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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to talks held by the Foreign Office Minister in the margins of the Istanbul Summit. What was the point of merely reaffirming in the Charter for Europe the commitment of OSCE-participating states to the code of conduct on politico-military aspects of security and the Copenhagen document of 1990, both of which have been flagrantly and persistently violated, not only by Russia but also by the host nation, Turkey? Does she not believe that it is time that the OSCE found a means of ensuring that participating states comply with the commitments to which they have signed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course it is of the utmost importance that we obtain compliance in relation to those issues. However, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of discussion in obtaining confirmation of the parameters. The OCSE Charter for European Security sets the basis for future security co-operation in Europe. It improves the OSCE's operational capabilities, particularly in response to crises. It reaffirms the legitimate interest of all participating states in national implementation of OSCE commitments, particularly with regard to human rights and preserving the security and stability of all OSCE states. It has adapted the platform for co-operative security, which establishes a non-hierarchical basis for co-operation among the various international organisations operating within OSCE areas. Those important issues cannot be sidelined. The Government believe that it is important to continue those conversations; they do have value.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I work with the organisation Medical Emergency Relief International, which has worked in Chechnya and that we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian problems and suffering there? Does she agree that the fundamentalist Islamist terrorists who began the war in Chechnya also initiated the conflict in Dagestan and have declared their intention to extend it to other peaceable Islamic nations, as well as to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh? Therefore, does she agree that the Islamists need to be restrained at least as much as the Russians?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree that the whole situation demands restraint. The noble Baroness is right to say that the situation became particularly acute in August when the militants entered Dagestan very much against the hopes of the people of that country. Their hopes and aspirations in relation to their own security were dashed. The Russian response to that incursion was obviously understandable. This is a difficult situation which requires balance and we need to respond in a measured

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and co-operative way. We do not need an hysterical response which leads us down a path from which we cannot turn back.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to the Economist the war in Chechnya is costing the Russian Government 4 billion roubles per month, which is equivalent to £100 million per month? Can my noble friend tell the House how much of that comes from IMF funds and whether the Government will support the suspension of aid and IMF funds to the Russian Government?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, IMF funds are currently being used in terms of rollover. No IMF funds are being expended in relation to the current difficulties in this area. Therefore, there is a separation between the two.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I am well aware that the matter is to be raised later this week, but can the noble Baroness tell the House to what extent all that she has had to say today relates to the Government's ethical foreign policy?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government have made it plain that in relation to their foreign policy they will do all in their power to make sure that humanitarian interests internationally are upheld. We respond in a way that meets the precise needs of the circumstance. If your Lordships were to examine the way in which Her Majesty's Government have responded, I hope that you would agree that we have done so in a balanced way, addressing the issues that are presented in each particular country, and encouraging all of those participants to respond in a proportionate and humanitarian way. This Government make no apology for their foreign policy; it is balanced; it is sure and, if I may respectfully say so, it is right.

Lord Monson: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether there is any substance in the suggestion made about a fortnight ago by the respected journalist, Anne Applebaum, to the effect that it was the Russian secret service--the successor to the old KGB--which had murdered the four British telephone engineers in Chechnya in order to discredit the Chechen cause?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can give no answer to that question. We have no information to indicate that the noble Lord's supposition in relation to that matter is right. There is no indication whatever that that is so.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Dubs will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on political progress in Northern Ireland. It may be for the convenience of the

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House to know that the Statement is likely to be taken immediately after the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has spoken.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, given the fact that the fourth Question on today's Order Paper unhappily was not asked, is there any indication that the Government will take an early opportunity to reply to the substance of the Question, because I believe there is a great deal of interest in the House as to what is the answer?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I should be entirely happy to provide a six-hour debate on the subject.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

3.5 p.m.

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by the Baroness Pitkeathley--namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows--

    "Most Gracious Sovereign--We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament",

and on the amendment moved by the Lord Strathclyde, at the end of the Address to insert,

"but regret the failure of Your Majesty's Government to reduce the burden of taxation and regulation and deplore the incoherence and the lack of vision of the measures proposed by Your Majesty's Government for the coming Session of Parliament".

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, as we approach the millennium we have a responsibility to protect and enhance our society and environment so that the country that we hand on to our children and our grandchildren is a better place in which to live.

