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Noble Lords: Oh!

Earl Attlee: Noble Lords need not worry too much about that. However, before saying anything of substance, I should remind the House that I have an interest to declare as I am president of the Heavy Transport Association. I also have some other minor interests, which I shall draw to your Lordships' attention when appropriate.

When the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, introduced the Bill, he referred to the 1968 Act of his noble friend Lady Castle. But I do not believe that this Bill is as significant. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, also referred to the 1968 Act. He

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mentioned seat-belts and the drink and drive laws that we still enjoy. Although the law has been amended since that time, the Act also introduced our present regime of goods vehicle and HGV licensing.

In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, said that there were no plans to introduce charges for existing untolled tunnels and bridges. What assurance can the Minister give me about the future of tolling on the Dartford river crossing when the franchise period ends? The Minister will have several minutes to consider his answer; and I shall remind him if he looks in danger of forgetting it.

I should like to take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I must remind her that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara welcomed some of the amendments announced this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald; he just disagreed with the volume of amendments and the other amendments that will no doubt be tabled in due course.

My noble friend Lord Freeman made some interesting comments regarding the track access charging regime and the need to identify sources of finance for Railtrack. I hope that he will table some interesting amendments for us to debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, declared an interest as a director of Clyde port. My understanding is that the port could be highly successful if the continental railways caught up with the UK and became rather more commercially aware. Containers could then be sent by rail from Clyde port directly to southern Europe. Railtrack may also need to make some improvements to the loading gauge. I know that that is a major concern of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, skilfully teased noble Lords on this side of the House about the differing views of the two opposition parties regarding NATS. The noble Lord would like the Government to think again about NATS. Perhaps it is worth remembering that without some form of alliance on this side of the House the Government will not be obliged rethink the matter at all.

I say to the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Smith of Clifton, and others, that our policy is exactly as outlined by my noble friend Lord Brabazon. We are in favour of a full-scale privatisation by means of a public offer for sale. This was contained in our previous election manifesto. My noble friend Lord Brabazon made clear our objections to the Government's plans, which are neither one thing nor the other. At later stages of the Bill we shall move amendments to include our proposals in the Bill. If, however, those amendments do not find favour in the House, we shall support amendments that propose something better than the Government's proposals; for example, the Canadian trust model that has been mentioned and was recommended by the Transport Select Committee of another place. This is exactly what we did at Report stage in another place, so there is no inconsistency in our approach. We want the best future for NATS.

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I enjoyed listening to the thoughtful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. She referred to the problems of the partially disabled on the Underground. However, if escalator failures make it impossible for the partially disabled to use the Underground, they also make it deeply unattractive even for reasonably fit people carrying luggage. It will be interesting to see whether the Mayor and the GLA can secure any improvements in that regard.

I listened with care to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, with much of which I agreed. I shall have to reserve my position on the station services argument that he articulated but I believe that his amendment will lead to a useful debate. His comments about new rolling stock always cause me alarm. One has to ask who is paying for the loss of use of this new rolling stock? What is the Secretary of State doing about that?

I am grateful for noble Lords' support for my tachograph provisions in the Road Traffic (Enforcement Powers) Bill that the Minister unfortunately accidentally left out of the Bill we are discussing! Noble Lords should be aware that I intend to table numerous other amendments aimed at raising the standards, safety and profitability of the road haulage industry. My aim is to reduce or eliminate unfair and illegal competition while avoiding excessive regulation.

My noble friend Lord Brabazon summed up most of our objections to the Bill. I should like to add my comments on some of the more undesirable clauses and their likely effect. The Bill is partial privatisation by stealth, centralisation by stealth, re-regulation by stealth and taxation by stealth. It is renationalisation of the railways by the back door. The Bill does nothing to address the crisis in standstill Britain that the Government are creating.

Many noble Lords will be particularly concerned about the plan to levy yet more taxes on motorists. We have read recently that petrol has reached nearly £4 a gallon. However, I wonder how many noble Lords remember that just three years ago the price of petrol was about £2.65. Many unsophisticated motorists believe that the marginal cost of using their car comprises only the fuel. As noble Lords will be aware, 80 per cent of this cost goes directly to the Chancellor. The Chancellor now takes £8 billion more per year than he did in 1997. The average British motorist spends £270 more per year for petrol and diesel fuel than he did three years ago. I am sure that the Minister is considering carefully the electoral consequences of this policy.

On top of that, the Government now want to levy more taxes on motorists who drive into town centres or who park at work. However, I am not clear how motorists will be deterred from using their cars if the already high taxes--which comprise 80 per cent on the cost of fuel alone--do not do so. I believe that these new taxes will result in a short-term reduction in traffic, but those people who are deterred from travelling will be replaced by more affluent motorists taking advantage of less congestion on the roads.

