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Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Quite by chance I was looking through the raft of ministerial statements that have been placed in the Library today, when I discovered that it has been announced in a statement that the only military base left in my constituency is to be closed. The 42 Engineer Regiment and the Royal School of Military Survey are to be affected. The closure will result in a number of redundancies in my constituency, and very long-term links with the town of Newbury will be
severed for ever. Do you not think it a matter of basic courtesy to the local community and to myself, as the local MP, that I should have been informed at some point in this process, and that such catastrophic news for the local community could have been broken to it in a slightly less arbitrary fashion?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The timing and content of written statements are entirely a matter for the Government. They are not something that the Chair can deal with. The comments that the hon. Gentleman has made are now on the record, and, no doubt, everybody will take note of them.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I say that I find the situation bewildering? I am sure that you are correct in this, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is making a valid point. On such important matters as that, Members of Parliament should be advised in advance of any serious decisions taken about a constituency matter.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Again, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and the fact that he has made it simply reinforces the point of order. I trust that the Government Front-Bench team will take note of it.
and such other persons (if any) as it considers appropriate.
Those hon. Members who had the joy of serving on the Public Bill Committee with me will know that we raised a number of concerns about consultation in that often informative and good humoured Committee, and had useful discussions about the subject. The Minister often dismissed my amendments outright, but at other times he appeared to be tempted by them. With that in mind, may I thank him for his letter to Committee members dated 6 December, in which he expanded on some of the points that he raised in Committee about consultation? He made it clear that he was not opposed to the principle
of enlarged consultation, but he suggested that there were a number of cases where that process would not be either desirable or practical. He also accepted in that letter that one of the many amendments that I tabled on consultation had some merit.
In Committee, the Minister said that he more or less accepted the principle of an amendment that I tabled, and it is now in the form of Government amendment No. 1. It is marginally different from my original amendment and I assume that the wording needed to be tightened up or made legally acceptable. In any case, I hope that we now have a practical and workable consultation procedure. We therefore welcome Government amendment No. 1 and we are disappointed only that the Minister did not accept more of our suggestions.
Amendment No. 5 is in the same vein. It relates to consultation, and I tabled a version in Committee. The Minister was tempted by it, and pledged to look at it with his officials. I hoped that we might see it tabled as Government amendment No. 2, but unfortunately that has not materialised. I have therefore tabled my amendment, and it uses the same wording as the Government use in Government amendment No. 1. It has the same format and I hope that the Government will accept it on that basis. As it replicates the Governments language, it should be consistent with the Government amendment, which should ensure that the phrasing is legally binding, unambiguous and workable.
I shall explain why consultation is so important. Crossrail is a massive project that will affect a lot of people. We believe and hope that more people will be positively affected, at least in the long term, than will be adversely affected. None the less, those who will be affected in any way should have the right of consultation. The consultation procedures already employed have been very successful. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and his Select Committee team on such sterling work in hearing from those people who wished to present their case. It is undoubtedly right that the Bill is better for having gone through the hybrid procedure and allowing that consultation. The decisions and hearings of the Committee have enhanced Crossrail and improved its legitimacy in the public eye.
Consultation on railway matters is important. The Bill will give the Secretary of State new powers and will modify existing powers, and that will have the effect of interfering with current procedures and the norms of the railway industry. I accept that some of that is necessary and we do not object to the principle. However, we want to be certain that it is done in a way that is transparent and accountable, and that the affected parties are consulted. It is in that context that I return to clause 26, which deals with the amendment of the pre-commencement access contracts by the Office of Rail Regulation.
Clause 26(4) gives the Office of Rail Regulation the power to require concerned parties to submit proposals for how it should amend the contracts, and that is welcome. Clause 26(5) provides that the ORR must also consult the Secretary of State as part of the process, but that is where the consultation process ends. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that the
ORR is open to the concerns of other appropriate and relevant parties, and consults them in an appropriate and relevant fashion. The Minister said in Committee that nothing in the clause prohibits the regulator consulting in such a manner. That is true, but it is not enough. If the Minister accepts that we can amend the Bill elsewhere using words that are similar to
such other persons (if any) as it considers appropriate,
surely the ORR should have the duty to consult with persons other than the Secretary of State as it considers appropriate. That would be consistent with the duty of consultation. We all agree on the value of consultation and we agree that the ORR could consult in such a way. Why should we not make it an obligation and put it in the Bill?
