Lord Fairfax of Cameron debates involving the Department for Transport during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL]

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Excerpts
Wednesday 12th October 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I want to clarify what the debate has thrown up so far. I fear that the Government are guilty of mission creep on this, which may have occurred with the very best of intentions, but there is certainly confusion as a result. As outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, a move from 120 calls to 52 would inadvertently bring in a much broader range of shipping.

The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, just touched on another issue that needs clarity, and I have three specific questions that it is important that the Minister answers clearly. If she cannot do that at this moment, we would all appreciate correspondence on this. First, on the move from “ships” to “services”, can we have absolute clarity on what a service is? How would it be covered if, for example, there is a refitting such as that just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy? I anticipate all sorts of ways in which companies will seek to avoid inclusion through the way they configure services, so we need clarity on the definition of “services”.

Secondly, in summing up the first group of amendments, the Minister again used the phrase

“close ties to the UK”.

This is at the core of the whole thing. Can we have a definition that will stand up in a court of law of exactly what the Government mean by that?

Thirdly, I am sure we would all be grateful if the Minister could address the concerns of the DPRRC, to which my noble friend Lady Scott referred.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise; I have only just arrived, because I was detained elsewhere. I want to pick up on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about ferries. Ferries have been referred to, so maybe the Minister can clarify this later. I need to read the Bill again, line by line, but nowhere does it refer to “ferries”. It refers to “ships”. In the current energy crisis, for example, you may have a service of tankers of diesel fuel coming in with the required regularity. They might be caught by the Bill, because of the frequency with which they call on the UK as part of their service, but they are certainly not ferries. The Minister will confirm this later, but I do not believe we should use the language of “ferries”, when we are in fact talking about ships.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a useful set of amendments to clarify some of the points. I hope that the Minister will either be able to provide that clarification or, if she wants to worry about the syntax of her reply, supply it in a careful letter.

I have two amendments in this group. Amendment 10 seeks to replace 120 with 52 in Clause 3(3), so I sit alongside my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. My noble friend made a persuasive case for 50, as opposed to 52, and I will need considerable persuasion not to press this point on Report, unless the Minister is able to create a very powerful argument that there would be unintended consequences from that.

Amendment 36 seeks, in essence, to stop the effects of the Bill being, in a sense, destroyed by repeated regulations. Surely the Bill’s minimum requirements are in the primary legislation, and the adjustments to them should really be only upwards, not reducing the requirements.

I also join the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in her concern about the DPRRC’s concerns. In my day, if it produced a recommendation, we used to shake in our boots and recognise that some deal or other had to be made with it because of the authority it carried. Once again, I hope the Government will recognise the authority and wisdom of that committee and accede to its suggestions.

Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL]

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Excerpts
Wednesday 20th July 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con)
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My Lords, I first declare an interest: apart from working in shipping for 40 years and being a director of one of the ship owners’ P&I clubs, I am currently a non-executive director at a green tech fuel additives company which has relevance to shipping.

Today, of course, as many of the earlier speakers have said, is first about the valedictory speech in this House of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. I think I was one of those very few who were here—I think it was said—43 years ago on my first-iteration outing in this place. It was my pleasure and honour to have my hand shaken him as Lord Chancellor when I took the oath all those years ago. As noble Lords have heard today, there are very many greatly deserved plaudits from all sides of this House for his incredible long record of service with distinction.

I turn to the Bill itself. Following the P&O Ferries incident in March this year involving its peremptory sacking of—I think—786 staff, of course it is right that the Government should address the issues coming out of that. As noble Lords have heard, one of the main strange things about this is that, despite its name, P&O Ferries does not have its vessels flagged in the UK. If you were a member of the British public reading about this incident, as I was, and someone in fact who, as I say, worked for a long time in shipping, I immediately assumed that not only were the relevant staff British nationals but the vessels were probably flagged under the UK register. As noble Lords have heard, that is not the case: it is Cyprus, the Bahamas and Bermuda—so-called flags of convenience. There is nothing wrong with that. This is a totally widespread practice in international shipping, but it is perhaps not what was first thought.

Against that background, the Government have brought forward the Bill and, in general, I support what it is trying to do. But I would like to highlight three issues that come out of it. First—I think the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, touched on this—there is the extraterritorial nature of the Bill’s provisions. In particular, there is a suggestion that they may conflict with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and I believe there is a similar submission by the UK Chamber of Shipping.

This leads on to my second question, which I asked the Minister about during the briefing last week. What do other countries involved in some of these frequent ferry services think about what we are doing? I think of France, for example. I live on the Isle of Wight, where we see Brittany Ferries coming in just about every day, as well as Condor and others. What does France think? And what do Germany, Holland and Ireland think? What are they doing to address this type of concern? I note that there is a reference in the briefing to the idea of “minimum wage corridors”, which may be the solution.

Finally, this is really repetition of a point that I have made already, but this Bill will in fact catch not UK flag vessels but foreign flag vessels. The nationality of the seafarers involved is irrelevant. I originally thought that the nexus would be that they were British, but that is not the case; this will catch foreign flag vessels. To take the case of Brittany Ferries, they are presumably French citizens. I am not sure, but I have a feeling that this is not what the British public first thought when they heard of the P&O Ferries case.

Smart Motorways

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Excerpts
Thursday 13th February 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con)
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My Lords, I also thank my noble friend very much for bringing this debate on a pressing current issue. I first thought of speaking in this debate because, like many drivers, I have experienced the congestion that has occurred during the construction of these motorways. That would have been fine if one had ended up with a really good product in the end, but as we have heard from some speeches already, that is the opposite of the case. Also, of course, like other drivers, I have seen exactly how dangerous the abolition of the hard shoulder obviously is: it is simply common sense. However, having looked at it in a little more detail in preparation for speaking, I see that the situation is actually far worse.

