one industry having two regulators as proposed in this Bill. Following changes in the regulatory framework as proposed in the Bill, I hope that the Government can convince us that the ORR and the SRA will not be encouraged to waste time or become diverted from their main purposes by technical inhibitions to collaboration or by positive disagreements about mutual boundaries.
A linked problem is derived from the structure of the rail industry as it emerged from the process of privatisation. The premise behind the structure was that there would be more than one train operating company competing on a single route. In fact, this is not the pattern that has generally emerged. The result is a rather artificial separation of track owner from train operator, which does not necessarily lead to the best outcome for users. It will be interesting to know whether the suggestion that Scotland provides a perfect test bed for experimenting with a different and more productive sort of relationship could find favour with the Government.
Of course, such matters are well beyond the remit of the Bill--or, rather, we shall be unable to amend it in order to encompass all the issues that I have raised. Nevertheless, the Government's attitude to these problems, and to their solutions, will form the context for the development of rail transport under the legal framework provided by this Bill over the next 10 to 15 years. I should welcome a response from the Government on these matters. Looking at the clock, and taking into account the number of speakers on the list, I estimate that the Government have six or seven hours in which to bring forward such a reply. However, if that is not possible, I should be glad to receive a letter in response.
As regards Part IV, we shall seek to clarify and expand the purposes of the SRA. We shall also move, or support, amendments to secure the expansion of rail freight. We shall test the commitment of the Government to review the position of the railway police. I welcome the Minister's comments on changes in Railtrack's responsibilities for safety. I shall read that part of his speech with great care.
Finally, I thank in advance my noble friends who will test and, if we can persuade the Government, improve the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton, Lord Bradshaw, Lord Addington and Lord Methuen, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, will address different aspects of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market will make her maiden speech today.
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico: My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships' House for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I must first, however, thank all noble Lords for their kind reception. Members of this House, noble Lords and noble Baronesses, attendants and staff have received me with the greatest kindness and courtesy. I must have sorely tried their patience. Lacking any sense of locality as I do, my brief sojourn here has been marked on my side by a series of daft questions and, what is worse, repetitive daft questions, addressed to anyone unwise enough to hesitate in the corridors for one moment.
I have been successively unable to find the Attendants' Office, the Peers Lobby, the Library, and even on one particularly bad day, the Chamber itself! But everyone I appealed to has stopped whatever they were doing and helped with very real kindness. I have also received a good deal of encouragement and help in speaking today.
I particularly wanted to speak on the public/private partnership proposed by the Bill for National Air Traffic Services. In 1970--30 years ago--I was a young principal in the Board of Trade with responsibility for the newly constituted British Airports Authority, and all the implications that that carried for what we then called Air Traffic Control. It was a simpler world. There were many fewer flights to control and the investment needed to keep the United Kingdom at the forefront of safe air traffic control was not then so great as to be unaffordable from the public purse.
After 1973 when I moved from civil aviation, I and my colleagues spent the rest of the 1970s and early 80s under Labour and Conservative governments in increasingly urgent debate on the best ways to harness private sector managerial and financial expertise for the benefit of public sector activities. I was in the thick of this, being concerned successively with shipbuilding, aircraft manufacture and steel, culminating in 1981 with the setting up of the series of joint ventures between the British Steel Corporation and the private sector, which probably preserved much of the United Kingdom's steel industry.
Even after I left the public service in 1982 to join a merchant bank, I was still concerned with the same issues. The Treasury rules on what constitutes public expenditure drove the debate for more than 10 years and all suitable concerns--and some that were not really suitable at all--were exported into the private sector lock, stock and chief executive. At the same time, however, some innovative thinking was being applied to public sector activities, such as the
I believe that we now need further financial innovation. Privatisation and the private finance initiative have transformed much of the public sector, but they do not constitute a full hand of cards. There are public sector concerns, such as National Air Traffic Services, where the public interest is so dominant as to make them unsuitable for wholesale privatisation. Nor is the private finance initiative the right way to finance the two new control centres with their high technological content that National Air Traffic Services will require. I believe that what is needed is the new form of financing proposed in the Bill where a major private sector partner is brought in, but the public sector retains a very large shareholding.
