HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc498-506

.—(1) The Secretary of State may enter into agreements or other arrangements—

  1. (a) for the purpose of securing the provision, improvement or development by others of any inshore shipping services or maritime assets, or
  2. (b) for any purpose relating to inshore shipping services.

(2) Agreements or other arrangements entered into under this section may provide for the Secretary of State—

  1. (a) to make grants or other payments or loans,
  2. (b) to give guarantees, or
  3. 499
  4. (c) to invest in bodies corporate,
on such terms and subject to any such conditions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(3) The Secretary of State shall not enter into agreements or other arrangements under this section for the purpose of securing the provision, improvement or development in Scotland of—

  1. (a) services for the carriage of cargo by sea,
  2. (b) facilities for or in connection with the carriage of cargo by sea or the loading or unloading of cargo carried or intended to he carried by sea,
if the Scottish Ministers have power to do so.

(4) In this section—

The noble Baroness said: In the absence of my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie, I wish to table this amendment which was drafted by my noble friend. The concept behind the amendment and the wording have been developed from Clause 210 which makes provision for financial assistance for the purposes of railway assets and services.

The Bill is silent on the question of shipping and waterway traffic; it ought not to be. The Bill's Long Title states simply that it seeks to make provision for transport. At present it covers air, rail and road transport. We are left to wonder why sea and waterway transport has been left out. This amendment would fill that gap by establishing that the Secretary of State and the Scottish and Welsh Ministers may make grants to improve sea and waterway facilities for freight and in consequence for passenger services.

This will be extremely useful among the various islands and island groups that make up the United Kingdom. Living, working and trying to secure a strong economy are difficult enough in terms of remoteness, sparsity of population and distance from markets in those areas without adding the avoidable burden of inadequate freight and passenger facilities and services. The redevelopment of coastal shipping has the merit of removing substantial bulk loads from the road network. A new movement of timber from Argyll to Irvine by sea is an example of this. The same could also be true of the redevelopment of waterway traffic. We were pleased to read recently that the British Waterways Board has announced the new construction of a 19-mile canal in eastern England, the first to be built since 1810.

Those providing such forms of transport are also pleased with this amendment. They have made the point that more bulk goods could be transported by waterways, and thus come off the roads, if only the higher costs of waterway transport could be mitigated. The removal of bulk transport from the roads is a much sought-after objective and could be delivered in some areas by assistance with the costs of a modal shift to waterway transport. The improvement of piers and jetties, which would be enabled by the amendment, is vital to maintaining populations in the islands and, indeed, in some remote areas of the mainland.

The provision of freight facilities grants for sea and waterway transport will add to the effectiveness of the Bill and are exactly parallel to the freight grants awarded to similar kinds of facilities to serve the rail freight industry.

I had an interesting meeting with a councillor from the Isle of Wight who brought to my attention the cost of travel from the Isle of Wight to the mainland. It is only a short distance but the journey costs £9 return. That is a considerable sum for a pensioner who perhaps needs regularly to visit a doctor or hospital on the other side of that short sea journey. In that context, it would be interesting to see if it would be possible to extend the provisions of the half-fare bus pass to that kind of pedestrian ferry service. Such ferry services are similar to the bus services to be provided through quality transport partnerships under the Bill.

I have covered only two of the many different advantages that might be gained by this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley

I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. Many people thought that I would oppose this amendment, but that is not the case. I support it and I have added my name to it.

This is a good amendment. It is not before time that the islands and not so inland waterways are brought within the scope of grants. The amendment does not separate the use to which the transport would be put; namely, between passengers and freight, whereas Amendment No. 426A in the same grouping does make that distinction. I was not absolutely sure whether the noble Baroness wished to suggest whether passengers should be included in the provision. There may be other ways of supporting passengers. Indeed, I believe that that is already the case in Scotland. However, the Bill does not cover Scotland and so that is not relevant.