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The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, pointed out that traffic congestion has never brought a city grinding to a halt, occasional gridlock excepted. I think that he was suggesting that congestion itself limits traffic growth. I have some sympathy with that view. Noble Lords should not misunderstand me. I fully recognise the need vastly to improve the utility and the effectiveness of buses but I do not believe that the new taxes will achieve that. Ministers have to realise that one cannot begin to have a debate about congestion taxes when fuel taxes are so high and so little is being spent on roads and public transport--far less than the previous government spent.

For instance, noble Lords will be alarmed to discover that in this year's local transport settlement the Government allocated just £18 million to towns that had expressed an interest in introducing congestion charging to enable them to provide improved public transport in advance. There is not much incentive to put the horse before the cart.

The Minister stated that hypothecation was a new development for the UK. However, many noble Lords are concerned about additionality. In being so concerned, they have no doubt studied the history of vehicle excise duty. When that was introduced it was supposed to be hypothecated; indeed, it was called "the road fund licence". Now it is just another tax and a valuable source of income for the Chancellor.

But who will be exempt from these new charges? Cases can be made for many essential road users. What about emergency vehicles; motor-cycles; disabled cars; school vehicles; cars driven by doctors on call; cars driven by volunteer workers on their way to work; cars driven by teachers; taxis; and rescue and recovery vehicles? And what about Ministers and parliamentarians? Will they have an exemption?

The Government's plans for the railways are simply based on a desire to control the railway centrally. The Secretary of State wants to be able to interfere with the train-set rather than let the industry get on within a suitable regulatory environment. It is worth remembering that since the 1993 Act, both passenger and freight activity has increased significantly, and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, waxed lyrical about the increase in investment post-1993.

Since privatisation, managers in the railway industry have ceased complaining so much about a level playing field with regard to road haulage. They are now much more concerned with the availability of train paths from Railtrack and rolling stock from industry.

No one is saying that the 1993 Act was perfect. There is indeed a role for the SRA to help the industry develop, but not for the rebirth of the old British Railways Board in a new form. We are opposed to the Secretary of State having new powers to direct investment; we are opposed to him being able to interfere in access agreements; and we are opposed to unlimited fines. Noble Lords must remember that Railtrack is a commercial organisation and that recent activity by the Government and the regulator has

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damaged its share price and hence its ability to raise the necessary finance on the market. We are opposed to the other measures in the Bill that will allow more political interference and less enterprise. On the railway, as in all other transport areas, passengers' needs must come first, but this Bill seeks to delay improvements while the Government play ideological politics.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, stated her concerns about the proposed new structure of the rail industry. We have sympathy with some of what she said, but not everything.

Much has been said about the safety of the railway industry. Can the Minister say whether any safety performance indicators have shown a sustained negative trend since privatisation?

With one notable exception, the Bill does little about road safety. I am extremely grateful for the kind comments made by Ministers about my efforts with my impounding Bill. I am very pleased that the Minister has included it in the Bill.

In the United Kingdom we have a relatively good safety record, but there is room for considerable improvement. The Minister's road safety strategy document usefully identifies a number of requirements for primary legislation. We shall be helping the Minister by tabling suitable amendments. He should be aware that there is considerable cross-party support for many of them. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, has already indicated support for my tachograph amendment.

In addition, I and many noble Lords from all sides of the House will be tabling numerous and, I fear, technical amendments. For instance, how many convictions must an operator of goods vehicles collect before he automatically loses his "good repute"? There is considerable uncertainty in the road haulage industry as a result of badly drafted legislation. This issue must be cleared up. I suggest that this Bill is an ideal opportunity to do so.

Section 33 of the Immigration and Asylum Act covers the issue of illegal immigrants entering Britain by lorries. It seems to me grossly unfair and I shall be tabling amendments to the Act by means of this Bill. As I understand it, the Secretary of State sets the £2,000 fine, determines guilt and then hears any appeal. I am not going soft on illegal immigrants, but I do not think that this is the right approach. First, it conflicts with ECHR; secondly, it sets the rate for bringing an illegal immigrant into the country at about £2,500--£500 for the driver and £2,000 for the fine if he gets caught; and, finally, I do not think it solves the problem.

I turn now to a couple of general points about the Bill. This is a huge Bill that will occupy the House for many hours, many of them late or very late at night. It would have been better to have had three or four Bills. Indeed, the rail proposals were already submitted in last year's Railways Bill, but such is the Deputy Prime Minister's lack of influence that his Bill did not reach the Commons until far too late in the legislative timetable and so failed due to lack of time. We are glad

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to see that those proposals have been included in the Bill because we will now have a chance to show how misguided they are.

