House of Lords
Monday, 3 November 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
Baroness Ludford took the oath.
Death of a Member: Lord Barnett
My Lords, the Government have invested billions of pounds in measures to reduce air pollution, including incentives for low-emission vehicles and sustainable transport. Local authorities are also required to review and assess air quality under the local air quality management system. We support them in seeking to deliver local measures to meet national air quality objectives. We also work with the devolved Administrations to improve air quality across the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but does she recognise that there are still 29,000 people whose deaths are attributable to air pollution, mainly induced by traffic? Does she also recognise that the UK is in clear breach of EU limits in large parts of the country, particularly urban areas; that the WHO found a lot of the assessed areas were at dangerous levels, particularly for nitrogen dioxide; and that the Government’s own forecasts suggest we will not reach EU limits for London, Yorkshire and the West Midlands until 2030, 15 years after the deadline?
Does the Minister accept that the Government have virtually abandoned previous local and national air quality strategies and the development of low-emission zones, and have ignored the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations? When are we going to see a proper government strategy on air quality?
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we take this extremely seriously and I would refute the latter part of his question. He will know that we have managed to limit most pollutants and these are now below the legally binding EU limit values. The outstanding one is nitrogen dioxide, which has been a challenge not only for the United Kingdom but for 17 of the 27 EU states. We are working very hard to combat this.
My Lords, many local authorities are starting to introduce low emission zones to tackle air pollution. If they are led locally, these will have different criteria and be introduced at different times. What are the Government doing to ensure an effective network of low-emission zones, right around the country?
We work very closely with local authorities to provide support when they seek to introduce low-emission zones. One factor here is that there may be different reasons for air pollution in different areas, and it is therefore important that decisions on how to identify and then tackle it are taken on a local basis. However, we are working very hard to support local areas in introducing appropriate measures.
My Lords, how much thought has been given to democratising our understanding of air quality by developing a “citizen science” approach, whereby ordinary people might be encouraged to monitor their own air quality using measuring kits in their home and back garden? Air quality is about many things, including chemical fertilisers, natural allergens and so on, which will affect individual people’s day-to-day quality of life.
The more we involve and educate people of every age the better as far as tackling this is concerned. As the noble Earl will know, local authorities monitor locally. We have 273 sites, but if his suggestion brings many more sites on stream, maybe it is a very good idea.
The noble Lord had better refer his question directly to the mayor. He will know that the mayor has introduced a wide range of measures and is consulting on a number that are in the pipeline. We are also constantly reviewing the effects of the various proposals, and I am sure that the point that the noble Lord has made will be looked at as well.
My noble friend makes a good point, and this is something that Public Health England is taking up. We work very closely with the Department of Health and Public Health England. It is extremely important that we encourage research into the effect of pollutants.
My Lords, what is the Government’s policy on diesel engines? Defra has now realised that they are in fact a dangerous source of pollution, as does the Mayor of London. Japan has for many years discouraged diesel engines. What is the Government’s policy in this direction?
We are looking very closely at this. The noble Lord will know that, in the past, it was thought that diesel engines would be less polluting and that studies of diesel engines in factories indicated that that was so. However, it did not prove to be the case when the engines were used out on the road, and that has serious implications.
My Lords, the noble Baroness may have sought to refute my noble friend’s Question but the truth is that, because the Government’s strategy for tackling air quality involved reducing the number of monitoring stations, they have been forced to go back to the drawing board. There is no strategy. Given the great interest in this issue on all sides of the House, perhaps we should have a debate on it so that we can help them form a strategy.
Again, I refute what the noble Baroness says. It is extremely important that local authorities work out in their own areas where the key spots are. They are best placed to monitor and identify them, and it is their responsibility. Defra takes an overarching responsibility, working with the local authorities.
My Lords, I am concerned that the Minister does not understand the concept of an overall plan for the whole of Britain. The problem is Britain-wide. The Mayor of London is planning an ultra-low emission zone, which is fantastic, but it is still too small and too limited, and that will be the problem every time if the Government do not take the lead.
As I have just answered, it is important that Defra takes an overall strategic approach —which it is doing—and that the local authorities look at the situation—it may be a road junction—in their area. It is important to work on a local, national, European and international scale.
Health: Pneumococcal Disease
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation concluded a review of the adult pneumococcal vaccination programme in 2012. The committee will begin the next review in early 2015, taking into account the latest information on the epidemiology, cost effectiveness and impact of adult pneumococcal vaccination. It is anticipated that the review will take six months to complete, subject to the availability of the necessary evidence.
My Lords, the JCVI looked at the situation in its June meeting and said that it would like to see the results of recent trials on the effectiveness of PPV in adults, but the subject was not on the agenda for the October meeting. Why are those trials not in the public domain? Since it is likely that the vaccination would be effective against the 5,000 cases diagnosed in adults every year in England, with some savings to the National Health Service, what steps are being taken to accelerate the introduction of the PPV vaccine?
My noble friend is right to highlight the burden of disease caused by pneumonia in particular in the elderly. As I said in my Answer, what happened at the October meeting of the JVCI was an agreement that a pneumococcal sub-committee should be formed to fully consider the latest evidence on adult pneumococcal vaccination, including the evolving epidemiology of pneumococcal disease in the UK following the introduction of the conjugate vaccine into the childhood vaccination programme. In addition, the review will consider the latest data on the use of the conjugate vaccine in adults. This was discussed at the October meeting, the minutes of which are due to be published next week.
My Lords, as a young doctor, I saw many cases of pneumococcal meningitis in childhood. This disease caused about a 15% mortality, and 25% of those who recovered were left with serious disabilities such as blindness, deafness and other forms of abnormality. The disease in adults is much less devastating. Vaccination in children has been enormously successful in almost completely eradicating pneumococcal meningitis. Pneumonia in elderly adults, caused by the pneumococcus, is a very serious disease. May we express the hope that the committee will come up with very positive recommendations for a wider vaccination programme with a different group of vaccines for adults?
My Lords, the noble Lord summarised the position extremely well. I share his hope that we will see an outcome from the sub-committee’s work in which everyone can take satisfaction. He is right that rates of pneumococcal disease in children have fallen dramatically, but it is interesting that the knock-on effect of that has been to reduce the rate in adults as well.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl would agree that, not only for this disease, effective vaccination and immunisation lead to fewer people being in hospital and rates of infection being reduced. It also means that we have a much better patient flow coming through. Surely, to be successful, immunisation and vaccination need to be encouraged.
The noble Baroness is of course quite right. It is important to emphasise that part of the benefit of the seasonal flu vaccination campaign is to reduce the risk in adults and children of pneumococcal disease. That is another good reason to get the flu vaccination.
My Lords, the inquiry is completely independent of government. However, Sir John Chilcot has said that it is the inquiry’s intention to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible. I very much hope that its conclusions will shortly be available for all to read.
I express sympathy to my noble friend that HMG appear to be at the mercy of pressures from outside to connive in a delay in this report possibly to help Mr Bush and Mr Blair. Will he please come back to the Prime Minister’s exhortation in May that the report should be published by the end of this year at the latest and say when the date will be?
My Lords, I refute that there is in any sense a conspiracy connected to the former Prime Minister or the former American president. It has taken a good deal longer than was anticipated to clear the many thousands of documents that have been examined and which will be published on the website with a number of redactions. That process is now virtually complete. The Maxwellisation letters, which were sent out as a warning last year, should now be going out and we hope that that process will be completed. As soon as those who are to be criticised in the report have responded, the report will be ready for submission to the Prime Minister.
My Lords, is this not a scandal following on a scandal? Is it not a public disgrace? In other countries—for example, the Netherlands—there were far more competent professional inquiries, full of lawyers who could comment on international law, which replied very swiftly. We have had this endless delay. Does it not indicate that perhaps the Government as well as the Civil Service have ceased to believe in open government?
No, my Lords, I do not think that it does. It has taken longer than we had hoped or expected. This is an entirely new sort of inquiry. I suppose it is comparable to the Savile inquiry, which also took a great deal longer than we had anticipated. We underestimated the complexity before we started, but we are encouraging the committee as rapidly as possible to complete and we are anxious to have the report published.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that repeated press reports of rows between the Cabinet Office and the inquiry over the declassification of documents are deeply hurtful to the families most affected by the Iraq conflict? Does he agree that until the inquiry is completed, many bereaved and grieving families will not be able to move on?
My Lords, I appreciate that many have been affected by the issues studied by this inquiry. I am not aware of any rows between the Cabinet Office and the inquiry. I am aware of a long series of complex discussions within the British Government, between the British Government and our allies and with the inquiry about the exact nature of what should be published. I am conscious that what will be published includes notes from more than 200 Cabinet meetings, for example, including some extracts from Cabinet minutes.
My Lords, does my noble friend remember that, before the war broke out, 1 million ordinary people marched in the streets of London telling us not to go to war, yet we politicians did a pretty miserable job in waving that war on willy-nilly? While no one underestimates the difficulties that Sir John Chilcot faces, does my noble friend not accept that any further delay, after all this time, can only increase the sense of injustice that so many people feel about that war?
My Lords, I remember that march very well: I was one of the marchers. We are very conscious that we now need to bring this to a close. I deeply regret that it has taken three years since the end of the interview phase of the inquiry to get as far as we have. We are all anxious to complete the next stage which, as I stress, is showing to those who will be criticised in the report what it says about them and giving them a chance to reply. As soon as that is completed—so we are a little dependent on them, I am afraid to say, and on their lawyers—the report will be submitted to the Prime Minister and published.
My Lords, I very much hope nearer. In the debate in the House of Commons last week, my colleague the Minister for Civil Society commented that they very much hoped to have this published before the end of February. We are all conscious that we do not want to have this published in the middle of an election campaign.
My Lords, I think one of the lessons we will have learnt from this inquiry is that time limits are highly desirable. I stress again that the review of thousands of documents, which were at high levels of classification, was unprecedented and did unavoidably take a great deal of time.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I had the privilege of working very closely with Sir John Chilcot when he was the Permanent Secretary in Northern Ireland. Is my noble friend concerned that the backstage manoeuvring and perhaps even bickering going on as people allegedly seek to protect their reputations could over time start to have a damaging effect on the reputation of Sir John Chilcot? It would be a disgrace were that to be allowed to happen.
My Lords, I am not sure about backstairs manoeuvring. I would say that the members of the Chilcot inquiry would not pass the necessary test as all being members of the establishment. Indeed, one of the members of the Chilcot inquiry disrupted the first lecture I gave as a university teacher when he was himself a rebellious student. The inquiry does have to consult those whom it will criticise and allow them to provide a defence. That is the process that now remains to be completed before we publish. We all have to accept that in natural justice that has to be allowed to go ahead even if there are lawyers involved.
My Lords, the process referred to by the noble Lord could take months. It could take a very long time. If criticisms are made in the report they then have to go to the people who have been criticised. They have the right to comment. It then comes back to Sir John Chilcot. He has to consider those representations and then, if necessary, reflect them by amending the report. That is a recipe for a delay that will go on and on and on.
My Lords, I hope that will not be the case, but I am sure the noble Lord will accept that this is a necessary part of the process. There will be criticisms of people who served in the previous Labour Government and they are entitled to see them before publication.
My Lords, the question of what happens in the course of inquiries was reported on by the committee, of which I have the privilege to be a member, headed by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt. One of its recommendations was that we should look again at the process of writing to those who may be affected. Many of those who have conducted inquiries said that it led to additional expense and waste of time. The Government were not sympathetic to what we recommended. Does the noble Lord think that the Government should look at the matter again?
My Lords, I begin by expressing my personal condolences to the family and friends of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Lord Barnett was a delight to have as a sparring partner, and I will certainly miss his presence in your Lordships’ Chamber very much.
The Government are aware of the Welsh Government’s views on continuing the Barnett formula. Although there are no changes to Barnett in prospect, we have agreed with the Welsh Government to revisit the arrangements for jointly considering relative funding in advance of each spending review. The Prime Minister has been clear that Wales will be at the heart of the debate on how to make the United Kingdom work for all its constituent parts.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to Lord Barnett: a lovely, gentle, intelligent colleague who was among the first to recognise that the funding formula bearing his name by now needs radical reform. Does the Minister accept that if Wales were to receive the same level of funding as does Scotland, relative to population and the portfolios devolved, Wales would now get a staggering £1.2 billion a year more than is currently the case? On what possible basis of equity can Wales be denied parity with Scotland in regard to such funding? Would it not now be a fitting tribute to Lord Barnett if the Government today pledged to revise the formula to deliver for Wales parity with Scotland in funding matters?
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, a very significant review of funding in Wales was undertaken by Gerry Holtham, which suggested that Wales would be getting a fair degree of funding if it was approximately 114% of that in England or more—I believe that that is the right figure. I believe that, certainly this year and next year, that figure will be met.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Question, with which I know for a fact that my noble friend Lord Barnett was in total agreement. I also thank the Minister for his kind remarks, because he might be forgiven for thinking that one of Lord Barnett’s missions in life was to make his life a total misery. Lord Barnett will be remembered for his formula, but those of us in this House will surely remember that he contributed to a vast number of other topics and therefore deserves to be remembered for all that as well. I think we all agree that he will be missed much more than, perhaps, some of us when our time comes.
My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks about Lord Barnett, who was a good friend and a great person in this House.
Can my noble friend explain to me how the vow made by all three party leaders in the concluding days of the Scottish referendum, which states that they are committed to,
“sharing our resources equitably across all four nations”,
is consistent with keeping the Barnett formula?
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the system for funding across the nations will change as we move to a greater degree of devolution in Scotland and that, when a greater degree of taxation powers is devolved to Scotland, the importance of the Barnett formula will be proportionately diminished. Therefore, it is not as though we are standing still on this; we are making a move in a direction that I hope the noble Lord will support.
My Lords, I would like to associate these Benches with the tributes that have been paid to Lord Barnett. I used occasionally to share a taxi with him from Euston and he was a delightful person.
Do the Government agree that the cost of providing services to people in Wales on an equal basis is greater than that in England, having regard to relative levels of ill health, poverty and sparsity of population? If so, is not the basic premise of the Barnett formula utterly and fatally flawed?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Barnett was an extraordinary man, as an MP, a Minister, a colleague and a friend to all Benches in this House. He diligently held the Government to account and did his utmost to ensure the best for the people of this country until just a few weeks ago. He believed, as we all do, that government should be a force for making life better for the people of this country. I have just been joined by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, who used to be a PPS for my noble friend Lord Barnett.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government will agree to the all-party request from the Welsh Assembly for bilateral talks between the UK and Welsh Governments on fair funding, and to rapid implementation of a funding floor, which the Welsh Government suggest should be completed by January 2015?
Does the Minister recollect that our late splendid friend Lord Barnett often said that his formula was intended to be of only very short duration, and that he accepted, particularly in relation to Wales, that it was wholly inequitable for it to be perpetuated from year to year?
My Lords, I join the tributes to my noble friend Lord Barnett.
Does the Minister agree that the problem is not in the formula itself? The grievance, as seen in Wales, is the lack of fair funding. When the Government look at the totality of relations with Wales, perhaps avoiding the straitjacket of the formula, would they consider a multitude of matters, including for example helping Wales by abolishing the tolls on the Severn bridges, which amount now to a tax on the people of Wales?
My Lords, the Barnett formula is a bit like the Schleswig-Holstein problem. Virtually nobody understands how we got to where we are today. The key question is how much money makes its way to Wales. As I said earlier, for the period ahead Wales will receive a figure in line with most definitions, I believe, of what people think is fair.
Infrastructure Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day)
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Duties of the Secretary of State
Duties of the Secretary of State shall include—(a) drawing up and granting of a licence to a strategic highways company as provided for in section 1, but this duty may be delegated to the Office of Rail Regulation,(b) drawing up and presenting from time to time, and at least every five years, to Parliament for approval a Roads Investment Strategy as provided for in section 3,(c) issuing from time to time directions and guidance under section 4 both to the Office of Rail Regulation and to the licensed strategic highways company,(d) reporting periodically to Parliament on the performance of the strategic highways network.”
My Lords, In moving Amendment 1, I will also speak to the other amendments in my name in this group and comment on some of the others too.
I had hoped that after a lengthy discussion in Committee the Government would have come up with their own draft to address the deficiencies of this part of the Bill, and to clarify the relationship between and responsibilities of the Secretary of State and the various bodies covered by it. Regrettably they have failed to do so. However, they have produced a lot of new documents, many of which are very informative. I thank the Minister for that and for the various briefing sessions that she and her officials have held since that date. However, I have to tell her that, in relation to the issues I am about to raise they have, if anything, confused the situation.
For the benefit of newcomers to this debate, this part of the Bill is intended to place roads investment in a new context by creating a road investment strategy for England and by hiving off the Highways Agency into rather more arm’s-length companies—the strategic highways companies. I very much approve of the first aim but I am not at all sure that the second aim concerning the companies is right.
Noble Lords who are long in the tooth will remember that, going back a bit, I was a roads Minister. It is a pretty dreadful job and is always subject to representations by Members of Parliament and others on which roads should take priority, how much more should be spent and so forth. I would welcome a consistent road investment plan with a strategic direction sustained over a number of years as part of a wider sustainable transport policy. The key point for the Government appears to be that the road investment strategy in the Bill will be somehow free from short-term changes, albeit that some of the documentation that the Minister has provided us with, including the draft licence to which I shall return, says that the Secretary of State can vary the strategy at any time, and, of course, the Treasury still decides the funding—so good luck with that.
In principle, I support the road investment strategy but am unclear why it is absolutely necessary for it to be delivered by new strategic highways companies, and why a corporatised Highways Agency would do the job so much better than the present system of delivery, especially since the Government seem to have denied themselves ways of making a company more effective than the Highways Agency. I do not particularly support all these issues but the Government have clearly said that this is not a stage towards privatisation. Indeed, the Bill makes that clear, and I agree. However, they have also said that the company cannot raise its own capital, with which I disagree as that could smooth out any predations by the Chancellor. The Government also say that it is not allowed to engage in anything approaching road charging, although I note that that part is not yet included in the draft licence to which I referred, so watch that space.
Therefore, the benefits of having a separate company are a little unclear. Nevertheless, I recognise that there could be significant advantages in establishing a company, such as coherence of approach, an ability to engage in contractual innovations and possibly less direct pressure from MPs and other vested interests, although I am sure that the Minister will not be entirely free of that. Such a company could develop a long-term strategy on road safety, to which I will return on later amendments, and on issues such as telemetrics in traffic control, traffic management, road design and meeting environmental standards. However, it will deliver only if that company is itself set in a coherent institutional framework, which is normally the case for any large state-owned company. We need clarity of accountability, including the accountability of Parliament. Regrettably, the Bill does not provide for that.
The Bill refers to the possible appointment of a number of companies as strategic highways companies. The Government have made it clear that they are in reality talking about only one company. However, the Bill talks about the possibility of more than one. When questioned, the Minister and officials rather darkly referred to legal advice from counsel, even though it is clearly contrary to the policy and intention of the Government to have more than one company involved. Amendments 3 to 7 in this group, the first of which is mine, seek to ensure that the Bill makes the intention absolutely clear, and therefore we will be able to judge the Government against that.
More profoundly in the long term, the operation of a new set-up has a lack of clarity about the relationship between the Secretary of State, the company and the monitor or regulator. There is going to be an enhanced Office of Rail Regulation, in which presumably some changes will be made, and there is the matter of accountability to Parliament. The Bill refers to appointment of a company, but during the proceedings in Committee, the Minister, on many occasions, when questioned about the relationship between the Secretary of State and the company, referred us to the licence, which was then already in its sixth draft, and is now a lot longer at 35 pages.
The interesting thing about referring to the licence in terms of answering all questions in this area is that the licence is not mentioned in the Bill, nor are we told how or on what basis the licence should be granted and enforced. If we are to have a new licensing system, we need to know who is responsible for granting and enforcing the licence. Is it the Secretary of State? Is it the regulator—the ORR, presumably? How is it to be enforced? Even this has become more obscure since Committee; for example, Clause 5 deals with fines on the company if it fails to meet its objectives, but I see that government Amendment 32 would delete Clause 5, so I am not quite sure where we stand on that.
The Minister, of course, has said we are not actually setting up a licensing system. She said that in a letter to me. As the letter spells out, the Government want to set out, in a single document, all the relationships between the company and the Government. All the queries in the Committee were also directed at the draft licence, which, as I say, does not appear in the Bill.
This single document, to which the Minister refers, must be the draft licence. This interpretation of licence seems to go closer to what is described in Clause 4, on directions and guidance from the Minister, than what is usually thought of as a licence. In most regulatory regimes, there is a difference between a licence to operate—whether from the Secretary of State or the regulator, which is a relatively stable document—and ministerial directions and guidance, which are more flexible and can reflect changes in circumstances or in policy. Putting all this in a draft licence, unreflected in the Bill, adds to the confusion.
There is also the issue of responsibility and accountability to Parliament. What are the Secretary of State’s duties now to be in relation to the strategic roads company? Is the strategic roads company, under state ownership still, no longer susceptible to current levels of parliamentary scrutiny, as, I remind the noble Lords, used to be the case with the old nationalised industries? How, in future, is the remaining parliamentary scrutiny to be conducted? My Amendment 51 deals with that.
We need to see clearly the respective roles of the Secretary of State and the department, the chair of the board of a new company, and the ORR as monitor—as regulator. Little is clear as the Bill now stands. These amendments, therefore, seek in a tentative way to try to rectify that. Amendment 1 sets out the role and responsibilities of the Secretary of State in general in this area. Amendment 2, in the name of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, deals with the whole issue of the company. Amendment 2B deals with the licensing system and puts it on a basis which is closer to the rail licensing system. Amendments 3 to 7 deal with the issue of a single company. In a later group Amendments 9 and 10 deal with the functions of the corporation of the new strategic highways company.
These amendments are intended to make clear the Government’s broad intentions, which anybody reading the Bill would find it hard to divine. I am not saying that these amendments are perfect. I had, as I say, hopes that the Government would come up with some themselves. Unless they do, however, and the Minister says today that at a later stage during the passage of the Bill—at Third Reading or during its passage through the Commons; this Bill started in the Lords and has not yet been through the Commons—the Government are determined to make this at least substantially clearer, as I have argued, I despair of the proposition. I am quite taken with the potential of the idea of a standalone company, but it needs to be properly embedded in a system of regulation, oversight and parliamentary accountability.