Agreements of this kind would certainly be necessary for freight. It is already allowed for, of course, on inland waterways. I am told that in Scotland grants are available for inland waterway travel between the Mull of Kintyre and Ayr. That must be a very wide inland waterway and no doubt sometimes rather rough.

Basically, we need to examine, in comparison with rail freight, the number of road/lorry miles that might be saved. Some interesting calculations would need to be made as regards working out the correct ferry or sea miles. It is also important to recognise that the provisions should apply not only to islands such as the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man and across to Northern Ireland but also to services along the coast. There is no reason why timber should not be transported from Aberdeen to the south of England by sea rather than by road or rail. So the competitive situation would have to be examined.

I should be unhappy if the provision were extended to apply across the North Sea to mainland European countries. I do not think that is the plan. It would introduce further questions of competition that would need to be looked at. Apart from that, the important point is to make sure the grants—presumably either for capital expenditure or operating costs, or a combination of the two—retain the same flexibility but also the same competitive edge against road freight as is the case with rail freight.

I hope that my noble friend will look with favour on this proposal. We have received many messages of support from the ports industry. I support the amendment.

8 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

Before the Minister replies, it may be for the benefit of the Committee if I point out that inshore shipping includes coastal; island to mainland; inter-island; canal; navigable river, loch and lake. It does not include journeys across the North Sea or the Channel.

Lord Elder

I should like to speak to the other two amendments in the group standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Goudie. Amendment No. 426A covers the same general ground as Amendment No. 373, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley.

There will be enormous environmental benefits if we succeed in taking freight off the roads. The freight facility grant currently does that by encouraging a switch to rail or to inland waterways. The amendments would extend that to coastal and short-sea shipping. As I understand it, they would cover services around the UK and between the UK and Europe. Support for short-sea shipping is a declared objective of the European Commission.

The amendments cover reserved matters; so they would cover trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK but not wholly within Scotland, which would be a matter for the Scottish Executive.

Congestion on roads is already leading to a reassessment of the benefits of water travel, and that reassessment is to be encouraged. The amendment seeks to do exactly that; and it is to be hoped that it will encourage more operators to make the switch.

For the sake of simplicity, the amendments combine all water-related grants into one, putting coastal short-sea shipping and inland waterways together. Under the amendments, both capital and non-capital grants could be made, which would provide a good deal of flexibility. As grants are paid only when an actual shift is made from roads, I believe that the proposal would prove both efficient and effective.

Amendment No. 427A repeals the relevant part of the Railways Act 1993. I believe that together the amendments would succeed in assisting some shift from roads to other, more environmentally friendly forms of transport and are therefore to be encouraged. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to them.

Baroness Goudie

I support my noble friend Lord Elder and the other speakers. I declare an interest as an adviser on shipping to Clydeport. If the amendment were accepted, we should be able to see much more traffic shifted off the roads. It would ensure that short-sea shipping was able to take container goods from Glasgow to Southampton, and then on to the main ships, from Grangemouth to Felixstowe, on to the main mother ships and out to Europe and other parts of the world. That would make a great improvement to the environment. Therefore, I hope that we shall receive government support for these proposals.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am interested in these two amendments. Amendment No. 373 would appear to cover the Isle of Wight—I declare an interest as a resident. However, the amendment standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Elder, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, would appear not to cover the Isle of Wight, or indeed any other island, because the wording in subsection (1) is, "rather than by road". Obviously, there is no road alternative for the Isle of Wight, or indeed the Scottish islands. The only way to get there is by ship—as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is well aware and as he rather foolishly said the other day.

I have one or two questions for the Minister on the amendments. If the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elder, is acceptable to the Government, there is a question of what the Treasury calls deadweight; that is to say, you do not want to subsidise a service that is already happening. How would the Government deal with that situation?

In principle, we support the movement of more freight by sea, whether on inland waterways or up and down the coast. But that is already happening to some extent with certain commodities such as fuel, oil and heavy bulk aggregates. So we need to be certain that the Treasury will not end up subsidising services that are already under way.

