HL Deb 26 October 2000 vol 618 cc582-9

(" .—(1) The Secretary of State shall take steps to ensure that within six years of the passing of this Act a person shall, on a commercial basis and in a rural or urban environment, be able to determine reliably—

  1. (a) his position in the United Kingdom to within 10 metres, and
  2. (b) the time to within ten nanoseconds.

(2) Nothing in this section shall require the Secretary of State to provide the services mentioned in subsection (1).").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, noble Lords will be familiar with the US military operated global positioning by satellite system—generally known as GPS. It enables one to determine one's position, height and the time with remarkable accuracy and convenience. However, for a long time the accuracy of the system was artificially degraded by the US Government for security reasons. Hand-held equipment for this purpose is ubiquitous, small, lightweight and costs between £100 and £200. There are obvious military, civil and recreational applications. The clever electronic part of it is much cheaper and before long a vast range of equipment will have GPS embedded in it as standard and at minimal extra cost.

As the electronic world moves so fast, my understanding is that the original US GPS system is quickly becoming a legacy system. Apparently there may be difficulties in uprating it while still keeping all the millions of land-based receiver systems fully compatible. The proposed European Galileo civilian system will be much more accurate and meet the requirements of my amendment. Noble Lords will have noticed that my amendment refers to an accuracy of at least 10 metres in distance and "ten nanoseconds in time". I am sure that noble Lords are curious to know how long is a nanosecond: it is slightly less time than the Minister will take to decide to resist my amendment. I believe that it is one 100-millionth of a second.

But perhaps more importantly, I am told that the reliability of the new system is guaranteed even for safety-critical applications. This opens up numerous possibilities for such things as aircraft and ship navigation, air traffic control, railway signalling systems, intelligent motor car systems and automatic positioning when using a mobile phone for summoning emergency services, to name but a few. I believe that the US has already legislated for the automatic positioning and that we may follow suit. The Galileo system will also be much more effective in heavily built-up areas. Your Lordships may be curious as to why the ability to determine the time so unbelievably accurately is important outside of scientific circles. My understanding is that it is, among other things, important for electronic commerce, especially in banking in order to combat electronic fraud.

The amendment has been tabled for debate in this part of the Bill because I never gave timing much thought and those concerned, quite properly, placed it after Clause 94. But it is of much more general interest than just aviation. It is considered within the EU Commission to be a transport matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has ministerial responsibility for this area, I thought that he would welcome the opportunity to update your Lordships. I hope that he will tell us about the time-scale involved—perhaps in nanoseconds—the UK cost and the overall cost of the project, as well as other points, including its overall desirability for a UK perspective.

We on these Benches have concerns regarding the cost and defence implications. I appreciate that this is a developing and complex project and that the Minister may not have fully developed his own position in this respect. That is not unusual. However, I believe that noble Lords will be interested in the factors affecting the Minister's decision-making process. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I wish briefly to express amazement about this amendment, which is both interesting and fascinating. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that the system was useful for railway signalling. However, my understanding is that it is fine as long as the train is not in a tunnel but that when it goes into a tunnel problems may arise. If my noble friend the Minister cannot give me an answer to that question tonight, perhaps he could write to me later on the subject.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, this amendment appears to be aimed at securing the establishment of a commercial satellite based navigation and timing system. After considering the technical and financial practicalities of putting such a system in place, it is the Government's view that this objective within the time-scale envisaged would be difficult to achieve. The noble Earl referred to the US GPS (1) system, which is already operational. It provides timing and position fixing services free of charge. However, its accuracy, availability and coverage fall short of those envisaged in this amendment. I understand that GPS is to be upgraded to provide improved resilience and accuracy for tracking and timing—perhaps even to a degree that might make it indispensable to party Whips, let alone trains in tunnels! However, I assure the House that these improvements are unlikely to be operational before 2008.

There is already a European Community initiative to develop a European satellite navigation system called Galileo on lines similar to and compatible with GPS. This has only reached the project definition stage and it is not yet clear how this system will be developed, specified and funded, nor is the basis of its availability yet determined, still less when the system could be operational. Negotiations between Europe and the United States on co- operation in this area are still on going. As the noble Earl has said, these satellite systems are crucial for many aspects of modern life. The Government therefore pay close attention to these matters. He is right to draw our attention to them.

The United Kingdom is therefore closely involved in the development of Galileo and is pressing for clarity on all these points. I shall discuss these issues with my European colleagues at the December Transport Council. I shall also press for clarity on costs. The Commission's current estimate is that Galileo will cost some 3.2 billion euros. Many think that that is a conservative estimate.

