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Lord Addington: Perhaps I may speak briefly. My name appears alongside the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on Amendments Nos. 274 and 275. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, put the matter clearly when he said that the amendment would institutionalise responsibility for the disabled. We know that if one takes one's eye off the ball for any amount of time one can easily make a mistake. The classic example is where escalators are put in which suit certain types of disabled people but do not suit others. We go on from there. One has to keep constantly vigilant to make sure that this does not happen.

The noble Lord was right when he said that because one has someone initially in place who knows about these matters and he is not there, it is assumed that the matters are dealt with and checked. People make mistakes like that. I know there will be an argument against the idea of listing any one particular person. But unless we get strong reassurances that people will

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constantly keep vigilant there is a grave danger that certain areas of good practice may ultimately be eroded by time.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I can make an even briefer speech in support of the amendments. My name never did get on the amendment because I was too slow off the mark. I should like to support what both noble Lords have said on Amendments Nos. 275 and 284, particularly the part reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Earl Attlee: I congratulate my noble friend Lord Swinfen on introducing his self-evidently desirable amendment. We have heard many helpful comments, particularly about the need for constant pressure for good practice. I hope that the Minister will be helpful to us on the amendment.

Lord Whitty: We entirely sympathise with the objectives of the amendment. My problem is that we do not wish to see the Strategic Rail Authority, or other authorities within the transport areas, being represented in the sense that the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and of my noble friend Lord Berkeley would imply. We expect to see members with experience of exactly the kind of areas that have been referred to--disabled people, rail freight, local government and so on. But in practice members of the board will often wear several hats and not, as the amendment would imply, represent any one particular organisation or group. To put these requirements in the amendments on the face of the Bill would cut across the aim of having an overall representative body. We are concerned at the under-representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in relation to public appointments as a whole and to transport appointments in particular. Those considerations will be taken into account when choosing members.

Amendment No. 284 would require the SRA to consult representatives of disabled people before formulating a strategy and from time to time as part of keeping a strategy under review. Clearly, it would be sensible for the SRA to consult and to do so taking into account the views of those organisations representing disabled people. But, as we have argued before, it is not necessary, or indeed desirable, to put on the face of the Bill long lists of organisations to be consulted. The list would grow and some organisations will always be omitted in error.

However, I can meet the noble Lord to some extent. The SRA will need to consult many organisations about many matters. I am happy to give an assurance that in the directions that we give to the SRA under Clause 206 and the guidance we give to the SRA we include general guidance on consultation with the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee--DPTAC. That will be clear in the guidance. It will achieve the objectives intended by Amendment No. 284. With those reassurances to both the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord

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Addington, that these procedures will be followed, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Before the various Members of the Committee who have spoken to the amendments tell us what they are going to do with them, as it were, I wonder whether the noble Lord could come back to the part of Amendment No. 276 which refers to the need to have someone on the SRA with experience of local government. I thought that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was a very good one. Elsewhere in the Bill we are encouraging local government to co-operate in various ways--ticketing is just one--with the rail services.

My experience is that it is quite difficult for local government to talk to the railway industry. The two bodies are so different, their approach to life is so different and the way they are constituted is so different that misunderstandings can be caused. The suggestions that there should be someone with experience, or that in appointing people the Government might give weight to the fact that one of the candidates had experience, in local government are sensible.

Lord Whitty: I said that we would expect membership of the board to include, among the other areas covered by the amendment of my noble friend Lord Berkeley and those covered by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, members who have experience of local government. What I was objecting to was the representative nature implied by the amendments. Certainly, we would want people who had experience of that kind and indeed experience of disabled people and their needs.

Lord Swinfen: It is not my intention to press the amendment today. I shall read with care what the Minister has said. However, I am not sure that I agree with him. The fact that a member of the board may be representative of a particular group does not mean to say that he cannot take an intelligent and wise interest in other matters that come before the board. The noble Lord has only to look at himself and bear in mind the wide range of matters with which he himself deals in this House. The same could be said of nearly every Member of this House. They have their strong points, but that does not mean to say that they do not take an interest in everything else that goes on, or at any rate in a wide range of what goes on, and deal with those matters intelligently and sensibly. I hope that the noble Lord will take on board what I have said and that he will consider this matter further before we reach the next stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 276 not moved.]

Clause 201 agreed to.

Clauses 202 and 203 agreed to.

