Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I certainly shall not press the amendment tonight. In his reply the Minister has given me considerable food for thought. He says that the amendment is not only unnecessary but dangerous. I suppose that is better than being told, as one often is, that the amendment is unnecessary. He also says that he requires the flexibility that this clause

30 Oct 2000 : Column 757

would give the authority, in that it can do things other than just paying grants and it may want to put money into schemes.

We are talking about taxpayers' money. In general terms, the record of taxpayers' money being invested in what I may call "money-making wheezes" is not usually a good one. I only hope that the authority considers matters most carefully before taking advantage of the power that the Minister has described and that we, the taxpayers, do not find ourselves investing in schemes which have no chance of making money, as has happened so often in the past. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 243:

    Page 121, line 30, at end insert--

("( ) In exercising its functions in accordance with subsections (1) and (2) the Authority shall have regard to the local transport plans prepared by local transport authorities in accordance with section 107.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise briefly to move Amendment No. 243, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland, and to speak to the other amendments in the group which also stand in his name.

Amendments Nos. 243 and 244 are straightforward. They state that the authority shall have regard to local and regional transport plans. That seems to be a matter of simple good sense. Local transport plans in particular are the main way in which the Government's general policies for transport are expressed. It is obviously most important that both sets of plans should be taken into account. There should be discussion between regional and local planners and the Strategic Rail Authority so that the two big planning bodies are not out of kilter at a local level.

Amendment No. 245 concerns publication of the Secretary of State's or Scottish Ministers' directions or guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority. Again, I hope that that is seen in the spirit of freedom of information. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether it is or whether it falls under the caveat that advice is not to be published. On the other hand, that caveat applies to advice to Ministers, whereas the advice referred to in this amendment is from Ministers.

I must confess that the true meaning of Amendment No. 284 escapes me. As my noble friend Lord Shutt did not have time to brief me--everything having happened in rather a hurry--I hope that the Minister can explain to us its meaning and his response to it. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, first, perhaps I may deal with Amendment No. 284, as to which the noble Baroness has asked me to play on both sides of the net. The amendment deals with the relationship of the Strategic Rail Authority with the PTEs. It would delete the provision that the SRA need not comply with a PTE statement when that places extra costs on

30 Oct 2000 : Column 758

the SRA. We resist that proposal for the fairly obvious reason that it would make the SRA do something outside its control while, at various points during this process, the PTEs have substantial powers to influence the decision of the SRA. I hope that that explains the position in relation to this amendment.

Amendments Nos. 243 and 244 concern the need to relate the SRA's strategy to the local transport plans. Indeed, as the noble Baroness said, it is very important that those two processes interrelate. Our guidance on local transport plans already deals with the relationship with national rail planning, and the planning guidance notes cross-refer to the SRA. Therefore, I believe that that interrelationship is already provided for under existing guidance and that the spirit of the amendment is met.

So far as concerns Amendment No. 245, I have some cause for quarrel with the noble Baroness. That amendment would require directions and guidance from the Secretary of State to the SRA to be laid before Parliament in advance of their being issued. We do not consider that suggestion to be appropriate. Under the present regime, although the objectives are laid before Parliament, the instructions and guidance--the equivalent of this amendment--are not. Where the objectives are laid down in the Bill, the new directions and guidance will correspond to the old instructions and guidance. We believe that they should be dealt with in the same way, subject, of course, to the requirement on the SRA to consult before we reach that point.

I accept that it is awkward for noble Lords to take my word on this matter before they have seen the draft guidance to the SRA. Obviously the timing is not ideal. However, I can assure the House that we shall consult on that guidance later this year. For example, local authorities and others with an interest will have a full consultation role in the drawing up of those directions and guidance. However, to require all such guidance to be laid before Parliament would not be in line with the way in which we have dealt with these things in the past or with the arm's-length relationship that the SRA needs to have with Ministers. I hope therefore that the requirements on the SRA to consult, to report and to publish its strategies will be sufficient to meet what I believe is the basic objective behind the amendments.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, did I hear him say that he was going to consult the industry on the instructions and guidance to the SRA but was not going to inform Parliament? I do not think that was what he meant but that is the way it came across to me.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, either I convoluted two sentences or the noble Lord is not following me with his usual acuity. We shall consult on the guidance to the SRA as to how it should carry out its functions and whom it should consult in so doing. However, we would not lay before Parliament the instructions and guidance that are mentioned in the measure we are

30 Oct 2000 : Column 759

discussing. It would be rather unusual for us to do so and certainly has not been the case under the current franchising regime.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, which I am sure that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, will read with great interest as the amendments came from that source. I hope that the House will be glad that, however unusual the procedure I have adopted, we have managed to discuss four amendments in seven minutes and have been given a good answer for the record. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 244 not moved.]

Clause 208 [Directions, guidance and advice: supplementary]:

[Amendments Nos. 245 and 246 not moved.]

