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Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Does the Minister accept that some services, such as those operating on the Fishguard and Cardiff to Paddington line and those running along the north Wales coast, effectively serve local communities? They are mainline train services, but people use them in the same way as they would use a regional network such as Arriva, which operates within Wales. How would the Assembly discharge its responsibilities in regard to lines which the Minister would say start in Wales and end in England?
Mr. McNulty: I accept that point, which alludes to the complexities of the issue. Equally, portions, and no more than portions, of many of our high-speed lines in an English context will be utilised as inter-communal lines as well in various parts of the country. In terms of the examples given, and specifically the Assembly, such matters will be worked out between the provisions in the Bill relating to Wales, which I have described thus far and will come on to describe, and the memorandum of understanding to which I have just alluded. In those or other circumstances in which an Assembly viewpoint should be given in discussions on any aspect of rail services in Wales, there should be no blockage on that view being reflected. We are not simply in the business of imposing from the centre what view should prevail in terms of the Welsh rail network. Equally, we are trying to work with the Assembly around the complexities to which the hon. Gentleman and others have alluded. I am trying to do so by taking the amendments as seriously as I can and in the spirit in which they were suggested. The memorandum will pick up many of those complexities, beyond what is not already reflected in the Bill.
For those reasons, we do not think it appropriate for the Assembly to be a national authority for the purposes of this clause. As I have said, retaining the role for the Secretary of State fits better with the more general approach to devolving railway responsibilities to the Assembly and is simpler and more straightforward. As I have said, there will be a consultation and memorandum.
Although the National Assembly is not a national authority, it has a significant role in closure procedures in Wales. In addition to being a statutory consultee, as I have said, it has a duty to provide closure guidance jointly with the Secretary of State for stations or networks in Wales and services in Wales, including cross-border services. I hope that the hon. Member for
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Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will have seenif not, they are in the Librarythe headlines of the closure guidance, and I promised no more than that in Committee. Consultation will take place with the Assembly to come to some broad agreement on what specifically those should be in relation to Wales, as they need to be published jointly with the Secretary of State, as I suggested. The Assembly is also a designated railway funding authority under clause 44 of the Bill. The effect of that and the Assembly's funding of the Arriva Wales franchise will be that the Assembly will have the power to initiate closure proposals for the services that it funds through the Arriva Wales franchise. In that context, although I understand the import and thrust of that series of amendments, they are not absolutely necessary.
Amendments Nos. 57 and 59, taken together, to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy alluded, seek to amend schedule 9 to replicate in Wales the arrangements for confirmation of railway byelaws, before they come into effect, that apply in Scotland. More specifically, the amendments would mean that where the byelaws affect only railway assets in Wales, they would need to be confirmed by the National Assembly. Where the byelaws affect railway assets including those in Wales, they would need to be confirmed by both the Welsh Assembly and the Secretary of State.
As currently drafted, the Bill makes the Secretary of State responsible for approving the byelaws of all railway operators wherever assets are located or used in England and Wales. This role is consistent with the Secretary of State's overall responsibility for the railway network in England and Wales. In Scotland, the Scottish Ministers have overall responsibility, hence their role in approving byelaws. I can understand the Assembly's desire to have a greater role in this regard. However, the arrangements set out in the Bill do not exclude it entirely. Byelaws will be made by the railway operator. The arrangements for approving the byelaws will not prevent the Assembly from working with Arriva Trains on the development of byelaws for the operator's stations and trains, which would then be approved by the Secretary of State.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will examine further the matter of byelaws and how they reflect dealings with Arriva Trains Wales, to see whether there is some way, perhaps outwith the Bill, that we can ensure that the Assembly plays a fuller role. I understand the importance of byelaws in many regards, although I am sure that he has read the Official Report of the assorted Committee proceedings, which reflect that there were those in Committee who would choose to push the byelaws a little too far in some regards. I will examine the byelaws point in more detail, to see whether through the memorandum, or some other way, there can be some accommodation.
I have dealt with the new clause and amendments in as detailed and serious a fashion as I could, and have tried to explainI did receive a letter from the Welsh Assemblywhy they are not necessary for a number of reasons. I will, however, pursue the point about byelaws outside the confines of the Bill.
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The new clause is very straightforward. It seeks to give the Office of Rail Regulation a duty to spotlight safety issues, which I think is important. I am not being alarmist, but in 200304 there was a pronounced increase in the number of incidents in which fewer than five fatalities occurred in the United Kingdom, as compared with the preceding two years. Although there were no major incidents in 200304, there were several minor incidents on the network. My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and I know of one or two quite close to our constituencies, at Porthmadoc, and there have been some near misses elsewhere. There was a 6 per cent. reduction in the number of incidents of signals being passed at danger in 200304, but there were 378, which is quite a large number.
Without being alarmist, we firmly believe that as there will no longer be a separate body to consider this issuethe Health and Safety Commission, whose responsibilities are to be absorbed into those of the Office of Rail Regulationthe public would be reassured if the Bill took account of that change by reorganising the railways to strengthen safety provision. We would also like the ORR, when it reports annually,
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to have criteria on which to judge relative safety in the relevant year, in the context of performance targets and the like.
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