I should also like to address the question of safety. Whenever bringing in private sector cash and expertise is proposed, great anxiety is always expressed about decreasing standards of safety. I suggest to your Lordships' House that this concern is misplaced. Safety at work is not a matter of ownership, nor even primarily of regulation. It is a function of management, of the persistent, patient maintenance of a safe system of work. A safe system requires three things, of which the most important is commitment from management from top to bottom, with an acceptance that safety is everyone's business, not just that of the safety officer. Transparency is the next most important--everyone has to be trained, to know the rules, to measure performance and how to put things right when they have gone wrong and improve performance. A system of monitoring and auditing to keep everyone up to the mark is also essential--that is the third most important matter.
I believe that the Bill provides for those three conditions to be achieved. The management of National Air Traffic Services has always been committed to the maintenance of safety standards; and the Bill provides for the appointment of government directors, one of whom will be specifically charged with leading the work on safety, including training. Transparency will be greatly facilitated by the separation of National Air Traffic Services from its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority. It is always difficult for a regulator also to be an owner. The Bill provides for rigorous monitoring and auditing which my right honourable and noble friend the Minister for Transport has undertaken will include auditing of safety procedures.
In much of the public debate the fear seems to be that a private sector owner will be tempted to cut corners, sacrificing safety in the pursuit of profit. I suggest that that is nonsense. No manager in his right mind would court the possibility of a serious
I remember when the sale of British Airways was first proposed how many people prophesied that safety procedures would be abandoned in the search for profit. Of course that did not happen because safety is an airline's prime business asset, as it is for National Air Traffic Services. Safety is what they do, and their fine record and reputation are the principal assets that any private sector partner would want to preserve.
In conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their patience. I hope that we shall support the Bill, that we shall welcome the future participation of the private sector, and that we shall accept that the private sector has no less an interest than the public sector in the maintenance of high standards of safety in National Air Traffic Services.
Lord Freeman: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen of Pimlico, on her maiden speech. It was a refreshing, clear and interesting speech delivered by a welcome, youthful new contributor to our debates. The noble Baroness has a long and distinguished career in banking, the Civil Service and the public service, and as a novelist and academic. We look forward to hearing many contributions from her. We shall always pay great attention to what she has to say.
I wish to direct my brief comments to Part IV of the Bill. I am pleased that in his opening speech the Minister said that it was the intention of the Government to improve the railways. As the Minister of State for Public Transport between 1990 and 1994, working very closely with my noble friend the shadow Minister on the Front Bench in the Department of Transport, I have never believed that any legislation introduced by any administration was incapable of improvement. I welcome Part IV of the Bill; I welcome in principle the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority; and I support what Sir Alastair Morton has already said as its shadow chairman. The SRA has a key role to play in encouraging extra investment in the railways. That is the only way in which we will reduce congestion and improve and expand the railways.
Those who study the railway industry and have its best interests at heart forecast a 50 per cent increase in passenger rail traffic over the next decade, and perhaps a 100 per cent increase in the amount of freight carried. These are very welcome but daunting figures. They will bring great environmental benefits but, without new investment of substantial sums, such predictions will not be accomplished. They certainly will not be accomplished comfortably for the passenger and speedily for the freight shipper.
The Strategic Rail Authority has a key role to play. Railtrack estimates the investment requirements in the infrastructure of the railways over the next 10 years at something like £50 billion. This, of course, must include--in my judgment at least--£4 billion to £5 billion specifically to assist the freight industry alone to take heavier and longer trains. I look forward to the contribution in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I support very much what the Rail Freight Group--and he in particular--have already achieved in encouraging our interest in the growth of rail freight.
How is this £50 billion to be financed? We know that Railtrack forecasts that it can probably finance £25 billion under the current track access charging regime; and the estimates are that the train operating companies could provide about £10 billion. Both sources, incidentally, are in the private sector and therefore unrestricted by the Treasury's rules of annuality and control of public expenditure. The doubling of railway investment, which the Minister rightly referred to in his opening speech, has come about because of the freedom that those bodies have to borrow and to invest their cashflow without restriction from the Treasury.
