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22 July 2008 : Column 754

Amendment No. 26 ensures that clause 40 cannot be used in circumstances where the matter may be dealt with by the Office of Rail Regulation—in effect, requiring a solution to be reached under the aegis of the normal regulatory processes. Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 25, 29 and 31 are consequential.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): First, may I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for making available advance copies of the explanatory notes? I would like to take the opportunity to say how much we welcome the written statement of 14 July on the subject of publishing financial data in relation to Crossrail. He will be well aware that during all stages of the Bill’s progress, I have been urging him to accept one of my well-worded amendments. It would have required the Government to publish an annual statement setting out that financial data. Although we are upset that he did not feel able to accept that amendment, we are pleased to see that the Bill will include such a provision. It is always good to see the Government adopting excellent ideas, and I thank him for his assurances in that statement on that part of the Crossrail project.

This group of amendments will do some quite important things, in that it will do away with the previous clauses 23 and 24 and replace them with new clauses. Those clauses, which the Lords now seek to amend, were the subject of some lengthy discussions in Committee. They dealt with the so-called “interim period”, which is the time between the granting of Royal Assent to the Bill, which I guess is not far off now, and the day on which passenger services commence on Crossrail. During that so-called “interim period”, the Office of Rail Regulation was to have an “overriding” duty to exercise its access contract functions in such a way to facilitate the operation of Crossrail.

The idea of an overriding duty was a principle that we were willing to accept—after all, it had a precedent in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act of 1996. However, of great concern to us was the fact that the “interim period” was ill-defined and could be subject to unnecessary extension. Our fears were compounded when we saw the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill recently, which did indeed extend the interim period for High Speed 1 beyond the construction phase. We were concerned about the “interim period” being turned into an “indefinite period”. The amendment will remove those clauses, and give us a definite time scale. The new clauses proposed by the Lords in the amendment will be welcomed by my party. The powers in question were merely reserve powers that the Government intended to use only if normal industry procedures were not possible.

This time last year, the Government and Network Rail applied to the ORR for access rights for Crossrail on the existing network, and the ORR approved this access option on 14 April. With that agreement in place, there is no longer the need for Network Rail to be told when and where to enter into access agreements, and the operator of Crossrail will no longer have superior access rights to other operators, which is to be welcomed.

I would like the Minister to clarify the purpose of the first amendment in the group, which inserts a new, but not overriding, objective into the remit of the ORR, namely the facilitation of the construction of Crossrail. We are often told that the amendments we table are unnecessary, but if the overriding need is taken away, I
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am not sure that this amendment is necessary. Perhaps the Minister could explain why he thinks it is. As for the London railway Act, open brackets close brackets, which he described so ably a few minutes ago, can he tell us exactly what might happen if the amendment were not enacted?

6.15 pm

Mr. Harris: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but I fear that I may not be in a position to offer him as full a response as he as requested. I should be more than happy to write to him, but I hope he will accept my reassurances from the Dispatch Box.

I suddenly feel inspiration descend. I am talking off the top of my head, of course. The new objective in clause 22 is desirable because the ORR should specifically address issues such as those relating to the network code that could frustrate Crossrail construction. However, the objectives of the ORR are considered and weighed collectively. The ORR will therefore have to balance the interests of Crossrail construction with those of affected users and operators. I trust that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): My hon. Friend will recall that during the mayoral elections, Ken Livingstone boasted that £40 billion would be spent on transport in London. Some of that would come from Crossrail, some from Thameslink and some from other projects. Can he assure me that passing responsibility to the ORR will not enable the current Mayor to increase that amount, and can he tell me what the Barnett consequentials of this or other clauses might be? Many of us in the regions are worried—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I urge the Minister not to be tempted too far down that road. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) has been quite clever, but what we are discussing is the Crossrail Bill.

Mr. Harris: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend’s proposition was very tempting. I can tell him that the details of the management of the Crossrail franchise are not set in stone, and are a matter for discussion further down the line. As for the Barnett consequentials, the Barnett formula is a matter of record.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that the Minister has probably concluded his remarks.

Mr. Harris indicated dissent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It appears that the Minister is happy to give way yet again.

Jeremy Corbyn: I genuinely thank the Minister. As he knows, I welcome and support Crossrail. Will he tell us when and how the talks and negotiations on the franchise operation will take place, and whether he expects to issue a regulation or statement?

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Mr. Harris: We expect full services on Crossrail to start in 2017. I expect to make an announcement before then about the structure of the franchise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think that the Minister has now concluded his response.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 4 to 26 agreed to.

After Clause 47

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 27.

Mr. Harris: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to deal with Lords amendment No. 47.

Mr. Harris: The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State and London Government can give an unqualified commitment at the start of the Crossrail project in relation to a potential future transfer of assets between Transport for London and the Secretary of State. Governance arrangements for the project currently allow that if the forecast final cost breaches an agreed level, the Department has the right to take back control of the project, including ownership of CLRL—Cross London Rail Links—and, indirectly, assets of Crossrail. However, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 provides that, at any given time, Transport for London should follow the direction of the Mayor in the exercise of its functions and that the Secretary of State must consent to the disposal of assets by TfL.

The provisions being sought in the amendment are permissive and limited to actions for the purposes of Crossrail only. They do nothing more than ensure that the obligations entered into on signature of the sponsor agreement will endure. The provisions also seek to allow agreement to be reached now as to the use of a transfer scheme, such as a possible transfer of assets between TfL and the Department for Transport.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 28 to 45 agreed to.

Schedule 12

Transfer schemes

Lords amendment: No. 46.