The Bills on transport, education, environment and local government in this Queen's Speech will all play their part in transforming the quality of life for all of the people of this country, widening opportunity and liberating talent.

Our transport Bill must be seen in the context of the Government's wider transport strategy and our aim of securing a better transport system for everyone. Large-scale, long-term investment, allied to advances in technology, will step by step deliver an improved road network, more and better public transport and improved choice for travellers.

Perhaps I may remind the House of the legacy of problems that this Government inherited in 1997. There were high and increasing levels of road traffic

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congestion, under-resourced and uncoordinated public transport, and significant under-investment in road maintenance.

Last year's Integrated Transport White Paper set out, for the first time in some 20 years, a coherent strategy to tackle the problems of congestion and pollution. It provided a realistic vision for the future which is already being translated into reality through the action that we have taken by investing an extra £1.8 billion in transport, including an extra £400 million on road maintenance, by salvaging the £6 billion Channel Tunnel Rail Link deal, by providing an extra £170 million for rural buses, delivering an extra 1,800 new and enhanced rural bus services, by getting the Jubilee Line extension running, despite the disarray we inherited on that great project, by further reducing pollution from cars and lorries and, by continuing to ensure that our roads, already among the safest in Europe, become safer still.

In addition, as announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his pre-budget Statement in another place, revenue from future increases in fuel duty will be ring-fenced to improve public transport and modernise the road network. We can already point to signs of improvement: a 14 per cent increase in passenger rail journeys in two years--to the highest level of patronage for 40 years--and 1,000 more trains are being run daily to meet this demand; increases in rail freight over the past two years; a halt to the decades of decline in the number of bus passengers; and more people travelling on an expanding and upgraded London Underground.

But more needs to be done. We want to see a transport system that serves the motorist better, reducing congestion and pollution, where public transport can complement the car, giving people a real alternative. This will require further investment in public transport and in our road networks, recognising that the car and road transport will remain essential for most journeys, and investment in technology to make traffic flow more freely, cleanly and safely.

Integrated transport can work only if it is planned properly at the local level to address local issues. One hundred and sixteen local authorities have already drawn up five-year local transport plans which identify their transport priorities. We have set aside an extra £700 million to fund the priorities identified in local transport plans over the next three years. Our transport Bill will enable local authorities, if they choose, to introduce road user charging and workplace parking levies where appropriate to local conditions. Fourteen local authorities or groups of authorities--27 authorities in total--have expressed an interest in doing so. The money raised will be used exclusively for investment in improving their transport systems.

We need to ensure that the very different needs of rural areas are addressed, recognising that the car and bus will remain essential and the predominant mode of travel for many people living in rural areas. That is reflected in our investment of £170 million over three

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years, funding 1,800 new or enhanced rural bus services. At our recent bus summit, local authorities and bus operators were encouraged to build on this achievement.

The transport Bill will establish a strategic rail authority on a statutory basis, ensuring a clear and coherent strategy for developing the railways and bringing together the needs of passenger and freight services for the first time. For too long, our railway network has been under-funded and under-valued. The re-franchising process which the shadow Strategic Rail Authority is undertaking gives the train operators a unique opportunity to improve investment and efficiency and to deliver a better deal for passengers and the taxpayer.

Following the Ladbroke Grove tragedy, there has rightly been much attention on railway safety. The Government have put in hand a number of urgent actions to achieve a more open, responsive and rigorous safety culture across the rail industry. We have ensured that there will be scope in the Bill to deal with recommendations emerging from public inquiries and other work on railways safety. The railway clauses of the transport Bill have had the advantage of thorough scrutiny by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee in another place. We welcome its comments and support for our proposals.

Safety is also a primary consideration in our proposal for National Air Traffic Services. This will deliver a safe, modern and efficient air traffic control system for the future, separating the operation of air traffic control and its regulation, something that has been long called for by the Transport Select Committee among others. But our proposal will achieve more than that. The level of investment-- more than £1 billion in 10 years--and the efficiency we need in NATS can best be met through partnership between public and private sectors. This will give us access not only to private sector capital but also to private sector management skills, allowing us to upgrade systems and deliver safety objectives while maintaining accountability and protection of the public interest. The transport Bill is a significant step towards our aim of delivering a better transport system for everyone--the modern transport system which Britain so clearly needs and deserves as we approach a new millennium.