In Committee, the Minister accepted that the amendment had some merit. I believe that it still has. In fact, it has more than that. It is right that if the Government are prepared to accept wording elsewhere that makes a minor change but increases consultation, making it more binding, they should do the same in this clause. I hope that the Minister will reflect on my remarks. The Government have accepted the principle in Government amendment No. 1, and so it would be only right and proper to accept it for clause 26, too.
Mr. Tom Harris: I do not intend to accept the hon. Gentlemans amendment, although I am grateful for the support that he has given the Government amendment. I think that he has misunderstood the reasons behind my reluctance to accept the amendment in Committee and today. I assure him that I fully support the intention behind his amendment. I agree with his points on consultation. I do not want him to take away from this debate the assumption that I oppose the amendment because he has used the wrong wording. That is not why I am resisting the amendment. As I shall explain, his reservations about consultation are taken care of by industry procedures.
Consultation on railway matters was raised a number of times in Committee. There is no disagreement on the principle of consultation. The point at issue is the extent to which it is desirable or sensible to be prescriptive in the Bill. As I explained in Committee, there are many places in the Bill where it is unnecessary to include an authority or obligation to consult more widely, because it does not preclude that. It is not always desirable in cases where there is a specific consultation obligation to predict who appropriate consultees should be. For example, when the Secretary of State or the ORR is placed under a duty to carry out a consultation, they would address who should be consulted as part of a good administrative process.
As I agreed in the debates, there are parts of the Bill related to railway matters where an amendment to clarify the natural extent of the consultation would not be without merit, although it could arguably be unnecessary. However, the Government intend that the railway powers in the Bill that deal with access to Crossrail services on the national rail network will be cut back substantially in the House of Lords. That is in the light of progress made using normal industry
processes, not least the consideration of the Crossrail access option for access to Network Rails network. It is appropriate to consider consultation requirements when hon. Members have argued that amendments could be valuable and when the railway powers are reviewed following the outcome of consideration of the Crossrail access option.
In that context, I turn to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), which is familiar from Committee. The amendment would require the ORR to invite representations from any other parties that it considers appropriate, in addition to the Secretary of State, when it considers that an access contract needs amending because use of the railway facility to which it relates will be affected by the construction of Crossrail.
As I have explained, an amendment of this nature is not necessary. The ORR does not need the authority to consult as widely as it considers appropriateindeed, nothing in clause 26 prevents it from doing just that. The ORR has established policies on consultation and it has a track record of engaging in very open consultation on access matters. In practice, the ORR would need to consult at least the parties to the affected access contracts before it could decide whether and how those contracts needed to be amended. Additionally, clause 26(4) enables the ORR to require those parties to propose what directions should be given and, logically, that would engage them in the consultation process.
Ultimately, it can be left to the ORR to decide what is appropriate in this case. As I have stated, amendments to the relevant clauses will be sought, with the aim of enabling their lordships to consider general matters of Crossrail-related railway policy in the light of the wider review and of the potential reduction in those clauses scope.
Government amendment No. 1 is modelled closely on an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon in Committee, and on the consultation theme that he has regularly discussed. Clause 30 would provide for access to infrastructure associated with the new central tunnelaccess that would not be provided for in the Crossrail access option in any event. Hence, the power may be held in reserve until a further access option is secured in relation to that new infrastructure. As a result, now is as good a time as any to amend this part of the Bill.
