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I make no apology for spending a little time on new clause 9 and the amendments grouped with it. They were requested by the National Assembly for Wales, not because Plaid Cymru Members asked for them, but because the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the National Assembly, chaired by Christine Gwyther AM, a former new Labour Minister of the Assembly, was concerned that they should be included in the Bill. To make matters slightly worse, and to add insult to injury, the Assembly had requested overall control of the railways in a measure in the Queen's Speech, but that proposal was dispatched with very little regard.
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"very conscious that the timetable set for the Parliamentary process is very tight and that this has put your Committee under enormous pressure in its scrutiny of the Bill. While this is not a matter for you, my Members were disappointed that the timing of this most important piece of legislation allowed so little time for wider consideration, or for the National Assembly to consider the Bill in much detail . . . The Committee's overall view was that the Bill marked a major stage in the development of the Railways in Britain and provided an opportunity for a comprehensive transfer of powers over Welsh railways to the National Assembly. Members noted the substantial range of powers that it conferred on the Scottish Executive and were disappointed that the Secretary of State for Transport was retaining many of these powers in relation to Wales. A particular concern was the failure of the Bill to transfer to the National Assembly control over the infrastructure in Wales. Clearly, it is too late to make fundamental changes to the Bill, but there are two specific points which the Committee felt could easily be changed:
Members were concerned about the lack of control Wales would have over closures where the Assembly is not funding the rail service. Clauses 22 to 31 refer to National Authorities being notified of any closure proposal and then carrying out a consultation on this. However, while the Scottish Executive is the National Authority in Scotland, the Secretary of State for Transport would undertake this function in Wales. Members cannot see any reason why the National Assembly should not have this responsibility in Wales and urged you to amend the Bill accordingly.
"One other anomaly relates to the confirming of bye-laws. The National Assembly already has extensive powers in this regard and the Committee cannot see why it should not have the same powers as Scottish Ministers in relation to schedule 9. This could be achieved by amending Paragraph 1 of that schedule to include the National Assembly for Wales as the appropriate national authority for bye-laws relating to Welsh assets, with similar provisions to those relating to Scotland in relation to cross-border bye-laws."
I have quoted extensively from that letter since I believe that it is important not only in itself, but with regard to further issues. We are always told about the successful partnership between the National Assembly for Wales and this place and that the way in which legislation works, as and when it is necessary, is that it is called for by the Welsh Assembly and put in train by Ministers in this place. This is a classic example where the devolution process breaks down utterly. For whatever reason, the pleas of the Assembly, the cross-party committee and the letter penned by the ex-new Labour Minister who chairs that committee have been ignored utterly by the Committee in this place. Its members had the representations in good time to table amendments. Indeed, amendments were tabled, and they are now being discussed.
I have dealt with those points at length because I hope that somebody more kindly disposed to the devolution process in the other place will take them up. They are important if we are indeed going to refer to any form of partnership between the National Assembly for Wales and this place pro tem in any event.
I shall not read out the new clause, as other Members have important amendments to speak to later, but I wish to make a brief point. The new clause emulates the provision for Scotland and falls very well into the rest of
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the Bill, which gives the Assembly power to spend money on rail services. It calls for a railway strategy for Wales, which would guide decisions about where to put money and what money to put in. The Transport (Wales) Bill requires the Assembly to draw up a Wales transport strategy. A railway strategy could be a part of that, but in our view, it needs to be mentioned in the Railways Bill, as it needs to be an input into the Secretary of State's decisions about railways, particularly if the other amendments that we have tabled to strengthen the Assembly's powers are rejected.
Amendment No. 33 deletes "Wales-only" and inserts "any Welsh". The purport of that is to give the Assembly a consultation role in any proposed franchise agreements which include Welsh stations, for example Paddington to Swansea, rather than to confine it to services run entirely within Wales.
Amendment No. 36 inserts a new subsection and adds the Assembly to the list of bodies that can own railway assets following the end of a franchise. One of the issues strongly raised by Miss Gwyther was the need for the infrastructure to be in the hands of the National Assembly.
That comes from subsection (6). This is a proposal from a service operator to discontinue a service that the franchise does not require the operator to run and which, if it is decided to delete it, should not be allowed to run. Therefore this is to secure the provision of services.
Amendment No. 39 adds the Assembly to the definition of national authorities that must consider proposals coming from funding authorities, rather than service operators, to discontinue a service that may not be required under the franchise agreement.
Amendment No. 41 adds the Assembly to the national authorities that must consider proposals coming from service operators to discontinue excluded services, which are basically services other than ordinary passenger services. The wording emulates that which applies to Scotland.
Amendment No. 48 again adds the Assembly to the national authorities that must keep a station in operation if the Office of Rail Regulation turns down under subsection (7) a proposal from a funding authority to stop funding it.
Amendment No. 59 gives the Assembly power to make railway byelaws. Miss Gwyther specifically asked for this in her letter to the Committee. I ask the Minister to address these points, as I am sure he will. I felt it necessary to put them on the record because the last thing we want is for the National Assembly to feel that it has been entirely excluded from the process. I realise that the request came rather late to the Committee. Nevertheless, the request was plainly made well before today.
Amendment No. 50 adds the Assembly to the national authorities that must keep a "secured" station in operation if the ORR turns down under subsection (7) a proposal from a funding authority to cease funding it.
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My hon. Friends and I have tabled this bank of amendments. Although they were mainly drafted by Members of our party, the purport of them came from every political party in the National Assembly, as represented on the Committee chaired by Miss Gwyther. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to each and every one of them. I am not prejudging the issue, but if the Minister is unable so to do, I hope that someone in the other place more generously disposed to the devolution process might deal with them. The matters are important. I am not simply making political points; I am trying to make the point that we need this to be done for the railways infrastructure in Wales to be properly controlled.
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