Mr. Harris: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 48 to 56.

Mr. Harris: Schedule 12 already provides for the granting of new land interests as part of a transfer of assets between or from public bodies. These are known as transfer schemes. The proposed amendments to schedule 12 will enable the simple grant of new land interests, such as a lease, to happen by way of a transfer scheme even where that is separate from the transfer of
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other assets. The amendment will enable the Secretary of State to retain flexibility in how she puts in place land ownership arrangements required for Crossrail. The amendments proposed to schedule 13 are consequential and avoid a tax distinction arising that is based on the type of transfer scheme under which a lease is created.

Stephen Hammond: I shall not trouble the House for long, but I want to be clear about the arrangements. When we discussed the Bill in Committee, we looked at the restrictions on the land that the Secretary of State could, in seeking to define that land which would be necessary for the construction or operation of Crossrail, require to be either compulsorily acquired or transferred, permanently or temporarily, to CLRL, the nominated undertaker or, indeed, the Secretary of State. Can the Minister reassure us that the new land interest is restricted to that land that is required for either the construction or the operation of Crossrail?

Mr. Harris: I can indeed give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. We had a number of productive debates in the Public Bill Committee on the issue. It is not in the Government’s interest—and it is certainly not in CLRL’s interest—to force the compulsory sale of land that is not going to be used either temporarily or permanently for the construction of Crossrail. I assure him that the transparency measures in the Bill will ensure that that happens.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 47 to 56 agreed to [some with Special Entry] .


Sea Defences

6.23 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I am grateful to have the opportunity to present a 15,000-signature petition on an issue that has caused enormous concern and anxiety among people living in the broads area of my constituency. A leaked report from Natural England raised the possibility of an area of 25 sq m that includes six villages being lost to the North sea as a result of rising sea levels. One can imagine the concern that that caused and the immediate impact that it had on house prices and people’s everyday lives.

We received substantial reassurance when the Minister for the Environment visited the area and gave his commitment that the Government would do everything they could to defend it. However, it still important that the petition is presented, to reinforce the importance of protecting such a beautiful area. The petition says:

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Traffic Noise (M3)

6.25 pm

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I present this petition on behalf of more than 2,000 residents in Basingstoke, who are increasingly concerned about the levels of noise and traffic congestion connected with the M3, particularly around junctions 5 to 7. Over the past 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in traffic on the motorway, which means that more local residents are affected by more noise and excessive tailbacks on the motorway at peak times. As a result, some areas in my constituency, particularly the villages and suburbs around Basingstoke, are experiencing quite significant increases in rat-running. Hence, the petitioners request the House to urge the Government to stop the delay and install noise-reducing road surfaces on all six lanes of the M3 and to put in place improvements to junction 6 that will ease the traffic flow at peak times, as it is affecting not just residents but major employers in the Basingstoke area. This amounts to much-needed investment to fill a yawning infrastructure gap created by an ever-increasing level of house building demanded by the Government in Basingstoke and in the south-east more generally.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[ The Petition of the residents of Basing and others,

Declares that traffic on M3 has increased dramatically between junctions 5 and 7 over the past 10 years; that this has led to significant increases in noise levels for many local residents, excessive peak time motorway tail backs and consequently unacceptable levels of rat running in our villages and suburban areas.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to implement their plan to install noise reducing road surfaces on all 6 lanes of the motorway and to put in place improvements to junction 6 to ease traffic flow at peak times.

And the Petitioners remain, etc. ]


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GP/Pharmacy Services (Mole Valley)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mark Tami.]

6.27 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a small issue that is of deep concern to many people in my constituency. I would like to thank the Minister, especially as she is the last Minister to be standing, as it were, in the pre-recess period. I do not envy her; I have been in the same position before, and I hope that she has recovered from the shock of having to respond to this debate. I also hope that she will be sweetness and light, to the benefit of my constituents. What I am really asking is for the Minister to show a little understanding and perhaps some flexibility in her Department’s thinking. As she will be aware, nationally applied rigidity can be damaging. I hope that she will listen gently and, as I have done several times, set aside her official speech and concentrate on the little bits and pieces that I raise in the debate.

To provide a bit of background, Mole Valley is the largest Surrey constituency; it is very different from the Minister’s deep urban seat. Having been a local councillor in a solid London inner-city borough, I have some idea of the problems she has to face in her Bristol constituency with tower blocks, unemployment, health conditions and so on and so forth. My constituency is, as I said, very different. It has two small towns and approximately 32 to 33 villages, so it is rural and semi-rural. Some of the villages are large, most are small. The gaps between villages are often considerable green farming areas.

Transport is predominately by private car and there is very little in the way of bus services; most of the trains are on radial lines running into London and are often inappropriate. As the Minister may know from the package of departmental information given her about the population, a considerable proportion of people in the area are elderly and most of those do not drive or are very nervous of driving; they are certainly very nervous of driving and parking in the towns. In addition, there are many young families with children, especially farming families. That explains the relatively large number of village schools and, until recently, village shops and post offices, as well as village halls.

Surrey is perceived by outsiders as green and wealthy, but the wealth is mixed and so is mobility. Life expectancy is higher than the national average, so all access problems are more applicable, as a recent Help the Aged survey pointed out. Of course, as the Minister knows, age brings increased demands on the national health service.

Mole Valley is served by three hospitals in adjacent constituencies, none in mine; one of them—Epsom hospital—is under threat, but that is a discussion for another time. In Mole Valley, there are two so-called cottage hospitals, one in Dorking and the other in Leatherhead.

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