If we do not provide for that in the Bill, the better course would be to start again. The amendments in the names of my noble friends on the Front Bench would effectively do that by deleting this clause from the Bill. If the Minister wishes to avoid us going down that road at some stage, she needs to come up with a proposition of her own which meets the rather large deficiencies in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend and will briefly speak to some of the amendments in this group, namely Amendments 2, 2B, 5, 6, 6A, 7 and 7A. I will not repeat all that my noble friend has said, because the various amendments that we have tabled between us provide the basis for the proper link between primary legislation and the licence, which, as my noble friend said, is so lacking in the Bill.
I started off by looking at the relevant clauses of the Railways Act 1993 and the Railways Act 2005, which we discussed in Committee and in some helpful meetings with the Minister and officials, for which I am grateful. It was remarkably easy, at this comparatively high level, to cross out “rail” and put in “road”; they are very similar. If, as my noble friend said, we are to have a company that looks after the strategic roads in a way that is similar to what Network Rail became in September by becoming fully government-owned, it would seem logical that the legislation under which this happens would be similar.
I will not go through all the amendments in detail; my noble friend has done that very well. However, I have two questions for the Minister when she comes to reply. First, under the Bill, will it still be possible for Members of Parliament and of this House to table Written Questions and ask questions of Ministers, as we currently can with the Highways Agency? Noble Lords will know that we cannot do that for Network Rail, because if you table a question about it the answer comes back, “Write to the chief executive”. I am sure one gets good answers from the chief executive, but one does not see the answers that other noble Lords get to the questions that they ask the chief executive. I hope that the same thing will not happen with the strategic highways company and that we will still be able to table questions about its operations and the company generally, and to get a proper Written Answer or be able to have an Oral Question or debate on it as the circumstances demand.
I also hope that when Network Rail becomes subject to the Freedom of Information Act on 1 April next year, that situation will apply to it. Clearly, we would not want to ask whether a motorway sign or signal had been moved; that would be a ridiculous waste of ministerial time. On the other hand, there are many things that it would be useful to ask such questions about for the purposes of parliamentary scrutiny.
My second question for the Minister concerns my Amendment 7A which relates to Section 48 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This exempts Crown-owned companies, or officers or companies of the Crown, from being taken to court by the Health and Safety Executive if it believes that they have contravened the Act. I know that the Highways Agency itself is exempt, being a Crown agency. It would be nice to know whether any change was planned in this relationship, and therefore the exemption, when the strategic highways company comes into existence. I believe that Network Rail does not have an exemption, because the Health and Safety Executive, through the Office of Rail Regulation, has taken action against it on several occasions. There should be a balance between the two and as much transparency as possible. I am very much looking forward to what the Minister has to say in response and fully support the amendments of my noble friend.
I shall say just three things. The Government are mistaken. The Office of Rail Regulation should, under that title, oversee roads as well. In spite of all the arguments, if it were signalled, it could change its name at some future date. It could be planned for and there would not be a lot of expense. It would be much more understandable to motorists and everybody else who the regulator was, whether it was a railway regulator or a transport regulator.
I also endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about safety. One thing that the Office of Rail Regulation has done is to drive up safety standards on the railways. Although the Government keep saying the safety standards on the roads are the best in Europe, these are really quite deplorable, as we see with the continued deaths of cyclists in London, for example.
Lastly—I know I am reaching for the moon here—would it not be better to be honest and say that we have to adopt road pricing some time and, to make it acceptable, to say that the money raised from it would be used for roads and motoring purposes? If you explain what the money is for, people are much more likely to embrace the idea. A recent opinion poll in one of the national papers showed that people were against raising taxes, but if they were specifically asked whether they would pay more tax to improve the health service, they said yes. The same applies to road pricing.
My Lords, I yield entirely to the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Berkeley, for their huge expertise in this field. I have not attempted to master all the details. However, there was one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, which I am not sure I correctly understood. It was about the licence. My attention was drawn to the Written Statement that was issued by the Government. Indeed, my noble friend on the Front Bench repeated a Statement made by her colleague, the right honourable John Hayes. He was talking about the draft licence, which is a new document that was issued six days ago. I shall come back to that point in a moment. It states that the licence,
“indicates the manner in which the Secretary of State proposes to issue binding statutory directions and guidance to the new company, setting objectives and conditions around how the company must act”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/10/14; col. 18WS.]
I do not think that there is anything obscure about that; it is perfectly clear that the licence is issued by the Secretary of State. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State can clearly be held responsible if it does not work properly. But it may be that I misunderstood the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
The Statement from which I quoted was issued less than a week ago and announces the publication of several substantial new documents which bear on Part 1 of the Infrastructure Bill. I fear that the Government have got themselves into rather a bad habit of publishing documents very shortly before Parliament has to consider them, leaving those of us who perhaps do not have the resources behind us that some may have to find it very difficult to catch up with it all. The most recent example—I do not hold my noble friend Lady Kramer responsible for this—is something that we will debate on Wednesday: the community electricity scheme. A task force looking at exactly that issue has been sitting for a year, but its report was made available only this morning. When I first came into the House, it was not even available in the Printed Paper Office, so I am afraid that I rang up the department concerned and expressed my displeasure, if I may put it in neutral language.
I have to say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that that is no way to treat Parliament. If the Government get into difficulties on some of these issues, it is because officials have been allowed to drag their feet to the point when things are issued only a matter of days before they have to be debated. I leave my noble friend with that thought.
Finally, I should say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I am sure that we have to come to some form of road pricing in future, if we are to make sense of this. There has been a huge increase in road traffic and no sign of it declining. The fact of the matter is that, while people of course pay the petrol duty, the licence and other taxes, that is in no way related to the amount of use that they make of the roads. I am quite sure that we will have to come back to that at some stage, and it may be something that emerges from the revised structure being set up in this Bill. As I said at Second Reading, I totally support it, and think it a very good move, but the revised structure may well bring these questions of how it is to be paid for much more to the fore. Then we may have the sort of reform that my noble friend Lord Bradshaw advocated.
My Lords, I can keep my own contribution relatively brief because my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord Berkeley have presented the case with great clarity. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for pointing out that we are dealing today with a position that is only six days old—the latest change from the Government to this crucial part of the proposals in the Bill. That is to say nothing of the fact that the fracking aspect of the Bill came months after we had considered it in Committee, which was then held up until the Government had concluded their consultation in the summer. So this is not a Bill distinguished by forward planning from the Government, or by a clear rationale of what they are about. However, I suppose I should thank them for having another shot at improving the Bill.
We are pleased to see changes reflective of the representations made in Committee from this side of the House, but we are no clearer on why delivering long-term certainty for roads investment requires a top-down reorganisation of the Highways Agency. The Cook report told us that it is stop-start funding problems that are leading to inefficiencies of between 15% and 20%. Is there any real evidence proving that changing the legal structure of the Highways Agency will, in itself, improve efficiency? Perhaps top-down reorganisation is the metier of this Government in challenging areas. The Minister will be aware of the strength of the concern on our side that this looks like the first step to privatisation. We continue to have that anxiety. Why is the section on the company’s licence for commercial activity and charging for services still unfinished?
We are concerned about the cost implications. There is still no clarity on whether the SHC will be able to reclaim VAT in the same way that the Highways Agency does at present. In Committee, the Minister said that the SHC would not be required to pay VAT, which is exactly the case with the Highways Agency now. That soon cleared up the issue. However, it did not clear up the issue at the other end, because the Minister in the Treasury, David Gauke, in answer to a Question from my honourable friend in the other place, Richard Burden MP, said:
“New bodies are not automatically covered by the … provisions. However, the Department for Transport and HM Treasury are considering this issue”.
HMT is quite important, here, with regard to revenue and dispensations to other departments. It does not seem to be as clear on the matter as the Department for Transport is maintaining that it is. If the new strategic highways authority is no longer able to recover VAT in the same way, that could lead to losses of a considerable amount—as much as £400 million annually. That would be £4 billion over 10 years, which would dwarf the figure of efficiency gains of £2.6 billion that it is proposed will come from the legislation. If the VAT issue is not resolved, therefore, the justification for this reorganisation is even less substantiated.
Turning to Amendment 4, which is in my name, the Minister used two arguments in Committee to reject our attempts to clarify whether the Government envision having more than one company. One argument was that this is only standard legal drafting and there should be no cause for concern. The Minister went on to say that it might be necessary if one wanted a more regional structure for the equivalent of the strategic highways company. Can she not confirm that the Highways Agency is already structured regionally? There appears to be confused thinking within the Government about how many companies there will be, which is why many are concerned that the Government are not being entirely open about their plans for the future.
It is clear that our main reservations about the major government proposal in the Bill have not been assuaged. As my noble friends have indicated, there are other questions, too, to which the Minister needs to respond to convince us that this proposal is acceptable.
My Lords, this is obviously a very wide and long group of amendments, which cover quite a range of issues. I do not want to put words in noble Lords’ mouths. but I think that we have progressed to the point at which at least we have a common goal in terms of setting up a structure that will ensure certainty of funding for highways in the way that we have managed to enjoy, and benefited from, with the railways.
Clause 1 allows the Secretary of State to appoint a strategic highways company, thereby conferring duties and functions on it to operate as a highway authority. If we were to drop this clause—there is a stand part debate in this group of amendments—it would be a fundamental change to the model and we would lose many of the key benefits of certainty over funding and plans which, as we have heard today, has been widely supported.
Our aim is to create a different model to deliver road infrastructure. Crucial to this is having a legal body separate from government responsible for our strategic road network and delivering a road investment strategy in the most cost-effective way. We consider the most effective model is a company created under the Companies Act 2006. Let me explain the rationale. We have decades of experience of the fact that the current arrangements—I point this out to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who will remember the history of the department—have not encouraged a long-term approach to planning infrastructure or provided secure funding. Stop-start has indeed been a definition of a large part of their history and has come with high costs in terms of the efficiency and quality of our infrastructure. For long-term funding certainty and planning, it is crucial for the Secretary of State to be able to have a transparent and binding relationship with a separate legal entity. If the delivery body were to remain the Highways Agency and remain within the DfT, inevitably it would be easy to change funding and plans.
Setting up a strategic highways company as a new company operating under company law with a well established governance and financial framework will reinforce the clarity and robustness of the relationship. We have seen from international experience, for example in the Netherlands and Sweden, that where road delivery bodies have been given long-term funding certainty and a more independent relationship setting out requirements, large efficiency savings have been possible. A company would be constrained to one that is limited by shares and wholly owned by the Secretary of State, ensuring that any company is 100% owned by the Government and remains in the public sector. We have not only no intent but no interest in turning this into a privatisation. That is not part of our agenda and does not achieve the goals that we want.
Let me again take this opportunity to explain that we have no plans to appoint more than one company. We have already made clear that the Highways Agency, in its new legal status as a Government-owned company, will be the only company appointed. The use of plural “companies” in legislation was to allow flexibility for further companies in the future, including how companies would work together: and that is what Amendment 11 seeks to remove. Subsequent provisions in the Bill which refer to a company could therefore refer only to the strategic highways company or to each such company.
We are doing this in part because we recognise that future Governments may want flexibility to create more companies: for example, to give more accountability, to allow a company to look after a specific cluster of roads or area of roads or to promote comparisons and efficiency. Those are not our goals, but they might be those of a future Government. Reference to more than one company would prevent future Governments making change as needed. However, it is not something that we are seeking, so if noble Lords feel strongly on this issue and do not want to give that flexibility to future Governments—even though it is standard in virtually every piece of legislation that this House has seen referring to “companies” and “company” because, as I explained, in law the singular is the plural and the plural is the singular—I could offer a compromise that might reassure noble Lords.
I would be very happy to return at Third Reading with an amendment that would require any Government to seek parliamentary approval to establish additional companies beyond the initial one. I wonder whether this would satisfy noble Lords. It would certainly meet our intent. We see no future Government related to us who would wish to run this in a different way, and this would allow Parliament to have the voice that perhaps noble Lords are seeking.
Turning to the requirement for a licensing regime, we have been and are clear that we do not want to privatise the strategic highway network. Therefore, given that licensing regimes in the traditional sense, which is reflected in quite a number of these amendments, apply to commercial operators, we have been trying to avoid precisely that kind of licence. I find it strange that your Lordships are now pressing for amendments that follow that commercial model. Since we do not intend to privatise, the commercial model is not relevant to our proposals for this company.
In sectors such as rail, aviation, energy and water, the licence is a means of access to an economic activity where there are potentially multiple operators in a commercial market that may seek to apply. Our strategic highways company is funded by government, with no option for a separate revenue income. All its powers and duties to operate as a highways authority already exist in legislation and it is by virtue of their appointment that these powers are switched on.
Of course, we have always wanted a model that seeks to emulate the best practice we see in other commercial sectors. We have therefore been using the term “licence”, though it is only on one document: the draft licence. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is right when he says that the Bill returns to the broader title which he will see on the draft licence: Draft Licence, Secretary of State for Transport Statutory Directions and Guidance to the Strategic Highways Company. So, for clarity, we have ensured that in the Bill we refer to, “statutory directions and guidance”. I hope that we can clarify what is slightly confusing, but I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is sharp enough to work his way through these complexities.
We have used the term “licence” to convey the sense that the Secretary of State’s statutory directions have a legal impact on how the company delivers its obligations, while leaving the company to get on with its daily operations and decision-making. We think that this is an easier way to communicate to stakeholders and the public the model that we are introducing—it is closer to plain English—and the statutory directions are a legal requirement. However, I recognise that this has given rise to some confusion over the legal underpinning. We did not intend the confusion; we actually thought that we were making sure that we were issuing statutory directions and guidance, avoiding a commercial licence but conveying to the public many of the strengths that are embedded in the range of documents.
The Government do not consider the detail in the proposed amendments to be necessary, since the duties included are not appropriate to the company model I explained above, refer to existing powers and responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Transport, or are already sufficiently provided for elsewhere in the Bill or in other parts of the governance framework for the new company. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will recall from our discussions in Committee, he intended that his amendment, which would require the House to debate Part 1 of the Bill again before it comes into force, should apply to the road investment strategy. However, his Amendment 51 still refers to Part 1, so it does not meet his intent.
On the issue of parliamentary approval of the road investment strategy, to which the noble Lord refers in Amendment 1, Ministers, rather than Parliament, have traditionally made decisions on infrastructure funding. As is the case for rail investment, this would not prevent Parliament holding the Government and the company to account, but it would be unprecedented for the Government to require formal approval of a funding and investment plan such as the road investment strategy. This would also add bureaucracy and slow down the delivery of much-needed infrastructure because, as we have said, certainty of funding is exactly what is required.
Section 4 already enables the Secretary of State to issue directions and guidance to the company. The intention to do this was clearly signalled in the draft statutory directions and guidance for the company. Including a legal duty for this is therefore unnecessary. I agree that the Secretary of State should also be able to issue guidance to the monitor, as the noble Lord proposes. The Government have already proposed this under Amendment 48, which we will come to later, which includes broader requirements than those proposed by the noble Lord, including for this guidance to be published by the Secretary of State and for the Office of Rail Regulation to have regard to this guidance. So not only is that point covered, it is beyond covered.
The Secretary of State will of course continue to be responsible, and accountable to Parliament, for setting strategic direction and policy for the road network, and for ensuring that it is well managed. As sole shareholder of the company, the Secretary of State will also be accountable to Parliament for the company’s activities and performance. That may help some noble Lords who raised questions about Parliament’s ability to challenge, but I will try to get back to them in more detail. I just want to be absolutely sure of the mechanisms that would allow that to be done.
Amendment 2 seeks to guide the way in which both the Secretary of State and the ORR exercise functions under the Bill. We have already recognised the importance of this issue as regards the ORR and government Amendment 43, which we will consider later, provides a set of general duties covering performance and efficiency as well as, significantly, important issues such as safety, the environment and support for the economy, which will govern how it exercises its new road functions.
As regards the Secretary of State, we do not agree that such provisions in legislation are necessary or appropriate. The functions that the Secretary of State is exercising are to ensure that the company, which he owns, operates in accordance with a strategy that he sets. The Secretary of State does not need to exercise his functions within an inflexible legislative set of constraints; he is responsible for the Government’s policy on transport matters such as this and always accountable to Parliament for the decisions he takes. That is not to say that the Secretary of State will not be concerned by these matters and it is right that the role of monitoring these issues is delegated to the Office of Rail Regulation by the Secretary of State without ambiguity. They will be considered when setting the road investment strategy, which is rightly the purview of the Secretary of State, and the performance benchmark on which the company will be judged by the Office of Rail Regulation.
As for the amendment concerning Section 48 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, this will not apply to the company in any case because, in accordance with Cabinet Office guidance on setting up new public bodies, the strategic highways company will not be a Crown body. That issue is already dealt with and there is therefore no need for an explicit exemption for the company which would be somewhat confusing.
I shall pick up on some of the other issues that have been raised. The Government have no intention of considering or initiating road pricing and therefore the Bill does not address that issue. There were questions about the way in which safety is captured within the Bill and the name of the ORR. I ask the indulgence of the House to deal with those issues in the later groupings that cover them in significantly more detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to the powers of the Secretary of State to vary the RIS. However, consultation is required. One of the things that your Lordships have remarked on when looking at this whole package is that it is actually tough for a Secretary of State to vary funding. It certainly has to be done transparently and with proper consultation. It is not an easy process. That is just as important in making sure that we achieve the goal, which is pretty universally supported around this House, that we avoid the stop/start pattern that we have seen historically.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that we have deleted a clause about the use of fines by the Secretary of State. However, that is being replaced by the capacity of the monitor to fine. We will go into that in more detail in later groups. There has been a significant strengthening, not weakening, of enforcement. I would hate to leave that misapprehension at this point in our discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about having enough time to absorb various documents. I recognise the frustration of the House. I will pray in aid officials, who have gone so far to try to be responsive, for two reasons. One is that many positive suggestions and ideas for improving the Bill have come from this House and we have sought to capture them. There have also been instances where we have clearly not achieved clarity and we have sought to respond to that. The consequence of this is that there is sometimes a weight of amendment and redrafting of documents which does not come quite as quickly as we would all wish, particularly when we want to have meetings with Peers to discuss some issues to make sure we are addressing the real point. I apologise for that but hope noble Lords will understand that its motivation has been good.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, said there was confusion over the VAT position of this company. I can confirm to him that HMT has confirmed that the SHC—the strategic highways company—will not be subject to VAT. We have absolute confirmation of that and I can give the noble Lord that reassurance.
I have tried to capture the issues which have been raised and hope very much that your Lordships will feel much more comfortable with the content of the Bill and the way we have attempted to amend it in order to respond to the points raised in Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for dealing with these issues so comprehensively. We all share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, but we recognise the efforts which the Minister and her officials have put in to keeping us informed. The problem is that so much relies on what is in the draft licence and it is confusing for many of us if that document is constantly changing as we are going through this Bill. If the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has expressed displeasure, the powers that be should be trembling in their shoes and take notice.
The first bit of good news is that the Minister very clearly indicated that the Government have no plans to appoint more than one company and that, whatever it says in the Bill, she was prepared to come forward—I think she said at Third Reading—on the issue of a separate vote of Parliament being required if more than one company were to be appointed in the future. That would go some way to clarifying the position. I still do not totally understand why it is expressed in this way, given the Government’s clear intention in any case. However, I thank the Minister as it partly deals with an issue which is troubling a number of people. The present view is that a single English road network company would be the most effective way of delivering improved roads and transport systems. If a subsequent Government decided that it should be regionalised, a whole lot of other issues then arise. A parliamentary brake on them doing that at least goes some way to meeting that point and I thank the Minister for that.
I am partially reassured by what the Minister said on parliamentary accountability, but I am still not clear whether that means that the Secretary of State can be asked in Parliament about the same range of things that he or she can currently be asked about. In other words, is there any change? That important issue will undoubtedly be raised by MPs of all parties when the Bill reaches the Commons.
The central issue of why my noble friends and I felt we had to raise the whole context in which the company was being set up, and the relationship between it and the Secretary of State, is the use of the term “licence” and the use of the content of the licence to explain everything about how the Government intend to conduct the new structure. I think that the Minister came as close as she dared in saying, “Well maybe we should never have called it a licence in the first place”. I think that if she took that further step, we could all sit down and applaud. However, it is very confusing because the Bill refers to “appointment”, which in some cases is the granting of a licence. Therefore, although it is a single state company and not a commercial company in the normal sense, and although there are examples of licences being given to state-owned companies, I think that using the term “licence” in one place and “appointment” in another without describing the process through which the Minister has to go or how the regulator is to enforce the terms of that licence is wrong.
As we pass through the subsequent stages of the Bill, the department and the Minister will need to consider whether they ought to change the terminology entirely and refer, as the subtitle of the draft document now does, to “directions” and “guidance”, with the way in which the appointment is carried out being a clearly separate issue. If the Government were prepared to go along those lines, we might not need quite such a complicated change to the Bill as our amendments taken in total would indicate, but I think that the Government need to think further about how they present this in the Bill. At the end of the day, however much those in the industry understand it and however much subordinate documents spell it out, unless the relationship and the terminology are clear in the Bill, we will run into serious trouble down the line.
I, for one, would quite like to see this company established in some form or other but, as I said earlier, I do not think that we have yet got it right. However, the Minister has moved some considerable way in my direction today. She and her colleagues probably need to move a little bit further before we see this Bill back after the Commons has considered it. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
2A: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Public sector rail operators
Within 6 months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall publish a report on allowing a public sector rail operator to take on lines and challenge the train operators in the public interest.”
My Lords, this amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish a report on allowing a public sector rail operator to take on lines and challenge the train operators on a genuinely level playing field in the public interest, securing value for money for passengers and taxpayers.
