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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for identifying an area in which rail can contribute to the reduction in carbon emissions. The biggest reduction in such emissions that the transport system, particularly rail, can contribute is by reducing the use of cars in favour of rail travel. That is why we want to see rail services expand, and the House will recognise that the railway service is expanding apace. The nature of the conductor rail, to which the noble Lord drew attention, involves a highly technical question to which there is a highly technical answer.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as the noble Earl will recognise, there is considerable pressure for that facility to be developed. The Mayor of London has been forthright in his request that it should be. The decision lies with the train operating companies, but considerable progress is being made. There is real optimism that in the not-too-distant future we will see the use of Oyster cards for rail passengers as well as for the Tube network.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is not directly responsible to Parliament, but then I am sure that the noble Earl recognises that no private companythat
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is what Network Rail isis so accountable. It is a private company that is responsible to its stakeholders in the rail industry, and it is governed by the Office of Rail Regulation. Ultimately, it receives demands from the Secretary of State. Within a year or so, the Secretary of State will make demands of it in terms of expectation of output. So there is responsibility through a chain that, eventually, rests with the Secretary of State, but there is no direct control of Network Rail, because that is the nature of its establishment under the Railways Act 2005.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an important point. Network Rail is on course to hit the target of a 31 per cent improvement in efficiency between 2004 and 2009. The improvements that have been effected in its operations during the first two years indicate that it will hit that target.
In light of the passage of legislation in the current Session of Parliament, whether they propose to introduce legislation to limit to 60 sitting days the time which Bills may spend in the House of Lords.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, as we made clear last week before the Joint Committee on Conventions, the Government have no immediate plans to legislate in that way. We wish to await the proposals of the Joint Committee before making any decisions. The Government's interest is less with the method and much more with the objective of the 60-day proposal, which is to ensure that the consideration of government business in this House takes place within a reasonable time.
Lord Goodlad: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that reply. Does he agree that Bills that have taken more than 60 sitting days in this Session have done so more for thewholly legitimateconvenience of the Government's business managers, rather than because of any prolonged proceedings in your Lordships' House or disagreements between the two Houses? The Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill, the Fraud Bill and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill are all cases in point, as is the Charities Bill, which passed its proceedings here at the beginning of last November but has still not had a Second Reading in the House of Commons. In the case of the Company Law Reform Bill, 887 amendments were made, 779 of them by the Government. Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree that
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rushed legislation is unlikely to be better legislation and that the public interest is likely to be best served by retaining the maximum flexibility in our proceedings?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord's proposition: often, Bills go over a reasonable time because Governments delay them. We have done it, and other Governments have done it in the past. The noble Lord, as a former Chief Whip in another place, will be aware of that. If one seeks to identify a time that equals a reasonable time, that will deal just as much with the problem of the Government delaying Bills as with other people doing so.
I emphasise that the purpose of the proposal is not to restrict discussion to something less than a reasonable time; it is to ensure that there is a reasonable time. Bills delayed by the Government are one example; another example of where there is a problem relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclydewho, sadly, is not in his placesaid in September 2003. He said that, if we introduced a particular Lords reform Bill, we would have trouble with the rest of our programme. Again, that is a wrong approach. The other area comprises cases such as the Animal Health Bill, which came to this House in December 2001 and, as a result of a dilatory Motion supported by the Opposition Front Bench, did not get out of this House for 11 months.
The one thing on which, I think, we all agree is that we should give Bills a reasonable time for consideration. If there are problems such as those to which the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, referred, threats such as those made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, or the proposition that occurred with the Animal Health Bill, we should seek to address them. That is what our proposal is intended to do.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, would not the case for criticising the Government be stronger if our procedures did not allow for so much extraordinary repetition of the same point made under different headings, which is often a substitute for debate rather than a reinforcement of it?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not seek to say that people in this House filibuster. I am always admiring of people in the House, who are very keen to ensure that the point made by the previous eight speakers should be properly understood by the other three speakers left in the House. I do not think that it is repetition; it is getting one's message across.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that any pragmatic combination of the reform of composition and the internal procedures cannot in any way be accompanied by a reduction of the powers of this House?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the 60-day proposal is not intended to reduce the powers; it has no effect on the ability of the House to change legislation that comes from another place. Nor does it affect the amount of time that Parliament as a whole needs to
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scrutinise legislation. It is not about reducing powers. We do not want to reduce powers. We want to give effect to what I think everyone believes is the convention in this House; that government business should be considered within a reasonable time.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord mentions the errors, omissions and sins of previous Governments, will he please ensure that he agrees that that is a rotten excuse for doing wrong now? Many of us fear that this Government consistently aim at reducing what used to be known as the sovereignty of Parliament.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that, in accepting the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, I included this Government as well as previous Governments. My remarks were addressed to the Opposition in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said. I also wish to make it absolutely clear that we do not remotely wish to reduce either the powers of this House or the powers of the sovereign Parliament.
Lord Soley: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that in the House of Commons time is used as a weapon to force the Government of the day to make changes? If we make the mistake of doing the same here, we risk becoming a carbon copy of the House of Commons. The strength of this place is good scrutiny, which does not necessarily take masses of time, as it occasionally does in the House of Commons.
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