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When we discussed the matter previously, the Minister was concerned that a restriction of six months would be too short. He rejected an amendment to that effect on the grounds that passenger services will be phased in on Crossrail over a period of time. He suggested that even six months after the first service, a full service might not be operational. He repeated that view to Committee members in his letter of 6 December. On reflection, it is just about possible to suggest that. We may well see an example of that with the channel tunnel rail link and the services run on it out of the excellent new St. Pancras station. However, if we consider the possibility of phasing in services, can we really say that a Crossrail service will not have a full timetable in place nine months after operation? In the Ministers response to the Committee, he clearly implied that he does not believe that the interim period should extend for time immemorial. He hopes that it will not extend wildly beyond the time when passenger services are fully operational. As so often in this Bill, he wants the flexibility to determine when that may be. We see that that flexibility is reasonable.
Sir Peter Soulsby:
I understand what the hon. Gentleman seeks to achieve, which is the construction of the whole scheme, and to have it open and carrying passengers. Does he not accept, however, that setting such an artificial limit could have a perverse effect?
Because the clock would start ticking, as it were, on the day that the first passengers were carried, the artificial time frame he seeks could have the perverse effect of delaying completion of the scheme.
Mr. Scott: Does my hon. Friend agree that another way of looking at the matter is that applying pressure, in the sense of getting the vital Crossrail project completed within a certain period, would be advantageous rather than a handicap?
We accept that there has to be some flexibility, but as so often with the powers that the Minister and the Government seek under the Bill, it seems to me that such powers should not be open-ended, and that they should be restricted in certain cases. I am concerned that we are told time and again that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act is a fitting precedent for Crossrail legislation. I might have been tempted to accept that precedent if I had not had the good fortune to serve on the Committee that considered the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill. It includes several clauses, which, taken together, have the effect of undermining the argument both for the interim period and for restricting that interim period. That is extraordinarily inconsistent. Sometimes we are told that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act is an extraordinary and helpful precedent, and at other times we disregard it. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill is clever and has the potential to turn the interim period into an indefinite periodbut it is inappropriate to allow the interim period that we are considering to become indefinite.
If we are to take the 1996 Act as a precedent for the Bill, we must assume that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill will, when enacted, form some sort of precedent for any future Crossrail (Supplementary Provisions) Bill. We must therefore ensure that we will not be faced one day with the prospect of an indefinite extension to the interim period through the precedent of some future Act.
I do not want an indefinite period during which the Office of Rail Regulation must prioritise Crossrailor, indeed, High Speed 1. It is neither necessary nor desirable. The ORR is an excellent regulatory body, which should oversee all parts of the rail network. It should not have a legal obligation to favour one part of the network over another, because that might compromise its independence once the operational phase begins.
I reiterate that we wholly support Crossrail. We understand that extraordinary powers will be required to build it. We appreciate that the Secretary of State needs flexibility but, once Crossrail has been constructed and the passenger services are operational, many of the extraordinary powers should become superfluous. Crossrail should fit in with the rest of the network.
The amendment would grant the flexibility that the Secretary of State seeks, but restrict the extension of the interim period to nine months. I hope that that
would allow for full phasing in of Crossrail passenger services and be sufficient to reach a stage whereby the construction period is complete and Crossrail no longer needs the regulators special help. That is an important point, which the Minister acknowledged in Committee. I hope that he will acknowledge it now, especially given our discussions about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill.
Mrs. May: I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene briefly in the discussion about the overriding duty placed on the ORR. When the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and hinted that it might take longer than nine months for the Crossrail timetable to be fully up and running, I thought that he must be a customer of First Great Western. Several years after it took over the timetable, we are still trying to ensure that the service runs on time and reliably. Notwithstanding that, I expect that the Crossrail timetable can be implemented rather better than that on which we are working with First Great Western.
I support the amendment because I am worried about giving the power to the ORR even for a limited period, let alone for the unlimited time for which the Bill provides. The duty enables the ORR to say that Crossrail comes first and that the need to get Crossrail up and running and do the works for it must override every other consideration on the railways.
