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Lord Berkeley : I am most grateful to my noble friend for his comprehensive reply. However, I was surprised when he said--I believe I recall his words correctly--that he did not think there was a public interest issue in knowing about how many cancellations or delays there were for Eurostar or the Heathrow Express. It seems to me that members of the public are very interested in knowing whether or not such trains run on time. It is perhaps something that will have to be done through persuasion, if there is no legal means of doing so. I believe that that could be a big hole in a totally integrated transport service. But having said that, I am grateful to my noble friend and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 206 [Manner of exercise of functions]:

[Amendments Nos. 286A and 287 not moved.]

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 288:



("( ) to promote measures designed to facilitate the transport of goods by rail and its integration with other transport modes,").

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The noble Lord said: There are four amendments tabled in my name in this grouping. Amendment No. 288 is designed to provide the same information requirement of the SRA--namely,


    "to promote measures designed to facilitate the transport of goods by rail"--

as set out in the previous paragraph of the clause in respect of passengers. I tabled this amendment as a matter of completeness.

I turn next to Amendment No. 289. I felt that experience in the industry during the past five years has shown that, if and when growth occurs, there is a distinct danger that there will not be enough people, equipment or trained staff to enable such growth to take place. The best example is probably in signalling. Two years ago, Railtrack announced such a shortage of signalling staff that it had to have its signal systems designed in Australia. However, a year later the signalling industry in this country was laying off staff for lack of work. Indeed, we are not quite sure where we are at present.

It would be nice to think that the SRA could try to encourage--I put it no stronger--a reasonable level of development of businesses by gently increasing orders, if that is appropriate, be it in signalling or in anything else. It would be of great benefit to the industry and is something that would fit in very nicely with the strategic role of the SRA.

Amendment No. 292 is another attempt to ensure that the SRA and the local authorities work together in the local transport plans and that they consult widely and try to achieve consensus. It also seeks to ensure that the SRA is given a clear duty to acknowledge the close relationship of its policies with those of local transport plan producing authorities, and to co-operate with them.

Amendment No. 293 puts the same argument in respect of regional transport strategies. It is terribly important that everyone works together. The SRA is on top, so to speak, but it is important that it works together with the regional and local authorities. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I support the amendments. They give an indication of what one hopes to see, not so much in the strategy itself but in the way in which the SRA conducts its business on a day-to-day basis. They represent patterns of behaviour, attitudes and approach which would enormously help in reducing the boom/bust syndrome which has bedevilled rail development in the past few years.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: These amendments seek to add to the areas that the authority must consider when exercising its functions with a view to furthering its purposes.

Amendment No. 288 would require the authority to facilitate the transport of goods by rail and the integration of goods with other transport. As I have said, we have already given the SRA specific purposes to promote the use of the railway network for the

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carriage of passengers and goods and to contribute to the development of an integrated system of transport. It will then have to develop particular strategies to carry out those purposes and everything which it does will need to be with a view to furthering those purposes. An obligation to promote measures designed to facilitate the transport of goods by rail and its integration with other transport modes seems somewhat superfluous. It would not add to the existing obligations on the authority to have proper regard to freight.

Amendment No. 289 would require the authority to enable persons providing services and equipment to the railways to plan their businesses with a reasonable degree of assurance. I have sympathy with the needs of the supply industry, even if I do not believe that we should add the amendment to the Bill. Clearly we want healthy businesses to supply service providers, to keep our railway running and to help it grow. The authority will give strategic direction to the industry, which has been lacking since the industry was privatised. This will provide certainty to business and enable both operators and suppliers to plan their businesses with more confidence.

