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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Railways Bill

Railways Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 18 January 2005

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Railways Bill

9.25 am

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): On a point of order, Mr. Amess. As promised, I have penned a letter that is available both here and on the board covering a range of points on which I promised to get back to the Committee, including further information on the Transport for London issue, the Rail Passengers Council, the Strategic Rail Authority and Department for Transport rail group, a series of issues on network modifications and the headlines of the guidance on passenger transport executives. That letter is available to the Committee today for hon. Members' delectation, and I shall ensure that it is on the board.

I need to make one minor correction. Perhaps unusually for me, given my tendency towards hyperbole, when I referred during our deliberations on the Gatwick Express to passenger numbers on the Brighton line rising by some 72 to 75 per cent., I was conservative in my estimation. That figure is closer to 85 per cent., but it none the less reinforces my point about the Brighton commuter line and the Gatwick Express.

At 2 o'clock today, the Scottish Parliament will start its deliberations on the Sewel motion associated with this Bill. The wording of the motion is:

    ''That the Parliament agrees that those provisions that confer executive powers and functions on the Scottish Ministers in the Railways Bill and those that relate to devolved matters should be considered by the UK Parliament.''

There are evidence sessions today with Network Rail, the Office of Rail Regulation, the Strategic Rail Authority, the Rail Passengers Council and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. The Minister for Transport, Nicol Stephen, will give evidence from 11 o'clock tomorrow, and the Sewel motion is expected to be debated in plenary after the Committee completes its consideration. When I have any more information about the progress of the Sewel motion and any other papers tabled, I will let hon. Members know.

The Chairman: On behalf of the Committee, I thank the Minister for that helpful information.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Amess. Since the Minister said that he is now conservative, I point out that we have a vacancy in our party if he would like to join us.

The Chairman: I think that we will leave jokes until the end of our deliberations.

Clauses 50 to 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

<<274>>Schedule 10

Taxation provisions relating to transfer schemes

Mr. McNulty: I beg to move amendment No. 120, in page 125, line 32, leave out 'or'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 121.

Mr. McNulty: I apologise if the first of these amendments seems like Liberal Democrat pedantry; it would leave out a superfluous ''or'', which is precisely the sort of thing that the Liberal Democrats come up with all the time.

Schedule 10 makes provision for the tax consequences of the assorted transfer schemes. Part 1 deals with transfers under clause 1 of the Bill from the SRA and other publicly owned bodies to the national authority. The purpose of part 1 is to deal with the tax consequences of a transfer to a public body, which is not liable to corporation tax. The schedule was drafted on the assumption that the potential transferees in this category would be the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales. That is no longer correct, as the potential transferees include the Office of Rail Regulation, which is also a public body that is not liable to corporation tax. The amendments correct that position, and the ORR is included in the definition of a national authority so that the appropriate tax consequences in part 1 will apply. It is an entirely technical amendment and I commend it to the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 121, in page 125, line 33, at end insert

    (d) the Office of Rail Regulation;'.

Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 53

Further amendments of the 1993 Act

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

9.30 am

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Will the Minister inform the Committee, for the record, what the effect would be if the clause were omitted from the Bill?

Mr. McNulty: In essence, clause 53(1) amends the Railways Act 1993 so that for the purposes of the two relevant sections the term ''railway'' is given its wider meaning. That wider meaning is contained in section 81(2) of the 1993 Act and covers a railway, tramway or transport system that uses another mode of guided transport, but not a trolley vehicle system.

Section 118 of the 1993 Act provides a power for the Secretary of State to give direction in relation to the control of railways in times of hostilities, severe
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international tension or great national emergency. Section 119 provides a power to the Secretary of State to give instructions to railway operators for the purpose of ensuring that relevant assets,or persons or property on or in such assets are protected against acts of violence. Clause 53(1) will enable a consistent approach to be taken across all sectors of the rail system in times of emergency and allow implementation of transport security measures. At present, the narrow definition of railways applying to those sections means that although it covers the main rail network and some light rail systems, other light rail systems, such as trams, fall outside the definition.