The challenges of the new millennium are equally strong in the field of education. Education is this Government's number one priority. All children must have the opportunity to ensure that they have the skills to succeed in the 21st century. We inherited an education system that was failing too many children, because it concentrated too often on the needs of a minority at the expense of the rest. That could not be allowed to continue. The abolition of the assisted places scheme demonstrates this. The £62 million cost of that scheme has been re-directed towards reducing class sizes at primary school level. There were 500,000 infants in classes of more than 30 when we gained office. Today there are fewer than 185,000 infants in large classes, and no child in this age group will be in

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a class of over 30 by 2001. For the first time all children are being guaranteed a good education in their crucial years of learning.

Driving up standards, tackling disadvantage, unlocking potential--those are the key themes that underpin our education crusade. In the first two Sessions of this Parliament we have developed a strategy for raising standards in education, including the introduction of literacy and numeracy strategies and targeting support for vulnerable families with children under four years of age. This transforming vision will be carried forward through the next Session by two Bills. The post-16 learning and skills Bill is designed to take our modernising agenda beyond the school gates and into the world of work, by raising standards, promoting skills acquisition and reinventing training provision. The special educational needs Bill will put into effect the proposals contained in Meeting Special Educational Needs: A Programme of Action, published in November 1998.

Our generation and the generations yet to come are dependent on the integrity of the environment. The countryside amenity and conservation Bill will fulfil our manifesto commitments to give people greater access to the countryside and to improve protection for wildlife. The Bill will meet the aspirations of millions of people who wish to enjoy the freedom of walking across some of our finest and wildest countryside. The Bill will give people a new statutory right of access to some 4 million acres of mountain, moor, heath and down, and registered commons. People will be able to exercise the new right provided they do so responsibly. Just as our access proposals will create more opportunities to enjoy and appreciate the countryside, we shall be doing more to conserve the huge wealth of wildlife in it. Our 5,000 or so Sites of Special Scientific Interest are a rich and diverse national heritage. While most sites are well-managed, too many suffer damage or are in poor health. The Bill will include measures to help secure positive management in these cases but will also provide further penalties for damage, where this occurs.

We will also consult on a draft Bill which will promote more efficient water use. The water summit, held directly after the election in 1997, has already had a major impact. The Bill will deliver the remaining commitments, which include the overhaul of the system of water abstraction licensing, and requirements for companies to produce drought plans, and for water companies and other abstractors to conserve water in their own operations. The Government are reviewing the scope for promoting competition in the water industry. If the legislative framework needs to be changed, the Bill would provide the opportunity.

During the coming Session my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will publish a draft Bill to introduce a new form of land tenure, commonhold, and to reform the current leasehold system to give leaseholders a fairer deal. The Government also intend to transform the structure of political management in local government so that councils will be able to create separate and accountable executives to provide clear

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and imaginative leadership to their communities; local government elections can be held more regularly; and local people can decide how they are governed and have a directly elected mayor if they want one. But your Lordships know--the press this weekend has clearly shown it--that nothing erodes people's confidence in democracy more rapidly than lapses in standards. Your Lordships would not tolerate it in central government, and we will not tolerate it in local government. We therefore propose to introduce a new ethical framework for local government. Every local councillor would be required to sign up to a new statutory code of conduct; local councils would have to set up a standards committee; a new independent body, the standards board, would deal with allegations of misconduct; and we would repeal the existing surcharge provisions that currently apply to local authorities.

This local government legislation will further strengthen and integrate government in local communities. The "Supporting People" initiative will ensure a more coherent approach that tackles social exclusion, minimising homelessness, supporting people with a mental illness within the community and helping older people retain their independence.

The Government are committed to tackling the reasons why people are marginalised or excluded from society and to delivering a country in which people get on, do well and make a success of their lives. I commend to noble Lords these Bills which play a vital part in the modernisation of Britain; a Britain of which we all feel a part and in whose future we all have such a stake.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, the debate on the Address today covers a wide and diverse range of subjects--education, agriculture and the environment. It will not surprise your Lordships to know that I shall concentrate on environmental matters, and in particular transport. My noble friend Lady Blatch will deal with education when she winds up for this side of the House. In the meantime, my noble friend Lady Byford will bring to the House her great knowledge of matters agricultural and in particular the countryside Bill. However, I think it fair to say that the countryside Bill has little or nothing to do with helping agriculture in its present plight. If anything, the reverse will be true.