Unfortunately, there is a gap of £15 billion. Where is this money to come from? Probably, only from two sources. If he has time, it would be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, could comment on this issue when he responds to the debate. Otherwise I look forward to following the progress of the Bill in Committee and in detail.
The first source is Railtrack. The track access charging regime--which is controlled by the regulator and limits what Railtrack can charge the train operating companies--is under review. I welcome that. It is timely and necessary. A key problem that the regulator needs to address is that Railtrack is not
It is sensible to assume that fare revenues will rise as the industry expands to provide sufficient cash to pay Railtrack. It would be helpful if the Minister who is to respond to the debate could indicate that the Treasury is prepared to look more favourably than it has in the past on the recycling of the premium payments being made in later years under current franchises by train operating companies to the Treasury. In his opening speech, the Minister spoke about hypothecation recycling. The same principle could apply in decades to come. The many billions of pounds that the franchisees of passenger rail services will provide to the state could be recycled.
I am sure that all sides of the House welcome the imminent arrival of the Government's 10-year strategic transport plan. After the spending review figures are settled in July, it will provide an indication of how much money is due for the railways. We look forward to the regulator's review of the track access charging regime. But the SRA has a key role to play in bringing all this together, in co-ordinating it and in setting, if you like, a vision of where the railway industry should be in a decade's time. I hope that the important responsibility placed on the SRA by the Bill will not disappoint the House.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to make my maiden speech to this House so soon after my introduction. It is a great honour for me to have been chosen to become a Member of this House, and for my family and for my home town of Needham Market.
The fact that I have so enjoyed my first few weeks here is due in no small part to the many gestures of friendship that I have received from all sides of the House, and to the unfailing courtesy and efficiency of the people who work here. I fully empathise with the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, as she struggles to come to terms with the geography of this place. On my first day I found a room in which I knew I could work comfortably. Unfortunately, I have never been able to find it again. I am beginning to wonder whether, like something from Gulliver's Travels, it is a room that moves around the Palace of Westminster.
I have served on a local authority since 1991; first of all on Mid Suffolk District Council and then on Suffolk County Council. That county council has a proud tradition of innovative transport policies, which
I intend to address my remarks to what is described as the centrepiece of the Bill--the local transport plan. I fear that this aspect of the Bill will suffer rather and receive less attention than NATS, buses, trains and charging schemes. Nevertheless, a new framework for transport planning is the key to developing a modern transport system which is fit for the new century.
There is a growing consensus that this country has been poorly served by its transport planning system in the post-war period. A lack of national strategic vision, fragmentation of policy making, underinvestment and political opportunism have all played their part in creating the transport system that we have today. All too often it is inefficient, expensive, overcrowded and environmentally damaging.
Under the provisions of the Bill, local authorities will have a statutory duty to prepare local transport plans in which they will set out how they intend to develop safe, sustainable and integrated transport facilities in their areas, along with proposals for spending both government capital grant and their own revenue resources.
In the past, local authority transport policy was outlined in a less than exciting annual bidding document, known as the "TPP". Submitted each year to central government, it ostensibly provided the foundation for capital grant decisions, but the system led to progressive overbidding and the development of wish lists. Worse still, they were often created in a vacuum--hermetically sealed from other policy areas such as environment, economy and accessibility.
A mini breakthrough occurred in the early 1990s as the so-called "package approach" to transport planning was developed. Package bids encompassed, for the first time, a wider range of policies and bids which placed more emphasis on safety, sustainability and integration. An urban package approach recognised the limits of local authority boundaries in strategic transport planning and therefore encouraged co-ordination across authorities in sub regions.
Building on the success of urban packages, the local transport plan approach, as outlined in the Bill, has much to commend it. A five-year plan with an emphasis on consultation, the inclusion of strategies to promote walking, cycling and public transport, along with green travel plans, is a major step forward. But perhaps the most important aspect is the recognition that transport policies exist in order to promote other objectives.
It is hardly rocket science, but I feel that sometimes transport professionals can lose sight of why we actually need transport--the mechanics and economics of mass movement have become objectives in their own right and the needs of individuals are often forgotten.
