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Primary health care is also a crucial issue in inner cities. For this reason, from April 1990 the GP contract has provided for payments related to patients in deprived areas and more assistance for the improvement of surgeries. The ethnic minority communities also have particular health care needs. The Race Equality Unit, which is funded by the Department of Health, advises social services departments on good practice to ensure that ethnic minority needs are taken into account in the planning and delivery of both health and personal social services. Inner city areas have special problems relating to drug and alcohol misusers. Local authorities may apply for a specific grant to provide 70 per cent. of support to voluntary organisations to assist drug and alcohol misusers who tend to drift to inner city areas.
In view of the fact that in particular the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, and others from London are here, I should add that our urban policy is very much geared towards encouraging cities to come forward with their own prescription for success. It was for this reason that in November 1993 the Secretary of State for the Environment invited civic and business leaders in three citiesBirmingham, London and Manchesterto draw up what was known as a city pride prospectus setting out a vision for their cities over the next 10-15 years and the practical steps needed to achieve that vision. The three cities are now well advanced with their plans. The London pride partnership chaired by my noble friend Lord Sheppard published their prospectus on 23rd January. At the core of the city pride vision is the need for cities to compete internationally and to raise the living standards of their citizens. It is still early days, but the early success of city pride is yet another demonstration of the determination of cities themselves to shape their future.
The single regeneration budget has released a sense of commitment and partnership at local level which is truly astonishing. The hundreds of local partnerships which the first two rounds will support will play a major part in the regeneration of our cities and other areas into the next century.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the Minister said nothing about regional regeneration statements about which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and I talked a great deal. Perhaps I may ask the noble Earl whether or not the Government have ruled those out completely.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, they have not. The government offices fully intend when drawing up local assessments and criteria that there will be maximum consultation with local authorities and exposure to local development plans. Therefore, to an extent they will provide a less formal version of what the noble Lord seeks. The danger of regional regeneration statements is
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a very interesting debate. With the exception of the Minister, every noble Lord on all sides of the House has had criticisms to make of the SRB. I welcome the fact that there is a broad consensus that the SRB is not a bad thing but has faults. I hope that the Government will take it to heart, even though the Minister in his speech has not given an indication that the Government will change their policy.
In reply to the criticisms about competition being the basis of SRB bids, the Minister said that it was a matter of methodology and not criteria. I put it to him and to the House that, when people and partnerships bid, inevitably they will be influenced by the kind of bid that is likely to be successful. Therefore, bids that may be more important in terms of inner cities but which are likely to be less successful will not be made, because the more successful bids will, as it were, have priority. The fact that there is competition will have an effect on influencing the types of bids that come forward.
I still believe that the losers have been the voluntary sector, particularly ethnic minority bids. The Minister said that one-third of the bids had an ethnic minority element. Of course, that is so. One of the criteria put out by the Government was precisely the needs of ethnic minority communities. It is all too easy to claim that a bid is in the interests of an ethnic minority community when its effect may be marginal rather than central to the particular community. Nevertheless, I believe that it has been a very useful debate. I hope that the Government will think again about the criticisms that have been made. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on an effective transport infrastructure policy in the United Kingdom and the European Union. In a spirit of co-operation, let me open my remarks with the comments made by Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Transport Minister, on 7th December last year:
It is in that spirit that today I want to make my contribution to the debate. The Government must be aware of the deep concern of British industry and commercein 1995 we must include tourism in thatabout the condition of the transport infrastructure of the United Kingdom or, in this case, Great Britain. In comparison with, for example, Germany, the Netherlands and France, Great Britain does not come out particularly well. To be fair, in terms of access to our airports and seaports, we are in the top half of the European Union league. But, in terms of our rail network and road infrastructure, we are well in the bottom half of it.
Reading first the Department of Transport's statement on a transport infrastructure, followed by the Scottish Office's statement on a transport infrastructure and then the Welsh Office's statement on a transport infrastructure, it strikes one forcefully that none of themneither the Department of Transport, the Welsh Office nor the Scottish Officesays in its statement of aims that we ought to develop good transport links with the European Union. That is an astonishing omission for the United Kingdom Government to maketo omit from their transport objectives the need to create good transport links or transport corridors with the European Union.
The statement from the Department of Transport does not even mention the need to use good transport links to develop the economy of the country. To be fair to the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office, in their statementsI suspect that it is because they cover a whole range of subjects rather than transport onlythey both refer to the need to use good transport links as a means toward developing the economic prosperity of Scotland and of Wales. They include in that a specific reference to the need to develop tourism. I find it astonishing that the Department of Transport does not mention the need to develop the economy through using the transport routes.
Let me begin from the position that we need to develop a proper transport infrastructure to the level that is environmentally sustainable. One of the features of the developments that take place in Germany, France and the Netherlands is the way in which the environmental lobby is taken into the discussions and consultation process when transport infrastructure programmes are being decided. The outcome is a consensus. We do not have that in this country. Regretfully, we seem always to be in conflict when we seek to develop a transport infrastructure. In the three other comparitor countries to which I refer, there is a consensus which is simply not to be found in the United Kingdom.