Many noble Lords will no doubt recall the exchanges that we had at Question Time last week on the future of east coast rail. I congratulate the Minister on her performance then in defending the Government’s position, which I regarded then, and still do regard, as indefensible, but I hope that today her response will be somewhat different. We should learn the lessons of east coast rail, where we have seen the benefits of a not-for-dividend operator running a rail line.
East coast rail was brought back into public ownership in 2009 after the private operator reneged on its commitments. It is efficient, it has returned more than £600 million to the taxpayer and it invests every penny of that profit back into the company. It provides a quality service, achieving record levels of passenger satisfaction and punctuality. The new timetable that it introduced in 2011 allows it to operate 7,000 more trains each year, and it now has 500,000 more passengers. It has also delivered for passengers. This year’s fare rise was in fact a real-terms cut—something that no private franchise was able to do. In fact, elsewhere, season tickets have risen in price by 30% since 2010—a stark contrast.
Despite that, the Government appear intent on pressing ahead with the privatisation of intercity east coast services. Will the Minister confirm that the cost to the taxpayer of reprivatising the east coast could run to £6 million? It is important that the Minister responds to this question and says what steps the Government are otherwise taking to improve the functioning of the railways. It is unacceptable that our rail lines are, according to the 2011 McNulty review, up to 40% less efficient than the best-performing European networks.
We know that the Conservative Party is unwilling to take a pragmatic approach on this issue. Its Railways Act 1993 effectively prohibits a public sector operator, except in the most restrictive circumstances. But the public do not feel this way. Only 28% of those polled support the sell-off of east coast. Can the Minister say on which side of this divide her own party finds itself? Many will recall her party’s support for a public sector operator while it was in opposition. It is time to put an end to this rigid ideological approach, which also sees the Government trying to rush through a sell-off of the 40% public stake in Eurostar before we have even seen the conclusion of my noble friend Lord Myners’s inquiry into the Royal Mail privatisation.
This amendment would give the Government the opportunity to reflect and to alter their stance. It is time to learn the lessons of east coast and legislate to allow a public sector operator to take on lines. It should be able to challenge the train operators in the public interest on a level playing field. That is the way to secure the best deal for passengers and for taxpayers. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment so that we can move in that direction. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is worth reminding the House that we already have public sector operators in this country; we have lines owned by Dutch railways, French railways and German railways. They are not called that in this country—they have different names—but they are owned by those countries. On the continent, some of them operate effective, positive and well liked services; some of them are pretty awful. When you hear that Eurostar, which is still 40% owned by the British Government—although it is for sale—is allowed to bid for the east coast, but a company that is perhaps 100% owned by the British Government would not be allowed, it does seem a bit odd. I am sure that the Minister has an answer to that, but it seems to me that we are selling off our crown jewels in the shape of a piece of Eurostar and allowing the companies that buy them—perhaps from the continent, perhaps from elsewhere—to come back and provide a good service on certain occasions, but to compete a little unfairly against what our own companies might do if they existed.
My Lords, I have followed this debate over the years with some interest and have a number of questions arising from this amendment that I would like to put to the Minister; perhaps my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench would also like to consider them. I have no interest to declare in this debate other than the fact that I worked for the railway industry, as did my father. The romantic view, perhaps, of British Rail that some of my colleagues occasionally expressed was one that neither my father nor I shared.
Working for a nationalised railway industry, as I did before being elected to the other place and before being appointed to this House, was a massively depressing experience. Year after year, the amount of finance available to the railway industry was the subject of debate. It was quite often cut back. Short-termism was the only way to describe the finances of BR. Although I am no great supporter of the form of privatisation that the Government have inflicted on us, at least it has provided some degree of long-term continuity so far as railway finances are concerned—a continuity that did not exist when the railways were nationalised. Indeed, some of those in my own party used to mock what they called the concept of Morrisonian nationalisation. They said that it was not nationalisation at all and that the railways were being run by the civil servants. That view was widely shared by many of us who worked in the industry at the time.
I speak to this amendment not from any romantic attachment to a nationalised railway but as a confused supporter of the railway industry who wonders how we got into this particular mess in the first place as far as franchising is concerned. I have said in previous debates that what we have at the present is neither one thing nor the other. It is certainly not franchising. If we look at the new trains that are in the process of being ordered and built, it appears that they were designed by civil servants. The Government or civil servants set the fares as far as companies are concerned. The Japanese build the trains and the rest of us ride around the country in what remains of the whole industry. It is a confused picture, to say the least, but I do not feel that the amendment would help to clarify matters particularly.
I have one or two questions I want to put specifically to the Minister about the current process, before we look at whether or not directly operated railways should be allowed to bid for franchises. How are these decisions actually taken? The whole thing is shrouded in mystery. Various companies, we understand, put forward bids for the franchises, and a process of evaluation takes place behind the scenes. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how this process is conducted and who is involved in it.
If this amendment were to be accepted, would it mean that one desk in the Department for Transport would put together a bid and its merits or otherwise would then be decided by another desk in the Department for Transport? I hope that I am second to none in my admiration of the legal profession, which does not go unrepresented in your Lordships’ House, but if the answer is yes, one can imagine a bonanza for lawyers in the event of an appeal. Indeed, the taxpayer has just paid heavily for the mess that was the west coast main line franchise. Perhaps the Minister could tell us in passing exactly how much that cost.
If the amendment were accepted, how much does she envisage it would cost the taxpayer to fund legal inquiries or complaints if DOR’s bid—an internal departmental bid in some ways—were accepted over and above a private sector bid: or, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley rightly reminded us, a bid from a nationalised railway industry in Germany, France or Holland, to name but three? I hesitate to sound critical, but one can imagine the legal profession rubbing its hands at the prospect of such a financial fracas taking place behind the scenes.
Allowing DOR to bid is not particularly revolutionary. In the debate on privatising the railway industry in 1993, your Lordships’ House accepted an amendment moved by that well known left-winger Lord Peyton of Yeovil to allow the British Railways Board, as it then was, to bid for franchises. That amendment was struck out in the other place and we have the system of privatisation, franchising or whatever you like to call it that we have now. I do not wish to add to the difficulties of the Minister if, as I suspect, she rejects this amendment, but some clarification is long overdue before she does so as to exactly how this process works at present and how it would be affected if the amendment were accepted.
My Lords, I fully support this amendment. The happiest moments of my week are when I get a kiss from all the onboard staff on the east coast line on Thursday lunchtime. It is incredibly important to realise that we have had two failed privatisations on the east coast line. Even at this last stage, very late in the day, I hope and pray the Government will not denationalise the east coast line. In my view—and I spend an enormous amount of my life on the east coast line—it would be absolutely mad, especially bearing in mind the two failed franchise bids.
My Lords, I spend a great deal of my time on the west coast line. All I can say is that when for one reason or other I use the east coast, I look at it with some envy. It is a very successful operation. I cannot believe that this is happening for any reason other than ideological commitment. That is a daft way to run an essential national public service. Pragmatism is the order of the day.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to what is happening with Eurostar. I find it extraordinarily irresponsible that a railway system of that kind, which is so basic to the strength of our economy and well-being—the European market, whether we are in the Common Market or not, is so crucial to our economic success—should be handed away from public accountability and control. That is a basic lifeline. Of course this is happening in other industries as well. When I read of the Chinese coming in on certain strategic areas, I begin to wonder where on earth our economic policies tie up with our strategic analysis of the world in which we live.
The great thing to remember—my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to this too—is that when public companies on the European mainland take the opportunity to provide public services in this country, they do so in a context in which in their own countries this is not seen as an ideological test of purity but a matter of pragmatism: what makes sense to be practically and pragmatically in the public sector and what makes sense in the private sector. In that context, they have been highly successful.
I personally favour—and I find myself cheered to realise that the majority of public opinion seems to be in that direction—a completely publicly owned rail system within this country because it is so crucial to our economy and every other matter. I also think it has a good deal to do with the morale of those working on it. If they feel they are actually providing a public service, and get a professional pride from providing a public service rather that simply providing profits, that has an impact and some significance.
If we are not to have that in the Bill—I hope we may have it at some stage—then it seems that this is a very effective damage limitation exercise. Nobody could accuse it of being doctrinaire politics because it accepts that the private sector will be there; it just says, is it not sensible? If the opportunity occurs, it makes pragmatic good sense and there is a rational way to undertake it, the public sector should be running part of the railway system. It would be a very good test of the comparative merits of both. I find the present situation ridiculous and I am alarmed that this kind of oversimplified thinking can dictate policy on something as vital to our economy as this.
My Lords, I ask the Minister to consider what will happen if the bids received under the franchise competition actually give less money—or are worth less to the taxpayer—than the present east coast trains. If the bids are lower than that being achieved by the present operator, that really does sound like the economics of the madhouse. Those who are bidding have the sword of Damocles hanging over them, because open access operators are allowed access to the track at a much lower price than the franchised operator. It appears that the open access operators are massing for an attack on the east coast line.
Lastly, I recommend to the Minister an article in Passenger Transport, a rather specialist magazine. There is a good two-page article about customer service and its effect on staff morale and how the present franchising system does not allow operators to go strong on customer service. If they do so, they risk losing the next bid because customer service, among other things, cannot be put into a financial evaluation.
It amazes me that we as a country permit so many foreigners to run our water industry, our gas industry and our electricity industry. They are vital basic services and I think it is rather foolish to leave them in the hands of foreign operators. We have seen what has happened with prices for water, for example, which have gone through the roof. I am sure that in the public sector, such increases would not have been allowed.
My Lords, I have intervened on this Bill only once, and I probably will not do so again, but I support the amendment. I do so as someone who, first, has worked on the railways—a very long time ago, I have to say: in the late 1940s, when I worked for the Southern Railway. I became not expert but knowledgeable about lock and block signalling, which has now of course been overtaken by electronic signalling.
I also represented Swindon, which was a great railway town. In those days, I spent most of my time trying to save the railway workshops, which were highly efficient and had a good history, from being closed by British Rail. When we talk about public ownership, people appear to believe that we want to go back to British Rail. There are all sorts of ways in which you can introduce public ownership, which have been mentioned. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and others have pointed out, we allow foreign nationalised industries to take over our industries, but we will not allow our public services to take them over.
I was very interested to listen to the Chancellor of the Exchequer talking about city regions. There is every reason why, if we are to have city regions, we should allow them, or conglomerates of city regions, to be able to bid for a rail franchise. After all, they are there to serve their electors and probably know better than any railway company what their electors want. Local government has a great history of providing public services. Our water services would not be what they are but for local government and the power given to it under the Local Government Act 1888.
That applies to transport as well. So many local authorities have a background in and knowledge of transport. Up and down the country they are providing high-quality local transport. These things really ought to be considered by the Government: there is room for public enterprise within the railways. The railways should be allowed to bid for franchises; it is not a question of undercutting but of providing decent services at reasonable cost and perhaps more cheaply than is provided by the private companies.
I was pleased to see this amendment on the Marshalled List. I well remember opposing, from those Benches—I do not know whether I was doing so from the Front Bench at the time—the privatisation of the railways as a result, of course, of a European directive, which said that the infrastructure should be separated from the operation of the services themselves. If this simple and easy amendment is put to the vote, I hope that the Minister will accept it. It does not commit the Government to anything other than considering giving public authorities the opportunity to think about franchises in what, after all, are our railway services.
My Lords, the temptation is to get into a major discussion about nationalisation of industries, but I shall try to resist and focus on railways and this amendment.
I spend a lot of my time out on the road, talking with the industry at rail conferences and also with users. Our railway is a great success. Virtually every event to which I go now deals with the challenge of a successful railway. Your Lordships will know many of the figures. We have doubled the number of passengers since privatisation. Even outside London over the past few months we have seen passenger numbers going up by something between 9% and 11%. People really want to use the railways. I talk with my continental colleagues who say that they do not have any idea how we do it. They ask how we manage to run so many trains, with such frequency, and engage with so many passengers and build the kind of ridership that we have. They certainly are not finding the same kind of thing where they are. There is a deep admiration of how we run our trains.
There is much more to do. We are catching up with at least of couple of generations of serious underinvestment in the railways, and not just in new lines anywhere north of London—that has been a major absence—as well as with upgrading the railways. We are dealing with a huge challenge at the same time that we have passengers coming on to the lines. To ignore the fact that the privatisation process and the franchises that have come out of that have played a huge part is frankly to fail to recognise what this has contributed.
In terms of the number of people who are being carried on the quantity of trains that we are running, and the range of services that we are offering, we have a model that has been delivering what our ancestors would only have dreamt of. But there is so much more ambition now to go way beyond that. We have done a lot of it by tapping into private sector know-how. We need even more of that as we go forward, because the challenges are increasing dramatically.
I would like to comment on the east coast line. I have great respect for all the people who have run the Directly Operated Railway. Their job is to come in and take over where there has been failure and to stabilise and deliver. They have done a fantastic job. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that everyone must be conscious that part of the reason they have turned to the taxpayer is because we have not invested in the new equipment that is desperately needed on that line. New trains are coming and, as we are negotiating that, I do not want to say anything that could compromise that franchise. However, does the noble Lord think for one moment that we would come up with the figures that we have for that franchise if the franchising company had to pay for the new trains that are desperately needed on the east coast line?
The west coast line is in a different situation. One of the things about franchising is that franchises are not identical: every franchise is customised. If one looks at frequency of service, the newness of equipment and the whole series of features that shape each franchise, one will see that one franchise is in a position to return premiums whereas another will require subsidy. As I say, a franchise will vary depending on the relevant market conditions and whether its equipment and track have been upgraded. Franchises are not identical “cookie cutters”, as the Americans would say; they are customised. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that I would be shocked if we were to run the east coast line at a standstill. The customers of that line need an increased service and far better trains. That has to be part of the future.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness but the new rolling stock that is to be included in the east coast franchise is something that every bidder will have to take into account in the bid that they make. If passengers do not think that the rolling stock, which has been virtually designed in Marsham Street, is set at a reasonable price, that will indicate that a bad decision was made over here. There is no doubt whatever that if the present east coast line company runs the franchise with the new trains its returns will go up, but perhaps by only as much as the extra trains will cost. The extra trains are a burden. It is a fallacy to say that the present east coast operator would be worse than any other because the £600 million has not been invested in the track and many other operators have not invested in new rolling stock. They wait for the rolling stock companies to do it and consider that investment in the track and stations is a matter for Network Rail. Therefore, I think that the Minister’s argument is a bit faulty.
I am sorry but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, will know, these things will be built into the charges. Of course, the addition of new equipment completely changes the profile as it has to be paid for and that money comes from only two places—the fare box or the taxpayer. As I say, that completely changes the profile and I think that many noble Lords will be aware of that reality.
As regards franchising, I agree that the demands we are placing on franchisees to upgrade equipment are far more significant than has been the case in the past. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said that customer service was not rolled into the franchise. I can tell him that it is now and that a significant number of issues concern customer service. We are building on that because the customer absolutely has to be at the centre of the railway industry. It is true that this has not been done historically and that franchises have been engineering-driven, but that is changing dramatically. The noble Lord will start to see the impact of that coming through with the new franchises.
We are also undertaking a complete technical upgrade as we move from an early 20th century railway to a fully 21st century railway. A digital electronic railway will make huge demands on franchise providers in all kinds of ways. This is a very exciting time. There was a question about British companies’ engagement in the railway. We have some of the most innovative companies now—I speak regularly to the supply chains—who are engaged in this cutting-edge research and cutting-edge supply, which will completely change the nature of the trains running on the track. We are coming much closer to engaging with aerospace technology and other areas. Do not think of the railways as an old, staid industry any more. It is a driving, cutting-edge industry, and that change has to come through for us to meet passengers’ demands. I could go on a great deal longer, but I will come back, because you can tell I am an enthusiast about getting these changes driven all the way through.
One of the questions is, “Why don’t we set up a company and let it bid against the others?”. Let us think about that process. If we are to have any other bidders, they have to know that there is a level playing field and that absolutely no advantage is given to the public bidder. This point was, I think, raised earlier. You may be able to set up enough Chinese walls for us to say that we believe this is being done with integrity, but we would have to convince every other bidder. Think about how the railways are financed. That makes it extremely difficult. Would we be providing government-sourced money to our own public company? Obviously, the private companies go out into the capital markets. Or would it be going out into the capital markets and therefore, in a sense, be as far distant from us as virtually any company that we already describe as being a franchisee?
We would have to be absolutely certain that our assumptions on profit, tax, cost and capital in no way advantaged the public body, or we would lose every other bidder on every bid. If we go back and think carefully about what we would have to set up, we would have to set up the company in order to do this. The salaries alone would, I think, be eye-watering.
That company, as the noble Lord probably knows, will presumably be TUPE-ed—or not TUPE-ed, because it is a share sale. Essentially, that company will be absorbed into whatever is the new bidder on the east coast. Also, we have people running the company who can run it under its current circumstances. But take a look, if you are putting together a bidding group. The noble Lord will know how expensive it is to put together an effective bid team, particularly with those kinds of salaries. Let us, however, not just look at the salaries for putting together the kind of senior management you would need for an effective bid team, which are probably way beyond anything that we would consider paying. If we did, however, each bid would be a minimum of—what?—£10 million. That is probably about right for each individual bid. Fourteen franchises would be £140 million, without even the assurance of winning a single franchise. I simply point out that there are a lot of complexities in this matter that are not reasonably obvious. We had a system that was broken, we had two bids that did not work and we brought in a company that restored it. We are now going out with an effective franchise and we expect a very good bid. Two of the bidders are essentially British and one is not; we have a wide range.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Snape, that it seems that there is still a romance with the old British Rail, without recognising many of its underlying problems and the limited advantages that could be available under another scenario.
There is one other issue that is often raised. It is said that if we ran one company, we would have a comparator against which to look at the others. That takes us back my original point, which is that every franchise is so different that you cannot carry over from one into the other. If you doubt me on that, look at the pattern of bidders: specific companies that feel they can specialise in the needs of particular franchises bid on those. We do not find every bidder coming in on every franchise. They pick and choose the areas where they have particular knowledge and skills that apply to that franchise. Franchises are not generic and should not be viewed that way, so the comparators essentially do not work.
I will just pick up on a point about “foreign-owned”. There is obviously scope for any country to decide that it is going to own an industry. We have certainly done that in the past: we have owned airports, steel companies and railways; you can go on through the list. We made a decision, as a country, that that could be done better by the private sector, but it is still entirely open to any country that it wants to own a series of businesses.
We have made a decision that that is not where we need to put our money. I have plenty of other places where I would much rather put the £140 million that I have just described than on the franchise bids alone, never mind all the overhead costs that would go with them. As I have said, this business, even when it is done well, is also a high-risk, thinly margined business. If one were to decide to go in for buying shares or into commercial ventures with taxpayers’ money, I suggest that one could choose many other businesses with higher returns, or other ways to spend the money. I would put money into services for the public rather than into owning shares in a company that would go out and compete with the private sector. That is the argument that I am making in all this.
We have a successful railway. It is delivering for the British people. We intend to place more and more demands on it. We have private sector companies that can deliver what we need, provided that we negotiate effectively and hard. It seems to me that that is where our energy has to go: delivering for the British people rather than being caught up in an idea of who owns what.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her considered and lengthy reply. She will have noticed that she was acting alone in the House, as there was not a supporting voice anywhere—expect that my noble friend Lord Snape, with his considerable knowledge of railways, asked a few questions and expressed anxieties about not returning to the days of nationalised railways, when losses were made and low investment was the order of the day. There is nothing in the amendment or in any proposal conceivable to the Opposition which suggests that.
We have had the illustration of two private companies failing on the east coast main line, and one successful directly operated railway under public auspices producing considerable degrees of success which match the achievements of any on other lines. All we seek is for the Government to think about the possibility of that continuing. That is all that the amendment involves: recognition of ready and conspicuous success under the formula and an eagerness to see that it should persist. It is only dogma on the other side that leads them to indicate that there are so many complexities about running a private railway that one could not anticipate the expertise existing anywhere in any state-operated organisation—except, perhaps, in the German, French and Dutch states, which make successful bids and operate.
I merely ask the House to recognise that this is a modest amendment to keep the ball in play for the huge success in recent events on the railway. The Minister has addressed herself to every issue except that success, which we want to confer. Accordingly, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 1: Appointment of strategic highways companies
Amendments 2B to 8 not moved.
9: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Strategic highways company licences
(1) A licence under section 1 may include—
(a) such conditions (whether or not relating to the licence holder’s being responsible for assets under the authorisation of the licence) as appear to the grantor to be requisite or expedient having regard to the duties imposed by section 4; and(b) conditions requiring the rendering to—of a payment on the grant of the licence, or payments during the currency of the licence, or both, of such amounts or amounts as may be determined by or under the licence.(i) the Secretary of State,(ii) the Office of Rail Regulation, or(iii) any other person, or any other person of a class or description, specified in the licence, except a Minister of the Crown or Government department,of a payment on the grant of the licence, or payments during the currency of the licence, or both, of such amounts or amounts as may be determined by or under the licence.(2) Conditions included in a licence under subsection (1)(a)—
(a) may require the licence holder to enter into any agreement with any person for such purposes as may be specified in the conditions; and(b) may include provision for determining the terms on which such agreements are to be entered into. (3) Conditions included in a licence under subsection (1)(a) may require the licence holder—
(a) to comply with any requirements from time to time imposed by a qualified person with respect to such matters as are specified in the licence or are of a description so specified;(b) except in so far as a qualified person consents to his doing or not doing them, not to do or to do such things as are specified in the licence or are of a description so specified;(c) to refer for determination by a qualified person such questions arising under the licence as are specified in the licence or are of a description so specified;(d) to refer for approval by a qualified person such things falling to be done under the licence as are specified in the licence or are of a description so specified;(e) to furnish to a qualified person such documents or other information as he may require for the purpose of exercising any functions conferred or imposed on him under or by virtue of the licence;(f) to furnish to the Secretary of State or the Office of Rail Regulation such documents or other information as he may require for the purpose of exercising the functions assigned or transferred to him or it under or by virtue of this Act.(4) Conditions included in a licence may contain provision for the conditions to cease to have effect or be modified at such times, in such manner and in such circumstances as may be specified in or determined by or under the conditions; and any provision included by virtue of this subsection in a licence shall have effect in addition to the provision made by this Part with respect to the modification of the conditions of a licence.