A survey of local authorities after the first round of provisional LTPs indicated that the process had involved their taking a genuinely corporate approach, involving professionals from fields such as social services and education--and not before time. Today's transport planners need skills in areas such as public participation, community development and economic regeneration to augment the more traditional disciplines.
It is worth emphasising that this is only part of the systemic reform which is necessary if we are to achieve an improved transport system. There is still little sense of an overall national transport strategy, given that press releases are no substitute for policy. I am sure that the Minister is looking forward to using the forthcoming 10-year plan as an opportunity to give shape and clarity to the Government's transport priorities.
Transport is one of the many policy areas which benefits from a regional perspective and the current development of regional transport strategies will be helpful. Rail infrastructure investment should be considered alongside major road schemes on a regional basis for both impact and prioritisation purposes. The complex relationships between urban centres and their rural hinterlands might become better understood in a regional context. Coherent regional strategies for parking and charging schemes will help to prevent unhelpful rivalries between neighbouring urban centres. However, it is far from clear how local transport plans will fit into such regional frameworks and into the emerging 10-year plan.
Local authorities will continue to produce development plans at county, district and unitary levels and perhaps we can look forward to a system in which the LTPs are integrated into all of these so that the artificial divide between transport policies and land use is finally eliminated.
The Local Government Bill promotes the development of community plans. How will those relate to LTPs and what do we do to reconcile the competing demands of those who live in a community, the people who come into the area to work or to shop and those who simply want to pass through at maximum speed, unhindered by road humps and bus lanes?
As far as concerns finance, the LTP system links government capital and local authority revenue spending on transport and provides a five-year planning framework, both of which should be welcomed. Nevertheless, urgent consideration should be given to reforms to allow local authorities to borrow in order to provide alternatives before they put in road-user charging or workplace parking levies. To do otherwise would be municipal highway robbery and would meet with massive opposition.
Revenues generated by such schemes must be truly additional so that those faced with the charging schemes can see very clearly how their money is being used and what benefits they are receiving as a result.
In conclusion, local transport plans are based on a proven concept and should be welcomed. But they are only part of the picture and need to be clearly one part of an overall strategic approach to transport planning. I look forward to the debates on the Bill in this House over the coming weeks.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, to the House of Lords "transport club" and to congratulate her on a speech which demonstrated very clearly her considerable interest in and experience of the world of local government in general and transport in particular. I can quote that she also has,
Many in this House share the noble Baroness's interest in European issues, but I doubt whether I could guarantee her the same degree of enthusiastic unanimity which greeted her speech today. Indeed, perhaps I may issue a warning that it is highly unlikely, if her next speech addresses European affairs, that it will be greeted with similar unanimity--whichever side she is on. We are pleased to welcome her to the House, whether she makes controversial speeches--it happens; whether she is rude to the Whips--that is highly desirable; or whether she becomes involved in European issues. She will be a much-valued colleague and we wish her well.
As the Minister pointed out in his opening remarks, one has only to look at the list of speakers in today's debate to see that, once people become involved in the multi-faceted problems of moving people and freight in an affluent country such as ours, they tend to become hooked on the subject. I confess that I am in that group. I spent seven increasingly fascinating years, first, as Minister of Transport in a Labour Cabinet and, immediately after that, as chairman of the British Railways Board under a Conservative government who--to add to the fun--were replaced by a Labour government halfway through my contract. From that experience I can say only that if all Ministers knew, at the beginning of their period of office, that they would have to live with the consequences of what they had done, there might be better legislation and certainly far less of it.
I propose to speak about the transport implications in the Bill, but before doing so perhaps I may register a small whinge. In many ways it is a pity that the proposal for NATS has been incorporated in the Bill because it is a major issue in its own right and does not--strangely enough--fit in naturally with surface transportation matters, which form the main part of this legislation.
The Minister mentioned the Transport Act 1968 and his remarks brought my memories of it flooding back. Like the Minister I, too, find it interesting to note the similarities between this measure and that Act. They are roughly the same enormous size. I hope I can say that that Bill contained fewer government amendments--perhaps, when the Minister winds up the debate, he could indicate how many have been produced so far; that information will help some of us to plan our summer holidays. Nevertheless, it is significant that the key issues addressed in the Transport Act 1968 and the objectives then set out to tackle them are almost identical to those set out here.