I know Dr Mawhinney well. He is someone for whom I have great respect and I believe that he means what he says. When we come to decide the transport infrastructure, which is the centrepiece of this debate, it is essential to include the environmental lobbies.
I do not argue that we should litter the British countryside with new roads. However, the figures available from Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom show that our roads are more heavily congested than the roads in those other three countries. It is not mentioned in any of the material that I have studied, but in the Netherlands heavy goods vehicles are not allowed on the roads between 6 o'clock on Friday night and 6 o'clock on Sunday night. Our roads therefore appear to be much more heavily congested in comparison with roads in the Netherlands. Indeed, many of our main transport groups are taking roads way beyond the capacity for which they were intended when they were first constructed.
Part of my argument is that we should examine the existing network and consider the possibility of additional lanes. We must examine how to develop the existing network. I do not for one moment suggest that we should litter the countryside with new roads. But we certainly cannot sustain the present position. In the Midlands of England and the west central belt of Scotland the roads are very heavily congested. We must look at that situation.
Another aspect of the argument that appeals to me is the way in which other European Union countriesagain, I refer to the three comparitors: France, the Netherlands and Germany can say roughly what their transport infrastructure will look like by the year 2015. For obvious reasons, there has been slippage in the Netherlands. But those countries can say broadly what the transport infrastructure will look like by the year 2015. There is simply nothing like that in this country.
I hope that the Government are serious about having an open debate and seeking consensus, which I believe to be in everybody's interest, from whichever political party or economic standpoint they come. It is in the interest of us all to achieve consensus on this important issue. If the Government are serious about achieving that consensus, they cannot afford simply to publish a document which states their policy. Brian Mawhinney is serious about this matter. We need to have a debate. If the Government are to publish anything, it needs to be a Green Paper giving an outline of the views that they hold at the present timesomething on which we can build a debate that I hope will lead towards consensus.
Our rail network is smaller per head of the population than that in any other European country. One of the main functions of our rail network is the transport of large numbers of people to and from work, which helps to develop the economy. The Minister must surely come to terms with the fact that one factor inhibiting economic growth in this country is the inability of people to get to work in reasonable journey times. That is not unimportant. There is nothing worse than leaving the house at 7 o'clock in the morning and not reaching one's office until half-past nine. That is not a reasonable journey time. Therefore, in my view, we must develop a rail network that will transport people to and from work in reasonable journey times.
I turn briefly to the question of ports and to the state of our merchant shipping fleet. It is a worrying feature that in the mid-1980s our merchant shipping fleet was the oldest in Europe and now it is the oldest in the world. No other country in the world has an older merchant shipping fleet than the United Kingdom. The Government must look at that in terms of an integrated transport infrastructure linking us effectively to Europe.
I turn to air travel. I mentioned once before in your Lordships' House the need to develop effective rail links, particularly from the world's busiest airportHeathrow. It is an astonishing fact that even in 1995 Heathrow Airport is not yet linked into the main rail network. We really should be looking ahead at the possibility of replacing many of the domestic flights. Is it necessary to go from Heathrow to Manchester by plane? If the airport was linked into the main rail network people could go from London to Manchester by train and the airports would be left free to deal with the kind of international traffic for which they were originally built. Much of the airport capacity is being taken up by domestic flights. When we talk of second runways at Manchester Airport, when we talk of additional capacity at Heathrow, that is not to meet international traffic needs; it is to meet domestic traffic needs. That does not help in developing a proper infrastructure which would link us in with Europe.
I close my remarks, because time is short, by reminding the Minister of something we are all inclined to forget: even though we want to be at the heart of Europehere I speak for myselfgeographically we will always be on the periphery. Of all the European Union countries, the United Kingdom has the most to gain by the creation of the infrastructure for which I am arguing today and has the most to lose if we do not create it. Therefore in opening the debate I trust sincerely that I have built the platform on which we can have a constructive debate; that the Government will take away the comments that are made and consider them in a constructive fashion; and that this will be the beginning of the creation of a meaningful integrated transport infrastructure for this country. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord said, except for the point on integration. I too would like to express the importance of a good transport infrastructure for this country. It is essential for our goods to be able to travel around the world and to their destinations quickly so that our industries remain competitive and this country remains a good place in which other countries can invest. That was one of the bonuses of the 1980s; let us continue it through the 1990s.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, to whom we are extremely grateful for initiating this debate, that the present infrastructure is not as good as it should be despite the billions of pounds that have been spent on it, and that it should be improved further. I therefore look to take his argument forward. Having reached that stage, let us pose the key question: who will pay for all of this? I do not believe that it should be the taxpayers. I do not believe that the taxpayers should have to fork out more and more money. Taxpayers have done very well in the past but if we are to maintain the infrastructure, or bring it up to the standard we would like, we must involve the private sector.