(5) Subsections (2) and (4) are without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1)(a).
(6) Any reference in subsection (3) to a “qualified person” is a reference to—
(a) a person specified in the licence in question for the purpose in question, or(b) a person of a description so specified,and includes a reference to a person nominated for that purpose by such a person pursuant to the licence.(7) Any sums received by the Secretary of State or the Office of Rail Regulation in consequence of the provisions of any condition of a licence shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund.
I shall be brief in speaking to this group of amendments because we have discussed at some length the licence for the strategic highways company. My Amendment 9 is a provision similar to what Network Rail now has. I was interested in the Minister’s comment that it is a licence for a commercial model and that the strategic highways company is not going to be commercial. I do not know whether Network Rail was ever commercial in her definition of the word, but it certainly is not now and I notice that the Government have not tried to change the licence to reflect any alteration. Perhaps she has a quick view on that. The draft licence that we received on 3 November was certainly an improvement on the previous version, for which I am very grateful.
The only other thing I wish to comment on in this group is my Amendment 17, which is to do with the duties of the strategic highways company. Whether they should go in a licence or in some other document, I do not know, but the draft licence from the Department for Transport is a licence to build roads, to take into account environmental concerns and to do it reasonably efficiently. Given experience of legislation over the years, there is a need to have in the Bill, for preference, or in a licence, if it must be that way, a wider role and wider responsibilities for this company to go cross-modal. That includes looking at road and rail—I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group—passenger as well as freight, efficiencies, travel choices, developments in sustainable locations, as sustainability is very important in all this, and different modes to secure the economic, social and environmental gains jointly and severally. I do not think that these are in the draft licence at the moment. If the Minister would look at this again and see whether some—preferably all—these issues could go into a licence, I would be much happier that the strategic highways company was going to be part of a wider transport and environmental structure, taking into account the needs of customers, the environmental needs, roads, railways and developments in local transport. With that short introduction, I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 10 in this group. Again, as in the previous debate, my noble friend Lord Berkeley has put his finger on another lacuna in the Bill. Nowhere does the Bill spell out the functions and duties of the proposed strategic highways company. There is a whole schedule, 26 pages long, which largely consists of adding,
“or a strategic highways company”,
but does not actually say what that company should do. I find this extraordinary and not consistent with earlier circumstances in which we have set up public bodies or corporations to do a particular job, some of which are still doing it, where there was clarity in the legislation as to those functions. Those functions have to be economic, social and environmental these days. The Government should at least consider making sure, at later stages, that the Bill spells out the central duties of the companies. I hope that the Minister will take that away.
My Lords, again we have a wide range of amendments in this group. I shall focus on the issues that have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Whitty. We derive from these amendments that they see advantage in the company being issued with a licence: we covered that discussion a few minutes ago. I want to be clear that safety and other duties are being transferred to the company by virtue of its appointment as the highways authority for the strategic road network. These, together with essential environmental duties in existing legislation, will apply to the company. I also make it clear that the new company will be bound by the network management duty in the Traffic Management Act 2004, a duty which would be difficult to perform without co-operating with other local highways authorities.
Sustainable travel, though, is a different kettle of fish. It is an issue of wider transport strategy and policy, which is a matter for the Secretary of State to determine. However, many issues raised in these amendments that may not currently be covered in legislation to the extent proposed—for example, sustainable development, engaging communities or conducting research and development—will be the subject of binding statutory directions and guidance, which is the long title that we have given the licence issued to the company by the Secretary of State. I am sure that noble Lords will have looked at the recently published drafts.
I have the advantage of a marked-up copy, so I can see how extensively all those issues have now been written into the licence, in very significant detail. For example, on the environment the licence holder must:
“Seek to minimise carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases from its operations; adapt to operate its network in a changing climate; and, where relevant, assist the Government in meeting its wider greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and climate change commitments”.
We can see, in each area, that there is very substantial language. On safety, there is language focusing in great detail on these issues, so that they are deeply embedded, as there is, in other places, on collaboration. So it is there in the licence, or, as we are calling it now, the statutory directions and guidance. To me, it is crucial that they are in that document because, of all the documents, it would be the living document that most impacted the company on a regular basis. We want to make sure that those issues are to the fore and centre, right in the eyeline of the new strategic highways company. Directions issued by the Government have legal force and, together with the independent scrutiny of the monitor, which is there to enforce, will ensure that the company is accountable for what it does.
In listening to your Lordships, I understand that there would be a measure of comfort in echoing some of these key issues in the Bill. To me, it is important that they are in the licence because that is where they will drive behaviour and the enforcement capacity is genuinely there. I can see an argument for making sure that these issues are being given the attention that noble Lords wish, particularly for public reassurance. Two stand out—road safety and the environment—as well as co-operation. I can therefore make a commitment to your Lordships that I could come back before Third Reading with an amendment that would impose those provisions as high-level duties on the company in respect of these fundamental matters. As I say, my personal view is that they are where they need to be to have effect but, if it will provide reassurance to the public in general and your Lordships in particular that they are being sufficiently recognised, this is the way in which to tackle them with a great deal more detail, direction and energy within the content of the statutory directions. We could work a way to put those three high-level duties into the Bill.
In this group are Amendments 22 and 24, which relate to setting the road investment strategy and removing subsection (6), which may provide an element of confusion. However, given that it has not been raised, I will not pursue the matter but would be glad to explain to anyone why we think that those amendments miss the point.
My noble friend has just said that the matter has not been raised. I have been looking through the licence and the Bill, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made the point that there does not seem to be a positive statement that under the licence the strategic highways company must comply with the road investment strategy. Will she consider whether something of that sort could be specifically included? Such a provision may be there; maybe I have missed it, but I cannot see it in the licence.
At this point, I cannot remember the exact location of each item, but I will go back. However, we now have the monitor there to enforce the RIS or the strategic highways company’s compliance with it, as well as with the contents of the draft licence or statutory guidance.
I very much support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. The Minister is right; we have not spoken to Amendment 24, so I do not expect her to comment on it in great detail. However, I hope that she will indicate in her response to this group of amendments—it has been helpful thus far—that she will meet our point: that there is such great complexity about this interrelationship that things will not be rushed. It would be sad if, in pushing things hard to get the Bill on to the statute book and to be acted upon, we pre-empted in a rush what ought to be a long-term perspective on the road investment strategy. We expect the SHC very much to be involved in that new role.
I now have a reply, thanks to that helpful intervention and the time associated with it. Clause 3(5) places a duty on the strategic highways company and the Secretary of State to comply with the RIS. So we have that covered. Our concern about removing subsection (6) of Clause 3 is that, without it, the Secretary of State could actually pick and choose when to set a strategy. Frankly, we do not want to give that scope to the Secretary of State—and I am sure that your Lordships do not either.
Your Lordships also propose that the first strategy be set in accordance with the process we have set out in Schedule 2. We have been clear that this time around we are following a compressed timetable. Indeed, we all want to have a strategy in place for day 1 of the company’s operations—but a company that does not yet exist cannot participate in the way that Schedule 2 envisages. If we were to wait until the passage of the Act, we would be in the position of forcing the company to operate without a strategy, delaying much-needed investment in the network. I hope your Lordships will not press that amendment. This is just to deal with the fact that we are pushing ahead with the strategy that I expect your Lordships will see very shortly. However, the assent to the Bill and the creation of the company will come afterwards so it would not be possible the first time around to pursue the proposals in that amendment.
I hope, however, that noble Lords will accept government Amendments 12, 13 and 14. We are proposing several minor and technical amendments to Schedule 1, to ensure that the company has the appropriate powers and functions to carry out its role or to allow the continuation of existing arrangements to apply to the new company in the future. As discussed in Grand Committee, Amendment 12 allows the Parliamentary Ombudsman to consider complaints raised with the company, where a complainant has not been fully satisfied and may wish to refer the issue to independent adjudication.
Amendment 13 ensures that the company provides representations to Transport Focus when it investigates issues on behalf of coach or bus passengers. It also ensures that important highway functions linked to the Dartford crossing are transferred to the company. These include allowing it to regulate the use of large vehicles and vehicles carrying dangerous goods; to appoint traffic officers to work on the crossing; to recover stationary vehicles; to provide services to cyclists; and powers to carry out maintenance works affecting the Thames.
Finally, Amendment 14 ensures consistency between the Deregulation Bill and the Infrastructure Bill on permit schemes, allowing the company powers to make permit schemes and derive the benefit of simplified arrangements proposed in the Deregulation Bill for approval of permit schemes. I hope that your Lordships will approve the government amendments and feel comfortable in not pressing the other amendments in this group.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response. We must recognise that she has moved a long way on these discussions in the last month or so and I very much welcome her commitment to come back at Third Reading with some of these issues—particularly those in my Amendment 17—in the Bill. As she says, some of the things are in the draft licence but, as many noble Lords have said, we would like to see it strengthened a little more. I hope that we will be pleased with the result at Third Reading in a week or two. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Schedule 1: Strategic highways companies: consequential and supplemental amendments
Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.
Amendments 12 to 14
12: Schedule 1, page 59, line 17, at end insert—
“Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (c. 13)67A In Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967, at the appropriate place insert “A strategic highways company for the time being appointed under Part 1 of the Infrastructure Act 2014.””
13: Schedule 1, page 64, line 34, at end insert—
“Transport Act 1985 (c. 67)98A In section 112G of the Transport Act 1985 (representations following an investigation by the Passengers’ Council), in subsection (1), for paragraph (d) substitute—
“(d) a strategic highways company for the time being appointed under Part 1 of the Infrastructure Act 2014;”.Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act 1988 (c. 20)98B In the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act 1988, after section 46 (interpretation) insert—
“46A Appointment of a strategic highways company
(1) This section applies in any period in which, by virtue of an appointment under section 1 of the Infrastructure Act 2014, a strategic highways company is the highway authority for the highways comprised in the tunnel crossing or the bridge.
(2) The reference to the Secretary of State in section 12(4) (crossing operator) is to be read as a reference to the strategic highways company.
(3) References to the Secretary of State in the following provisions are to be read as references to the strategic highways company—
(a) section 24(1)(a) and (b) (special traffic restrictions);(b) section 27(1) and (2) (bicycles);(c) section 37 (powers in relation to River Thames);(d) section 38 (restriction on works on crossing);(e) Schedule 7 (protective provisions), except—(i) paragraph 2 of Part 1, and(ii) paragraph 2 of Part 3.””
14: Schedule 1, page 70, line 8, leave out paragraphs 145 and 146
Amendments 12 to 14 agreed.
Clause 2: Areas and highways in an appointment
15: Clause 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) The strategic highways company shall be responsible for the road safety performance of the network and the improvement of the network’s road infrastructure safety rating, which shall be overseen by the Office of Rail Regulation.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to the other amendments standing in my name in this group. In doing so, I need to declare a non-pecuniary interest as the chair of the Road Safety Foundation, which today—if I may make a quick advertisement—published a couple of reports on making road safety pay and the state of British roads. I commend them to the Minister, as I am sure that she will learn from them, and perhaps she would pass on my thanks to her colleague, Robert Goodwill, for attending their launch.
Although some good work on road safety is being done in the department and despite the slightly more encouraging words in response to the previous group of amendments, the problem is that safety does not feature in the Bill. However, the creation of a strategic highways company ought to provide an opportunity for a step change in road safety on the strategic network.
It is often said—and rightly so—that our motorways and most, although not all, of our trunk roads are very safe. In relative terms that is true and it is certainly true in terms of passenger miles. However, it is also true that, because of the intensity of traffic on the motorway system in particular and the severity of the incidents that occur, the number of accidents constitutes nearly 40% of all those killed or seriously injured on our roads. The foundation has calculated that that costs the economy of the country the equivalent of £0.7 billion a year in terms of Highways Agency roads alone. The number of dead and seriously injured on the roads exceeds the total number of people killed in all workplaces in the country in a year. That is a very important fact and it is one that the new highways company is going to have to face up to.
There are essentially four elements of road safety improvement: driver behaviour, vehicle design, traffic management and road design. The last two are clearly the responsibility of the strategic highways company, and so they should be. They also influence behaviour and can interact with the better design of cars. The Highways Agency needs to carry over into the new company the responsibilities that it already has for road safety but it needs to give them an additional boost by making it clear that one of the objectives of investing in roads—in design engineering, in traffic management, in the telemetrics that it deploys and in the design of protection barriers and so forth—needs to be maximising improvements in road safety. That is not clear in the Bill.
As I said, there is a big opportunity to make a step change here, but the step change and the need to make this clear also have a down side. If, as I have just said, a single, quasi-independent, separately incorporated company is responsible—on its premises and with its assets—for more deaths than every workplace in the land, there are issues of liability and litigation to be faced up to. In the Bill, the responsibility for that should clearly rest with the company but there needs to be some oversight of it. As with the ORR, which plays a very important role in enforcing rail safety, the monitor/regulator on the road side needs to enforce the safety requirements on the company.
It is also true that all other businesses where safety is an issue are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said earlier. If the new company is not a Crown company, the exemption does not apply. It is therefore even more crucial that the issue of safety is written and embedded in everything that the company does, and that is reflected in the Bill.
The Minister referred to high-level duties for the company, which she could perhaps at a later stage write into the Bill. That would include, in the context in which she made those remarks, references to safety. Not only does safety investment need to be seen as part of every investment decision, but the investments have to be right, because the rate of return on safety investment is much higher than that on other road improvements in many cases.
My amendments are fourfold. The key amendment, Amendment 15, would put the responsibility for safety clearly and squarely on the company. Amendment 20 would ensure that the standards being set by the Government for the company to perform to include road safety and the setting of effective benchmarks and targets. Amendment 23 would ensure that safety projects for investment in the road investment strategy are appraised on their own merits and not just subsumed into larger projects. My noble friend Lord Berkeley will speak to Amendment 44, which deals with the safety role of the regulator. Amendment 50, in my name, would include road safety in the functions explicitly to be transferred to the strategic highways company. That combination of amendments should achieve the high-level duties to which the Minister referred.
The Government have at least taken some note of the discussion on road safety issues in Committee. They have brought forward Amendment 19 in this group, which refers not to the central role of road safety in the operation of the company but to the investment strategy—not directly to the company itself. It states that the Secretary of State must,
“have regard, in particular, to the effect of the Strategy on … the environment, and … the safety of users of highways”.
The phrase “have regard to” is probably the meekest legislative obligation that could be written into the Bill. This is repeated in Part 5.9 of the draft licence, which states that the licence holder,
“must have due regard to the need to protect and improve the safety of the network as a whole”.
It then goes into a bit more detail, which sounds slightly firmer, but the phrase “have due regard to” makes it sound as if safety issues are not an objective of the strategy but a constraint on the strategy. It needs to be clearly written and embedded in the decision-making of the body all the way through. Some things that the Minister said and some things reflected in the draft licence suggest that that is the Government’s intention, but that needs to be clear in the Bill. Amendment 15, leaving aside the others, would make it clear so that none could gainsay it.
It would be sensible for the House and the Government to accept that road safety is a big issue in our strategic network and will continue to be so. There is an opportunity for the new company, with a coherent, consistent and inviolate road investment strategy, to give due priority to road safety in a much more substantial way. The phrase “have regard to” is very weak; my amendment is much stronger. If the Minister is not prepared to accept it, I hope that the House—or Parliament, at some stage, will accept that formulation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend on this group of amendments. I will briefly develop his theme by looking at the amendments in the group that relate to the monitor. I have proposed that the name of the Office of Rail Regulation should be changed, but that does not matter very much.
In Clause 9, the Government have introduced Amendments 41 and 43, both of which are welcome. They are a step forward from our discussions and I am certainly pleased to see them there. I have one or two amendments to those two amendments on the Marshalled List, which are complicated to go through and I am not going to attempt to go into any great detail now. Their purpose is twofold. One relates to safety and the other efficiency.
On the railways, one of the two tasks of the Office of Rail Regulation is to ensure that the network is operated as safely as possible under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, which is slightly modified for railways. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, the approach of the amendments is to do the same for the roads. Let us not forget that, as my noble friend said, just under 2,000 people were killed on the roads in the past year compared with none on the railways—no passengers, very few rail workers and I am not sure about the road workers. Sadly, suicides are a separate issue. The difference between 2,000 on the roads and none on the railways indicates that the structure of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is working very well on the railways. In these amendments, I propose that a similar thing should be done on the roads, supervised by the Office of Rail Regulation.
The other relevant matter in this group is that, as we discussed briefly in Committee, the monitor should not only have the ability to check on the efficiency of the strategic highways company, but have powers of enforcement if it felt that the efficiency was not as it should be. Again, that is contained in the amendments. One thing worries me about the Government’s amendments. There is a constraint on the independence of the monitor, which is serious. The rail regulator is totally independent. He cannot be sacked except under extreme circumstances that we do not need to go into. But in Amendment 43 on general duties that the monitor should act under, the Government say that the principles are that:
“(b) regulatory activities should be targeted only at cases in which action is needed”.
Who decides when that takes place? Who decides which actions are needed? Surely it must be the regulator who decides. If that is the case, then proposed new subparagraph (b) in Amendment 43 is superfluous. If it is the Government, I suggest that they would be interfering in the independence of the regulator.
In Amendment 48, the guidance that the monitor would receive in proposed new subsection (2) includes:
“The Secretary of State and the Treasury, acting jointly, must give the Office”,
of Rail Regulation,
“guidance as to the circumstances in which the payment of a fine under [this] section … should be required”.
Whereas the ORR can fine Network Rail whenever it likes if it has due cause, when it comes to the strategic highways authority it has to ask the Treasury’s permission first. That sends completely the wrong message. It would be good if the Minister could agree to look at those two things and the general safety outline as to how it will be implemented under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act as part of the discussions between now and Third Reading.
My Lords, I have listened to the argument with interest and some incredulity. Seeking to compare the number of deaths on the railways with the number of deaths on the roads ignores major differences between the two forms of transport. The roads are essentially a matter for individual drivers and many accidents and deaths are caused by serious driver error. It can be because the vehicles have not been properly inspected. Older vehicles always have to have annual road testing. Of course, there are many other causes, such as the terrible bonfire that swept smoke right across the motorway and caused serious accidents. But none of those can conceivably be laid at the door of the highways authority.
The design of the roads, signposting, warning signs and a whole range of things are the responsibility of the highways authority and would be the responsibility of the strategic road company, but a great many of the issues for which the strategic highways authority would be made directly responsible—the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talked about legal liability—cannot conceivably be laid at the door of that authority. The language that he has used in his various amendments simply does not draw the distinction between issues that are clearly the responsibility of other authorities, notably the whole question of licensing, inspection and testing of vehicles and the question of skills of drivers and so forth. I do not see how the highways authority could be made responsible for all that.
I studied the noble Lord’s amendment and listened to his eloquent speech in which he made it clear that he has a very real interest, although non-pecuniary, in road safety, but it is overstepping the mark to try to lay the liability for that sort of thing at the doors of the strategic highways authority. I will listen to what my noble friend says having studied her amendments on this issue with interest. For the moment, I am not persuaded on this occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the Government for having listened carefully to what was said in Committee, where pressure was exerted from this side of the House for greater clarity of the functions of the highway company. We are grateful for the progress that has been made in the indications from the Government that they accept some of these arguments. But Amendment 15, to which the Opposition are also committed, does not offend in any way in the manner that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, indicated. What it says is that the highways company shall be responsible for the road safety performance of the network. We are talking about the strategic network and it is essential that we recognise that we want enhanced performance over road safety, because in recent years there have been anxieties about the decline in safety for our fellow citizens on the roads.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that the same criteria as for railways were being applied. What is indicated in the amendment is that the Office of Rail Regulation will be concerned with the monitoring role, and that is where the overlap occurs. It is not contended on this side of the House, as he will recognise, that there could be any anticipation that the same degree of security could be achieved on roads as on a carefully regulated railway. We are very proud in this country of the excellent safety figures of the railway network, leaving aside level crossings, which, as we know, are a perennial problem for the railway. Regarding roads, it is clear that we want all the factors—a fact which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, enumerated—and we want enhanced performance in those areas. Clearly the strategic highways company has a very important role to play. That is why we support Amendment 15.
My Lords, on the previous grouping, I was pleased to make it clear that the Government have taken on board the thoughts of this House in putting, basically, the duties around road safety, the environment and co-operation in the Bill. While safety is obviously always at the forefront of our minds, it now seems that given the language in the statutory directions and guidance and what will go in the Bill, we have both belt and braces. If we were to follow the amendments recommended by the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Berkeley, we would put on constraints which, frankly, would remove flexibility on how to approach these issues and make the strategic highways company somehow responsible for issues that it could not possibly control. My noble friend, Lord Jenkin, was eloquent in describing that.
One of the principles of the entire roads reform programme is to give the company operational freedom to achieve its objectives. Amendment 15 runs entirely counter to that, and could lock out potential benefits by forcing the company to focus on an important but narrow aspect of road safety; namely, road infrastructure safety ratings. That is a restraint on effective management for the purposes of safety, not a support to it. Both those issues—the constraints that this would impose and the fact that a significant number of these issues are simply not under the control of the SHC—seem to argue for the withdrawal of the amendment and for the use of the belt and braces which we have already agreed will be in place. There is no need to seek a legal requirement to appraise different types of intervention on the basis that some of the amendments propose, because they are already in the Bill. The company will continue to use the department’s transport appraisal guidance, which ensures that interventions are considered on a consistent and proportionate basis.
I come now to the duties of the monitor. In Committee, and just now, your Lordships were persuasive about the need to help improve road safety and the environment. As noble Lords know, we have said that we will move an amendment on that, and your Lordships have been able to see the much stronger and detailed language now in the guidance and direction. Therefore, this amendment should be seen as not only requiring the Secretary of State to have regard to safety and the environment when setting or varying the strategy, but also indirectly generating objectives on those areas that the company would be bound to pursue—thus subject to the independent scrutiny of the watchdog and the monitor.