The clause contains enabling powers only; the emergency provisions are needed only for times of extreme concern, and as and when such an approach might be needed, God forbid, it would be inappropriate if it covered only heavy rail and some light rail under the narrow definition, but not light rail or trams, especially given the expansion of light rail systems in the UK in recent years. Clause 53(2) gives effect to schedule 11, which introduces miscellaneous amendments to the 1993 Act. Many of those amendments relate to the revised procedures for network modifications put in place by part 4 of the Bill.

In the broadest sense, the clause therefore widens the definition of rail to include other developments that have occurred since 1993.

Mr. Knight: We are grateful to the Minister. He has confirmed what we thought was the case, and we are content.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11

Miscellaneous Amendments of 1993 Act

Mr. McNulty: I beg to move amendment No. 122, in page 130, line 43, leave out ''of his or theirs'' and insert

    'or activity of his, theirs or its'.

Again, this is a technical amendment to section 80 of the 1993 Act, to ensure consistency with clause 50, which requires the ORR to comply with reasonable requirements of the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers to provide information or advice about matters connected with its activities, and its functions related to railways or railway services. It removes any doubt that section 80 might be restricted to only statutory functions. Broadly, therefore, it covers the broadening of what the ORR needs to do to comply with reasonable requirements in terms of information for the Secretary of State and Scottish Ministers. It is therefore an entirely technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Knight: May I ask the Minister a question about paragraph 13 of the schedule, on page 131? It refers to

    ''Competent authority status for the purposes of grants and loans under EU regulations.''

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In what circumstances does he envisage the UK railway network receiving a grant or loan under European Union regulations?

Mr. McNulty: I do not know anything about the specifics of such a circumstance. Paragraph 13 simply amends section 136 of the 1993 Act by adding the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales as competent authorities for various functions, and it also amends the powers of the passenger transport executive to act as a competent authority.

Under sub-paragraph (1), the Scottish Ministers become an additional competent authority for the purpose of the railway financial status regulations, which, as everyone will know, are contained in Council regulation (EEC) No. 1192/69 on common rules with respect to the financial status of railway undertakings. As I understand it, that is about their receiving competent authority status in terms of assorted things such as state aid and assisting the railway network, rather than simply about being the recipient of funding from the EU.

Under the subsequent paragraphs of the schedule, Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales become additional competent authorities for the purposes of the public service obligations regulations—Council regulation (EEC) No. 1191/69 on public service obligations in transport, as amended by Council regulation (EEC) No. 1893/91, as everyone will know. That is about reflecting the additional functions afforded to the Assembly and the Scottish Parliament in accordance with the powers and functions afforded to the Secretary of State in the 1993 Act. It reflects the devolution position that prevails in relation to this Bill, as opposed to the 1993 Act.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 55

Powers exercisable by statutory instrument

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The clause gives the Secretary of State enormous power, using the statutory instrument process, to dictate and develop railways policy. This short debate gives the Minister an opportunity to share with us his intentions as regards keeping people informed of Government policy on the railways. I raise that point in the light of comments made yesterday in the other place. In a short debate on the rail network, Lord Davies of Oldham, responding on behalf of the Government, said that

    ''the Government support continued growth in the use of the railway network by making the best use of existing capacity through measures such as route utilisation strategies and ensuring that the railway operates as efficiently as possible.

Column Number: 277

    We also need to plan for the long term, when increased capacity may be needed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport hopes to make an announcement soon on the Government's thinking on future strategy for the network.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 January 2005, vol. 668, c. 536.]

I was surprised to find that announcement being flagged up in the other place yesterday. If the Secretary of State is preparing a major announcement on the future strategy for the network, why is he not sharing that information with the members of this Committee? Perhaps the Minister can tell us when the announcement is due and why it has not been made already, and flag up anything significant that he expects it to contain. It is one thing for the Committee and the House to give the Government more statutory instrument powers that will in effect never be debated, but it is extraordinary that they are cooking up a major announcement on the railway network without the Standing Committee on this Bill having the opportunity to discuss that.

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