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7.44 pm

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): I do not oppose the carrying over of private Bills described in the motion, but I want to comment briefly on a glaring anomaly in the procedure. It concerns the Transport and Works Act; I am sure that both the shadow spokesman and the Minister responsible will deal with the matter in their speeches later this evening. Perhaps the usual channels, or a Select Committee, or a brief consultation document issued by the Government will resolve the issue. In any event, some urgent procedure is required to deal with the anomaly.

The Transport and Works Act works well--if the works take place solely in England or in Wales. But a company called Border Transport Futures proposes to build about 16 miles of railway line between Scotland and England in part of my constituency and part of that of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). The company has decided to use the private Bill procedure instead of an alternative. Such an alternative is available, but it is slightly more complicated because the works are partly in Scotland and partly in England.

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Last year I checked with the Department of Transport and the then Minister wrote to me to say:


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but I am having some difficulty spotting the connection between the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about a future Bill and a motion for the continuation of six current Bills.

Mr. Maclean: I certainly believe, Sir Alan, that those Bills should be carried over into this Parliament, but I am expressing reservations about the procedure. It could allow--unjustly--some Bills to be carried forward which, while they should complete all their stages in one or two Sessions at most, may in fact take three or four years to complete. That will give their promoters an unfair advantage, while protesters against such Bills would incur a great deal of expenditure over a long period of time.

There would, moreover, be much uncertainty if the promoters of such a Bill were lackadaisical. The promoters of the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill may be slightly lackadaisical about getting their measure through Parliament. I am worried about a loophole in our procedures that could allow a lackadaisical company such as Border Transport Futures to exploit the anomaly and to go for a private Bill procedure that would be rather complicated because it relates to both countries in the Union. Such a measure, if proceeded with, might be carried over from Session to Session--even beyond another general election.

I was going to conclude, Sir Alan, by saying that these procedures could apply to any of the Bills under discussion this evening--

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): Another element of this procedure is blight. Some of these Bills are used to promote serious construction works--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) should sit in his place while another hon. Member is speaking.

Mr. Rowe: I was just saying that a number of those Bills are used to promote construction projects, the principal victims of which are private citizens whose properties are blighted by whatever is projected. If the promoters are allowed to proceed lackadaisically, the blight is perpetuated.

Mr. Maclean: That is correct. Blight has already been caused in my constituency by the prospectus that BTF issued saying that it intends to go for the private Bill procedure. That has caused considerable concern to landowners and householders in my constituency. One reason why the company wants to do that is that it hopes to get compulsory purchase powers in the Bill so that it will not have to pay the full market value of the land.

The Transport and Works Act 1992 was passed by the House to avoid new railways legislation, for example, going through the House as private Bills. At that time,

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the House had no thought whatever that someone might come along one day with a railways Bill that would apply partly to Scotland and partly to England. It should not be beyond the wit of the House, a Select Committee or a Minister to issue a short consultation paper, which would find favour on both sides of the House, suggesting that the House does not wish to see another private railways Bill before it next year or the year after. Such a Bill would bog up Committees and take up time in the House whereas it could be dealt with either through an amended Transport and Works Act or by some procedure agreed with the Scottish Office, which would apply the same procedures in principle as the Transport and Works Act.

That is the plea that I make tonight. I appreciate that I cannot expand the point properly because I would be discussing a Bill that is not before the House, but I shall have no other opportunity in the foreseeable future to raise the general point of principle about that little anomaly in our procedure, which, with good will on both sides, could easily be plugged.

7.51 pm

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): It is with great reluctance that I rise to speak to this motion, which revives six Bills--as hon. Gentlemen have already said, there is a great deal of good in many of them. The House should examine private Bill procedure; we are making a decision that affects all the Bills as a group, so if we want to object to the revival of just one, under the terms of this motion, we must object to them all. That is not a sensible way to proceed. We should consider the notion of linkage in the future.

