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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure that I can comfort my noble friend in respect of what has been occurring this week but I hope that we are beginning to get over those events. It must be seen as a primary and central duty of the SRA to provide integrated information. Where that is not done on time and with accuracy--whether for rail itself or for intermodal transport--one of the central objectives of the Bill and
Amendment No. 259 would give a list of relevant considerations when the authority tenders for or enters into a franchise agreement. We have been over that ground. There are several ways in which the Secretary of State can give direction or guidance on issues covering all aspects of multimodal travel, including integration with bus services, and bicycles. The structures put in place by the Bill will ensure that the SRA has a wide-ranging duty to take account of the interests of all railway users and potential users in the interests of integrated transport. To list them in the way that Amendment No. 259 suggests would not be appropriate.
Amendment No. 280 sets out a substantial amount of new detail that needs to be considered in the provision of access agreements but it is, to a large extent, already covered. Access agreements are the formal permission to use an owner's facilities, through which a train operating company can use Railtrack's network. That provision is already covered by the 1993 Act, which gives a general power for access agreements to cover the provision of ancillary services--whether the railway facility owner provides them direct or secures their provision. If there is any dispute over what ancillary services might be included, it can be resolved by the direction of the regulator under Section 17 of the 1993 Act.
The definition of "ancillary services" in Section 83(1) of the 1993 Act is wide. It covers any service necessary to give effect to access rights. If the regulator considers it necessary that an access agreement should require the facility owner to provide the services, he can already so direct. That is already provided for by a combination of this Bill and the Act's existing provisions.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am encouraged by the Minister's reply, particularly his final sentences, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for supporting the principles behind the amendments. The Minister is probably right--it is impossible to put all the detail on the face of the Bill--but I am glad that we agree on what needs to be done to make the railways more attractive. The provision of accurate information is essential. Given today's difficulties with the weather, I sympathise with the rail operators in not being able to provide information to the degree of accuracy that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I would like. However, although that may have been
Lord Waddington rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that in future the Queen's Speech at the Opening of Parliament is of reasonable length, and, while containing details of the Government's legislative programme, omits an account of past events.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not believe that I am alone in being concerned at the fact that the Queen's speech at the State Opening of Parliament has become much longer in the past three years and the political tone more strident. The State Opening of Parliament is not only a colourful occasion but of considerable constitutional significance. The Queen comes to Parliament in person as head of state and as the symbol of the nation's unity. She is there as a reminder that loyalty to Queen and country, which we hold in common, is a great unifying force. The things we hold in common--principally loyalty--are far more important than the minor differences, the stuff of everyday politics, which sometimes, but only temporarily, drive us apart.
Surely on that great occasion--which is a state, not a party occasion--and out of respect for the Queen, the Queen's Speech should not stray from its purpose of outlining the Government's programme and should be no longer than necessary to achieve that purpose. It should be couched in dignified and not unnecessarily controversial language. I do not believe that anyone would disagree with any of those propositions.
For some years, a number of my noble friends on this side of the House and I had a hand in deciding the content of the Queen's Speech. We always took a pride in their wording and in keeping them to a reasonable length. I remember that on more than one occasion we rejected unduly wordy contributions from departments. I shall not mention which departments or Secretaries of State but consequently we were not always popular with them. However, the result of our efforts was that between 1979 and 1996 the longest Queen's Speech contained about 1,100 words.
Things have certainly changed since 1997. The Speech of 1998 was even longer at 1,613 words and 1999 produced a monster Speech of 1,772 words, which was nearly twice as long as most of the Speeches in the previous decade.
It may surprise some Members of your Lordships' House to learn that some of the longer Speeches were not followed by a larger number of Bills. Indeed, during the years of the Labour Government there has been no relationship between the length of the Speeches and the number of Bills introduced subsequently. For instance, while in the 1997-98 Session 50 government Bills were introduced, a longer Speech in 1998 was followed by only 31 Bills. The monster Speech of 1999 was followed by fewer Bills than were introduced in Labour's first Session.
Therefore, the recent excessive length of Speeches seems to have nothing to do with the number of Bills but a lot to do with the Speeches ceasing to be concise statements of the Government's policies and becoming more party political. They are often more a recital of what the Government have done than a statement of their intentions.
I cannot believe that the drafting of the Speeches has been handed over to Alastair Campbell--I am sure that they would be much more racy if they had been--but I believe that the old disciplines instilled in us have been forgotten and that someone with few literary skills stitches together turgid offerings from the departments.
I cannot resist telling the House that much the same happened to me when I was in Bermuda and had to read its Government's Speeches at the state opening. On one occasion, I was surprised to discover that two lengthy paragraphs on page 13 were a repeat of two paragraphs on page 1! That took a bit of explaining.
I turn briefly to the Speeches of 1997, 1998 and 1999. The 1997 offering contained a great deal of stuff about tobacco advertising and the restoring of confidence in the integrity of the political system. That looks rather odd post-Ecclestone. However, its excessive length was not due to that but far more to an excessively long Foreign Office passage, complete with sizzling statements of the obvious, such as that the Government
However, the third Speech really broke new ground. Much of its contents had nothing to do with the Government's programme but was a highly selective recital of the Government's alleged achievements in the field of unemployment, the minimum wage,
I do not want to go on, analysing why the Speeches were excessively long. The point is that, judging by the length of the Speeches made in previous years, they were. It is perfectly plain to see that if one adds up the words of all the Queen's Speeches during the past 20 years--and I have wasted a bit of time doing it!
It may be that the Speeches were not written by someone determined to go beyond the bounds of propriety in the hope of gaining political advantage. The explanation for them being so awful may be sheer sloppiness. But out of respect and consideration for the Queen, something really must be done to try to arrest a decline in such standards. Something must be done to remind the media just how low standards have fallen since the Conservative's Queen's Speech in 1986. They may then be alerted and not allow more Speeches of such a low standard to go unchallenged.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, during such a dark and dramatic night, one might have hoped for a subject of debate which would summon up the blood a little more, rather than the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. We are discussing a somewhat narrow subject--the length of, and the inclusion of past events in, the Queen's Speech at the Opening of Parliament. I hope that it is not churlish to wonder whether it could have been the subject of a Starred Question, but here we are.