My noble friends Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Hanningfield will no doubt have much to say on the local government organisation and standards Bill that seeks to change the existing committee system in local government to a mayor and cabinet system. That is in spite of the fact that a survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that only 3 per cent of local councillors favour directly elected mayors and only 13 per cent are in favour of the abolition of the committee system.

We also look forward to the housing Bill, already published in draft. It will deal with leasehold reform and the licensing of houses in multiple occupation. We

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support leasehold reform and the introduction of commonhold and wonder why it has taken the Government so long to do anything about it when they promised "no hesitation" before the election.

I turn to the biggest part of the Government's legislative programme that concerns us today. Despite all the talk of the importance of transport before the election and the promises that were made, we have waited until now for any transport legislation to arrive, leaving aside the transport provisions in the Greater London Authority Act that affect only London. The trouble with transport Bills is that, like Mr Prescott's buses, which he wants us to use instead of our cars, nothing comes along for two-and-a-half years and then they all arrive together. We have now been promised a mammoth Bill, no doubt equalling in length last Session's spectacular effort from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Greater London Authority Bill. Noble Lords will recall that that was probably the biggest Bill ever, with nearly 900 government amendments and countless new clauses and schedules added when the Bill came to your Lordships' House.

I now understand what the Government mean by an integrated transport policy; that is, they integrate into one Bill such legislatively diverse subjects as the privatisation of National Air Traffic Services, congestion charging and other pieces of penal taxation on the motorist, a railways Bill, and measures to reintroduce regulation to the bus industry. These are matters that have no legislative connection at all, and no doubt more will be added. We protest most strongly that all these issues are to be combined in one gigantic Bill that will no doubt reach us late in the Session and entail many a late night in the summer and in the overspill next autumn.

I shall first address the Government's proposals for National Air Traffic Services. We know how badly NATS needs capital investment. Air traffic has increased dramatically in recent years. Passenger traffic at BAA's UK airports reached 11.3 million in September 1999, an increase of over 4.5 per cent on the previous year. This puts immense pressures on the dedicated staff who successfully undertake the seemingly impossible task of guiding these many planes safely to the ground. Not surprisingly, incidents of "overload" periods, when air traffic controllers feel that the volume or complexity of traffic they have to handle is too great to guarantee safety, are increasing. A senior official of NATS said earlier this year:

    "We can cope with three per cent annual growth but seven per cent and higher is really stretching things".

An internal civil aviation report, published in the Daily Telegraph earlier this year, suggested that the total number of occasions on which there was overload in the financial year 1998-99 was 49, compared with 24 in the previous 12 months and 16 in 1996-97. It is to the credit of NATS staff that the number of risk bearing airprox incidents involving public transport flights per 100,000 flying hours in this period fell to 1.20, compared with 2.37 in 1997 and 2.87 in 1996. It is estimated that NATS requires some £100 million of

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capital investment a year and at the moment that would have to count as part of the PSBR. We know that the Treasury does not want that. On this side of the House we support the privatisation of NATS. Indeed, it was in our manifesto for the last election. However, we are well aware of the views of many in the Labour Party. In fact it was described as "crazy" by the former Labour Party transport spokesman, the right honourable Member for Oxford East, Mr Smith, when in opposition. He said at the time, "Labour will do everything to block this sell-off. Our air is not for sale."

So what do the Labour Government now propose? They propose a public private partnership by means of a disposal of 51 per cent of the shares, handing over day-to-day control to the private sector and of course keeping a golden share. When we sold 51 per cent of British Telecom and kept a golden share, it was decried as a privatisation by the then Opposition, which indeed it was. So is this, but we welcome the albeit late conversion by the party opposite. It is not just the Conservative Party that describes this as a privatisation. The IPMS, the controllers' union, suggests that the PPP is "privatisation by another name".

These measures were opposed last week in another place by the first Minister of Transport for this Government, Mr Gavin Strang. They were opposed by all those who spoke from the Government Benches in the debate on this subject in this House last month. This so-called "part privatisation" that sees 51 per cent of shares and day-to-day control transferred to the private sector will create immense confusion. If the Government own 49 per cent, workers 5 per cent and the private sector 46 per cent, who will actually control the business? Furthermore, to whom will the Government sell the shares? It has been mooted in the press that Thomson CSF of France is preparing a bid for NATS. Its interest in NATS is questionable to say the least. The company is 40 per cent state owned. Surely, that raises concerns about national security issues.