I want to object to two of the Bills because the promoters are at fault in two respects: first, they have been dilatory--they have not made progress with the Bills; secondly, they have shown a gross reluctance and inability to consult and compromise. I particularly wish to discuss the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has already mentioned it and I want forcefully to support one of the points he made. I am surprised that, under the private Bill procedure, a Bill can be narrowed but not widened.

When the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill first came to the other place, it contained access provisions, but they were quickly dropped. When it came before this House, many of us wanted to argue that cause but were told firmly that the Bill had been narrowed and that we could not add to it. A third of the original Bill was about access, but that provision had been dropped in the other place and we were unable to argue for its inclusion. That procedure is wrong and needs reviewing.

I am reluctant to oppose the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill as it contains many good provisions. I criticise it for sins of omission rather than sins of commission, which is a bit like arguing about a Jane Austen novel from a Marxist perspective. Marx would argue that the novel contains nothing about the Napoleonic war; I argue that the provisions of the Bill are good but that what is left out ought not to be.

The promoters, particularly Cornwall county council, should hear the voices that want access on Bodmin moor. The Bill could do a great deal of good in Cornwall.

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I admire its conservation aims and believe that the promoters are right to want better husbandry on the commons, but they disregard other voices. We are now in an age in which people should listen to all the voices and try to compromise.

The promoters argue that those of us who object to the Bill are urbanites. They try to characterise the argument as rural versus urban communities. That is old politics and they would be wise to listen to all the voices, because those of us who love and care for the countryside know that it can develop only if the right balance is struck between all its needs and the different demands on it. That is where the Bill is fatally flawed. It was good in its original form. I remind the House that it received its Second Reading on 7 June 1994 in the other place. It has had more than three years to make progress.

I have been surprised at the promoters' stop-start attitude. They have sought to make progress when that suited them but, despite pleas from many of us and meetings that we set up to make progress, they have not consistently tried to take the Bill forward. They deserve criticism for that; it is a fundamental reason why the Bill should be opposed tonight--the promoters have had more than three years to get it through the House.

The most damning criticism of the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill is the lack of consultation and Cornwall county council's inability to compromise and listen to other voices. The Bill's history speaks for itself. Prior to its publication, a number of organisations such as the Ramblers Association and the Open Spaces Society wanted to talk with the promoters, the county council, about the Bill's progress so that it could be put into practice quickly. The county council ran away from those talks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish and I attended a meeting in the Palace of Westminster earlier this year at which members of Cornwall county council were surprised that the access element of the Bill had been withdrawn in the other place. They had not been told. A decision had been made somewhere within the county council which had neglected to tell a proportion of its members. That cannot be good practice.

Several of us have set up meetings with the county council to explain that, although the access provisions were withdrawn in the other place, the Bill allows the setting up of a commoners council which, within two years, must produce a management plan. The county council has made no progress in getting people round the table to try to build up an access plan. Various organisations, such as the Ramblers Association, have offered to start those meetings and provide a facilitator. I am surprised that the county council has not taken the matter forward.

If the Bill is to make progress--I wish it well and want it to succeed--the promoters must listen to other voices. The Bill could do much for Bodmin moor, Cornwall and those of us who love the countryside.

Another Bill before the House is the Lever Park Bill. That, like Bodmin moor, is an area that I know well. Things need to be done at Lever park. North West Water is right to try to bring about management changes. Once again, it must heed the voice of local people and use its own resources. The company is not short of money to make improvements at Lever park. I note that one of the objectives of the Lever Park Bill is to bring national

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lottery money into Lever park. The Lever Park Bill would make progress if the promoters were to consult and look for consensus, and if they gave an undertaking to use their own resources to better Lever park, which does, indeed, need betterment.

The private Bill procedure is out of date and out of time, and needs review, but it is what we have at present. Those of us who are accused of being urbanites are disregarded and given bad press reports. My plea to the promoters of both Bills, which are about enhancing the environment and lifting the landscape, is to listen to our voices, too. The countryside is for all of us. We aspire to leave a better environment for our children. The promoters of both Bills should listen to our voices, consult and compromise. Then we can all go forward to leave to our children the legacy that we so desire.


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