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Schedule 14 [Strategic Rail Authority]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 277:

    Page 232, line 3, at end insert--

("( ) Full details of staff numbers shall be published in an annual return.").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment it may be convenient if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 278, 279, 280, 281 and 281A. We are concerned that both the SRA and the office of rail regulator are planning considerable increases in staffing and resources. Those increases need proper scrutiny to ensure that the costs of regulation do not increase to a point where they divert resources away from running the railway system. Clearly, the more staff the SRA employs the more it suggests that it intends to take a role in the day-to-day running of the railway industry rather than follow a more strategic remit.

According to the DETR annual report, the SRA plans to increase its staff from 126 to 237. While it is taking on some more responsibilities, an increase of almost 100 per cent since 1998 needs close examination and continued scrutiny to ensure that this rise is not intended to continue inexorably. The rail regulator is also planning an increase in staff from 130 to 180. We would be concerned if that increase were to continue in the same way.

I turn to Amendment No. 278. Examination of the schedule provides an opportunity to explore the funding of the SRA. The precise nature of the funding provision of the SRA remains vague. As Keith Hill said at the Committee stage in another place:

    "The fine details of the SRA's financing structure are still being developed".--[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 28/3/00; col. 1144.]

It is now time that these fine details were resolved.

One of the key advantages of privatising the railway industry was that it was taken out of the uncertainties of the public sector spending round and it was allowed to plan for the long term. The SRA, and therefore the railway industry, will not have that certainty unless a long-term commitment is made by the Government to provide adequate funding. The Government are now planning public finances on a three-year rolling basis. It is therefore not unreasonable that the SRA should have the same certainty. A stable framework for long-term future funding is vital for the railways when most projects last for several years.

On privatisation, a long-term programme of subsidy to the railways was established and written into the franchise agreements. This is now under threat. It is clear that the Treasury is going to take a close interest in the funding of the SRA and, as currently drafted, the SRA will have to go to the Treasury for every separate project, having to make the case for extra borrowing approval. That cannot be satisfactory. It will go against the interests of the train operators, Railtrack and passengers if the SRA ends up as a new version of British Rail, dominated by short-term planning and dependent on the vagaries of the public sector spending round. This was the disease that was cured by the 1993 Act.

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Perhaps I may turn to Amendments Nos. 279 and 280. These follow on from our general concerns about SRA funding, but focus on its borrowing limits. The amendment is designed to allow Ministers to explain more clearly the funding arrangements for the SRA. The SRA appears to have four methods of funding: grants from the Government; loans from the Government; borrowing; and income from franchises. Ministers have set a borrowing limit of £3 billion, but it is unclear whether that includes the £1 billion inherited from BR. Furthermore, it is unclear what limits will be put on spending and in what circumstances the SRA will be able to borrow instead of using its grant funding. It is important that the Government clarify exactly what will be the balance between different sources of funding and the role of the Secretary of State in determining that balance.

During his replies in Committee in another place, the Minister, at col. 1158, was unable to give further details of how this would work, saying that the Government could not,

    "anticipate those decisions [of the SRA] in any further detail."--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 28/3/00; col. 1158.]

At that point we said that we would return to this issue. Considerable sums of taxpayers' money are involved here. It is entirely appropriate that the travelling public should know how the SRA is to operate and spend its money. We hope that the Minister will now be able to give the Committee further details of the operation of the SRA.

Paragraph 16 of Schedule 14 obliges the Secretary of State to specify rules and principles according to which the Strategic Rail Authority must exercise its functions in relation to financial and employment matters. Amendment No. 281 would remove that obligation. The authority ought to be able to make its own financial and employment rules. It is an unwarranted interference on the part of the Secretary of State to dictate to the authority on such issues. It is another example of the Government's urge to control everything in sight.

I turn now to Amendment No. 281A. Part III of Schedule 14 provides that the Secretary of State shall prepare a financial framework for the SRA. My amendment would reduce his role to that of merely approving it. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: I should like to comment briefly on the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in respect of the staff numbers of the rail regulator. I shall not comment on the SRA. If the rail regulator believes that he needs extra staff, as was suggested by the noble Earl, I believe that that is more than justified. The regulator is now faced with making periodic reviews of Railtrack's access charges. Railtrack is alleged to be £4 billion over budget on the West Coast main line on a £2 billion base cost. Furthermore, the regulator is still trying to secure from Railtrack the production of a register of assets. It seems not to know what it owns, how big are the tunnels and how heavy

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are the bridges. The regulator has a great deal to do to catch up which, in my view, should have been done many years ago, at the start of privatisation.

I would certainly support any extra staff or funding that the regulator felt that he needed. I also think that the industry needs this.

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