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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend will of course get his opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on the Railways Bill. He will recognise that all legislation exists to enable the Government to foresee any potential development. Therefore, in certain areas, it may be the case that some contraction takes place, but, overall, we are looking forward to continuing what has been an extraordinary record in recent years of expanding the usage of the railways. The railways are being used more intensively than at any time since 1947. Therefore, I assure my noble friend that the Bill that is before the other place is constructed to enable us to pursue an active expansion of the railway rather than negative factors.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that he has just given a glowing endorsement of railway privatisation and of the train operating companies, as passenger numbers have increased so much in recent years? Does he further accept that the next Statement that the Secretary of State will make will be the sixth major railway review in seven years? So we wait with barely concealed excitement for yet another new announcement on the railways. Will the Minister explain how the Government expect passenger numbers to grow in the future when they are encouraging the SRA to cut the number of services?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Viscount managed to conceal his excitement fairly well, but I emphasise that the next Statement will be
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about the progressive expansion of the railway in line with our achievements in recent years. He will also know that we have had to dedicate a great deal of parliamentary time and Ministers' time to cleaning up the shambles that we inherited in 1997. The noble Viscount will recognise that we will build on Labour successes rather than Conservative failures.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, an additional high-speed line to the north, and possibly extended to Scotland, would draw passengers from the existing rail, air and road networks, thereby reducing overcrowding and increasing safety. Is not rail substitution a central aim of the Government?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Earl is undoubtedly right about the prospects of a high-speed line doing that, but I want to emphasise to the House the improvements already made to services and the increased reliability of the railway. That is having an effect on airline traffic. The noble Earl will recognise in particular the development of the high-speed line to the Channel Tunnel, which is giving it a competitive edge. It is also the case that the improvements made to the North West Main Line have resulted in faster journey times. That, too, poses a real challenge to the airlines, with the result that we have healthy competition between both modes of travel.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what alternatives there are to their proposed lorry road-user charging scheme to deal with the problem of lorries using lower-taxed foreign fuel on United Kingdom roads.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government recognise concerns within the haulage industry about its competitiveness and are committed to ensuring that all lorries using UK roads pay their fair share.
Consultation responses in 2001 endorsed a proposal to introduce a distance-based lorry road-user charge with offsetting tax cuts. In developing options in consultation with hauliers' representatives, none has been found which achieves the objective of modernising the taxation of the UK haulage industry more effectively.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Irrespective of the lorry road-user charging scheme, surely it must be desirable for all HGV
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mileage covered in the UK to be done with UK tax and duty paid fuel. What would be the effect of requiring all heavy goods vehicles leaving the United Kingdom to do so with a nearly full tank of fuel?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on an interesting and innovative proposal. Let me say first that he will recognise that we have been involved in consultation with the industry over many years, which has formed the basis of the proposals we are now putting forward. However, I shall take steps to ensure that his constructive suggestion is put before Customs and Excise, which is the section of the Treasury concerned with these issues.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the proposed lorry road-user charging scheme will be implemented by a satellite tracking system? If so, how will it work? Has it been tested? Further, is such a system being used in any other EU country?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, a range of technologies is available. Satellite tracking is being used by the Germans to administer their lorry road user charge, although only lorries using the autobahn network are charged. In Britain we shall be charging for all road use in the country. At present we have not committed ourselves to this particular technology. It is currently undergoing tests and is being discussed. However, I can assure the noble Viscount that we intend to introduce a technology that is safe and secure and which charges all lorriesincluding all foreign lorriesfor their use of our road system.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that would still not impose any extra cost on foreign lorry drivers for their use of British roads. We are concerned about this because lorries incur high costs in terms of road maintenance and development and it is only right that the foreign road user should meet the full and proper costs involved. The noble Lord's suggestion is, therefore, not quite as constructive as that of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which was directed towards the recoupment of some of those costs.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the Government's intention is still to carry as many goods as possible by rail rather than road and that they seek to achieve a modal switch in that way? Therefore, a proposal along the lines of that put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is worth looking at if it would reduce some of the cross-subsidies that lorry drivers, in particular foreign lorry drivers, presently enjoy.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is exactly why I gave what I hope was a helpful initial response to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We are concerned to
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tackle the issue of the unfair advantages presently enjoyed by foreign lorries in the form of cheaper fuel and no additional costs at all made for the use of British roads, except for a small number of toll charges. This must be dealt with and, as my noble friend indicated, it would also have the effect of ensuring that the road haulage industry meets the full costs, thereby making the relationship between road and rail transport fairer.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to one other point. Lorries fitted with very large or double fuel tanks constitute a huge safety risk both at sea and on the roads. Is the Minister aware that when they spill their large loads of diesel oil in road collisions, that is almost always very injurious to motorcyclists? Can he please assure the House that the scheme for lorry road-user charging will be prosecuted very quickly? There are many reasons why it is necessary.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the technical implications of the scheme and the technology required to implement it will take a bit of time to take effect. Therefore, it will be a little while before the scheme is fully in place. However, one reason for introducing the scheme is to counteract the kind of circumstance described by the noble Lord. It is certainly the case that some lorries are arriving in this country with excessively large fuel tanks attachedmuch larger than those normally fitted on their British counterpartsin order to benefit by purchasing fuel only when abroad and are not buying it in this country at all. That abuse needs to be tackled.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most lorries based in Northern Ireland fill up in the Republic? In looking at how he might move forward on the proposal made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will he bear in mind that the situation in Northern Ireland is particularly different? The Treasury is losing quite a lot of money because of it.
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