Clause 210 [Financial assistance etc.]:

[Amendments Nos. 247 to 249 not moved.]

Clause 211 [Securing of services by franchising]:

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 250:

    Page 123, line 36, at end insert--

(""(2C) The Authority shall not exercise its powers under subsections (2A) and (2B) unless necessary for the purpose of exercising its powers under section 30(1)(a)."").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 250, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 251 and 257. The Government claim that they are strengthening the franchising provisions by requiring the SRA to say where franchises should be franchised rather than just be eligible for franchising. However, it is difficult to see the difference. Surely the SRA is unlikely to designate a service as eligible unless it thinks that it ought to be franchised.

In Committee, the Minister argued that this amendment seeks to tie the provisions for designation to the role of the SRA as operator of last resort. That is nonsense. It seeks to tie the provisions for revocation of designation to that role, and rightly so. The Government argue for flexibility in changing the designation map. Why is that?

The bias should be in favour of franchising if the Government are sincere in their protestations that they are not interested in renationalising the railway network and the only changes should be new designations or as operator of last resort.

I turn to Amendment No. 251. This is a simple amendment. There is a gap in the Railways Act 1993, in that the franchising director is to designate services as eligible for franchising and is responsible for any invitation to tender in respect of such services but is not apparently obliged to issue any invitation to tender for such services. The relevant section is Section 26 of the 1993 Act. This amendment is designed to impose such an obligation on the authority (as successor to the franchising director).

30 Oct 2000 : Column 760

I turn to Amendments Nos. 252 and 253. Section 26(1) of the Railways Act 1993 allows the Secretary of State, when the authority selects a franchisee, to direct otherwise. This amendment removes that power. The Secretary of State should not be able to substitute his choice of franchisee for that of the authority. That would lay him open to the charge of appointing one of his friends, especially as he also takes under subsection (3) of Clause 211 the power to direct how the appointment is to be made, so that the proper tendering process can be bypassed. This provision has proved not to be necessary and, given that it is open to abuse, should be removed.

If my Amendment No. 252 does not find favour, perhaps I can tempt the Minister with my very attractive Amendment No. 253. Subsection (3) of Clause 211 gives the Secretary of State wide powers not only to substitute his choice of franchisee for that of the authority but also to dictate the method of selection of the franchisee. Amendment No. 253 limits the power of the Secretary of State to prohibit the authority's choice of franchisee to occasions where he has evidence that the person selected is not a suitable person to be a franchisee. What other reason would the Secretary of State have for interfering? In this case we believe that the authority should give the franchisee to another tenderer or re-tender.

In Committee, the Government argued that the SRA may need the right to obtain the authority of the Secretary of State to ignore the tendering process. On what basis should the authority be entitled to flout the tendering process? Surely the proper approach, if no person meets the specified criteria, is to re-tender, inviting the preferred operator to tender if he has not done so in the first round. If that does not overcome the problem, the authority could operate the service itself but only as a last resort. There is little point in choosing someone who is not even interested enough to tender, and to do so must give rise to suspicion of abuse.

I turn to Amendment Nos. 254, 255 and 256. Subsection (2) of Clause 211 of the Bill inserts new sections into the Railways Act 1993 that enable the authority to vary or revoke designation of services as eligible.

We believe that the authority should not have carte blanche to remove sections of the railway system from the franchising process. Such power should only be used in the circumstances where the authority is permitted by the Bill to provide services direct or to secure provision of them. Thus, a new power given to the authority to revoke designation of services as eligible for franchises could only then be used where no tender is received on the second time of asking. There could be some very simple reason why no tenders have been received. One ought not to resort to the sledgehammer when slight changes could result in tasty wholenuts being received in the form of viable tenders.

My final amendment in this group is Amendment No. 257. I do not intend to move Amendment No. 258. Subsection 211(5) inserts a new Section 30 into the

30 Oct 2000 : Column 761

1993 Act. Subsection 30(b) allows the authority to provide services direct when a franchise comes to an end and no new franchise agreement has been entered into. This gives the authority the power to provide all services direct by not renewing the franchise agreements when they expire. The amendment limits these powers to an interim period before a new franchise is granted or no tenderer can be found.

Assurances from Ministers that there is no intention to re-nationalise the rail network ring hollow when such wide powers are included in the Bill. The circumstances in which they can be exercised should be spelled out.

When opposing this amendment the Government protested that there must be an alternative structure to last resort operations. It is agreed that something must be done, the issue is when it becomes a matter of last resort. This amendment is designed to ensure that the SRA does not just take over the service when a franchise has expired without bothering to re-tender or not doing so for a very long time. Doing so would hardly qualify as a "last resort".

The Government argue that a re-tendering process is implied, but where is it implied? Designation as a service that "should" be franchised can be revoked by the SRA. Sadly, my Amendment No. 250 may not find favour. This does not need a direction from the Government--that is only required if the Section 26A or Section 26B procedure is adopted and that can be by-passed by the "de-designation" process. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page