§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ When they propose to take action to encourage firms dealing with non-urgent cargoes to use river transport instead of road or rail.
My Lords, the Government believe that companies must be free to make a commercial decision as to the mode of freight transport they wish to use. However, we are examining a range of options for water transport as part of the Roads to Water initiative, following a Department of Transport seminar last July on the promotion of freight on inland waterways. To help promote the environmental benefits of transferring freight from the roads, the Government have also enhanced the freight facilities grants scheme which assists companies which are considering investment in rail or inland waterway facilities.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for that reply. At least the Government are trying to do something. I want to get this on the record. Is it not a fact that day after day one can leave the House and see that the River Thames is devoid of any freight of any kind; and that applies not just to the River Thames but to the rivers that adjoin it? Why are we not using it?
My Lords, a range of points arose out of the Roads to Water seminar. The Department of Transport is looking at the need and scope for additional research into the choice of transport methods; that is to say, road, rail and water, and, what is most important, the exhaust emissions from those modes of transport. The Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment are also considering the scope for advice to local planning 1115 authorities over more sympathetic treatment for waterside freight handling facilities as part of the basis for land use planning which will contribute to a reduction of CO2 emissions.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that the grant scheme to which he has referred might just as well be applied to rail and road? For instance, a company is proposing to remove many tonnes of limestone from a good railway network in the heart of Wensleydale to a narrow but beautiful Dales road. If the grant scheme were to encourage the company to alter its view, that would be to the benefit of many and would be widely welcomed in that part of the world.
My Lords, the freight facilities grants scheme also encourages companies to switch from road to rail transport in appropriate circumstances where there will be environmental benefits from doing so.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, the Minister has referred to various grants schemes. I assume that he is referring to grants under Section 36 of the 1981 Act which resulted from an amendment which I had great pleasure in moving in your Lordships' House. That provides for the transfer of freight from road or rail to inland waterways. There is no restriction on whether it is from rail or road. Does the Minister see any problems over this matter? If so, what will the consultations cover, because under the freight scheme it is now possible to make the transport of goods by waterway economically viable? That was one purpose of the 1981 amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. The grant scheme that I mentioned arose directly out of Section 36 of the Transport Act 1981. There are environmental benefits to be gained from shifting freight onto the waterways but, nevertheless, there are constraints, both physical—in terms of the size of locks, vessel draughts and so forth—and economic, which are bound to affect what in the end are commercial decisions.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, against that the Minister must surely understand that one day we shall have a government and a Minister of Transport who will say to firms carrying light oil, household refuse and similar non-urgent cargoes, "Instead of carrying it on roads and over bridges, you will carry it on the water. You will overcome the economics, you the employers". What about that?
My Lords, as regards widening the scope for waterborne freight, I return to the point that government incentives are in place and the Government are keen that those incentives should be taken up. It is now for the demands of the market to operate and for the market to respond to the incentives available.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the problem behind the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is that we suffer from an historical anachronism and millstone? Does he agree 1116 that when we take into account the combination of speed and the size of the unit load, sadly, overall the water transportation system in this country is not adequate?
My Lords, our canals and rivers are generally too shallow and narrow. They also tend not to go where commercial traffic requires today. However, some are suitable for bulk load where speed is not important and transhipment costs to other methods of transport are not involved.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, the Minister referred to the grants, which are welcome and which will encourage people to use rail more to carry goods. Can he elucidate a little more on planning guidance? In my part of the world there are at least three applications to build abattoirs. That would make a great deal of sense with so many sheep and cattle to be distributed in carcass form, as well as live animals, to the Continent. Is it possible for the Government to give encouragement to local authorities to consider areas where planning consent could be given where the rail facilities exist for such transport?
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will allow that it is best not to stray too far from the Question on the Order Paper in which the emphasis is very much on water-borne transport. If he cares to put down a Question on the railways I should be pleased to answer it.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but the Question refers to non-urgent cargoes. Therefore some of the points raised by noble Lords do not apply. Most non-urgent goods are dry bulk goods.
Yes, my Lords, there are opportunities for non-urgent cargoes, but the definition of non-urgent is a matter for the commercial enterprises concerned.