Finally, included in the gracious Speech was the announcement that legislation would include measures for NATS to separate safety regulation from operational matters. We welcome that. Can the Minister provide any more information today on the subject?

All these questions need to be resolved. While the Government try to appease their own Back Benchers by forcing this issue through in a Bill so unwieldy as the transport Bill promises to be, NATS is missing out on much-needed investment.

I turn now to measures aimed at reducing congestion. The gracious Speech announced measures to "reduce road congestion". Such measures could include congestion charges, workplace parking charges and road tolls aimed at reducing car use and charging the motorist for improvements to public transport. In fact, full-scale trials of electronic tolling equipment are due to take place in Edinburgh and

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Leeds at the end of next year. But as those trials are set to last for a year it is unlikely that full-scale tolling schemes will be introduced until after the next election.

How will these measures impact on congestion? In a recent BBC Online poll, 91 per cent of people either "strongly agreed" or "tended to agree" that much more investment in public transport was necessary before measures to reduce car usage were introduced. The current network of roads needs huge improvement. The Institution of Civil Engineers' local transport survey in December 1998 found that the backlog of maintenance on local authority roads, which account for 95 per cent of the network, now stands at £4.9 billion, an increase of 20 per cent on the 1996 figure.

But what have the Government done? They have piled tax after tax increase on the motorist. An average motorist will now pay around £620 per year in fuel duty, a further £140 in VAT and £155 in road tax, a total of well over £900. Twenty-six billion pounds of the £32 billion raised in taxes on road users goes straight to the Treasury. Furthermore, ending the fuel duty escalator will not provide much relief. My honourable friend Bernard Jenkin, MP, shadow Minister for Transport, said:

    "This announcement is not what it seems. The Chancellor says he has stopped the automatic fuel duty escalator--but he has not promised to stop increasing taxes on petrol and diesel. On the contrary, he says any extra transport spending will only come from more tax on petrol and diesel duties".

The Government have failed the motorist, and these new taxes only perpetuate the suffering.

A recognised policy to combat congestion is road building. By-passes bring clear environmental and social benefits to towns and villages by removing through traffic, making communities cleaner, quieter and safer places in which to live and work. For the road user, by-passes make journeys less stressful and journey times more predictable. However, only 37 of the 140 schemes previously considered were given the go-ahead by this Government. The rest were either shelved or dropped.

The Government's transport policy is in disarray. They have piled taxes on the motorist, and plan more still; they have scrapped much needed road schemes and put the £26 billion generated from road users straight into the Treasury. The motorist sees charge after charge, and has been given no incentive to leave the car behind and use public transport.

Finally, I turn to the railways. In the 40 years from 1952 to 1992, the share of journeys made by rail fell from 17 per cent to just 5 per cent while the percentage of goods moved by rail also dipped dramatically from 42 per cent to 7 per cent. Since the privatisation of British Rail, however, passenger numbers are at an historic peak--up 14 per cent in the past two years. There are 1,200 extra services a day and investment is at record levels. Private finance built the Heathrow Express rail link. It is helping to build the Jubilee Line extension, the Channel Tunnel rail link and several light railway schemes.

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The process is by no means complete and the railways need new and substantial investment. Some of the higher profile problems such as delays and cancellations inherited from the previous system will take time and investment to rectify. A major contributory factor is the state of the railways that were handed over to the privatised companies. Virgin, for example, is working with trains nearly 30 years old which have travelled more than 6 million miles. The company operates Europe's busiest inter-city route on a track that is 40 years old.

However, the future is looking brighter for rail users. For example, Railtrack has promised investment of £27 billion over the next 10 years. Over the past three years, it points out, it has doubled investment. The figure last year was almost £1.5 billion.

The Government introduced the railways Bill late last Session and will now re-introduce it as part of the transport Bill. Surely it is a sign of the low regard in which this Government hold the railways that they introduced the Bill last Session when they knew that there was insufficient time for it to become law. Now the railways measure will be only one part of a cumbersome, piecemeal transport Bill.

The Minister mentioned the subject of rail safety. We will look carefully at any measures included in the Bill as a result of the tragic accident at Ladbroke Grove and, where appropriate, will offer our support.