First, 32 years ago no one argued against the fact that it had become necessary to exert some control over the growth of private car ownership and the ever-increasing mileage driven. The impact that was having on society was clear. Secondly, in addition to trying to control the growth of car use, we sought to transfer more travellers from private vehicles to public transport. Thirdly, after deep research we decided that it was necessary to transfer more freight from road to rail. Our fourth objective was to face the problems that were directly attributable to inadequate railway investment over many years. That was the nature of the 1968 Act. Plus ca change ...!
In support of those objectives we examined a raft of options for road pricing. At that stage, all kinds of electronic devices were becoming available which made increasingly possible, whether in terms of tolls, a tax on business parking or whatever. We decided that buses were a key part of public transport; therefore, we set up the National Bus Company. Then, turning our attention to the problems of freight on the roads, we set up the National Freight Corporation. Finally, we reorganised the management structure of the British rail network. We faced a complex matrix of problems and sought solutions; and we threw the full weight of the government machine behind that task. To make our intentions clear, we described our approach as "an integrated transport policy".
Only two transport initiatives from that time survive today having proved their worth and made a massive and obvious contribution to road safety. Neither was in the Act. I refer to the compulsory use of seatbelts and the drink-driving legislation which have had a major impact, while the original provisions in the Bill have had no lasting effect. In case there is any misunderstanding--because neither of us has been invited to set up the other's fan club--the credit for those two measures is directed entirely at the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, who promoted them personally.
I outline this past experience not because I take a negative view of the Bill--indeed, quite the opposite; the Bill provides the opportunities to rescue the situation from some of the damage that has occurred, particularly in the railway system over recent years. The problems addressed by the Bill are faced by all affluent industrial nations, and they have not found the answers either; they have similar problems of traffic congestion and pollution. But they share a key feature with the UK: traffic congestion, whether in
I turn to what I regard as by far the most important part of the Bill. I refer to the clauses relating to a strategic rail authority. For a variety of reasons, I was strongly in favour of the injection of private capital into the nationalised railway--not for any doctrinal reasons, but primarily because I thought that it would provide some sort of discipline for the investment programme and the fiscal management of the railway and ministerial interventions.
At that stage, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and I moved a number of amendments to the Bill because we were extremely worried by the proposition that was being put. Nothing that has happened since leads me to suppose that the changes that were made have produced anything other than a managerial monstrosity. One has only to sit down and draw up a simple structural reporting chart to see the situation. There are 25 separate operating passenger companies, each with different shareholders, each with a different business plan, each with different franchises. On top of that, there are the separate freight organisations, and so on. It is an impossible organisation to co-ordinate in any serious way in the long term. I believe that the Strategic Rail Authority can provide the basis of a much more rational structure, which could last a long time.
I should like to make three further points. First, the present situation is untenable and unmanageable. I hope that the considerable powers that will be available to the Strategic Rail Authority can be used in some way to reduce the numbers of companies involved by means of merger or whatever way possible to begin to move towards a more rational, sensible structure. No board could successfully manage the present structure.
Secondly, it is crucial that the post of chairman of the authority should be a full-time position. The sheer scale of the operation will keep the CEO fully occupied. The chairman needs to maintain close relationships not only with the Minister and his officials but also with the Opposition, industry and consumer organisations, to name but a few. Above all, he must understand and become a part of the culture of the railway industry. This is not a part-time job. Some of the safety problems that have arisen have
Finally, there must be long-term investment plans, guaranteed over seven to 10 years. Nothing better could happen for the taxpayer and the travelling public than to have some security as regards the adequate funding of railway investment. However, during the five years when I was chairman of British Rail, there were seven major changes in the investment programme. I see no reason to suppose that that will be different in the future. Possibly in five years, certainly in 10 years, Lord Prescott will have become chairman of Jaguar Europe, having lost the leadership to Sir Ken Livingstone, and the Treasury will have intervened at least half a dozen times. It is a feature of our system which requires some new initiative, possibly between the parties, with some guarantees.
