HL Deb 25 July 1997 vol 581 cc1614-6

1.35 p.m.

Baroness Hayman rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July 1997 be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the draft order before the House today will, if approved, effect a modest, but nonetheless useful, amendment to a previous order. As such, it should not, I hope, be controversial.

The House will doubtless find it helpful if I explain something of the background to, and purpose of, the order. The Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA for short) replaced private Bills with ministerial orders as the means by which new railways, tramways and other forms of guided transport are authorised in England and Wales. (It also covered inland waterways and works interfering with rights of navigation, but that need not concern the House today.) The Act came into force on 1st January 1993.

The order-making procedures are set out in Part I of the Act. Section 1 enables the Secretary of State to make an order for the construction of railways, tramways, trolley vehicle systems and guided transport systems using modes prescribed by order made under Section 2. The legislation was framed in this way to ensure that the powers were sufficiently flexible to enable the order-making procedure to extend to novel or unusual forms of transport by affirmative orders. If the types of guided transport had been set out on the face of the Act, non-conventional forms of guided transport which had not been foreseen at the time would only have been capable of being authorised by means of a private Bill or by amendment of the TWA itself.

The first Section 2 order—the Transport and Works (Guided Transport Modes) Order 1992—prescribed eight modes of guided transport. These are summarised in the explanatory note. While the range of potential guided systems has proved—so far as we can judge—to be sufficiently comprehensive, the 1992 order restricted their application to, in effect, passenger carrying systems. The reason for this is not entirely clear, although it may have been assumed that guided transport systems were unlikely to have a freight carrying application.

However, the previous administration agreed that a public consultation exercise should be undertaken with a view to removing the restriction. This took place earlier this year. Very few responses were received but those who did respond either welcomed the proposed change or had no comments.

It is in response to the public consultation that the order is being introduced now. The timing has been prompted by a proposal, still in its formative stage, by a private sector and Royal Mail consortium to make use of the existing Royal Mail tunnels under London to develop a new automatic freight distribution system called Metrofreight. This would use rubber-tyred, battery-driven, driverless vehicles to supply goods to major goods outlets in the Oxford Street area from a central distribution centre in Willesden. The project would involve additional tunnelling, for which TWA powers would be required. It is claimed that this project has the potential significantly to reduce lorry deliveries in central London and hence bring welcome relief from congestion and other environmental benefits.

I should stress that the making of this order today would not necessarily mean that the Secretary of State would approve that scheme. It would be considered only in the context of an application made under Section 1 of the Act. But such an application would be made possible by this amendment order.

I should explain that broadening the prescription of guided transport to include the carriage of goods is not designed to increase regulation in relation to these types of work or to cover any guided freight systems which do not currently require TWA powers. The order will simply enable promoters of guided freight systems who require such powers to apply for them through the Transport and Works Act process rather than to have to petition Parliament by a private Bill. This is wholly consistent with the purposes of the 1996 Act. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 7th July 1997 be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hayman.)

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I rise briefly to welcome this order. It is obviously desirable not to put any legislative difficulties in the way of increased carriage of freight off the road. The proposal for Metrofreight to serve Oxford Street sounds like an excellent example of what might be encouraged by this order. It also occurs to me that the viability of some guided rail systems might be increased if they were able to carry freight as well as passengers. I think that in all respects this is an excellent order.

Earl Attlee

I rise briefly to thank the Minister for her succinct explanation of the order. It is clearly beneficial to be able to use the TWA for goods and freight. I shall be interested to follow the exciting Royal Mail-Metrofreight development. We are entirely content with the order.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I have only one query. Magnetic levitation is shown as prescribed mode 2(c) in the 1992 order. In the few weeks preceding the recent election we sometimes saw the Natural Law Party doing their yogic dancing, bouncing up and down, backwards and forwards. I ask the noble Baroness, albeit with tongue in cheek, whether they should have been added to the list of prescribed modes. Is not that some form of magnetic levitation?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I should not wish to stray into the realms of the party political in your Lordships' House in that way. However, I must say that yogic bouncing seems to me at least to be a very green form of transport, and we have to encourage that. I am sure that under the magnetic levitation provisions of the Transport and Works Act, it would be well included.

I am grateful for the support that we have received. As I said, this is a minor measure but it is one which may help use transport freight in an environmentally acceptable way.

On Question, Motion agreed to.