In Committee, your Lordships made it very clear that consultation over and above the work carried out by the company through the route strategies and the engagement that the Government will carry out as they set or vary the strategy is needed. To provide reassurance that we will engage with the public and shareholders, we are happy to include this requirement in the Bill as well. Government Amendments 28 to 31, if accepted, would add this requirement and some of the necessary consequential changes.
New powers for the monitor contained in other amendments, which we will discuss later—I believe reference was made to Amendment 48 in a later group—would place the ORR in a different role in relation to the new company. In our original drafts of the Bill it was an advisory body; it is now able to act in the manner of an independent regulator. A regulator has formal duties, which it must work within when carrying out its activities. The ORR’s role on the roads demands the same approach. The ORR itself has asked for a set of duties to be included in the Bill, so it has a firm basis from which to act.
The duties in Amendment 43 are designed to ensure that the monitor is always mindful of the need to encourage better performance and greater efficiency. I must stress that performance covers all aspects of the company’s performance. It includes everything from the company’s ability to meet its environmental obligations to its effectiveness in ensuring network safety, as set out in the statutory directions and guidance and in the road investment strategy. The two themes of performance and efficiency will enhance the effectiveness of the company.
However, they must not be pursued without reference to wider goals. For that reason, we have included six factors that must be regarded when considering how to drive performance and efficiency. These are: the interests of users of the highways; their safety; the effect on the economy; the effect on the environment; the long-term health of the network; and the principles of better regulation—namely, to regulate only where action is needed and in a way that is transparent, accountable, proportionate and consistent. This will ensure that the views and actions of the monitor remain balanced, and continue to reflect the need for our roads to work as part of a wider society.
I move to Amendments 44 to 47. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his amendments, which will change our proposed Amendment 43. I believe we are very much in agreement about what we want the monitor to achieve and the only difference between us is over a mechanism for achieving this. I agree wholeheartedly on the importance of considering the safety of those who work on the network. This is an important priority for the new company, and rightly so. However, it is also covered by existing health and safety laws, which the noble Lord refers to in his own amendment, and which the company will be required to comply with. We do not think it is appropriate for the monitor to take over the responsibilities of the experts at the Health and Safety Executive in this area. We are also reassured that the monitor, in going about its work, will need to take full account of the company’s statutory responsibilities, including on health and safety.
Similarly, the noble Lord suggests that the regulator should be responsible for regulatory activities that maximise efficiencies in the design, construction and operation of our strategic roads. Our amendments already ensure that the monitor is under a duty to consider the performance and efficiency of the strategic highways company. The words of subsection (3) are intended to cover the better regulation agenda, and to match those used in the Civil Aviation Act 2012. Given that we believe the points raised by the amendments are actually covered elsewhere—using a slightly different approach but with the same goals in mind—I ask that we retain the existing wording, which gives us consistency with other legislation.
The noble Lord and I part company, however, over Amendment 45, which suggests removing the monitor’s duty to focus its attention on the cases where action is needed. This appears to us common sense, and we want the monitor to have confidence that it can act in this way.
Given all the issues that I have raised and the agreement we have that additional duties will go into the Bill, giving us both belt and braces, particularly around safety, environment and co-operation, I very much hope that the Government’s amendments will be accepted and that your Lordships will feel comfortable not pressing the other amendments in the group.
My Lords, I shall not reply on the wider issues of the role of the monitor, in which debate on this group has become engaged. I will concentrate simply on the issue of road safety. The Minister, who I thought in her response to the previous group was moving in my direction, has greatly disappointed me in her reply to this one. That belies the good work that her department is doing and has done for many years on road safety and the opportunity that the new company would have to improve it.
I am also sorry that I am falling out with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on the issue of liability. The point I am making is that in certain aspects of road safety—design of roads, traffic management, use of telemetrics and speed controls, information and signing—there is a vital role to be played by the highways authorities, in particular one with the resources, level of responsibility and intensity of traffic which the strategic highways company will have.
I do not disagree with a single word of what the noble Lord has just said about what should be the responsibilities of the strategic highways company. My fear earlier was that he was extending it to matters which are really the responsibility of other bodies.
My Lords, in all areas of safety and liability, there may be contributions by many factors. Frequently there is contribution to negligence by people in other areas. That may apply to drivers as well, but there are some firm responsibilities on those who are responsible for the design, management and control of the roads. That area of improvement in road safety has been the least developed until relatively recently. The improvements which have been made have been made largely as a result of general improvements to the roads rather than by a focus on road safety improvements, except on a few issues.
As I said, the creation of the company gives us the opportunity of a step change in delivery of road safety on our strategic network. That means giving as clear a signal as possible that this is indeed, to use the Minister’s words earlier, a high duty on the new company. That needs to be expressed unambiguously in the Bill. The words “have due regard to” safety are neither belt nor braces. It is not an objective of the company; nor is it embedding and inculcating that through everything that the company does. If we want to do that, we need to write safety large in the responsibility of the company. If the Minister goes back to her previous remarks about looking at higher duties to be written into the Bill, leaving aside all the other amendments in the group, her adoption of my Amendment 15 would achieve just that. As she has made it clear that she is not prepared to accept it, to try to ensure that road safety is a major function of the new organisation, I need to test the opinion of the House.
16: Clause 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) Before establishing a strategic highways company, the Secretary of State must consult all highways authorities in the area specified under subsection (1)(a) responsible for roads in that area other than the roads specified under subsection (1)(b), and this consultation must cover—
(a) the structure of the new organisation,(b) the appointment of at least one non-executive director representing those authorities to the board of the new company, and(c) any other matter which the Secretary of State deems relevant.”
My Lords, Amendment 16 is about the relationship between the new company and the other highways authorities—essentially the local authorities. It is clear that for the effective operation of the new strategic highways company there will need to be close co-operation with those authorities. I should declare an interest, again non-pecuniary, as a vice-president of the LGA, which supports this amendment. Highways authorities feel that they have not been effectively consulted hitherto. Although they do not oppose the Government’s proposal in the Bill, they consider that Ministers should discuss with them how the company will operate as there will need to be co-operation between the strategic highways company and highways authorities on traffic management and new road schemes. The structure of the new organisation needs to be broadly agreed. There also needs to be some representation on the board of the new structure of those authorities that manage and oversee the other roads in England.
The amendment provides for consultation on the structure of the new company and the appointment of a local authority non-executive director on the board. That would be the minimum that we would need to see for a good and effective co-operative arrangement between the new company and the other highways and traffic authorities. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to speak briefly in support of this amendment, to which I have lent my name. The Government list the “major challenges” facing the strategic road network: stop-start funding, underinvestment, inefficiencies and growing pressure from congestion. If these challenges are so severe, why are more than 90% of our people fairly happy with the condition of the strategic road network and only 30% happy with the condition of local roads?
On the evidence that the DfT is citing to justify its obsession with strategic roads, figure 1 in the summary of reform states that spending on major projects fell sharply in the 1990s and has remained low since, while overall traffic has risen. The figure completely ignores the previous Labour Government’s investment in local roads and tackling traffic in our towns and cities. That is where congestion is obviously most frequently experienced. We spent more than £4.5 billion annually on local roads between 2005 and 2010. That was cut by one-third for 2011-12 by the present coalition Administration. If the DfT wants to talk only about strategic roads, we suggest that it compares the spending on strategic roads with the amount of traffic on them.
Ministers continue to stress that their reforms will deliver a world-class roads network, but throughout the extensive documents that they have published there remains scant mention of the major challenges for local roads, which face a pothole epidemic. Any Member of Parliament will tell you that the transport problem in his area is bound to be represented by potholes in roads. The potholes do not just cause damage to vehicles but affect the pace at which they can travel.
The Government claim that they will deliver more reliable journeys, reduced congestion and less delay and disruption. However, they cannot be listening to local government, which is warning that the new two-tier road system threatens to speed up vehicles travelling significant distances but will lead to greater delays on local roads. I have no doubt that the Minister will say that the department has committed unprecedented funding for local road maintenance—£9.8 billion over the next Parliament and £975 million a year to councils. However, both those figures represent a real decline and more than one-third of the money will be topsliced for the Challenge Fund dreamt up by the department, which means that local authorities spend time and, of course, scarce money on bidding rather than actually fixing the roads.
There is no point in building a world-class strategic road network if 98% of local roads that people use every day are clogged with congestion or are falling apart. That is why this amendment seeks to ensure that the Bill gets the strategic and local road networks working better together and makes a real and tangible difference to tackling congestion. That is why we want to see local representation on the strategic highways company board, which will ensure that the company delivers and complies with its obligations. Local authorities must be actively involved in the creation of the strategic road network.
This issue is of the greatest importance. I understand entirely, of course, why the Bill concentrates on the strategic network but it must not ignore the needs of local road networks. They have to be recognised in the Bill as partners in ensuring that journeys are carried out in the most effective way.
My Lords, I have a feeling that the noble Lords who have spoken have not taken account of what is in the draft licence document. Paragraph 5.11, which is headed “Cooperation”, states that,
“the Licence holder must cooperate with other persons or organisations in order to … Take account of local needs, priorities and plans in planning for the operation, maintenance and long-term development of the network”.
Sub-paragraph (d) states:
“Provide reasonable support to local authorities in their planning and the management of their own networks”.
This raises the question of what should be in the Bill and what can be left to the guidance and direction in the licence document. My feeling is that if the final licence document contains those provisions, that should go a very long way to satisfy the objectives which the two noble Lords opposite have put before the House. No doubt my noble friend on the Front Bench will confirm that that is the Government’s view.
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, appreciates that we are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into the local road network and that a significant amount of it is allocated on a competitive basis, as it were, to make sure that the projects which yield the most improvements get priority. I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin for making the case so clearly as that enables me to shorten my remarks.
The noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Davies, have proposed amendments—the amendments also stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie—which suggest that local highways authorities are involved with setting up the strategic highways company, that these bodies are consulted when setting the road investment strategy, and that the strategy accounts for potential impacts on local and other networks. I fully accept that these are well intentioned amendments but I contend that they are not needed.
Let me be clear: we want the company to work closely with other highway and traffic authorities to achieve the objectives determined by the Secretary of State. Without close co-operation, both the company and the local highways authorities would not be able to deliver their network management duty as set out in the Traffic Management Act 2004. However, it is important to recognise that the company will not be responsible for the management of local authority roads, and local authorities would be furious if it attempted to do so.
We consulted publicly in October 2013 on the proposals to create the new company and the future governance arrangements, taking into account the views of local highway authorities in our response. That response, published on 30 April this year, formed the foundation of the proposed legislation. It is hard to see what value an additional consultation would bring.
With regard to board representation, we are creating a limited company with a fully functioning board to guide and hold the company’s executive to account. Therefore, involving local authorities in the detailed running of the company would undermine that effective management and oversight of the company and the strengthened arrangements that we intend to put in place.
Our analysis of investment proposals for the strategy will necessarily account for overall transport impacts due to the close links between the strategic road network and other networks, including local highways. Requiring the strategy to include a detailed analysis of the impact on the condition or overall funding arrangements for local roads, or other networks, is unnecessary. Much of this work is already required, while some of the more detailed implications would be a burden and risk causing confusion by making central government take action on issues which are within the purview of local government to deal with. We are very conscious of devolution issues in this regard. Requiring us to consider the condition of the strategic road network as part of setting the strategy is unnecessary because we have considered the state of the network. We reached the decision to invest more money in maintenance and renewals at the last spending round
I turn to the issue of consultation. Given that we have tabled a set of amendments which require consultation to take place as part of setting and varying the strategy, and combined with the requirements on co-operation and the fact that the company would be fully engaged with local highways authorities, there is no need to specify that the company must consult them. It is already embedded.
I hope I have been clear. I have reflected on the amendments about the involvement of local highways authorities in the running of the company and the road investment strategy. I believe that the objectives of the amendments are achieved already within the Bill and the accompanying documents. I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I think, whatever the realities and wherever they are reflected, they are not reflected in the Bill. The local authorities themselves have drawn this to our attention and no doubt to the Government’s attention, which is why they are supporting most of these amendments. The reality is that most journeys on the strategic network start and finish on the local network. Any new schemes, any maintenance, any accidents, any new traffic management systems on the strategic network have an impact on the local network.
For those reasons, very good co-operation is needed. I am glad that there is a reference, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred, in the draft licence. I am glad that the Minister recognises the need for such co-operation. I would, of course, be more impressed by its being in the licence, if the licence was reflected in the main part of the Bill, and therefore had some at least indirect legislative recognition. The key issue here is co-operation and understanding between the new company and the local highways authorities.
In other pieces of legislation a duty to co-operate has appeared in the Bill, not in any subordinate legislation or subordinate documents. I think there is a strong case for that to be included here. On the structure of the company, I understand the Government’s reluctance to specify who should be on the board, but if the board of the new company does not include somebody who understands the role of local highways authorities, whether or not that is prescribed in the legislation—
My Lords, I appreciate that aspect of it. I hope, therefore, that what the noble Baroness comes forward with at a later stage meets the general requirement of co-operation. I was commenting also on the structure of the company, and I understand the reluctance to specify that in the Bill, but some engagement between the governance of the new company and local highways authorities is needed, and that objective was reflected in this amendment.
I sincerely hope that the Government’s amendment on co-operation does the job to the satisfaction of the local highways authorities and that the reality is that the relationship between the new company and the local highways authorities is better than the relationship of the Highways Agency has sometimes been and indeed better than what the department’s relationship with local authorities has sometimes been, despite the amount of money, to which both Front Benches have referred, which is now going to local highway schemes.
I will withdraw this amendment at this stage and look forward to the Government’s proposition later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Amendment 17 not moved.
Clause 3: Road Investment Strategy
Amendment 18 not moved.
19: Clause 3, page 3, line 12, at end insert—
“(4A) In setting or varying a Road Investment Strategy, the Secretary of State must have regard, in particular, to the effect of the Strategy on—
(a) the environment, and(b) the safety of users of highways.”
Amendment 19 agreed.
Amendments 20 to 23 not moved.
Schedule 2: Road Investment Strategy: Procedure
Amendment 24 not moved.
25: Schedule 2, page 71, line 19, at end insert—
“Formation of route strategies: consultation and co-operation1AA (1) The strategic highways company shall produce route strategies for all highways under its control (“specified highways”) and shall ensure such strategies remain up to date.
(2) In deciding how to divide up specified highways into route strategies, the strategic highways company shall have due regard to local government boundaries and travel to work areas.
(3) Route strategies shall consider—
(a) other transport modes, including railways and port facilities, that are served by specified highways or run parallel to them;(b) the interaction between specified highways and other highways;(c) opportunities to secure the expeditious movement of people and freight;(d) opportunities to reduce environmental impacts.(4) The strategic highways company must—
(a) carry out such consultation, and arrange for such publicity, as the strategic highways company thinks appropriate in relation to a route strategy;(b) consult such persons, and such descriptions of persons, as may be prescribed;(c) have regard to the responses to the consultation and publicity in deciding whether to proceed with a route strategy.(5) In setting or varying a roads investment strategy, the Secretary of State shall have due regard to route strategies.
(6) The Secretary of State may make regulations about route strategies.”
I speak briefly on this amendment. We are in Schedule 2, Part 1 now. It suggests that there need to be route strategies before the Secretary of State can really put forward investment strategies. We have discussed this before—in route strategies it seeks to ensure full consultation. The Minister has been very forthright in her commitment to consultation, which of course I welcome very much. It is, however, another way of saying how important it is, when one is considering route strategies, to look at all different modes, including not only the local government travel to work areas, how to move people around and ensure consultation.
The proposal is a very useful precursor to an investment strategy, and I hope it will give the impression outside, as it is designed to, that transport, surface transport, road, rail and other means of transport are being looked at in the round rather than just having an investment strategy in which we are investing in roads willy-nilly. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to the amendment. We recognise that what the noble Lord is seeking to do is to remove some ambiguity, but we are not comfortable with his amendment because we think it would prevent the company from adapting the route strategy process to meet changing needs and circumstances. That would make it somewhat undesirable. We recognise what is driving this. It seems that it is being driven by a desire for greater clarity, so I am happy to commit to him to include a requirement in the final version of the statutory directions and guidance along the lines that the company will agree the process with the Secretary of State and publish it. That should provide the combination we are seeking, both of clarity and of flexibility. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 25 withdrawn.
Amendments 26 and 27 not moved.
Amendments 28 to 31
28: Schedule 2, page 72, line 11, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State may only publish proposals under sub-paragraph (1) if satisfied that appropriate consultation has taken place.”
29: Schedule 2, page 72, line 21, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State may only publish proposals under sub-paragraph (1)(b) if satisfied that appropriate consultation has taken place.”
30: Schedule 2, page 72, line 28, leave out “Subject to sub-paragraph (3),”
31: Schedule 2, page 72, line 31, leave out sub-paragraph (3)
Amendments 28 to 31 agreed.
Clause 5: Fines
32: Clause 5, leave out Clause 5
My Lords, in Committee my noble friend Lord Bradshaw raised the question of the power to fine the new company. As originally proposed, this power would have belonged to the Secretary of State. Under our proposed removal of Clause 5 and its replacement following Clause 9—I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to that, because I know there can be confusion—which will be covered by Amendment 41, this power will be transferred to the independent monitor.
We have consistently stressed the importance of independent accountability to the strength of the new model for managing highways. The creation of the watchdog and monitor creates a powerful team that can scrutinise performance of the company and can represent the interests both of its users and of wider taxpayers. I am not aware of any country in the world which operates an equivalent model of accountability. This will give England’s road users a powerful voice.
On reflection, however, I can also see the value of going further. We have designed a system that ensures that the Secretary of State is well advised when planning the future of the network and judging the quality of its current management. By introducing this amendment, we will also give the roads monitor the power to directly influence the behaviour of the company, in the manner of a true regulator. The monitor will be given two statutory powers under this system. It will have the power to issue an improvement notice, which will require the company to take specific action to correct a failure in its performance. It will also have the power to issue fines, should matters become particularly serious. This matches the regime in rail, and will make the new highways company accountable in the same way as Network Rail is at present.
It will not be a blunt tool. The ORR has assured me that such powers are used sensitively, not to mechanically punish bad performance but to drive more effective action by encouraging change. A range of non-statutory incentives and measures will exist short of formal improvement notices and fines, and these formal instructions will be available once the softer measures are exhausted. However, it will mean that the company will not be able to ignore the recommendations of the monitor and will never be able to let poor performance or inefficiency become ingrained. In issuing fines, it is important that any fines levied are proportionate and do not represent a risk to the delivery of the road investment strategy. Guidance from the Secretary of State and the Treasury, set out in Amendment 48, will ensure this.
As part of this new arrangement, it is necessary for the Secretary of State to be able to issue wider guidance on how the monitor carries out its responsibilities. The Secretary of State and the Treasury, acting jointly, will also be required to issue guidance to the monitor on the application of powers to fine. In the short term, this will help the new regulator to bed in and adapt to its unique remit. Over time, it will allow the Government to clarify how policy is developing and to ensure that key elements are properly represented. However, I stress that this is not a power for the Secretary of State to overrule the monitor, just as it is not in other sectors, and it cannot be used in such a way. These measures will allow the monitor to act in the manner of an independent regulator, will result in clearer, stronger accountability, and will lead to better outcomes across the network.
My Lords, I will speak to one or two of the other amendments in the group, and hope that the Minister will be able to respond under the slightly odd arrangement we have.
In Clause 8, on my Amendment 33A, the Government have moved a long way in changing the name and activities of the Rail Passengers Council. The point of the amendment is to emphasise the need for them to consider not just the users of the network, but also those who do not currently use it or who cross over the network. In other words, they must look at the people who are not using it, at the potential for modal shift and at reducing the need for travel. They must look at the thing in the round before they come up with their excellent data, which I am sure they will do on the roads as they currently do for railways and, of course, buses.
Moving quickly, I raised a question about Amendment 48 in a previous grouping—I got it wrong—and the Secretary of State giving the Office of the Rail Regulator guidance as to the circumstances in which payments were defined. I hear what the Minister said. My question is whether that is the same guidance and instruction that the ORR currently has with the railways. If not, why not?
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 33, which asks the watchdog to look after the interests of cyclists and pedestrians. As we know, and as the department has recognised, a strategic road network can often be a barrier for pedestrians and cyclists. That means that there are many potential users of the network who may wish to use it to cycle to work but currently cannot.
The legislation would not allow Passenger Focus to consider their views. The chief executive, Anthony Smith, has been quoted as making clear his view that, given the legislation, Passenger Focus could focus only on actual users of the strategic network along with, perhaps, a second tier of fleet managers marshalling its use. While he quite understood the concerns around the remit, any change must be a matter for government and the legislative process. This is therefore our chance to effect that change, against a background in which the Government continue to respond to the increasing pressure for the use of cycles by saying that they are very much in favour of such growth.
Of course, the greatest deterrent to cycle use in our towns and cities and on connecting roads of any significance is danger. Because we do not set out to protect cyclists adequately, our present figures are dreadful in comparison to many other European countries. In the UK, 2% of journeys are made by bike, compared with 10% in Austria, 19% in Denmark and 27% in the Netherlands. Some 22% of all journeys in the UK are of less than a mile, but a fifth of these are in a car. Some people are, of course, obliged to use a car for a journey of less than a mile. However, the great deterrent to using the far more efficient and effective cycle is that people consider cycling to be dangerous.
The Government promised to support cycling but, of course, Cycling England, the pressure group for cyclists, was shut down; the body which co-ordinated policy and action on cycling, which had a £60 million annual budget, was shut down; and the Government also abandoned the cycling towns and cities initiative which we, as the previous Administration, had initiated—and it was delivering results. The proportion of people cycling at least once a month in England dropped from 15.3% to 14.7% in the year to October 2013. No one is going to say that that is a dramatic drop, but it is movement in the wrong direction when there are calls on all sides, to which the Government subscribe, for cycling to be encouraged. There was a decline in all regions in the United Kingdom.
I am therefore seeking with this amendment for the Government, who alone can take the legislative initiative on this—that is quite clear—to give a voice to cyclists and pedestrians, and to ensure that we make some progress on the aim of improving the use of cycling, and even walking over short distances. In order to achieve that, certainly with cycling, we must overcome the anxiety of the public that cycling on so many of our roads is just not safe enough.