I have already referred to the problems with First Great Western. My constituents are willing to see Crossrail put in place, but they would have concerns if they were consistently told that works that were necessary to improve services on the main lines and the relief lines for regular commuter services were being put on the back burner purely because Crossrail came first. As I understand it, that is the implication of clause 23 as drafted. I have reservations about that, because although I can talk only for my constituents, at the western terminus of the line, I fear that the same would apply to those on the First Great Western main line down to Reading. I would have thought that similar concerns would also apply in other parts of the route that the Crossrail line will take.
We should certainly not give the Office of Rail Regulation an unlimited ability to act through the Secretary of States powers. It must be limited. Nine months is a reasonable time within which to expect Crossrail to have the timetable up and running after its construction and the start of the first passenger services. I therefore fully support my hon. Friends amendment, and trust that the Minister will give us reassurance about the impact that the construction of Crossrail will have on services on the First Great Western line.
Mr. Tom Harris:
I am quite prepared to offer the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) a merry Christmas, but not before the successful Third Reading of the Bill. I hope that I can persuade him that his amendment is unnecessary, and perhaps even get him to admit that the wording is intentionally
mischievous. It is during the interim period that the Office of Rail Regulation would have an overriding duty in the exercise of its access contract functions to facilitate the operation of the prospective principal Crossrail services.
To deal briefly with the comments of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), it is sometimes frustrating that hon. Members in all parts of the House constantly demand that new rail lines be built, but only provided that there be no unforeseen consequences for adjacent rail lines. In the case of Crossrail, there will clearly be unwanted consequences for other rail services, because we are building a new railway. Given the level of investment that we expect the public and private sectors jointly to make to the project, it is unreasonable to tell prospective investors that we will not give overriding precedence to the requirement to build and operate Crossrail services. That is not a particularly easy message to get out, but it underpins the entire Bill. If we are going to have a Bill, with the necessary investment, we must guarantee 100 per cent. that the construction and services will operate completely unimpeded. That is the view of the Government; I hope that it will ultimately be the view of the Opposition, too.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: On a point of clarification, throughout the Select Committee considering the Crossrail Bill we kept hearing Crossrail say that there would be minimal disruption throughout the system. I agree with the Minister that the project is vital and must go through, but we on the Committee were assured that there would be minimal disruption, even in the stations where there are to be major structural works, which is what I suspect the Minister is alluding to. Does he not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon at least somewhere along the line and say that although there will of course be disruption, there must be a parameter determining how it affects First Great Westernthe railway company in my area, tooas it could have an adverse affect on what we are trying to do? Otherwise, the Minister will confuse the issue.
Mr. Harris: I can confirm that it is certainly the intention of both the Bill and the Government that where disruption occurs, it will be the minimum necessary required to build and operate Crossrail. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would assume that anyway.
The Secretary of State may need to extend the period, as specified under subsection 7. For instance, Crossrail services are expected to be phased in over a year. I referred earlier to the wording of the hon. Member for Wimbledons amendment and his proposal for a nine-month requirement. On the day that the funding package for Crossrail was announced, it was publicised in a number of newspapers and on the Department for Transport website that the Government intended to phase in Crossrail services over a period of 12 months. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that, so it is surprising that he has chosen a period of nine monthsthree months less than we have already announcedfor the phasing in of those services. However, I am sure that he has had some fun with his proposal. I shall, none the less, ask him to withdraw it.
For a new railway of the magnitude of Crossrail, it would be unwise to attempt to introduce the full service
to all destinations overnight. In this context, it makes sense for the Office of Rail Regulation not to grant access rights to other railway operators that would frustrate the phasing in and stabilisation of Crossrail services. Once the full Crossrail service is in operation, it will haveand will exerciseall the appropriate access rights, and Network Rail and the ORR would not then grant conflicting access rights. Timetabling and capacity allocation would happen by means of existing industry mechanisms and duties. There would consequently be no need for the protection afforded by clause 23, so the interim period naturally has a finite useful life. There would be no point in the Secretary of State extending the interim period beyond its useful life, because the path would already have been granted and could not be taken away.