I do not believe that it would be appropriate to extend the authority's remit in the Bill specifically to include railway suppliers. Suppliers are commercial businesses which are not subject to the regulatory framework that applies to the operators. Their success depends upon the general health of the railway industry and the ability of railway operators to develop and maintain effective business with suppliers. The Bill gives the authority a wide remit to develop and promote the railway, and gives it specific obligations in relation to how it regulates operators. Provided operators' businesses can be planned with a reasonable degree of assurance--and with the longer franchises that the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority is seeking, they will be able to plan their businesses over a more credible timescale--the operators should be able to plan effective business with suppliers, and give some degree of the assurance to the suppliers which my noble friend seeks.

Amendments Nos. 289A and 292 require the authority to facilitate the implementation of, and to have regard to, local transport plans. Amendment No. 293 requires the authority to have regard to the regional transport strategies. Of course, we expect the SRA to formulate its strategies and to exercise its functions in the light of local transport plans and regional strategies. However, the process needs to be a two-way one, so that local plans and strategies are consistent with the national framework. This is a task for local authorities as well as the SRA. This is why it is preferable to deal with the relationship in our guidance on local transport plans, and in directions and guidance to the SRA, rather than on the face of the Bill as the amendments seek to do. There are, of course, a lot of plans to which the SRA should have regard and it would be inflexible and unwieldy to try to specify them all in the Bill. Moreover, it would cast doubt on the status of any which were not so specified.

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The authority's role will be to promote rail use within an integrated transport system. This is a national role. Consistent with this national framework the SRA will take account of the views of local and regional bodies. This will involve extensive consultation to identify the opportunities for rail.

I can assure noble Lords that this process of consultation is already under way and the shadow SRA is devoting considerable effort to developing relationships with local authorities. The shadow authority is starting to receive local transport plans and to assess them, and will continue to consider all local transport plans now that the new regime is in place. On franchise replacement, the Franchising Director has an extensive programme of consultation. Local authorities' aspirations are being cross-checked against franchise owners' bids. The shadow SRA is also involved in giving written and oral evidence on regional planning guidance and in developing a dialogue with regional development agencies. I hope that, given those considerations, my noble friend will withdraw the amendments.

Lord Berkeley: As ever, I am grateful to my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 289 and 289A not moved.]

11.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 290:


    Page 121, line 19, after first ("it") insert ("and").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 290 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 291 and 296 to 299.

Clause 206 gives the Strategic Rail Authority power to invest in bodies corporate. Amendment No. 290 seeks to remove this power. The authority is supposed to be a strategic planning body. What on earth is it doing taking shares in companies? There is no discernible need for such investment in order for the authority to be able to perform its duties. Worse, to acquire shares in this way could give rise to serious conflicts of interest.

Turning to Amendment No. 296, Clause 210 is a crucial clause in the Bill. It provides wide-ranging powers for the SRA to give financial assistance and secure improvements to the railway. Through this amendment, we aim to find out from the Government what exactly this role involves. Our concern is that the clause has a potential to undermine the commercial judgments of Railtrack and the train operators. The Strategic Rail Authority must take a strategic role, and we are concerned that this clause allows it to interfere in the day-to-day operation of the railway.

We are also concerned that the Secretary of State will have considerable powers to give directions to the SRA. The clause is so broadly drawn that we need Ministers to clarify exactly when they would give such directions and we seek assurances that the Secretary of State's involvement would be only in limited circumstances. Perhaps it would be helpful if the Minister could give some examples.

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Amendment No. 296 would ensure that any involvement by the SRA would be on the basis of competitive tendering, ensuring that it does not step in at any opportunity but only when there genuinely is no alternative or when necessary to deal with a possible market abuse situation.

Amendment No. 297 follows on from the previous amendments and seeks to limit the wide powers of both the Secretary of State and the SRA and to ensure that the railway industry retains the commercial freedom to run and develop the railway. We are seeking a reassurance that the Government are not intending to use this clause to intervene in the day-to-day running of the railway. We believe that privatisation has brought considerable improvements to the running of the railway and levels of investment have doubled since British Rail days. That can continue only if there is stability and the railway industry is left to make its own judgments on the interests of passengers, to whom it is closest. I beg to move.


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