In effect, clause 30 requires the Secretary of State to consult the ORR on the terms of an access contract for services using the Crossrail central tunnel or associated facilities. Government amendment No. 1 requires the Secretary of State also to consult any such other parties as she deems appropriate on the terms of the access contract to which an exemption under clause 30 would relate. There is a conscious parallel with the consultation obligation in clause 24(4)(c).
I have to say that I do not believe that the Government amendment is strictly necessary either, as there is no doubt that the Secretary of State would wish to act in the way that I have described. However, given the context of what I have said about the railway powers in general, on this occasion I accept the value of a visible requirement, and I therefore hope that the House will support Government amendment No. 1.
As I said in my letter to hon. Members following the Public Bill Committee, I hope that Government amendment No. 1 can be taken as an indication of our genuine intention to keep matters relating to consultation in mind when we come to review the rest of the Bills railway powers more widely in the House of Lords. Therefore, I hope that what I have said reassures the hon. Member for Wimbledon and that he will feel able to withdraw amendment No. 5.
Stephen Hammond: I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and I am discovering that life in opposition is all about small victories. He considers that my amendment has some merit, and I am grateful for thatand for the fact that he and the ladies and gentlemen who at times provide him with divine inspiration have tabled Government amendment No. 1. That is a small victory for the Opposition.
Anyone who attended the Public Bill Committee will have heard what the Minister said about amendment No. 5 beforealmost verbatim, in factbut I still have the same problem with this part of the Bill. The Minister said that the ORR has a history of open consultation, and that it can decide whom to consult. If so, why should it not be obliged to consult those whom it considers appropriate? That would be fair and sensible, and it should be included in the Bill.
I remain unconvinced by the Ministers argument that there is no need to include in the Bill the obligation on the ORR that amendment No. 5 would impose, just as he is not convinced that Government amendment No. 1 is necessary. Even so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 5.
may also provide for any provision
shall also provide for the provisions.
Stephen Hammond: The amendments are very much of a probing nature. When we reconsidered the Committee proceedings, it seemed to me that we had not finally sorted out a number of things. We said that we would need to return to them on Report because the Governments intentions were not clear. That point was at the heart of the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May).
Clause 57 relates to the statutory framework that would govern a future extension of Crossrail. We have some concerns about that, so we want to understand exactly what the Government intend. Our first concern relates to why only some of the Bills provisions would apply to an extension, and the second relates to the possible need for legal re-hybridisation if there were an extension. The core question is whether a substantial extension would require the same treatment as the original Crossrail route.
Our first concern is addressed directly in the amendments, which would have the effect of ensuring that there was no selectivity in applying the Bills provisions to any extension of Crossrail. Subsection (4) states that certain provisions of the Transport and Works Act 1992 will be specifically excluded from applying to an extension. They relate to the compulsory acquisition of land, heritage protection controls and rights of entry in relation to English Heritage. We need reassurance from the Minister. What is it about those provisions that makes them applicable to the current route, but not to an extension? Those provisions will be specifically excepted from an extension to Crossrail.
As for the remainder of the Act, the Government want the power to pick and choose which provisions would or would not apply to an extension. That seems inconsistent and irresponsible. We have subjected the current route and the current legislation to an extensive and intensive period of parliamentary scrutiny, so if there were an extension to the route there would be an injustice if petitioners in that case were not able to do the same.
When I raised the issue in Committee, the Minister said my proposal would not be workable. Are we saying that just because the Minister considers something unworkable we will not put justice into effect? Does it mean that we should not introduce legally binding provisions? Apparently, the Ministers rationale was that whereas the powers required to build the current Crossrail route are defined by an Act of Parliament that has authority to disapply and modify the application of existing legislation, an extension to the route only needs legislation under the Transport and Works Act, which does not have such authority?
Is the Minister satisfied that the point is merely technical? Is he happy that the clause allows only certain elements of the Bill to apply to an extension? Is he satisfied that a substantial extension of the routeperhaps from Maidenhead to Readingwould be dealt with only under the provisions of the Transport and Works Act, or does he think that if he took legal advice he would find that re-hybridisation of that part of the route was required and primary legislation was needed?
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