This is going to be a busy Session on the transport front. There will be some matters on which we shall no doubt agree; others we shall oppose with all our vigour. I am delighted that we have the Minister for Transport in this House. I wish him a longer tenure of office than that of his three predecessors in a period of just two years.

3.33 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we have heard much over the past two and a half years about "joined up" government. In an attempt to join up some thoughts and questions, I shall stray into areas for which departments other than the DETR and the DfEE have responsibility in legislative terms, but which are of concern to us as a whole. My noble friends on the Front Bench, Lord Tope, Lady Thomas of Walliswood and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, will speak on education, transport, and the countryside and agriculture. Others of my noble friends will contribute their expertise.

The Government claim--I admit, with some justification--stability and steady growth in the economy. If that is the case, my first question is: why is it--to take one area in which we are to legislate--that local authorities struggle to find the cash to provide the services that their local communities want? They are, after all, more concerned with services than with committee structures or executives. I do not believe that all local authorities are spendthrift; nor do I believe that changing structures will do much to address the point. We are, however, to look forward to a review of local authority finance during this Session. That may be more important than the form of the executive.

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I have read forceful warnings from academics about some of the proposals coming from the DETR, which are superficially attractive in assessing the forward plans of local authorities but which carry with them seeds of real concern. As Professors Jones and Stewart wrote recently, local authorities,

    "may bid for central funding and the centre's judgment is final. No more nonsense about local accountability".

Secondly, if we have stability and growth, why does NATS require investment which apparently must come from the private sector? That must, as we all acknowledge, raise issues in the public mind about safety. We look forward to those questions being answered firmly and comprehensively.

Thirdly, if we have stability and growth, why is London Underground to be subjected to what I heard the Deputy Prime Minister, in defending the PPP, describe as not the sale of the Tube to the private sector but the mortgage of the Tube? Ask anyone who has experienced negative equity, or who has had to service a large debt, about mortgages! Freedom of information is, by definition, not confined to the Home Office. The Government should be publishing the information on which the PPP decision is based and should allow London's government to decide the future of London's Tube.

One of the questions that arises in regard to the funding of services is: what will be the real effect of hypothecation? The issue has been raised in the Queen's Speech. We welcome the relaxation of rules against hypothecation; however, we shall also ask about additionality. The public are entitled to an explanation of whether revenue hypothecated to public transport will be additional to what would otherwise have been spent. We must recognise the concerns of the public in that area; nor must we forget that the environmental aspects of transport policy are inextricably linked with the financial aspects.

Another cross-cutting issue is that of discrimination and prejudice, particularly racial. Last Wednesday, I attended a seminar held by the Commission for Racial Equality to discuss the content of the Queen's Speech. The gracious Speech introduced the proposed measure to amend the Race Relations Act by reference to the report into Stephen Lawrence's murder which, as Her Majesty said, raises profound issues for our multi-racial society.

What the gracious Speech did not make clear, but a Home Office press release did, is that, although the Bill will extend the Race Relations Act to cover direct discrimination by any public authority, it will not extend the offence to indirect discrimination. Was the Macpherson report so unambitious? I think not. Unless indirect discrimination--that is, imposing conditions and making impossible rules the very culture of an organisation--is tackled, it is difficult to tackle institutional racism. It is because of institutional racism that we on these Benches--we were not alone--were so determined that the Greater London Authority, a new institution (I stress that word), shall operate properly from the start, both in the promotion

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of equality and in its internal workings. I was not prepared for the strength of feeling that I witnessed on Wednesday. We shall table an amendment to the local government legislation dealing with the duties of local authorities to promote equality. They comprise only one type of public authority, but one which should take a lead.

On Thursday, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke about how he loathes discrimination, and I do not doubt that; but he also warned the Government against enforcing tolerance by restrictive legislation. Like the noble Lord, I, too, dislike the nanny state. However, I believe that legislation does have a place. Certain attitudes are non-negotiable.

To extend the argument slightly, we strongly support the proposed repeal of Section 28. The provision has served no useful purpose. No one has been prosecuted under it, but it has done much damage by hampering the efforts of teachers to help pupils with concerns about homosexuality. Research indicates that 80 per cent of teachers are confused about Section 28, so they refrain from talking about such issues in the classroom. I appreciate that that view may not be shared across the House. We shall do our best to assist the passage of that repealing legislation.