As noble Lords have heard, 38 people have died on smart motorways in the past five years and there has apparently been an almost 2,000% increase in the number of near-misses on one section of the M25. Even more worrying, I read that two former Roads Ministers have gone on record as saying that they were misled—a strong word—by the Highways Agency about the safe spacing of refuge lay-bys on smart motorways. They were told that these would appear every 500 metres when there was all-lane running, whereas in fact they have been every mile and a half or so. The Police Federation has also gone on record as saying that it has always opposed the introduction of smart motorways on safety grounds. The Highways Agency has apparently introduced radar technology to detect broken-down vehicles, but on only 25 miles out of a total of 400 miles of the smart motorway network, contrary to its pledge of 100%.

In these circumstances, it is no wonder that the Highways Agency is facing legal claims for corporate manslaughter arising from some of the tragic deaths on smart motorways. I also read that more than 250,000 people have signed a petition to have smart motorways stopped. I know that my family, for one, feels exactly this way. I have to say that in my view, given all these facts and the speeches that have been made this afternoon, I find the word “smart” somewhat offensive. I think it is originally an American word, and I am partly American, so I am familiar with it. There is a word beginning with “d” and ending with “b” that is the opposite of “smart” if you are an American, and I suggest that that word is more appropriate to the situation. In more parliamentary language, it is certainly reckless and perhaps very ill advised.

In closing, I put two questions to the Minister, and I am not necessarily looking for an answer this afternoon. First, how much has the construction of the smart motorway network cost to date, including the economic cost of all the traffic delays and congestion caused by that construction? Secondly, we have heard about the 38 people who have tragically died on the smart motorway network in the past five years. In addition to that, how many people have been injured or seriously injured?

High Speed 2 (Economic Affairs Committee Report)

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Excerpts
Thursday 23rd January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con)
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My Lords, I would like to declare something that is not in the register in case anyone might think it has coloured my judgment in this debate: we Fairfaxes all come from York.

I certainly do not have the great knowledge and expertise in rail transport of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and some other speakers, but I have read his and the committee’s reports with interest—and increasing concern. I can see the signals on the HS2 line, and, rather like the clocks here, they are almost all flashing red. Why?

Your Lordships have heard all about the cost; it is not just about the absolute size of the costs but the fact that they appear out of control, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth and other noble Lords pointed out. They have trebled already, and now stand at over £100 billion. Does anyone seriously believe they will not go higher, even if the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, seemed quite sanguine about that? Both reports seriously question in detail whether these enormous costs represent value for money. Of course, it is only right to mention the project’s sunk costs also: some £8 billion have already been spent in construction costs, mainly at Old Oak Common and Euston, as well as an eye-popping £750 million on consultants. However, here I am with the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about sunk costs, which I would call the Concorde trap.

Secondly, this is no longer the right project looking forward from 2020. HS2 started life over 10 years ago as a trophy project. I am happy to admit that when I was first back in this House four years ago, I supported the legislation that enabled it. However, some questions are quite fairly asked. Why now, with on-train internet connectivity and in a country the size of England, do we need a train capable of 250 mph that will in phase 1 shave less than 30 minutes off the London-Birmingham travel time, mainly for business passengers and at an unknown cost, in particular when there are much more urgent claims from competing rail projects in the north? That is the essential point.

We have heard about the capacity argument, but that does not necessarily work either. I read that the London-Birmingham route is currently only 40% full on average, and even at peak times only 70% full; if I am wrong, I will be corrected. Phase 2 of HS2 to Leeds as currently planned is not scheduled to complete before 2040.

None of the above takes into account the risk of substantial time overruns; Crossrail has been mentioned in this regard. I have a particular interest in Crossrail, because every day of my working life I ride past a Crossrail site on my motorbike, and I was waiting with great expectation for it to open in December 2018, having watched it be constructed for the five years before then. I am still waiting. I find it rather depressing that we seem incapable of delivering great British civil engineering projects on budget and on time.

Against that background, it is not surprising that a number of MPs in the north of England, including several new Conservative ones, are asking the Government to prioritise spending on rail transport in the north over this hugely expensive project providing questionable value for money. Yesterday, I happened to spot a newspaper article that seemed rather relevant. It was headed, “Network Rail rebuked by watchdog for failing North’s commuters”. As the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and other noble Lords have said—and as the committee said in its report—what is urgently needed now is more capacity and more connectivity within and between northern cities, especially on commuter lines, including key east-west capacity. Of course, if we had unlimited funds, as some noble Lords suggested, we should do both—but we do not. Therefore, I am afraid, it is a question of what the highest priority is. Surprisingly, unless I am off here, no one has so far mentioned the forthcoming Williams rail review, which I imagine will have something to say in this area.

I recognise that this is not at all an easy decision for the Government, but the Prime Minister said recently that his Government would not be afraid to confront the really difficult issues that previous Governments may have shied away from. Obviously this is one such issue, if not the biggest current one. Speaking personally, I hope that the Government will be brave enough to make the right decisions here. They may include some of the recommendation made in the committee’s report, which others have set out, namely: ditching HS2’s very high speed capability, as my noble friend Lord Howell touched on; combining Northern Powerhouse Rail with phase 2 of HS2 much more closely; and making significant cost savings by scrapping the Old Oak Common to Euston final link.

Finally, we are holding this debate without the benefit of the final Oakervee review. That is less than desirable but we have probably covered most of the bases in the debate so far. There is enough here for the Government now to confront those flashing red lights.