My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara mentioned the vast number of amendments that were tabled in another place. I have no doubt that noble Lords will prepare a similarly impressive array of alternative wordings. Furthermore, the Minister has already identified a number of errors and omissions. I am tempted to organise an opposition sweepstake for the number of government amendments. My guess is that there will be around 500. Indeed, would the Minister like to join us in our sweepstake? I do not think that there will be any conflict of interest as probably he, too, does not know how many government amendments will be required. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, appears to have succeeded in his tough negotiations with the Government's business managers to find space for some of his own amendments.

Transport is a vital issue that affects us all and it should not be forgotten that it constitutes a major part of our economy. At the moment, people and businesses are getting a raw deal from the Government. The Prime Minister realised that when he demoted the Deputy Prime Minister and promoted the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston. The Government would like us to believe that this has brought great benefits, but in reality all that has changed is the rhetoric. The Government pretend that they are now the motorist's friend, but the facts show that taxes are rising and investment is falling. In the meantime there is standstill on the roads, standstill on the railways, standstill or stand-up on the Tube and standstill in the air. The only area where there is no standstill is in the ever-growing number of leaked stories about the Government's so-called 10-year plan, which in reality is only a measure of their lack of progress.

We look forward to seeing the final format of the Bill once our work in this House has been completed. We shall look carefully at the existing small print and address any omissions. On the evidence of the Bill, however, it is clear that the Government are still stuck in the slow lane.

9.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate--at least so far. I have the task of responding as best I can to the many contributions and wide variety of points that have been made about the Bill. We have heard a broad range of speeches, including contributions from at least two former Ministers of Transport and three maiden speeches. From the remarks that others have made, I do not think that I would be wrong to say that I am not merely observing protocol when I observe that they were among the best speeches made in the course of our debate.

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I was grateful to hear from my noble friend Lady Cohen of Pimlico. Those who have been Members for some time would not assume that asking daft and repetitive questions is entirely confined to the first few weeks of membership of this House. I was interested to learn of my noble friend's early career in which, many years ago, she developed public/private partnerships, possibly even before those set up by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. That will stand her in good stead, as will her experience and knowledge of safety management. I hope to see her as a regular contributor to transport debates in this House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, is known to me when wearing her road safety hat in her position on Suffolk County Council. She has been a leading light on road safety matters, as well as on other transport issues. I agree totally with her observation that the local transport plan is the main motor driving a great deal of our transport policy, but that it needs to link in with regional and national transport plans, as well as with wider issues such as land use planning and environmental policy. Indeed, her speech could well serve as an advertisement for my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister's department. I shall commend her words to him.

I was also grateful to hear the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, who is a long-term acquaintance through the trade union movement and the Labour Party. Her role as a commissioner on the Health and Safety Commission has been extremely important. Furthermore, her knowledge of rail safety and transport safety in general is very helpful to our debate. It is no doubt partly due to her influence that we have seen an increase in resources for rail safety and other areas related to transport, a point that was referred to earlier in the debate. I am very pleased to welcome her presence in this House and I look forward to her involvement in transport debates.

A number of themes were introduced during the debate. A major theme referred to by my noble friend Lady Cohen is that of innovative ways in which to mobilise resources for transport. It runs through the whole debate. There are knee-jerk reactions against it from all sides of the House, but we are looking for new ways in which to bring income resources and capital, and indeed management expertise, into the transport field. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about safety on the roads and railways and in transport generally. It is important that the effective regulation of safety is separate from operations.

It is important, too, that transport solutions are addressed in a local context. Local transport plans are the dynamo of this whole approach. The broader environmental dimension is also important, as the right reverend Prelate drew to our attention, and it runs through much of what we propose in the integrated transport White Paper. It is the result of the powers in the Bill; and the means of delivery of the provisions in the Bill is through local transport

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plans. The establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority provides for far more effective regulation in that field.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, attacked the putative introduction of a public private partnership in air traffic control as a "botched privatisation". We are, however, dealing with the legacy of a botched privatisation of the rail industry. I was grateful, therefore, for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who said that we need a strategic authority: whatever the ownership of the railways, we need a rail strategy and we need to ensure that we can enforce it. Therefore, the introduction of a Strategic Rail Authority is an important facet of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to the Bill's length--despite the fact that almost every other contributor was attempting to add to its length! It is indeed a large and complex Bill. The noble Lord also complained that it has taken us three years to produce it. That is not entirely true. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, admitted, a large part of the Bill was before the House of Commons last year. The noble Lord complained also that it has taken us three years to produce a 10-year transport plan. That follows on 18 years when there was neither a comprehensive legislative framework for transport, nor sufficient resources, and when there was no transport strategy. We have been left with a deeply fragmented, internally inconsistent approach to transport ever since. Therefore, I do not think that the Opposition Front Bench can criticise us too much for taking the past two or three years to get this right.