We are also playing a full part in Europe's development of the European Geo-stationary Overlay Navigation Service (EGNOS). This is planned to provide augmentation to GPS over Europe by 2004 but would need a validation phase to certify its use for safety critical applications and time to develop potential commercial applications. We are also examining options for extending the signal from the General Lighthouse Authority's marine differential GPS service to cover the whole of the British Isles for land based transport and other applications. Against that background, I invite the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The timescale I suggested was purely a guess for the purposes of drafting the amendment. The key point is that the new system should offer reliability and integrity. I again thank the Minister for his reply. He will not be surprised to hear me say that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 107 [Local transport plans]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 89: Page 65, line 18, after ("area") insert ("with a view to enhancing the comfort and choice in the means of transport, and developing policies to reduce the need to travel or to transport freight where possible").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I suspect that the Government may be pleased to move away from the rather controversial matter of radar control of aircraft and into the more peaceful realms of integrated transport. If the policy of integrated transport is to be effective, Part II of the Bill and its impact on the little decisions which are taken locally is fundamental to the success of that whole concept.

Great national policies do not make an impact on integrated transport. It is decisions on traffic control, parking control, improved bus services, the relationship between bus services and train services and the need to move goods, services and people that make the concept of integrated transport meaningful and beneficial to people at large.

When we discussed this part of the Bill at an earlier stage the Government were generally resistant to the idea that we should put more description onto the face of the Bill. The Government said, perfectly reasonably—and I acknowledge the reasonableness of the argument—that it was prescriptive. I am quite prepared to admit that I am a great advocate of not trying to constrain what local authorities should do in this way. That argument would have validity if we did not have the Bill. The trouble is that it seeks to guide local authorities. If one seeks to undertake that guidance then one needs a certain amount of clarity about what is being done. Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 are specifically directed at that.

Amendment No. 89 simply requires that the planning process should also have in view, enhancing the comfort and choice in the means of transport, and developing policies to reduce the need to travel or to transport freight where possible".

Not least of the problems that we face in modern communities is that everything is now transported. When I was considering these two amendments I thought about the transport needs of new-born babies. That may sound a ridiculous concept, but let me take, for example, disposable nappies, which are voluminous and bulky and not easy to carry. Someone who wants to buy a month's supply of disposable nappies does not want to have to carry them home on a bus. That is not an easy thing to do. I have seven grandchildren so I do know what I am speaking about. I have never had the privilege of carrying their disposable nappies, but that is neither here nor there.

We need to recognise the changes which have taken place in society—particularly its shopping habits—when we consider all these issues together. It is all very well to remember that when we were young there were neighbourhood shops; if one did not have something, one could walk a couple of 100 yards or even half a mile down the road and get it. Those days have gone. Nowadays I go shopping with great regularity because it is educational at the very least. It is good for me although it may be soul-destroying. My wife believes that it improves my character or something of that sort.

It is remarkable when one sees ordinary people shopping with a supermarket trolley filled with goods. That sort of shopping is not capable of being carried by most systems of public transport because the trolley cannot be taken away by the shopper. For the vast hulk of the population today that is the way they shop and that is modern transportation. It is not 40-tonne trucks going down the high street, vexing though they may be. It is the little things which affect little people. We need to bear that in mind.

Amendment No. 90 adds three letters, the word "all" where we consider persons living, working or travelling through a district. It might be thought that that is tautologous and unnecessary. I suggest that it is helpful. If those responsible for transport planning do not consider the needs of all, it would be very easy for them to consider the needs of particular groups and, most importantly, those groups with whom they are directly concerned: their own community.

We had some debate on this issue in a different context. One can understand that the people of Portsmouth might have a view about transport which requires to go through the heart of their city in order to arrive at the Isle of Wight. I believe that the addition of the word "all" is important. It may call for the judgment of Solomon by local authorities. I think that they are capable of taking such a broad 'view.

I do not apologise for bringing forward the amendments. I hope that the Government will look with favour on one or other of the amendments, or will agree to consider them. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in welcoming a movement across to integrated transport and applaud his eloquence in describing it. The two clauses seemed relatively straightforward to me. I had not realised that we should engage in quite such a wide sweep of modern civilisation involving disposable nappies! I shall have to consult with my noble friend Lord Macdonald on whether we need an extra section on supermarket trolleys.

However, I confine myself to the words proposed by the noble Lord and ask him to consider whether the amendments are necessary. As drafted, the Bill already contains such requirements. The amendments seek to add to the definitions of either the policies to be developed in a local transport plan or what is meant by "transport facilities and services". At present, Clause 107(1)(a) places a requirement upon a local transport authority to, develop policies for the promotion of and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within their area". Clause 107(2) then defines "transport facilities and services".