My Lords, I begin by addressing Amendment 49, which relates back to my original amendments on changing the powers to fine. As I said earlier, the ability to provide overarching governance is a necessary part of a regime in which the ORR is undertaking independent enforcement activity. This is especially true on fines. We want fines to be independent and fair, but we also want to make certain that they do not jeopardise the ability of the company to deliver what it has promised under the RIS. In future, it may also be helpful to have a mechanism to clarify the rules around fines. In the Railways Act these are subject to very detailed instructions, and without the subsection that this amendment removes there would be no way to do this if it were judged necessary.
I now turn to the watchdog. I am aware that the House recognises the value of that role. I am keen that we keep sight of what is important about the creation of the watchdog: the establishment of an organisation that will represent the interests of road users, whose voice must be listened to by those in government. That is something that will make the roads operator publicly accountable in a way that it never has been seen before.
I would like to make a distinction between what the new system of road governance achieves overall, and what role the watchdog plays within that system. Overall, we agree wholeheartedly that the impacts on communities around the network, and on those who walk and cycle in the vicinity, are very important. Environmental enhancements and measures to improve conditions for walkers and cyclists will be important parts of the road investment strategy when it comes into force. I will be discussing a number of issues around cycling in a later group, where a number of cycling-related investments are clustered. That may well answer some of the questions that have been raised at this point.
We expect that the policing of this will belong to the monitor and not to the watchdog. The ORR has monitored Network Rail’s environmental improvements for many years and has the necessary expertise to do the job well. By contrast, looking at the watchdog, Passenger Focus is an organisation focused firmly on gathering, understanding and promoting the views of transport users. It is not an expert in examining environmental impacts or issues, and while it is expanding its remit it does not plan to do so at the expense of its widely praised focus on users’ interests. The purpose of this organisation, whether now or in its new guise as Transport Focus, should be to put forward the views of the people who use the network. Anything else would dilute its ability to do the job well.
I should stress that users include both walkers and cyclists, as Amendment 52 ensures that the definition of “users of highways” includes cyclists and pedestrians, although I must make it clear it is not limited to them. Those who might use the network but do not feel able to are already being heard through the work that Passenger Focus is doing to engage with walking and cycling groups and find out what they feel to be the main barriers to using the network. I can assure your Lordships that this will remain an important part of Transport Focus’s remit. The same is true of potential freight users and potential motorists. All users, of every kind, will contribute to the route strategies that determine the priorities for future investment plans.
I am pleased that we are creating an organisation dedicated to listening to road users’ views, but I would be less happy creating an organisation that tells road users what their views should be. Transport Focus must be free to say what users actually think, and not what we might like them to, otherwise it will not have any credibility with the travelling public. That means we must catch the other issues that your Lordships have raised—including modal shift and environmental impact—elsewhere in the governance system. We have already discussed the new environmental duties on the monitor, and I hope our road investment strategy will do even more.
The proposal to widen the scope of voluntary agreements between the watchdog and local highways authorities is an interesting one. In practice, I believe that the existing wording, “protecting and promoting” the interests of users, is already broad enough to cover anything that a local authority might want the watchdog to do, and more clearly matches their remit as specified in subsection (1).
I therefore hope that your Lordships will feel able to support the government amendments and not to press the others.
Amendment 32 agreed.
Clause 8: Watchdog
Amendments 33 to 35 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.30 pm.
Child Abuse Inquiry
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a Statement made by my right honourable friend Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in another place, earlier today.
“Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the independent panel inquiry into child abuse, which has been established to consider whether institutions in England and Wales have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.
The House will remember that in July, I made a Statement in which I announced my intention to establish the panel inquiry. I did so because of the growing evidence of organised child sexual abuse, conducted over many years, and serious allegations about the failure of some of our most important institutions to protect children from this disgusting crime. I established a panel of inquiry because it is the best way of making sure that we have an inquiry which is conducted by a team of experts with empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of the survivors of child abuse. The fact that it is a panel consisting of several people means that within it is able to cover more expertise than one person could offer. And importantly, the public can have extra confidence in the integrity of its work, because no one individual can take important decisions or come to judgments alone.
The members of the panel—Sharon Evans, Ivor Frank, Dame Moira Gibb, Barbara Hearn, Professor Jenny Pearce, Dru Sharpling, Professor Terence Stephenson and Graham Wilmer—are in place, and they are supported by Ben Emmerson QC, who is counsel to the inquiry, and Professor Alexis Jay, who is the panel’s expert adviser. The panel therefore consists of members with a broad range of experience and skills. They have backgrounds in social care, academia, law enforcement, healthcare, the media and the voluntary sector, and some have experienced sexual abuse themselves as children. I believe that the panel can command the confidence of the public and, most importantly, of the survivors of child abuse.
The House will know, however, that on Friday, the panel’s chairman, Fiona Woolf, announced her intention to resign. She did so because, as she wrote in her letter to me,
‘it has become clear that the inquiry’,
if she continued to chair it,
‘would not have the widespread victim support it so desperately deserves and needs’.
Fiona Woolf’s resignation of course follows the resignation of the panel’s first chairman, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Both women had strong credentials to chair the inquiry. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, was the first female Lord Justice of Appeal, she was the President of the Family Division of the High Court, and she chaired the Cleveland child abuse inquiry. Fiona Woolf is a leading lawyer and a former president of the Law Society. But for different—and to this end, understandable—reasons, both the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and Fiona Woolf concluded that they did not command the confidence of survivors.
Almost four months after I announced my intention to establish a panel inquiry, it is obviously very disappointing that that we do not yet have a panel chairman in place, and for that I want to tell survivors that I am sorry. To put it bluntly, it will not be straightforward to find a chairman who has both the expertise to do this hugely important work and has had no contact at all with an institution or an individual about whom people have concerns. I still believe, however, that it is possible to find somebody who is suitably qualified and can win the confidence of survivors, so I want to turn now to what I plan to do to recruit a new chairman.
I will hold meetings with representatives of the survivors of child abuse, starting next week. I have already had a number of discussions with the Members of Parliament who have campaigned for an inquiry into child abuse—the honourable Members for Birmingham Yardley, Brighton Pavilion, East Worthing and Shoreham, Richmond Park, Rochdale, Wells, and West Bromwich East—and I will continue to have discussions with them. I will also discuss the appointment of the new panel chairman with the shadow Home Secretary and the right honourable Member for Leicester East. I have already agreed with him that the nominated panel chairman will attend a pre-confirmation hearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee.
In the mean time, the panel will go about its important work. So I can tell the House that the panel will hold its first meeting on Wednesday 12 November, and will meet every Wednesday thereafter until Christmas. The panel will organise other meetings that will discuss the different themes and issues covered by the inquiry, and attendance for these meetings—for both panel members and expert witnesses—will be set accordingly. In addition, the panel secretariat is planning two regional events that will be held before Christmas and another four that will be held early in the new year. These regional events will provide an early opportunity for survivors to give their views about how the panel should go about its work.
One matter that I know has been raised by some campaigners is whether the inquiry should become a statutory inquiry. The inquiry as it is constituted at present, like the inquiries into Hillsborough and the murder of Daniel Morgan, is on a non-statutory inquiry basis. I have already said that the panel will have access to all government papers, reviews and reports that it requests and, subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from any organisation that it deems appropriate. But, as I said to the House in July, I want to make it clear that, if the panel chairman deems it necessary, the Government are prepared to convert it into a full statutory inquiry, in line with the Inquiries Act.
Another matter that has been raised is the terms of reference for the inquiry. Some say that the terms are too broad, while others say the terms are too narrow. I do not propose to narrow the terms of reference because to do so would risk missing out, in a fairly arbitrary manner, some important institutions. Likewise, I do not propose to extend the terms of reference to include Northern Ireland, Scotland or the Crown dependencies. I will, however, discuss with the new panel chairman how we can make sure that the Hart inquiry in Northern Ireland and the Oldham inquiry in Jersey feed into the panel to make sure that no information, and no institutions or individuals with a case to answer, can fall through the cracks.
I can also tell the House that the Government are considering ways of trying to make the experience of giving evidence less traumatic for survivors. The panel will therefore take evidence not just in public and private meetings but also remotely, with witnesses able to speak to panel members from their homes. The secretariat to the inquiry is also in discussions with officials in the Department of Health and other organisations to make sure that counselling and support are available to survivors before and after they provide evidence to the inquiry. To make sure there is an open channel of communication between survivors, the panel and the Government, I will establish a survivor liaison group, which will meet on a regular basis as long as the inquiry continues.
I know that some Members of the House have suggested that the Government should publish today the Wanless report about the Home Office Permanent Secretary’s investigation into the so-called Dickens dossier. I can tell the House that the Wanless report will be published next week. This is because it is about a separate but related matter to the work of the panel inquiry, and I want members of the public and the media to have time to scrutinise both this Statement and the Wanless review properly.
In the midst of debate about names, structures and legal powers, we must always keep in mind the survivors of child abuse themselves. Let us remember the events that prompted me to announce this historic inquiry into child abuse in the first place. There was systematic abuse of vulnerable young girls in Derby, Rochdale, Oxford, and other towns and cities across the country; examples of celebrities abusing minors and getting away with it, apparently because of their fame; and evidence that some of the most important institutions in the country, from the BBC to the NHS, failed in their duty of care towards children. Since I made my Statement in July, the evidence has only mounted. We have seen the Alexis Jay report into abuse in Rotherham and the report by the honourable Member for Stockport, which was commissioned by Tony Lloyd, the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester. Both reports exposed serious failings among the police, social services, schools and other institutions, and the obvious conclusion is that, if only we had learned from these appalling cases earlier, we could have ensured that there were fewer victims of abuse today. I believe the whole House will agree with me that we owe it to the victims in all these cases to work together, to let the panel inquiry do its job as quickly as possible, and to start to learn the lessons of the many cases where, undoubtedly, too many things went horribly wrong.
I want to end my Statement by issuing a direct message to the many survivors of child abuse and their representatives. I know that you have experienced terrible things. I know that we cannot imagine what that must be like. I know, perhaps because of the identity of your abusers or the way you were treated when you needed help, that many of you have lost trust in the authorities. I know that some of you have questioned the legitimacy of this process, and you are disappointed that the panel has no chairman. I understand that. I am listening—and to you, I say this. I am as determined as you are to get to the truth. That is why I set up this inquiry. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something that is hugely important. Together we can expose what has gone wrong in the past, and we can prevent it going wrong in the future. We can make sure that people who thought they were beyond the reach of the law face justice. We can do everything possible to save vulnerable young people from the appalling abuse that you endured. Let us come together to make this process work and finally deliver justice for what you, and too many others, have suffered”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Home Secretary’s Statement. We called for an overarching inquiry and we are obviously bitterly disappointed at the delays and problems. But the position of the person to chair the inquiry is, of course, of the utmost importance. It is not just a question of integrity and ability; whoever chairs this inquiry must have the confidence of the victims and those from whom they must take evidence. We are grateful for and welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has apologised and for her recognition that she now needs to do more and be proactive in ensuring that confidence by committing to meet survivors of abuse.
I shall ask a couple of questions on that matter. Can the Minister confirm that, when the Home Secretary meets survivors of abuse, it will not be just a meeting but she will undertake to consult those survivors on the terms of reference of the inquiry and the issues that the inquiry and the panel should focus on? Given that this is now considered, rightly, to be necessary, can he tell us why it was not deemed essential before that the Home Secretary consulted survivors in this way? Can he tell us when the new chair of the panel will be in place? When panel meetings take place in the mean time, who will chair those meetings? I notice that, of the people whom the Home Secretary has consulted, a number of Members of the other place who have raised these issues are listed, but no Members of your Lordships’ House. I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to speak to Members of your Lordships’ House who have some experience in these issues and will be happy to be of assistance.
I welcome the announcement that the Wanless review will be published next week. Many survivors of abuse were too scared to report the abuse and, when they did, they were let down and betrayed by authorities. Such horrendous crimes must be properly investigated and action taken against perpetrators. But children are being abused now. Last week in your Lordships’ House, I raised why it had taken more than two years to question an individual with evidence of online child abuse. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that, at the same time as we are rightly investigating historical child abuse, we will ensure that mistakes do not get repeated and that those who are suffering abuse today are protected—that we do not let down today’s children? It should be a priority to investigate child abuse, whether online or otherwise, that is happening today in the UK.
I thank the noble Baroness, first, for her welcome of the approach that is being proposed. The added layers of consulting the shadow Home Secretary and the consultation that will take place in a kind of pre-confirmation hearing with the Home Affairs Select Committee will go some way to allaying concerns about the process. There was always a difficult balance for the Home Secretary in establishing the inquiry, but it was not her intention that she was going to undertake the inquiry. Therefore, it is for the panel members to decide on the direction of inquiries and the direction in which they set up their meetings. It was the panel that sent out the invitations for the meetings for survivors’ groups, which began last Friday and which will continue, so panel members can continue their work—and it is absolutely essential that they do so.
The noble Baroness mentioned a very sensible point—the wealth of expertise in your Lordships’ House. Of course, the Home Secretary or certainly myself will be available to meet, and will try to seek meetings with, all those people with relevant expertise to ensure that that knowledge and expertise is fed into the process that we have. The Wanless report is in the Home Office at present. As we know from the comments made, the process is twofold. The Home Secretary has questions to ask to ensure that the questions in the terms of reference have been answered. We also want to separate the two issues so that people get an opportunity to look at those very serious allegations and a response to them by Peter Wanless next week.
The noble Baroness referred to an investigation that was carried out by CEOP under Project Spade. They referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Of course, that was before CEOP had become part of the National Crime Agency. I urge the noble Baroness to think about the fact that there is now an ongoing inquiry called Operation Notarise which has had much more success.
We are lifting stones all over the place and discovering the scale of something that we never could have imagined was going on in our society. That goes to the heart of what we are talking about. It is tough and it is harsh, but we have got to go through it, not only for the victims in the past but to protect children in the future.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I very much welcome the elements in it that refer to how the victims will be treated in the future. There will be liaison with them; their support will be sought; and measures will be put in place to ensure that the experience of giving evidence to the inquiry will cause them as little pain as possible, though inevitably it will cause them some pain.
As well as hearing from the victims, there are many thousands of well meaning, good people who have never done any wrong, working in the organisations that deal with children all over the country. I hope that the inquiry panel will listen to some of those people. In my experience, if you want to know what is going wrong in an organisation, you can do little better than talk to the staff. Of course, there are people who have things to hide; but the vast majority of people who work with children do so because they care about children and want the best for them.
On the appointment of the new chairman, I hope that the Government will look north of Watford before they look abroad—Newcastle rather than New Zealand, Carlisle before Canada. Many reputable members of the judiciary would be very well qualified to do this job. Although we can learn lessons from abroad, I do not think that it is necessary to find someone from abroad to chair this. Will the Minister confirm that the terms of reference will allow the committee to look at the experience in other countries and see whether there are lessons to be learnt that might be applicable to our situation in the UK, to help to protect children better than we have in the past?
Finally, I ask the Minister about the status of the inquiry. It has been said by the Government, several times and very clearly, that if the chairman feels the inquiry should be made a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, that will happen. I am most concerned that, if that happens, the inquiry will be able to call in evidence and files from whoever it feels will benefit the inquiry and can compel those people, under threat of legal action—in other words, put them in contempt of court if they fail to co-operate with the organisation. Will my noble friend ensure that that happens?
I appreciate that question from my noble friend. That comes to one of the reasons the inquiry was set up on a non-statutory footing at the start. Because one is dealing with really sensitive cases and a lot of young people who are very damaged, one wants to give them maximum freedom to approach the inquiry rather than be in a courtroom setting, which has its own set of intimidations—although, necessarily, legal advice is there. This inquiry was meant to be accessible to people. We are not anticipating that the inquiry will change to a statutory footing under the Inquiries Act, but that option remains open. The Home Secretary has of course made it clear that, to assist the speed of the review, it is very important that we do not reinvent the wheel and that we draw upon the vast literature and evidence already there in a way that can inform the decisions quickly, whether that be from this country or other countries.
My Lords, of course we all welcome the inquiry. However, I was very relieved when the Minister said that we are not going to look just at historic abuse; we will be worrying about what is happening to children in the here and now. We could wait to learn lessons, but we already have numerous inquiries that stretch back, which have lessons that we know about. We know that co-operation between different statutory agencies will make a difference. Has the Minister read the report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children on co-operation with the police and the way that children have talked about the need for co-operation between agencies in looking at the police? I am sure that he has looked at it. I hope that we are not going to wait until the report comes through, given that we already know about some of the lessons. Has the Minister considered that the pressures on social workers, police and health workers are so great that they are likely to make mistakes? I spent time today with the representative of the independent reviewing officers, who are supposed to look at the plans for children to ensure that they are being protected. They say that the patchiness across the country is so great that some areas are still dangerous for children.
Will the Minister assure me that, while we are spending time and a great deal of money on historical abuse—which I welcome, because I know the victims and know how much it means to them—he will be sure to think about children here and now and the stresses on services that put them in danger today?
I certainly can give that assurance. The terms of reference are from a 44-year period, which runs from 1970 to the present day, so some of those lessons will be there. I was familiar with the all-party group’s report, which noble Lords debated under the Serious Crime Bill. We are introducing a number of amendments under the Serious Crime Bill that do not talk just about the future. They are saying simply that we have the evidence but there are gaps that need to be tackled so that we can act. These are very important issues. Once the Government see an issue highlighted, they want to act as soon as possible to protect those in need.
I will resist the temptation that there must be, not only to myself but to many in the Chamber, to criticise the Home Office and Ministers for the pretty pass we find ourselves in. On the basis of what the Minister said when repeating the Statement made in the other place, I look to the future. The key point seems to be to have a timetable that one will have some faith in, unlike that of the Chilcot inquiry. I was concerned when, during the course of the Statement, the Minister said that although the first few meetings of the panel might be without a chairman, it will have a chairman, and will meet every Wednesday from next Wednesday. I can imagine that in many cases that is perfectly reasonable, especially when one engages people who are busy on other matters. It may be that the timetable of once a week arises in part because of the commitments of the existing panel members, who will continue to be panel members. I wonder whether there should be some flexibility, at least so that the panel, preferably with the new chairman in place, can amend that and if possible arrange for further meetings so as to bring the inquiry to some sort of conclusion. We have had some reassurance from the Minister about the beginning of the inquiry, even without the chairman, but there has been no reassurance about how long it will take. Perhaps in all honesty the Government cannot give that and will not be able to give that. At least there should be some flexibility so that the panel could determine a lengthier time.
As to the appointment of the chairman, there are plenty of choices, as has been discussed today and in the media. I shall not go into that. I may not have trusted the Government on the first appointments, but surely we must trust the Government now, having had so many difficulties, to make a good choice.
I shall clarify the position: in the terms of reference of the inquiry, the aim, approach and methodology of the panel is to solicit opinions, views and evidence from organisations and individuals involved in this, so at this stage it is simply going out to solicit that information. As in some inquiries or a Select Committee inquiry in our own House, we might find that the frequency of meetings will increase once that evidence has been collated and needs to be assessed.
I shall add one more thing which I hope is useful. It is the intention, and it was the intention when Fiona Woolf was the chairman, that there should be an interim report in March. It is still the intention that there should be an interim statement, perhaps on methodology, by then and that information will not be built up for one final release, but will be released as a clear segment of work is completed with recommendations so that it can be debated, discussed and acted upon.
I thank my noble friend for the excellent Statement and wish him good fortune in choosing a new chairman because I fear that good fortune will be required. Given the terms of reference of the inquiry, to find someone who has had no connection with state or non-state actors over a period of 50 years will be very difficult to crown with success. This is a very important inquiry and clearly the matters that it will discuss are vast. It took the Saville inquiry more than a decade to inquire into the events of a single afternoon. Would it not be more sensible to divide the inquiry, and therefore to divide the number of chairmen, into a series dealing with different areas rather than to look for somebody, who may be impossible to find, to deal with the entire area of child abuse over 50 years?
My noble friend makes an excellent point. Sometimes in the debate we have had it has been said that we need somebody who knows everything about everyone to head the inquiry. The person who is to chair the inquiry has a specific responsibility to manage the body of expertise which is already on the panel and to direct it in an efficient manner to complete the work in accordance with the terms of reference. We are looking for a different skill set in the chairman than in the members of the panel. Therefore I think it might be possible to find somebody who is able to satisfy the survivors and give them confidence in the process.
My Lords, I hope the Minister and your Lordships’ House will accept my apology for missing the first two paragraphs of the Statement. I want to ask a question on the very important issue of Scotland. Given that a number of these allegations pre-date devolution and that a number of the institutions referred to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, not just England and Wales, including, for example, the BBC, there is dismay in Scotland among the historic survivors of child abuse that this inquiry will not cover Scotland. Therefore, I ask the Minister, as I asked his predecessors, why is this inquiry not including Scotland? Has the Home Secretary discussed this issue with the Justice Secretary in the Scottish Cabinet? If the new First Minister in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who is expected to be in post before the end of this month, were to agree to include Scotland in the inquiry, would the Government be willing to reconsider this position?
The inquiry is being set up now, and now it is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is undertaking its own inquiry under Sir Anthony Hart into some matters which happened there. Scotland is free to undertake that process. Of course, as part of this process which we are now embarking upon, we remain open to approaches and suggestions from wherever they come, including from the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish First Minister.
CEPOL Regulation: United Kingdom Opt-in
Motion to Agree
That this House agrees the recommendation of the European Union Committee that Her Majesty’s Government should exercise their right, in accordance with the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, to take part in the adoption and application of the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Union agency for law enforcement training (CEPOL), repealing and replacing the Council Decision 2005/681/JHA (document 12013/14) (3rd Report, HL Paper 52).
My Lords, I move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper as chairman of the European Union Committee sub-committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education which prepared the report on the UK opt-in to the draft CEPOL regulation to which this Motion relates.