As I indicated during our previous debate on this matter, and as I further explained in my letter following the Committee, an artificial time-limited cap on any extension of the interim period would be undesirable at this stage of the project development. We cannot predict with certainty what practical considerations in respect of the phasing in of Crossrail services might arise 10 years from now.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I should also like to place on record the fact that I am grateful to him for the time that he has given to me, and to other Members of Parliament, in connection with the operation of First Great Western services, which interacts with the issue of Crossrail. As I understand it, he is saying that when the time comes for Crossrail services to begin, Crossrail will take precedence on the slow lines that currently carry slow and semi-fast First Great Western services through my constituency. I am concerned that my constituents in Maidenhead and Twyford could find themselves with a greatly reduced service and amenity when Crossrail is introduced, because they might lose First Great Western services and end up at the end of a metro line, which would be a slow stopping service that would take twice as long to get to Paddington as it does at the moment.
Mr. Harris: I have spoken to the right hon. Lady about her concerns regarding the effect of Crossrail on Maidenhead. I understand her concerns, but I hope that she will understand that I am loth to speculate on the timetable for Maidenhead in 2017. She has already had a commitment from me that whenever the Great Western franchise is renewed, we will ensure that due attention is paid to the points that she has raised about the level of Crossrail services at Maidenhead. I hope that she will forgive me if I do not dwell on the specific question that she has asked, given that we are still about 10 years away from the first Crossrail services coming into operation.
As I have said, we cannot predict with certainty what practical considerations in relation to the phasing in of Crossrail services might arise 10 years from now. Nine to 12 months is probably as good a guess as any other at this stage for the time for which the interim period might need to be extended to facilitate the orderly phasing in of Crossrail services. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will accept that we cannot legislate on the basis of a good guess. I hope
that hon. Members will, for those reasons, appreciate that the length of any extension to the interim period would most sensibly be determined nearer the time, not 10 years in advance. I am not persuaded that an artificial, and completely random, cap set this far ahead is the answer. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I have listened carefully to the Ministers explanation. As usual, I have some difficulty with the idea that we can use a Bill for a precedent at one stage, but disregard it when it does not suit us. I find that particularly troubling. I have no problem with the principle that the Office of Rail Regulation should have the overriding duty during the construction phase or during the phasing in. Our concern is the length of that phasing-in period. Notwithstanding what the Minister has said about one year, it seems to me that nine months to get a relatively simple serviceit is not as if it is the most complex of services
Stephen Hammond: If one is to believe the Minister and his wonderful HLOShigh level output specification statement, that should not be any problem for the Government. Let us not go down that line, however. Let us look at the provisions for the interim period. The amendment proposes that there should be some limit to the time allotted for the phasing in of operations. Why should it be open-ended?
Mrs. May: I recognise the groans heard around the Chamber, but the Minister made a comment from a sedentary position that impacts on Maidenhead and its services. I believe he said that the Crossrail service would be running 24 trains an hour. I am at a loss to understand that, given that we have been told that only four trains an hour would be coming out to Maidenhead.
Stephen Hammond: That is a very interesting intervention from my right hon. Friend. I do not know the answer to it, but I am sure that the Minister will want to jump up and intervene any moment now to explain what he said. No, it looks as if the Minister does not wish to intervene, which probably means that the service to which I was alluding is even more simple than I suggested, making the restriction that I am looking for even more appropriate.
Stephen Hammond: I am grateful, as ever, for the Ministers help. However, I am not convinced by his arguments on this amendment in any way, shape or form. The whole purpose of our scrutiny of the Bill has been to ensure that although we accept that exceptional powers are required, those powers should have some restrictions on them; they should be scrutinised and those exercising them should be accountable. That is what the amendment does. It is a sensible amendment and I am not tempted to withdraw it.
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