The wording of the Bill is deliberately broad to ensure that local authorities and others can face up to a wide range of circumstances in their areas. The danger in trying to be more specific about what can be a facility or service is that if it is defined in a list doubt is raised if other factors are excluded.

The definition is sufficiently broad to ensure that it covers issues such as freight, pedestrians, people from outside and inside the area and those who live, work and shop in the locality. I hate shopping, but it is undoubtedly an activity which determines many of our transport patterns; therefore we should cover that. However, the broad general approach in the Bill covers that. Were we to use the term "all" in Amendment No. 90, it would place local authorities in difficulty. On one single person's slightly anomalous requirements, the authority might be deemed to have failed even if it has fulfilled very well the requirements for 99 per cent of the population. So there is a difficulty in using his three letter word in that respect.

I hope that we can keep the provision broad and give local authorities the flexibility that the noble Lord usually seeks. I hope that he will not press the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the Minister's reply is along the lines I expected. Our difficulty is that we can Box and Cox with these words and have these charming debates. However, underlying the debate are some important principles.

I shall consider again what the Minister has said. There is no absolute answer. One answer might have been to leave it to local authorities and not have the Bill. My bet is that they would have got on with the job quite happily without any legislation if they had been told to do so—but there you go; that is the difference between us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 91: Page 65, line 23, at end insert (", and (c) those required to minimise noise and damage to the environment;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is more specific. It would require local authorities to consider measures needed to minimise noise and damage to the environment. The Minister may say that the requirement already exists under other legislation.

Some aspects of transport are destructive. One has only to consider the ambient noise level in London to realise that. When the Science and Technology Committee was examining the impact of vehicle exhausts on pollution, one of the papers that we considered, although it was a somewhat unrelated and tangential source of evidence, was written by a German doctor who claimed that 50 per cent of heart attacks were caused by noise. That was a published paper that has not been quarrelled with. If the claim has any validity, it is very serious.

Minimising transport noise is an important consideration. There are also the usual considerations of minimising damage to the environment and the problems of atmospheric pollution caused by exhaust emissions.

We come back to the point about reducing the need for transport. We need to produce an environment in which more people get back on to their feet and walk. About a quarter of all journeys are less than a mile and could easily be walked. We also need to get more people back on to bicycles, because another quarter of all journeys are less than four miles and could easily be cycled. Those are environmentally friendly means of transport. Whatever the Minister may say about the impact and requirements of other legislation, the Bill would be improved by such an explicit requirement. I do not apologise for returning to that worthwhile issue.

Amendment No. 92 is slightly different. It would require each local transport authority that was also a planning authority to review its unitary development plan or structure plan at the earliest possible stage with a view to ensuring that the objectives and policies of the two plans were consistent.

Good development planning or structure planning can diminish the need for transport. I have a long experience of planning in local government. The philosophy of incremental development rather than what I would call rational strategic development planning is too widespread. It is all too easy to build a little development here and a little development there rather than to sit down and consider what is required if one wants a community where transport needs can be reduced.

I do not apologise for bringing forward this amendment. It may be implicit in other legislation and the Minister may say, "Well, they will have to do that because …". However, here we are dealing with an integrated transport philosophy and a Bill that is specifically directed to ensuring that small decisions in local places are taken with that in mind. It would help if such matters were explicit on the face of the Bill rather than implicit as a result of other legislation which exists elsewhere. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, again, it is difficult to disagree with the noble Lord's analysis and we welcome his commitment to green transport policies. Of course, by the definitions that we have used elsewhere, integrated transport policies include walking and cycling The problem with inserting environmental requirements at this point is that this clause seeks to define what is meant by "transport facilities and services". His wording, with references to noise and environmental damage, does not fit easily with that. Therefore, I do not believe that the amendment is appropriate here and the wider point is covered elsewhere.

Amendment No. 92 seeks to require authorities which are both local transport authorities and planning authorities to review their development plans in order to ensure consistency between both the LTP and the unitary development plans. Of course, that is necessary and there is nothing objectionable in it. However, the issue of consistency between the two planning regimes is best dealt with in guidance or under the powers in Clause 111. I believe that, because of the different scope and timing of such matters, that can be dealt with by more detailed guidance rather than on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue these two amendments.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I was afraid that the Minister would mention the question of guidance. I was waiting for him to do so, but we shall come to that later. An awful question arises in the Bill as to when guidance is guidance and when it is something else. None the less, I shall consider with care what the Minister said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 93: After Clause 107, insert the following new clause—