As your Lordships know, when the House considers reports of the European Union Committee, it is normally on a Motion that the House takes note of the report. In this case, the Motion invites the House to agree to the committee’s recommendation. The reason is that this report deals with a draft measure falling within the area of justice and home affairs which will apply to the United Kingdom only if the Government exercise their right under a protocol to the EU treaties to participate in its negotiation, adoption and implementation: in other words, to opt in to it. They have to do this within three months of the proposal being presented to the Council, which means before 24 November. The committee believes that the Government should opt in now, and the Motion invites the House to endorse that view. The Government have undertaken that time will be found to debate opt-in reports well before the expiry of the three-month period. I am therefore grateful that they have made time available for this report early enough for them to be able to take the views of the House into account.
CEPOL is the European police college. It brings together senior police officers from across the EU and aims to encourage cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime and the maintenance of public security and law and order through training and exchange programmes and the sharing of research and best practice. Until September this year, it was located at Bramshill in Hampshire; in September, it moved to Budapest.
Despite its important role, CEPOL is less well known than Europol, which is a much larger EU agency for co-operation in law enforcement and whose aim is to achieve a more secure Europe by supporting member states in their fight against serious organised crime and terrorism. CEPOL and Europol are separate bodies set up under different Council decisions. In March 2013, the Commission put forward a new regulation for Europol, one of whose objects was to merge CEPOL with Europol. That regulation, too, was subject to the United Kingdom opt-in. Some of your Lordships were present on 1 July 2013 when the committee’s report on that regulation was debated. Those who spoke shared the committee’s doubts about the desirability of such a merger. The Government too had concerns, and so did the director of Europol. The director of CEPOL also opposed the merger, and it was rejected by the European Parliament. Finally, in March this year, the Council decided against the merger. The provision relating to CEPOL was therefore deleted from the Europol regulation.
The Commission has now brought forward a separate regulation dealing only with CEPOL, and it is this separate regulation which we are considering tonight. It is the Government’s practice in their Explanatory Memoranda dealing with measures subject to the UK opt-in to give no indication of whether they are inclined to opt in. Instead, they say simply that they consider such measures on a case-by-case basis. That is what they said last year in relation to Europol. Two months after the debate they said that they would not opt in to the Europol regulation—and by then it was, in any case, too late for them to do so.
In the case of CEPOL regulation we have at present no indication from the Government of what their intentions are, unless the Minister can tell us when he responds. There are, in the Committee’s view, very good reasons why the Government should opt in now to the CEPOL regulation. Cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime and the maintenance of public security and law and order have never been more important. Senior UK officers have much to learn from their colleagues in other member states—and perhaps even more to contribute.
The Government have concerns about the Commission’s proposals to widen CEPOL’s remit: these are listed in paragraphs 16 to 18 of the report. We have some sympathy with some of these concerns, but the committee is of the view that the Government should opt in now, as this will give the message that the Government intend to continue to support and be part of CEPOL. It will also give the Government a formal place at the negotiating table when attempts are made to amend the Commission’s draft. In other words, the Government would be better placed to make their views and concerns known in the course of negotiations if they have opted in.
Opting in to CEPOL regulation is important, but opting in to the Europol regulation is critical. Europol is a vital weapon for co-ordinating the European fight against serious organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime and terrorism. Yet, as I said, the Government declined to opt in to the Europol regulation during the three-month window, preferring to say that they would wait until after the regulation was adopted and consider again whether to opt in. In the case of both CEPOL and Europol, if the Government do not ultimately opt in to the relevant regulations, the consequences will be serious. We explain the reasons in paragraphs 20 to 23 of our report and these reasons have been accepted by the Government.
Not opting in would thus initially result in the UK remaining bound by the decision giving CEPOL its existing powers while other member states will be bound by a regulation with a different constitution and wider powers. This would mean that the other member states would have the power to decide that the measures setting up these agencies will cease to apply to this country. There is every likelihood that they will do so. The United Kingdom would, in effect, be expelled from both agencies.
Two years ago, Rob Wainwright, the highly regarded British director of Europol, told my committee that if the UK stopped participating in Europol:
“It would increase the risk of serious crimes, therefore, going undetected or not prevented in the UK”,
and that, as the UK is a common destination for drug and people trafficking,
“any diminution of the UK’s capability to deal with those problems would clearly increase public safety risk”.
The consequences if the UK were to leave Europol would, in his words, be “pretty disastrous”.
I seek three assurances from the Minister. First, that the Government will opt in to the CEPOL regulation; secondly, that they will do so within the three-month period, before 24 November; and, thirdly, that they will opt in to the Europol regulation as soon as possible after it is adopted, and, in any case, before it comes into force.
I also take this opportunity to put another matter before your Lordships. Four weeks from today is 1 December, the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, and the day on which the Government’s decision to opt out of all justice and home affairs measures takes effect. It is also the day on which the Government would like to opt back in to 35 of those measures. This, I need hardly remind your Lordships, is a matter of great importance, and the Government have undertaken that this House will debate it well in advance. On 27 September the Commission published the final list of those 35 measures, annexed to a draft decision which will enter into force on 30 November and extend the application of those measures by a week.
We should have received, by 16 October at the latest, the Government’s memorandum explaining the meaning and purpose of this proposal and their attitude to it. Had we done so, we would have considered it at our meeting on 22 October. We were unable to look at it then, or on 29 October. We received the memorandum less than three hours ago, so there is little prospect of our scrutinising the draft decision on 5 November, which is our last meeting before the Recess. We are frequently told how seriously Ministers take their scrutiny obligations. Therefore, I should be glad to have the Minister’s explanation of why, in a matter of such great importance and urgency, the Government have, despite repeated reminders, failed in their duty to the committee and to this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am something of a neophyte in debates on Europe at any level, let alone among the swamps, pitfalls and complexities of regulations such as these, which the noble Baroness understands so well. So anyone such as me, coming brand, spanking new to such issues, is bound to look first at the matters we are considering at a general level. It is good to stand back sometimes, to ask questions such as whether, in its present European police college role, CEPOL can be judged to be a success in its task of developing the talents of our UK senior police officers and their ability to co-operate well with our European partners.
I have not stumbled on much evidence or evaluation so far that would help answer the key question: if CEPOL did not exist, would we seek to invent it now? Yet via these regulations, which I have flirted with—the detail is, indeed, challenging in parts—we are being asked to be party to the invention of a much expanded operation; no longer just in relation, as now, to senior police in the UK and in Europe, but leaping into a new world, as the Commission proposed on 16 July this year, with, to quote from the leaden language,
“learning activities for law enforcement officials of all ranks, as well as customs officers and other authorities”.
Apart from anything else, these “other authorities” are ill defined. The open invitation to mission creep and incremental extension of activity and powers in border matters is obvious, and all at a time when cross-border issues and immigration changes are of much concern, as we read and heard today, to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. My other right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted this morning on the BBC that David Cameron and the Conservative Party always put the national interest first.
Needless to say, I agree with that, to reassure the Minister. But is it in the UK interest to opt in to a proposal from the Commission for a brand-new law enforcement training scheme—LETS, as it is known—which is already deeply embedded in Article 3 of the draft CEPOL regulations? It strikes at the very core of the UK’s present right to decide how senior police officer training should be delivered and introduces the idea of training at all levels of police and for all those at our customs and immigration controls. The phrase, “other authorities” is, as far as I can see, absolutely wide open to embrace our different security services, for which there seems to be no clear carve-out in the regulations. If there is not, that would be a very serious matter indeed.
Any opt-in will, I believe, automatically apply to Gibraltar, which is all too often under siege from Spanish customs officers and their other border officials, which is a European scandal of the first order: the Spanish should be ashamed of themselves. So, in strongly supporting the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, it is clear to me that if we opt in now, we will get full-bore LETS by the back door. That is something that I sense the Home Office would not wish to see. I seek some reassurance from the Minister on that, as well as on the fact that these new regulations would leave the proposed new body, with its inbuilt mission creep capabilities, absolutely free of any scrutiny by national Parliaments such as ours—scrutiny that I think is highly desirable.
I strongly believe in practical co-operation across borders in law enforcement. I want to reassure the noble Baroness that I would be daft not to do so. I strongly support that, but collaboration should not be extended to clash head-on with subsidiarity—the subsidiarity that presently, and quite rightly, allows the UK to decide how the training of police, customs and other border enforcers should be delivered. We should not therefore exercise our right to opt in on these issues until they are sorted out.
My Lords, first, I thank—I am sure not only on my behalf but on behalf of other members of the committee—our chair for having led us through the discussions that produced this report. We have been fortunate in this committee in the calibre of our chairs. When the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, completed his service, there was too big a pair of shoes for anyone to fill. All that I can say is that he can rest assured that the shoes are very fully filled, but of course with a different emphasis. We all appreciate in the committee the extraordinary skills and chairmanship that our present chair exercises. There is a real feeling that we all belong and matter in the committee, and that is something very special.
I start with what the noble Baroness referred to in terms of late information. This is not the first time that this has occurred. We have had reassurances from the Government Front Bench that things would be put right and that in the Home Office this kind of behaviour would stop. There really is no point in having Select Committees unless Governments make it the highest priority to ensure that those Select Committees have all the information that they need to conduct their scrutiny appropriately. It is to make a mockery of the system to have information arriving late or too late to be properly considered. I am very glad that the noble Baroness emphasised this point. It is exasperating.
I belong to those who realise that the first reality of existence is that we live in a totally interdependent world. Very few significant issues that face us and our children can be resolved in the context of national policy alone. This is sometimes brought home more dramatically than at other times. It is true, of course, in strategic and defence terms. We are discovering in the anxiety about Ebola that it is certainly true of health. Here, we are seeing how important it is in the context of Home Office affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, said that he believed in cross-border co-operation. I am very glad to hear him say that; it is reassuring. As he said himself, it would be mad to take any other position. However, what I ask him to consider is that this cannot be just a matter of the interrelationships of institutions. The police are an institution working with other police forces. Essential to the success of operations of this kind is a culture of, to use the Government’s phrase, “We are all in this together”. We will be as strong only as our weakest link, and we have to think about this together. We must instinctively see the international dimension of what we are involved in and want to be working alongside people whom we increasingly know personally, professionally and the rest. It would be wantonly irresponsible to forgo the chance of strengthening that. The culture of mutual dependency for success is terribly important.
To substantiate that argument, it is interesting to listen to witnesses because, increasingly, those whom we charge with responsibility in this sphere are saying how important these institutions are to them. Certainly, on Europol, the evidence was extraordinary. The professionals to whom we listened were saying, one after the other—perhaps I will not use the colloquial term I was going to use; but perhaps I can say—that we really would have lost our marbles if we had pulled out of Europol because it was so indispensable for the reasons that I have been trying to outline.
We cannot separate this issue from our whole attitude towards the European Union. If we are to succeed in the EU, see the things that we regard as important being strengthened, and change successfully the things that we regard as having been overtaken in time, irrelevant or less significant than they originally were, surely this depends on our being seen to be committed, second to nobody, to the success of the mutual operation. That is how one influences people. If, all the time, one is stamping one’s foot on the margins and saying, “We won’t do this and can’t accept that”, one does not, in the end, have any influence at all.
Noble Lords will know that for most of my life I have been involved in international work. It would be completely to misrepresent what I encounter across not only Europe but the world, but people are beginning to be rather exasperated with Britain. They say, “Do you belong to the world and Europe, or don’t you? If you don’t, well, float off into the Atlantic and do things on your own”. However, how will we look in respect of the security of the British people if we take that sort of course? It matters that we are engaged and using our influence as strongly as possible. As the noble Baroness argued very well, on this issue, if we are going to shape the institution in the way we would like to see it shaped, and the rest, it is terribly important to be in before we have to react and accept what has been negotiated by others. Therefore, the urgency of what we are trying to achieve is tremendously important.
I was rather sad when CEPOL moved from this country because I thought, “This is an example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face because if it is here in this country, we will, in a host of ways, have maximum influence on how it operates”. We took the course that we took and it went away. Let us not reinforce the mistake we made then. Let us be second to nobody in getting in there early, at a time when we can influence, and demonstrate that we want this thing to be not only effective but effective in the right way.
My Lords, CEPOL is a good thing and our membership of it benefits the United Kingdom. Your Lordships’ EU Select Committee believes that to be the case for the reasons set out so clearly by our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. The Government believe this also. It would be a bad thing if the UK were to cease to be a member of CEPOL. It would be completely absurd for the UK to be the only member state not to be part of CEPOL. As things stand, that is precisely what will happen if we do not opt into the new CEPOL regulation.
I know that the Government have some reservations about the current draft of this new regulation, and so does the committee. I think we share the view that the proposed regulation goes beyond the scope of the existing regulation in ways that are not desirable. In particular, the Government are rightly concerned that the new, broader mandate would extend CEPOL’s training function to police officers of all ranks, to Customs officers and to other, unspecified, agencies dealing with cross-border issues. There are other concerns as well, to do with the contribution to CEPOL’s work programmes and the establishing of a CEPOL scientific committee. However, these concerns are not ship-sinkers. They are eminently resolvable by the usual processes of negotiation. There is no reason to believe that the Government would find it unusually difficult to have their concerns addressed, nor to believe that, in the unlikely event that these concerns were not addressed, that would merit leaving CEPOL.
The fact is that there is, as there has always been, a very strong case for UK membership of CEPOL. The details of the draft regulation, amended though we would like them to be, do not change that position. I think the Government will accept, as the committee’s report suggests, that we will opt in to this new regulation at some stage. The question we are really debating is the not unfamiliar one of whether we should opt in now or after adoption and before entry into force. It does seem rather perverse to deny ourselves a position at the formal negotiating table when it is certain that we will opt in to a final regulation anyway. What is the benefit to the UK of doing that? What are the dangers to the UK in the new draft that cannot be negotiated away? What are the dangers that outweigh exclusion from CEPOL? If the Minister disagrees with opting in to the proposed regulation now, perhaps he can say why it is better to be outside formal negotiation if we will opt in later, as we surely must.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has already mentioned, the committee’s report also notes that the Government have chosen not to opt in to the proposed new Europol regulation. The Government have excluded themselves from formal negotiations over the text and we see no benefit in this. Of course, if we eventually failed to opt in we would almost certainly find ourselves excluded from Europol, which is surely an entirely unthinkable outcome. The deadline for opting in to the proposed CEPOL regulation is in 21 days’ time, on November 24. The UK should, and would, benefit from being at the negotiating table while the text is being finalised. Since it is unthinkable, I hope, that we will not opt in eventually, that is where we should be now: at the negotiating table.
Of course, I accept that the whole topic of opting in—or not—to JHA measures has not been a simple one for the Government. The Government have, on occasion, been very slow in providing the House and its committees with the information necessary for proper scrutiny. In fact, they seem to have got into the habit of providing information very late and, sometimes, on the day of a debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has already noted the latest example of this. I believe the Government provided, three hours ago, the explanatory memoranda—due on October 16—of the two draft Council decisions to do with the block opt-out and rejoins which need to be adopted before the end of this month. Will the Minister say why there has been such a delay?
All in all, the Government’s handling of the Protocol 36 block opt-outs and rejoins has generated very much more heat than light. However, I hope the Government will not allow their past, and perhaps present, difficulties in this area to colour their attitude to the Motion before us. In particular, I hope that the controversy over the European arrest warrant among some Tory Back-Bench MPs will have no influence on the Government’s decision on the CEPOL or Europol opt-ins. I wholeheartedly agree with the Home Secretary that the European arrest warrant is a vital and necessary law enforcement tool, but so is our participation in Europol and so is our participation in CEPOL. I urge the Government to accept today’s Motion. More than that, I urge the Government to opt in to the proposed CEPOL regulation without delay.
My Lords, since I am no longer a member of the EU Select Committee—nor chair of its sub-committee on home affairs—which published the excellent report on the draft CEPOL regulation which we are debating this evening, I can give unstinting praise for the crispness and clarity of that report, which bears witness to the effective chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Prashar, who has just introduced it. I can do so without being thought to be purely self-serving. I support its analysis of the Commission’s draft regulation and its conclusion that the United Kingdom should opt in to its further negotiation before the three-month deadline expires on 24 November. I very much hope that the Government will reach the same conclusion and that the Minister will say so when he responds to the debate.
The complexities of the opt-in, opt-out system are mind-boggling, but before we take the easy way out of blaming that on Brussels, I suggest we recognise that these complexities are totally and entirely of our own making. No other member state faces the same complexities to the same extent when negotiating justice and home affairs legislation. No other member state has a substantial proportion of its own supporters in Parliament who will denounce any decision to opt in, even when the Government consider it in the national interest to do so, as a surrender to Brussels and an abdication of national sovereignty. “Oh what a tangled web we weave” could well be our motto when discussing these matters.
As to the CEPOL draft regulation itself, there are, I see, some points with which the Government are not entirely happy and which they seek to change in negotiations now taking place. That is quite normal and it would be unusual indeed if the Government were ready to agree to every word of every Commission draft. In fact, our track record on shaping justice and home affairs legislation has been good, ever since qualified majority voting was introduced in 2009. We support CEPOL: we welcomed its establishment in Budapest, so we surely need to get stuck in to these negotiations as a full participant and without delay. I was slightly baffled by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who spoke about CEPOL in terms which led me to suppose that, in the brief time since I chaired the sub-committee, it had metamorphosed into one of those dragons which the shining knights of Euroscepticism ride out every day to slay. I was a bit puzzled by references to mission creep in a training organisation which has no executive authority and by the reference to subsidiarity which we, presumably, decided was fulfilled many years ago when we established CEPOL in Bramshill.
Perhaps the Minister will simply confirm that it is entirely a matter for Britain’s police forces to decide whether or not their officers and others in law enforcement agencies go to CEPOL. You cannot be ordered to send your officers to CEPOL: you decide whether they go. Some of those concerns were, therefore, a little wide of the mark. I say that because the binary choice of not joining the new CEPOL, with its new regulation, seems to me a totally disproportionate response to a few relatively minor and detailed blemishes in a draft which has not yet been negotiated. Can we seriously believe that Britain’s national interest would be served by standing outside CEPOL at a time when the international dimension of crime, whether you are talking about drugs, human trafficking, cybercrime, terrorism or many other forms of crime, is on the increase and the need for closer international co-operation is unchallenged? Therefore, the need for officers who understand how other people in the 28-member European Union are operating their procedures is very important. Do we want to deprive our law enforcement officers of the chance to build up their skills and to build up the networks that they will achieve by attending CEPOL courses? That would seem to be, frankly, aberrant.
However, the other part of the binary choice—the idea that we might perhaps rejoin the old CEPOL, as the Government intend to do under their package of 35 justice and home affairs measures, while not participating in the new CEPOL regulation—is, as the report says, hardly likely to be sustainable any more than it will be for Europol or Eurojust. If these judgments are correct, we should stop pretending that the binary choices really exist. Let us face it: we need to be in CEPOL.
Later this month, we shall have the opportunity to debate and to vote on the justice and home affairs measures that the Government believe to be in the national interest to rejoin after triggering the block opt-out. I will support the Government in that debate and will vote for that package. When I listen to the views of the Government’s own supporters who will oppose that course of action and to those of UKIP, which are identical to those of many of the Government’s supporters, I sometimes feel slight despair. They say that their position is a principled one. It is perhaps more accurately described as an ideological one. I suggest that we need to avoid these polarisations. We used to pride ourselves on our pragmatism and our preference for practical solutions. What on earth has become of that pragmatism when we see the mountain of evidence given to your Lordships’ House by lawyers, prosecutors, senior police officers and indeed by the Home Secretary herself about the value of those 35 measures to our own internal security?
That is a debate for another day. Today, I hope that we will hear that the Government intend to opt in to the CEPOL regulation before 24 November.
My Lords, yet again we are grateful to the European Union Committee for its service to your Lordships’ House and for, again, providing an informative and helpful report so that we can fully debate these European issues. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for the helpful way in which she introduced the debate and the report. In the report we have a comprehensive assessment of the issues involved in the current opt-in proposals. Although there is a very specific issue here, I think that other noble Lords will agree that there is a sense of déjà vu about this debate.
The Government’s approach to EU criminal justice and home affairs matters has been—I use the term with some generosity—clumsy. It has more to do with narrow internal party-political fractures than it does with tackling crime, particularly serious organised crime, which does not know any borders: people being trafficked into slavery and prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, abduction, cybercrime, fraud and money laundering. All of those are crimes that cannot be resolved or be dealt with by one country alone. With the political equivalent of the hokey-cokey that we have had in various debates, we have never been able to get a straight answer from the Government on how many of the measures that they have chosen to opt out of permanently have any value or even any application to the UK. I am always willing to receive an answer on this, and I shall be grateful if the noble Lord is able to enlighten me today. I have asked a number of Ministers over the past couple of years and am still seeking an answer. If he cannot answer me today, perhaps he can do so when we debate the opt back in again measures, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred. It would be very helpful in informing that debate and would certainly be much appreciated after about a dozen times of asking.
The Minister will recall that it was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in the previous opt-out debate on Europol who advised that we could not discuss these issues in a vacuum. We had to set them in the context of the Government’s announcement to opt out of all policing and criminal justice measures and then seek to opt back in again to some of them. While we are still waiting for those final proposals to be debated, it is clear that the Government, if not all of their MPs, now recognise the value of the European arrest warrant in seeking justice for victims and ensuring that criminals face justice.
However, the importance of these issues means that each and every one must be considered on its merits and on its contributions to public security and safety. The implications from today’s debate in terms of training, education, science and research are extremely important. These reports are valuable because the rhetoric—the internal party-political issues—are stripped away and we are left with facts and reasoned debate. I know that when we discuss Europe the political climate can make it difficult to have the kind of evidence-based debate that we need, but if we are to do justice to the issues and to provide justice for victims of cross-border crime, then we have to have that kind of evidence-based debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the UKIP Members of the House. I look at where they normally sit and, again, see empty Benches. We all understand that the issues of most importance to UKIP are immigration and the EU. I have taken part in a number of these debates in your Lordships’ House but yet again, when there is an opportunity for a debate, to challenge the Government or indeed to challenge the committee report, it is disappointing but not surprising that not one Member of UKIP is present. I can think of just one debate, when we discussed the European arrest warrant, to which UKIP made a contribution, so they are hardly the shining lights of Euroscepticism referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
The matter before us today is central to European-wide co-operation on the issues that strike at the heart of our community. A Government’s first duty to their citizens is to ensure that they are safe and secure. Today, it is absolutely impossible to do that within narrow national confines. Even the noble Lord, Lord Patten, recognised that. Our police and law enforcement bodies have to co-operate and work together, and that has to be reflected in their education and training and in the skills that are needed. They must co-operate and share science and research. The old-fashioned “Dixon of Dock Green” approach cannot be relied on to tackle complex international crime.