Lord Berkeley

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he aware that the rail freight grant covers that situation? The two conditions before a grant can be obtained are: first, that there must be environmental benefits, up to so much for motorway miles; and, secondly, that the traffic is not presently operating and could not do so without a subsidy. Does the noble Lord agree that similar wording would cover this matter?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

That is precisely my point; it is why I question the reference in the amendment. The traffic should not already be a viable proposition, operated commercially, as is the case with rail freight.

I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that the Isle of Wight has doctors and hospitals at present. Many of the residents there are well satisfied with the services that they receive.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

The Government made a commitment in their integrated transport White Paper and in their shipping daughter document to extend the application of the freight facilities grant regime to coastal and short-sea shipping. The freight facilities grant scheme is an environmental grant designed to encourage the transfer of freight from road to more environmentally friendly modes of transport. The current grant scheme covers railways and inland waterways but not shipping. Amendment No. 373 provides for a general grant to be made available for inshore shipping services and maritime assets.

The amendment is restricted to inshore shipping services and, therefore, does not include short-sea shipping services such as those operating between the UK and Europe. Nor does it focus clearly on a key issue for the Government of encouraging the transfer of freight from road to water. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness but we cannot support the proposed amendment.

However, the Government are able to support Amendments Nos. 426A and 427A. The intention of the new clause in Amendment No. 426A is to extend the current freight facilities grant scheme to coastal and international shipping. Services operating to the rest of Europe, as well as around the UK, would be eligible for grant. It will constitute a general "water transport" grant scheme by also including inland waterways which are currently provided for in Section 140 of the Railways Act 1993.

The clause also requires that freight traffic must be transferred from road to water, thus ensuring an environmental benefit as a condition for the payment of grant. I hope that that explains why the Treasury would have its concern focused on the environmental benefit and would not judge the matter simply in regard to any dead-weight implications.

The clause will also allow the payment of grant for capital and non-capital costs and provide flexibility to enable the grant to be paid to shipping companies, ports, consignors, consignees and navigation authorities. The powers of the Secretary of State will include only reserved matters. Therefore, the National Assembly for Wales will continue to have power to administer inland waterway grants in Wales, and Scottish Ministers will have power to administer inland waterway grants and grants for eligible shipping services that operate wholly within Scotland. I am pleased to say that Scottish Ministers support this amendment. The Secretary of State will also have power to grant-aid eligible services from and to Northern Ireland. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. The wording does not cover passage to the Isle of Wight. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, agrees that Amendments Nos. 426A and 427A go a long way to meet her objectives and that she will withdraw her amendment.

Lord Berkeley

Before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may raise one matter. First, my noble friend said that the grant could apply to shipping to mainland Europe but not the Isle of Wight. Does it apply only if there is an alternative road route? The position appears to be slightly odd. What about the Isle of Man which also does not have a road alternative? Secondly, on what is the grant calculated? I suppose that if one received a grant for a journey from Grangemouth, to which my noble friend Lady Goudie referred earlier, to Rotterdam the alternative route would be through the Channel Tunnel, which would have a cost, and by road for the rest of the way. Is that the environmental road alternative?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I do not understand how the grant can possibly apply to shipping across the North Sea and to the Scottish islands, as the Minister implied, but not to the Isle of Wight and, presumably, the Isles of Scilly. If that is so, there will be a serious English rebellion. The amendment reads "rather than by road". There is no road alternative to the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly or the Isle of Man; nor is there a road alternative across the North Sea or the English Channel. Either it applies to places where there is a road alternative or it does not. The answer to that question must be fairly straightforward.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

The point that I sought to make was that freight for the Isle of Wight would travel by road to ports either side of a short ferry journey to the island, so the effect would be the same. However, I confess that I do not speak from great certainty. I shall confirm the detail and write to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to the Minister. There is a considerable argument in the Isle of Wight about the cost of the ferry. If it is to be subsidised by the Government that is a major policy move. I do not know whether the noble Lord is aware of that. We should like to know the answer to that question, especially as we approach Cowes Week.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