I need to stress two points in this regard. First, if we are to involve the private sector, there must be a great deal more consistency in the Government's policies. We have seen Roads for Prosperity; we have seen the road programme enhanced and, sadly, we have seen the road programme cut back. We have seen investment decisions made when times were good only to have them trimmed. That is not a background into which the private sector will willingly come. Too many private sector companies have been led on by government to make a lot of investment into a project only to find it turned down at the last moment. That is not healthy.
How do we involve the private sector? There are opportunities in the rail network. The Channel Tunnel is an incredible success and provides the unique opportunity this country needs to transport more freight on the railways. It is fairly uneconomic within UK Limited by itself; but if we can reach Europe by rail with our freight, then there opens up a huge new opportunity waiting to be taken.
In the future will those infrastructure improvements be undertaken by Railtrack in the private sector or are there opportunities to involve other private sector bodies? I can understand that Railtrack may want to keep it all to itself as a private sector body, but that, too, would be a missed opportunity.
Notwithstanding the opportunities presented to us by the Channel Tunnel, most of the freight in this country will go by road. In this regard again I stress the importance of consistency. My noble kinsman Lord Thurso drives from Thurso as far as Perth. With a sigh of relief he gets onto the dual carriageway heading towards Spain but then comes to the block at Newbury. It is a tragedy that that is the only section of non-dual carriageway between Perth and Spain. It is ludicrous; it is time wasting; and it is costly for our industry. If any noble Lords wish to sit in a traffic jam, try Newbury at five o'clock on a Friday evening.
The other areas that concern me are the sudden changes where road schemes that were to be public sector financed are put on to Design, Build, Finance and Operate. Again, construction firms have gone a long way, and spent a lot of money, in getting their tenders right only to have their feet chopped from under them. We must have more consistency. Regrettably, the private finance initiative did not work as well as many of us would have liked. The Birmingham North relief road is an example of something that went horribly
There is a further role for the Government. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done a good job in educating the public sector into thinking on a better basis. But there is a huge job for the Government to do in educating the private sector. I know that the Government and the public sector talk a different language from the private sector. If one is to persuade companies of all sizesthe big, the medium and the smallinvolved in DBFOs, they must know what it means by "transfer of risk". They must know what "value for money" means. The Government must be aware that the private sector must make a return on the money it invests. These things are not clear. The more I talk to people the more uncertain they are what the end result will be. I fear that a lot of companies will think this is a good idea and run with it, only to have the rug pulled from under them at the end because they did not know what the transfer of risk really meant.
So this is a wider point than just transport; it is the whole of the private sector finance initiative. The private finance panel is doing an excellent job, but it does need to produce a brochure of the underlying philosophy of what they are trying to do and what it actually means. That will save a lot of tears later on.
I move from roads to airports. I am grateful for the answer my noble friend gave me on RUCATSE with regard to airport congestion in the south-east. It was an answer to an extremely difficult problem; an answer that was never going to suit everybody.
The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, talked about how he would like to see a greater consensus in this country. I, too, would like to see that when it comes to development, but I do not think it is likely to happen. Although we have the same population as France and the old West Germany, our country area is much, much smaller. When it comes to developmentand there must be developmentthere are too many interests at stake, which they do not have in France and the old West Germany. That applies even more so in the East, which badly needs development. So I always see conflict. This is where the Government must be bold, must be brave, and must make a decision and stick to it.
Having ruled out a third runway at Heathrow, and virtually ruled out a second runway at Gatwick, I hope that they will turn their attention to the possibility of feeder relief airports in the south-east which can do an equivalent job. I am happy to declare an interest here as a consultant to Redhill Airport, which has the potential for relieving Gatwick of its smaller aeroplanes. I have to be very careful in what I say because that is subject to planning.
I will move on from that to another opportunityNortholt. If ever there is a wasted asset in this country it is Northolt. What is the cost of keeping that airport for the RAF and a few private sector flights? The attempt to involve the private sector was not a great successit was half-hearted, to be complimentary towards it. I should like to see Northolt put into the private sector, with a special arrangement taken for the RAF. Making
I hope my noble friend will confirm that it is the Government's intention to privatise the operational arm of NATS. It has extremely difficult decisions to make as judge and jury. It has to set standards. But it is also an operator in a large number of cases, and there is growing concern that it is finding that role too difficult to manage at a proper distance. With London City Airport, right up to the last minute NATS said that it could not be combined with the existing London pattern, and yet it is the operator of London City Airport and fitting into the London pattern.
We have problems when it comes to Manchester's second runway and Liverpool, and we also have a potential problem in the south-east. I hope that the Government will get to grips with this problem and separate the two arms of NATS in order to allow the Government arm to set the standards and the operational arm to get into the private sector and compete with others on a fair and equal basis.
I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, said about seaports. I discussed shipping two weeks ago and I will not bore your Lordships again with that particular issue. But, on that point, I hope that my noble friend will bear in mind that our ports are suffering heavier burdens than continental ports, which are much more subsidised than ours, and ensure that when it comes to trans-European networks British taxpayers' money is not given in subsidies to European ports.
The private finance sector in this country has an immense part to play. I commend the Government most strongly for what they are doing. There are potential flaws, but I hope that they will now seek to get those flaws right, before there are tears later.