I do not know how that can be achieved, but drawing up the investment programme is the easy part. Unless the integrity of the investment programme can be protected, at least within some parameters, we shall have missed another opportunity. That would be a tragedy. I cannot believe that we cannot deal with that problem, and I wish the Bill well.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, in this my first speech to your Lordships' House I wish to place on record my thanks for the kindness and courtesy shown to me by all sides of the House since my arrival on 15th May feeling very much the new girl in school.
Like others before me, I have had difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, explained in his maiden speech why he had not been able to use one of the tools of his father's trade--a police whistle--to help him find his way around the House. But he had used a pocket compass. The tools of my father's trade would also be of little use to guide me. He was a butcher. On reflection I do not think that arming myself with a meat axe would endear me to your Lordships. And, as I do not possess a pocket compass, I am deeply grateful to Members, officers and staff who have advised and guided me with humour and patience when I have been found wandering many steps from where I was supposedly heading.
Prior to entering your Lordships' House I was a senior trade union official in the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union, the union in which my noble friends Lady Turner of Camden and Lord Hoyle have played such important roles over the years. I regarded it as an honour to work for the members of MSF, who were from all walks of life, with many different beliefs, needs and aspirations.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on health and safety in the railway industry, because in any discussions on transport, health and safety must play a vital role. Here I declare an interest. I am a serving
Although the Bill is primarily about delivering a more efficient transport system, that does not mean that we should not be concerned about safety. We owe that both to the passengers who use the transport system and to those who work in the industry. Efficient, safe transport is a must; a safe railway is essential.
The Bill covers issues of key importance in the railway health and safety field: the need for increased investment to improve safety, comfort, reliability and speed; the need for new rolling stock in many areas; and the need for an efficient enforcement system which will allow poor performance by rail operators to be effectively tackled. Additionally, consideration must be given to providing enough health and safety inspectors to enforce health and safety law on the railways and elsewhere; and there is certainly a need for a rail consumer body which will put the passenger's voice at the heart of decision-making.
Of course, we have to put our health and safety record in its proper context. The UK's record on health and safety is a strong one compared with that of other developed countries. Our systems are greatly respected, and indeed replicated elsewhere. This is in no small part due to the work of the Health and Safety Executive and its dedicated staff, who earn a great degree of credibility and respect from employees, employers and organisations at home and abroad.
However, there is no room for complacency. Serious accidents continue to occur, and they are what register in people's minds. We all remember accidents such as the Southall train crash, the sinking of the riverboat "Marchioness" and the recent Ladbroke Grove disaster, the deaths and the injuries received and the aftermath for families and organisations alike.
I understand that shortly the Deputy Prime Minister and the Health and Safety Commission chair, Bill Callaghan, will launch a new 10-year strategy for better health and safety. No longer can we allow hundreds of people to die each year as a result of work. No longer can we allow £18 billion to go down the drain every year because of health and safety lapses.
I am sure that those involved in our transport system are well aware of the need for constant improvements and constant vigilance. Obtaining a balance between business drive and care for employees is a challenge to all employers, large or small. A company's culture--how things are done within the company--is of crucial importance to the healthy progress of any organisation. If, for example, senior management does
Over recent years the development of the role of health and safety representatives, men and women who are alert in their workplaces to risks which may be encountered, has worked well. They discuss with their employers how such risks can be overcome before a risk becomes an accident or, worse, a fatality.
Currently a number of well-known companies are working with unions to co-ordinate safety improvements, and this is of paramount importance in the transport industry. Indeed, recent trade union research has shown that in companies where employers and safety representatives work together to tackle safety issues accidents can be substantially cut. Such partnerships show the way forward.
Finally, I am well aware of a number of respected health and safety experts in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lady Whitaker being one, and it is a pleasure for me to be working alongside them. I am not a health and safety expert, but I am a firm believer in the importance of health and safety. When the chair of the Health and Safety Commission asked me recently what qualities I believed I brought to the work of the commission, I replied that I tried to bring common sense and an open mind to issues before us. I hope to bring these qualities to this House also.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, the whole House will wish to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, on her cogent and well delivered maiden speech. The Bill before us provided her with an excellent opportunity, because her expertise is well known. I hope that we shall hear much more from her, not only on this Bill, but on others in years to come.
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