I should refer also to potential collusion between the two Front Benches. I should like to exempt those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. My noble friend Lord Hughes referred to their innocence in these matters and I am prepared to go along with that. Nevertheless, we have some track form in this matter: we have the vote in another place. The Conservative Front Bench voted for a Liberal Democrat amendment put forward in good faith which was totally contrary to its own position. In a sense it does not matter in the House of Commons; they can play games there. Here, it does matter, and I hope that we shall not see that degree of cynicism from the Conservative Front Bench in this place. I shall try to refrain from making further party-political points.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, asked about amendments to the Bill. There will be some amendments. My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston spelt out clearly the scope of the amendments that we intend to bring forward--subject to any arguments that convince us in Committee--and that they are limited. At most, they will apply to 12 main areas. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that they will be significantly fewer than 500. I am not prepared to place a precise bet on these matters, but I suspect, given what the noble Earl said, that they will probably be considerably fewer than he himself proposes to pursue. So if we sit late hours during the passage of the Bill it will be a matter to lay at the noble Earl's door rather than the Government's.

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I now turn to individual subjects, beginning with the public/private partnership for National Air Traffic Services Limited, NATS, which probably attracted most contributions.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, in his intervention in the speech of my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston and subsequently, made clear the concerns on safety and other grounds. I take those concerns seriously. I take seriously in particular the need to address the safety issues. But we also have to face the fact that everybody is agreed that safety should be separated out from operation. The Bill provides for that very clearly. The present situation does not. Everybody is agreed that we need substantial investment in air traffic control over the next few years. Everybody agrees that we need better management and a higher degree of expertise in project management. The Swanwick project is hardly a great example in that respect. And everybody agrees that we need to be in a powerful leading-edge position in order to engage in the Eurocontrol developments that are likely to follow.

All of those matters require a change in the manner in which we manage air traffic control. The Liberal Democrats want to put it in a trust. The trade unions by and large want to keep it in state ownership. The Conservatives want it totally privatised. We have a fourth way. We want to take the positive elements of all approaches and put them together in a partnership approach. The imaginative nature of our proposals has escaped some noble Lords, because they are stuck, thinking of things in a very narrow and ideologically determined way.

Our solution will mobilise private capital, not primarily through the sale, but through the ability to tap into the capital markets over time, for huge investments are needed. It will separate out safety and make it clear that there is a major safety responsibility on management at the same time. It will provide a stable framework, which air traffic control has not had, because of variable funding, over the years. It will put us at the cutting edge of technology and give us a lead in Europe.

We can argue among ourselves about the exact structure and ownership of the financial organisation of the future NATS. But let us not use safety as an argument about financial structures. As my noble friend Lord Elder spelt out very clearly, there is no intrinsic difference between the private and the public sector on how safely they can deliver an operation. We have poor examples in the private sector and we have poor examples in the public sector. Safety in our regime will be paramount. That is the essence of air traffic control. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is absolutely committed to that. A structure of safety will therefore be effected. There will no doubt be arguments in Committee about the precise financial structure, but let us not confuse the two issues.

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We are not doing the PPP solely for financial purposes. We are also doing it in order to mobilise expertise. But even on the money side we are not just talking about the sale; we are talking about mobilising long-term capital support for the project. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, said that this was not value for money. Clearly, if it were not value for money we would not be proposing this course of action. But it is a way of mobilising money which is not likely to be available from public or limited trust company sources. The safety regime is set down and enforced by air navigation orders made under the Civil Aviation Act. That gives the CAA as regulator wide-ranging powers and it can tighten the regime further.

All respondents to the PPP consultation have been asked how the existing safety regime may be improved, and in that context a number of detailed suggestion have been made. In response to my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Hoyle and other noble Lords, we are considering all of these issues together with the NATS trade unions, other aviation professionals and the safety regulators to see what further measures are desirable in order to entrench the very high safety record of NATS and, if possible, enhance it. I give noble Lords the assurance that those discussions will continue and elements of them can be put in place to enhance safety. I hope, therefore, that the trade unions recognise that the discussions are by no means at an end; they continue. We shall ensure that any ideas on safety that emerge are taken fully into account.

I say to my trade union colleagues that the staff are absolutely key. The future of NATS depends on the quality and commitment of its staff. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, referred to the possibility of staff cutbacks. That is not in the plan and is not the intention; indeed, it can hardly be the reality whoever manages the air traffic control system. As my noble friend Lord Hoyle suggested, there is also a requirement for improved staff training.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether safety would rely on a contract to enforce it. No, it will not. Safety will rely on all the existing safety regulations which will remain intact. The noble Baroness asked whether NATS would have Crown immunity. The PPP will itself be designated as a private sector company and will not have Crown immunity in any sense, whatever other discussions on Crown immunity in the wider context of health and safety may produce.


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