The report refers to our previous debate on the proposed merger of Europol and CEPOL, when doubts were expressed across your Lordships’ House about the implications of such a move. In the end, as the noble Baroness said, the provisions of the proposed regulations relating to CEPOL were removed. In that debate, issues relating to training were discussed and it was emphasised that the quality of, and priority given to, training have to be guaranteed—that was one of the concerns about a complete merger with Europol. We also raised the value of having an EU training centre here in the UK with CEPOL at Bramshill. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, as the Government’s restructuring of police institutions and the selling off of Bramshill means that the centre has relocated to Budapest.
At that time, even though the Government had to make a decision within just a few days of that debate, the then Minister was not able to tell your Lordships’ House what the Government’s position was going to be. Today’s debate has a slightly longer timescale in that the Government have, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, 21 days in which to make a decision—that is, before 24 November. I hope that that scheduling will not in any way be influenced by any events taking place on 20 November with the by-election in Rochester and Strood.
In recommending that the Government should opt in, the report recognises the problems with Protocol 21 in that, when established in 2005, CEPOL was a third pillar measure which required unanimity and was not subject to a UK opt-in. However, as was explained very helpfully, new measures are subject to the opt-in, and that creates a curious anomaly, as if the UK does not opt in it remains bound by the 2005 decision but not by the new regulation that would apply only to member states that had opted in.
All these issues raise serious matters that we need to be clear have been fully understood and considered by the Government. Therefore, I have four questions for the Minister and I should be grateful if he could give clear answers to them. I understand that the Government have concerns about the current draft and that they can choose to opt in at a later date—that is, after 24 November but before the measure comes into force. However, as has already been mentioned, can he confirm that, if that is the case, it would mean that the UK was excluded from any negotiations or discussions or from having any influence on what the final draft would say? By choosing not to opt in now, we lose the opportunity to influence or have any impact on the final content. I believe that means—but I would like some clarity from the Minister—that if we fail to opt in, CEPOL in effect will become inoperable, like a twin-track or two-speed organisation. What are the implications for training, for science and research and for sharing that research and training across the EU, and the implications for the training and detection of serious cross-border crime?
Can the Minister assist your Lordships’ House in this debate by telling us what the Government’s position is going to be? We know that the Government have concerns, but can he explain how he best seeks to address these? Deciding not to opt in now but seeking to opt in later, having had no influence on the final content, seems to suggest we get the worst of all worlds.
This has been a very helpful debate. Again, I am grateful for these reports. I keep them all. As we have more debates on this issue, even if our UKIP Members are unable to take part in them, I think those of us who do find these reports extremely useful in giving an explanation and an opportunity to fully debate them. I hope that the Minister can give some substantive answers.
I join your Lordships in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for introducing this debate, for the way in which she introduced it and for the excellent report prepared by the committee, and I pay tribute to the members of that committee. This is part of the process that we agreed, that your Lordships’ House would have a say on these measures, when they come forward, and that there should be a report. We have a report, which is very clear in its recommendations, and I will turn to those in my remarks. It was also agreed that your Lordships should have an opportunity to debate, which is what is happening now. Of course, all that should happen before Her Majesty’s Government have actually reached a decision on whether to opt in at this stage. No decision has been made, so the comments that would be made in your Lordships’ House are pertinent, relevant and will be taken very seriously into consideration.
Before I turn to some of the specific points that have been raised, part of the system for considering these matters involves a formal government response to the report and requires the Government to update the House on their position. So while not losing track of the questions that have been raised from around the House, I will just put these remarks on the record.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her committee for calling this debate and I am pleased that we have had such a wide-ranging discussion. The Government have not yet decided whether to opt in to this measure at this stage. The arguments are finely balanced. We recognise the work of CEPOL and its current mission to bring together senior police officers from across Europe to encourage cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime. However, we also need to retain national control over the training of our law enforcement agencies, and there are elements of the draft measures that cause us some concerns. We therefore need to decide whether it would be better to opt in at this stage and use our vote in the negotiations to try to improve the proposal or to stay out for now and reconsider our position once the final text is agreed. Both options are open to us at this stage. I should say, of course, that they are open to us at this stage because the previous Government negotiated the justice and home affairs opt-out, so we are simply exercising an opt-out that they provided for us.
I want to be clear that we support CEPOL as it currently operates. CEPOL courses help the UK and UK law enforcement officers to build contacts across Europe, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, and to exchange best practice in fighting crime. The training also provides personal development, strengthens partnerships and develops networks and co-operation, as well as providing the opportunity to share experiences. However, we are worried that some aspects of the new proposals would go beyond that and allow CEPOL and the wider EU to dictate aspects of our police training programmes. That is a very different thing.
The professionalism and training of the police and other law enforcement agencies should be led and developed by those organisations themselves, at a national or local level, and not by the EU. We believe that the focus of an EU-wide law enforcement training strategy should be to encourage member states to collaborate on matters that are mutually beneficial but to avoid telling us how to train our police. Provisions within the existing CEPOL Council decision are more than adequate to encourage member states to work together where appropriate. I am pleased that the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, sympathises with our concerns, including her proposals for a national unit and scientific committee. The commission’s proposals give CEPOL a much broader role than it currently has in law enforcement training, significantly expanding the EU’s responsibilities.
The Government believe that it should be for member states to define and determine which law enforcement officers may benefit from CEPOL’s activities. We are not at present convinced of the need for the law enforcement training scheme—known as LETS—and are concerned about the reference to this regulation in the text, which would make LETS legally binding on member states—this addresses the point that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, made about outlining the nature of our concerns. I know that several member states agree with us that all references to LETS within the regulation should be removed for this very reason.
Therefore, the question is whether we should opt in and use the vote—we would then have to help negotiate the proposals that concern us—or whether we should stay out for now, still participate in the negotiations, although without a vote, and consider applying to opt in post-adoption. Of course, the proposal is subject to qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament, so if we did opt in, we could still be outvoted and would then be bound by the outcome even if we did not get the changes that we were seeking.
A decision to stay out at this stage would not necessarily exclude us from CEPOL for ever. We would remain involved in the negotiations and would have another chance to take part once the measure had been adopted. That would give us the advantage of knowing exactly what the regulation would require of us before we signed up to it—which was precisely the point that was negotiated by the previous Government when they included that opt-out provision in the JHA. However, the disadvantage of having no vote in the negotiations is one which we are very mindful of, which is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised in her remarks. Even if we were not to opt in, I can assure the House that the UK’s voice will still be heard and listened to in the negotiations. Those negotiations are ongoing; we have officials attending Council working groups on the text as we speak, as they have been doing during this week and last week. That is very clear from Europol, a measure to which the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, rightly attaches great importance. There we did not opt in pre-adoption but have secured some quite significant improvements to the text on Europol’s power to request investigation and to the duty of member states to supply it with information. So there are arguments either way. The Government have not yet decided at this stage which option they will propose.
The noble Baroness’s committee has argued that it is inevitable that we must adopt the regulation at some stage. In its view, it would be unworkable for the UK to be bound by the current Council decision, while other member states would be working with the provisions of the new regulation. The committee feels that this would in turn be likely to trigger the procedure under Article 4(a) of Protocol 21 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, resulting in the UK’s ejection from CEPOL. This regulation would repeal the existing 2005 CEPOL Council decision, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred, for those member states participating in the regulation. In accordance with the opt-in procedure under Protocol 21, if the UK does not opt in to the proposal, and if it is subsequently adopted by the rest of the EU, the UK will remain bound by the underlying CEPOL Council decision, as the repeal aspect of the regulation would not apply to the UK.
The UK would be working with CEPOL according to the old Council decision while all other member states work according to the new regulation. Practically speaking, which was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, this may not be impossible, especially if the new regulation does not significantly alter the focus of CEPOL. However, if the Commission considers—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I wanted to get in before he sat down. I did not suggest that it might not be impossible: I suggested that it might not be possible, which is the exact opposite.
Will the Minister also answer a question that disturbs me? This is not the first time that Home Office Ministers have taken refuge in not declaring their hand at the time of the debate in this House: it is about the third time, in fact. This demonstrates very clearly the ingenuity that Ministers and civil servants are able to put into turning into a meaningless matter the undertakings given by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and by Mr Lidington from another place. The Government manage miraculously to remain poised on the horns of their dilemma until a couple of days after this House has expressed an opinion and then equally miraculously the light shines down from heaven and the Government take a decision, and they are not subject to any scrutiny in this House whatever.
Before he finishes, will the Minister undertake that when the light has shone down from above and the Government have reached a decision, he will come and tell the House what the Government have decided so that we can consider that? This is not a good way of dealing with these matters and the previous examples show just how badly the Lidington/Ashton undertakings are being implemented.
I hear what the noble Lord says, but the advantage of having a debate at the present time is that the committee’s report and your Lordships’ contributions inform the Government’s position. That is beneficial, rather than coming to the House after a decision has been taken by Her Majesty's Government.
I also accept the noble Lord’s point about what is possible and what is impossible. I readily acknowledge that. It is not for us to decide whether it is possible or impossible: it is for the Commission and the other member states to determine whether they are willing to tolerate that or whether they wish to eject us from the process. That is further down the route.
The decisions that are made on these matters are ordinarily communicated by Written Ministerial Statement. If, through the usual channels, the business managers and the committee, there is scope for something more than that, of course we stand willing to comply with what the House requires and to show it due respect. But that is the normal course through which information is communicated on decisions of this nature.
However, if the Commission considers that UK non-participation makes CEPOL inoperable, it could seek to have us ejected from CEPOL, from the 2005 decision. The provisions in Article 4a(2) of the protocol clearly set this out. Clearly, this depends on a number of questions that are currently hypothetical: whether we opt in before 24 November; whether, if we do not opt in then, we do so post-adoption; and whether, if we do not, the Commission tries to trigger the ejection mechanism. But if things got that far, it would be important to note that the protocol sets what seems to be a very high threshold for ejection. It requires the measure to be “inoperable”, not merely inconvenient or difficult to operate, and it must be inoperable for the other member states, not just for the UK. These are tough tests for the Commission to meet. However, that is an argument to be had if and when we get to that stage. We are a long way from there at the moment.
With reference to the draft Europol regulation, as the committee is aware, we decided not to opt in at the outset, but committed to opting in post-adoption if certain conditions are met. I must stress that, at this stage, no decision to opt in has been made and no such decision will be made until negotiations are complete and the regulation is adopted. At that point, the full process for considering a post-adoption opt-in will be followed, which, as the committee is aware, can take several months. However, as mentioned above, and without pre-judging the final outcome, I can say that I am pleased with the current progress of the negotiations.
I realise that time is running out. I will deal with some of the matters raised and if I cannot deal with them all, I will of course respond in writing to the noble Baroness in the first instance and copy that letter to all other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Some specific points were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and my noble friend Lord Patten. My noble friend brings immense expertise to this having, in another place and in another guise, been a particularly fine Policing Minister in the Home Office. The particular issue of concern is the proposal for CEPOL to assess the impact of existing law enforcement training policies and initiatives and to promote the mutual recognition of law enforcement training in member states and related existing European quality standards.
We have a particular problem with this because, from the time between Bramshill closing and the CEPOL negotiations, we now have an excellent College of Policing, which is doing tremendous work among police forces in this country. To keep it in context—noble Lords asked about this—the attendance at CEPOL courses was typically around 100 officers per year at Bramshill. That has now gone. We are talking about the College of Policing, but also recognise that in Bramshill we have an asset, and there were associated running costs. That is going to front-line law enforcement in this country.
Other issues that were raised related to the timeliness of communications. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised this in very serious terms. I will take it away and reflect on it. It is not always within our hands as to when we get documents and how to pass them on. However, I should like to sit down with the committee to understand how we can improve our performance, between officials at the Home Office, Ministers, and the committees, to ensure that committees are able to do their job of scrutiny in a proper way. I accept the reprimand, apologise and promise to look at that more closely.
Some Members, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the Lisbon justice and home affairs opt-out. As I have said, that is an opt-out of the previous Government’s making. We are simply exercising our right to do it. It does not seem necessarily a bad thing that if you have a piece of regulation before you and you are not entirely happy with it, then you can undertake the genuine, sincere and vigorous negotiations happening at the present, and reserve judgment on whether you choose to opt into the final draft until you have seen the final text.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred to the fact that we need to work much better at cross-border co-operation in policing and serious crime. We recognise that that is a very important area. That is why we have taken the approach that we have towards Europol and the arrest warrant. We recognise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said in her remarks, that ensuring the safety and security of the people in this country is the first priority of every Government. We should do that, but we can do so not necessarily by signing up to everything, but by being discerning because we have been given the opportunity to do that.
I covered interdependence. We accept that we need to co-operate and that is an ongoing thing. I very much accept that we are in this together and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we need to co-operate. However, we can have meaningful input into the negotiations ongoing in Brussels with our position as it is. I do not think it is an ideological position. It is one that looks at different issues and treats them in different ways, raising legitimate concerns about CEPOL while recognising its very good work, taking a slightly different approach with Europol, and a different approach to the European arrest warrant. That is a balanced and broad approach. However, I assure your Lordships that we will take into account and re-read all the contributions made in the debate. Again, I thank the committee for the work it has prepared, which we can draw upon.
My Lords, I thank all Members of the House for their contribution to the debate and for their positive comments about the report and the work of the EU Select Committee, for which I am very grateful. I have listened very carefully to the Minister and welcome the fact that he is willing to discuss the timetable to ensure that there is better engagement with the committees on timing. I also listened carefully to what the Minister said about the pros and cons of opting in now or later and the process. I must say that I find that unsatisfactory. I am disappointed that we have not had a clear answer on the Government’s intention. I urge the Minister to think about that, because the committee weighed the pros and cons and recommended that it would be wiser to opt into the regulation now rather than later.
Having said that, what is clear from the tone of the debate is that there is disappointment about the process, but we also have to take account of the context within which opt-ins are being discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the culture and the importance of working together. It is important also to register the broader point within which the debate about opt-ins is taking place.
I thank the Minister for his response and I beg to move.
Is the noble Baroness withdrawing the Motion?
Infrastructure Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 9: Monitor
36: Clause 9, page 6, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) The Office of Rail Regulation is renamed as the Office of Rail and Road Regulation.”
My Lords, in this grouping I have five small amendments, Amendments 36 to 40. They really suggest that perhaps the Office of Rail Regulation needs renaming, whether as the Office of Rail and Road Regulation, the Office of Road and Rail Regulation, the Office of Surface Transport or something like that. Given that the Government and Passenger Focus have agreed to change that organisation’s name, I wondered whether the Minister had any proposals to make this change.
Amendment 39 tries to link in with the licence and other things about which we were talking. Probably the most important amendment in this group of five is Amendment 40. Can the Minister explain why Clause 9(5) is there? Basically, the strategic roads authority would not have to provide any documentation to the monitor or office of road regulation if it was confidential. It could not be compelled to produce such information.
I do not believe that that is the case for the Office of Rail Regulation or Network Rail. Network Rail should provide every bit of information that is required. I know from discussions in Germany with the German rail regulator that the German railway, Deutsche Bahn, succeeds in preventing the regulator from investigating some sections too thoroughly because it was not given the information. It is a bad precedent. Would the Minister consider whether this paragraph is necessary or could be changed?
The final two amendments in this grouping are Amendments 41 and 42. Perhaps I should speak to Amendment 42 and the Minister could answer. She should then speak to Amendment 41, which is a very good amendment that I welcome. It concerns compliance and fines, and I am sure that the Minister will talk about fines. Look at new subsection (1)(a) and (1)(b) on a road investment strategy and directions and guidance, proposed in government Amendment 41; it would be rather good to have in addition two paragraphs (c) and (d) that referred to compliance with safety and efficiency requirements. It seems to me that that would tie up the role of the ORR and make sure that it had to investigate all these issues such as safety and efficiencies and, if necessary, levy fines or impose any other penalties that it felt should be imposed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have previously discussed the rationale behind a number of government amendments which will further define the duties of the monitor. Amendment 41, which I have already described but will move shortly, if I understand it correctly, makes it clear that if the company fails to comply with its statutory directions or have regard to guidance, the monitor may issue fines. We have covered Amendment 43, which will give the monitor a duty to drive performance in a number of areas.
Amendments 38 and 39 propose an alternative to the Government’s definition of the monitor’s function. However, as I have mentioned, the Government’s amendments to the Bill already describe what the monitor should have regard to when monitoring the strategic highways company. With those in place, the distinction between “monitoring” and “ensuring” should become academic.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has also proposed that we remove subsection (5), which prevents the ORR requiring the company to provide it with information that it would not be compelled to produce during civil proceedings. Our legislation already grants the Office of Rail Regulation strong legal powers to require the strategic highways company to disclose data. However, I reassure noble Lords that this does not mean that the monitor has carte blanche to access every file held by the company. For example, the company should not be obliged to disclose particularly sensitive documents—for example, legal advice. This is a perfectly reasonable proposition.
In assessing the performance and efficiency of the company, there is little information that the company would not be compelled to disclose during civil proceedings that would help inform the monitor’s analysis. In addition, pitching this at the level of civil proceedings has a precedent. The provisions in subsection (5) mirror those in Section 58 of the Railways Act 1993.
As for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to the government amendment, I agree that the company must comply with its health and safety obligations and have due regard to maximising efficiency. It is also important that the monitor has the power to sanction the company if its performance and efficiency have been insufficient, as the Government’s amendments have set out. However, as we have already discussed, I do not believe that it follows from this that the monitor needs further powers to issue sanctions for health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for policing this area and every company has an obligation to comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, regardless of what our monitor is empowered to do. As there is already an effective and respected body in this area, I feel that it should be left to continue with its good work.
Turning to the second addition, once more I agree that maximising efficiency on the design, construction and operation of the highways is important. When we discussed Amendment 43, we made it clear that the monitor has critical responsibilities in assessing the key themes of performance and efficiency; and it will need to use its powers of sanction accordingly. The Government’s amendments ensure that these issues are given appropriate regard. The monitor will have the power to sanction the company if it is satisfied that the commitments of the road investment strategy, which will include commitments on construction and on efficiency, have been contravened.
This leaves the issue of design, which is currently the remit of existing planning authorities. Planning authorities operate effectively and judiciously all across the country. They currently have the responsibility for approving the design of any highways and are well placed to consider local issues. This system works well, and I believe that matters of design should remain in their capable hands. They need not be duplicated by the monitor.
Finally, I turn to the first amendment in this group. This proposes that the Office of Rail Regulation be renamed the Office of Rail and Road Regulation. As your Lordships may be aware, following discussions in Committee we have announced that we plan to change the legal name of the watchdog from the Passengers’ Council to Transport Focus. I can understand why the noble Lord proposes this change for the monitor. This case, however, is less straightforward.
There is the issue of the proposed name. While it may appear that we are indeed talking about an office dealing with road and rail issues, I urge caution around “regulation”. The monitor will not be a regulator of roads, at least in the market-setting sense in which the ORR currently regulates the railways. It will not control the direct costs on individual motorists for using the network, as it does on the rail side, because for the vast majority of roads such costs do not exist. In fact, the tools available within a hypothetical office of rail and road regulation would be very different, depending on which side of the road or rail fence it was acting.
We have discussed this question with the ORR itself. It is very alert to the new challenges of its role, and to the value of handling road and rail policy in one organisation. It does not, however, think that a name change is appropriate at this time.
Unlike Passenger Focus, the ORR has to manage a relationship with its levy payers in the rail sector and has a formal role in making sure the rail market functions well. Given that this is a substantially different role to roads, it would rather carry out the road work under a strong free-standing brand—the strategic road network monitor—while retaining its current statutory name for its existing work. This will ensure that any confusion is avoided and that, in the eyes of the public, roads monitoring is clearly differentiated from rail regulation. This will make it clear that neither road nor rail users risk having their interests eclipsed by the other.
There is also a practical issue with the noble Lord’s approach to renaming the Office of Rail Regulation. Considering the varied legislation in which the name “the Office of Rail Regulation” appears, the proposed amendment would not be in itself sufficient to make the change. There would also need to be significant tidying up. That is why we are renaming Passenger Focus, through secondary legislation, in which these implications can be worked through. If we were changing the name of the ORR, we would want to follow the same approach.
The amendment that I propose is an important safeguard in ensuring appropriate monitoring of the strategic highways company, and I hope that your Lordships will support it. Conversely, I believe there is a strong argument against each of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and ask that he withdraw this one.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her full answers to those questions. I shall not push the ORR issue again. It is not something that has to be top of the priorities, but I am grateful to her for her explanations, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Amendments 37 to 40 not moved.
41: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Monitor: compliance and fines
(1) If the Office of Rail Regulation is satisfied that a strategic highways company has contravened or is contravening—
(a) section 3(5) (compliance with the Road Investment Strategy), or(b) section 4(3) (compliance with directions and regard to guidance),the Office may take one or more of the steps mentioned in subsection (2).(2) The Office may—
(a) give notice to the company as to the contravention and the steps the company must take in order to remedy it;(b) require the company to pay a fine to the Secretary of State.”
Amendment 42 (to Amendment 41) not moved.
Amendment 41 agreed.
43: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Monitor: general duties
(1) The Office of Rail Regulation must exercise its functions under sections 9and (Monitor: compliance and fines) in the way that it considers most likely to promote—
(a) the performance, and(b) the efficiency,of the strategic highways company.(2) The Office must also, in exercising those functions, have regard to—
(a) the interests of users of highways,(b) the safety of users of highways,(c) the economic impact of the way in which the strategic highways company achieves its objectives,(d) the environmental impact of the way in which the str