We have had an interesting exchange. I am delighted that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elder, finds favour with the Government. However, it does not go as far as our amendment. The amendment does nothing to mitigate the cost of passenger transport by sea when that is the only means of travel available to people. In most cases, if one lives in any of the Scottish islands, the Isle of Wight, or any other island off the coast of this country, one cannot reach the mainland except by sea. That is the point of part of our amendment. It was in that context that I quoted the problem experienced by my friend Morris Barton in relation to the cost of the "bus" from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth. That service costs a great deal more than other bus services and does not offer half-fares. Some people must make the crossing for the purposes of attending hospital or their place of work. Everyone must pay the full fare. I should be interested to know whether the Government would consider the provision of the same kind of concessionary fare scheme on that service as on bus services on land. I shall not take up any further time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 253 and 254 agreed to.

Schedule 29 [Detention of vehicles used without operator's licence]:

[Amendments Nos. 374 to 376 not moved.]

8.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 377:

Page 322, line 45, leave out from ("informing") to ("that") in line 46 and insert ("the registered keeper or other persons who may be entitled to the goods vehicle").

The noble Earl said: Before I speak to or move any amendments I should declare some interests. I am president of the Heavy Transport Association and I own a rather large transporter that resides in the REME Museum in Bordon. That vehicle can be operated only under Section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

I am grateful to the Minister for including the provisions of my impounding Bill in this Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to seek an assurance from the Minister that when the Bill is implemented and he drafts regulations he will pay attention to the needs of the vehicle hire and leasing industry. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, was very helpful during the passage of my Private Member's Bill. I hope that the Minister can be just as helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Amendment No. 377, which deals with hire companies, is an attempt by the noble Earl to extend further the impounding provisions which he was instrumental in inserting into the Bill in another place. However, it raises the particular issue of vehicle hire companies. An impounding scheme would need to encourage vehicle hire companies as well as consignors and insurers to ensure the use of legitimate hauliers. It is true that it is the users of hired vehicles who are required to have operator licences, not the rental companies. A rental company that does not check that a person who hires one of its vehicles has an operator licence runs the risk of having the vehicle detained. I do not, however, suggest that a hire company which has had a vehicle impounded in this way should have no means of recovering it.

My department has held discussions on this matter with the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association. The Bill provides for the making of regulations. If the vehicle is being operated illegally without the owner's knowledge the latter can recover the vehicle on notification. However, that is a matter of detail that is best left to regulations. There will be wide consultation before regulations are laid before Parliament. I believe that the point which the noble Earl seeks to make in the amendment will be covered in those regulations and that it is unnecessary to amend the Bill to that effect.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful for the Minister's response. It is clear that the hire companies will have to change their procedure; otherwise, they will find themselves in difficulty. I recall that during the passage of my Private Member's Bill I hired a small tipper truck. The hire company, although reputable, made no attempt to find out whether I required an operator licence. It may be necessary in future to make rapid changes to vehicle holdings because the impounding arrangements eliminate the margin scheme. One can still have more vehicles on one's licence and not use them but one must notify a vehicle before one uses it. By the time the legislation is implemented will it be possible to notify changes in vehicle holdings electronically?

Lord Whitty

The noble Lord will know that we are moving towards electronic licensing of vehicles. I am not sure when this particular passage comes into force. However I suspect that electronic licensing will not be in force by then. But we are moving towards electronic licensing and therefore within a few months, or perhaps a year, that will be the situation.

Earl Attlee

It is to be hoped that electronic notification of vehicle changes will be implemented rapidly. Otherwise we shall be behind the power curve.

The Minister also referred to "wide consultation". I hope that it will not take too long. When the provision is on the statute book it will need to be implemented as rapidly as possible for obvious reasons. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 378 to 381 not moved.]

Schedule 29 agreed to.

Clause 255 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 382 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 382A:

After Clause 255, insert the following new clause—