Much fun has been had over the reference in the Queen's Speech to reforming electoral procedures, to make it easier for people to participate in elections. The first example of a joke in the debate on the Queen's Speech was a very good line from Mr Hague. Perhaps none of us would make a joke if we knew how soon it might backfire. I doubt whether anyone anticipated the antics of both the selection and deselection committees over the past week.

This is a serious issue. The Home Office did not distinguish itself in helping people to understand the electoral system that was applied in the European parliamentary election earlier this year. There was a lack of information. The Home Office leaflet was not delivered to every household. Given the complexity of the systems with which Londoners will have to get to grips for 4th May next year, it is essential that the Home Office makes a real effort to explain the systems to voters.

Low turnout at elections and citizens' lack of engagement in the political process is a major issue. I encountered recently one absurdity of the sort that is bound to cause a loss of confidence in procedures. The rules of audit applying to parish councils mean that the audit costs themselves can exceed the precept. What nonsense. We must hope that the Bill on local government organisation and standards will help to reconnect local authorities and citizens. It will not be a complete programme of modernisation.

We on these Benches have long argued for a fairer system of voting at local level. I share the view of the Constitution Unit of University College, London that proportional representation is not a panacea for local government. I agree also with the unit's report that it would increase the perceived legitimacy of local government. Importantly, the report shows that other aspects of government reform such as annual

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elections, directly elected mayors and so on would, once implemented, reduce the options for electoral reform. The current changes are more likely to last if they are coherent. The Government should not postpone decisions.

The new powers that we anticipate for local government of ensuring the social, economic and environmental well-being of communities are welcome--although the widest power, that of general competence, would be even better. That has been confirmed in the past week by the clear message from Millbank Tower that devolution (as designed by the present Government) does not involve removing the controlling hand of central Government as regards the policies to be implemented by London government. No doubt that view extends to local government.

We are likely to see the Bill soon, and how much the Government have responded to the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee that examined the draft and asked a lot of "what ifs" of a draft Bill that was not regarded as adequate. There was concern that proper advantage was not being taken of the opportunity of pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, will expand on those concerns of a committee that he so ably chaired about the short time available to it and its limited remit.

We must all be aware of room for improvement in the legislative process. That was brought home sharply by the Greater London Authority Bill, one of the lessons of which was that a huge Bill is likely to cause huge trouble. I am sorry that the Government have decided on a huge transport Bill. Some parts of it are broadly agreed, such as the strategic rail authority and better regulation of bus services, but some are not. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, repeated a point made by the Deputy Prime Minister in a debate on the loyal Address in another place last week. When referring to transport plans drawn up by local authorities, he said:

    "They have identified the transport priorities in their areas and can bid for the £700 million that has been made available".--[Official Report, 18/11/1999; col. 129.]

I do not discount the importance of the £700 million, but that seems to be the sort of local accountability that applies only if the central controller agrees that it may.

There will be more than just legislation in this Session. One of the most important Green Papers will be that on housing--a cost-cutting issue if ever there was one, with implications for health, education, employment, energy and so on. The current homelessness legislation has little regard for the long-term outcome of rehousing homeless people in terms of providing little or no choice, poor-quality housing and housing for which there is often low demand. The legislation has little regard for prevention. The statutory duties arise only at the point of crisis. Nor is there provision in legislation for addressing other problems that often accompany homelessness. There is no mechanism, for instance, for dovetailing housing and support services.

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My noble friends Lord Ezra and Lady Maddock, who is not able to be here this afternoon, have in the past spoken powerfully about housing conditions. I hope that my noble friend Lord Ezra will do so again today--especially in respect of elderly people and the scope for improving housing through local energy-efficiency measures.

Perhaps we ought to consider matters that are a bit off the tramlines of the considerations that we usually apply. Ought we to begin to consider, for instance, a connection between building regulations and planning? I was always persuaded by the purists about the lines of demarcation between the two, but perhaps we are being too timid. Matters such as housing conditions and the size of housing take us into the numbers game and perhaps we should review them again. We shall, of course, be looking at housing numbers.

However, this issue is not just about numbers, important though that is; it is also about ensuring that everyone has a decent home, whether or not they can afford to buy. We regret that there is no greenfield development tax to even up the costs of development on greenfield and brownfield sites. I personally regret that there is no scheme to encourage savers to invest in housing.

There are many connections to be made across policy areas. We look forward to the coming Session. We shall play our part in scrutinising the Government's proposals.

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