Crossrail Bill

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Clause 24

Directions specifying matters for purposes of section 23
Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 42, in clause 24, page 15, line 36, at end insert—
‘( ) such passenger groups as he considers appropriate.’.
Following a number of amendments that I have proposed today, with which I have so far failed to tempt the Minister, I feel quite strongly about this one in particular. We have looked a number of times at what many people might regard as not necessarily being the fullest provisions for proper consultation. A proper consultation process ought to be incumbent on a Secretary of State when they are making certain provisions and orders.
Clause 24 allows the Government to set up minimum operating levels for principal Crossrail services. Subsection (4) of the clause obliges the Secretary of State to do so, having consulted Transport for London, passenger services providers, and anyone else whom he “considers appropriate”.
I would suggest that we need to include a significant group of people whom the Minister may well consider appropriate, but who are missing from the Bill and who ought to be included and place an absolute obligation on the Secretary of State to consult them. That is the people who will use the service—the passengers themselves. As those who will be profoundly affected by the minimum operating levels for Crossrail, it seems obvious that, if service levels are to be set or altered, passenger groups should be consulted regardless, and not only if the Secretary of State considers that appropriate.
I know that there are a number of excellent regional and national passenger organisations that the Minister will have met in his role as rail Minister; I certainly have in my role as shadow Minister. They include Passenger Focus, London TravelWatch, and various groups in the midlands. Those groups have much to say about the quality and operating levels of services. It would be a gross oversight not to recognise the value of the contribution that they make. To ignore them and not to put an obligation for them to be consulted in the Bill would be a great mistake.
Susan Kramer: I very much support the inclusion of passenger groups as has been proposed in the amendment. In my days on the board of Transport for London, advice from passenger groups was crucial to understanding how to get the service right. It is important particularly at a time when we need to ensure that there is joined-up thinking and that we deliver what is properly integrated and responsive to passengers’ needs. When a sum of about £16 billion is being invested, it seems that not to give those groups the high-priority profile that would be provided by including them in the Bill would be to miss an opportunity. The amendment would show that thinking has changed and that passengers are recognised as part of the system in a railway that, too long, had the reputation of being an arrangement that would work beautifully if people never bothered to get on the trains. That change in thinking that needs to be incorporated.
Mr. Harris: I will preface my remarks by pointing out, as I will repeat later on, that there is absolutely no prospect of the Government ignoring passenger groups’ views simply because that obligation is not in the Bill.
However, the clause that the amendment seeks to affect is linked to clause 23. It is an advanced planning measure that enables the Secretary of State, after consulting, to specify minimum operating levels to establish principal Crossrail passenger services from a specified date. Those services will make use, for at least part of their journey, of the new tunnel under central London. That direction, which must be published, sets the basis for the Office of Rail Regulation’s overriding duty under clause 23.
Before the Secretary of State specifies the minimum operating levels, she must consult Transport for London, the provider of any railway passenger service likely to be affected by the direction and any such other persons that she considers appropriate. The Secretary of State must give due consideration to who, if anyone in addition to those specified, needs to be consulted. If she did not do so, she would be open to challenge in the courts. It is likely that rail passenger groups would be included in the consultation.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon has not specified any particular organisation. However, the danger of the amendment is that other groups may start claiming that they, too, need to be specified or included in the long list of consultations and the list could become long and ill-defined.
The amendment is not necessary. The Secretary of State will act as she considers appropriate, taking account of her general policy and the Department for Transport’s general record in relation to passenger group consultations. This is not a bad amendment, but it does not add a great deal to the Bill. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.
Stephen Hammond: I listened carefully to the Minister. Let us examine his logic. He has just said that we should not include in the Bill the most important people, because doing so may bring in a load of other people. If he wanted me to specify passenger groups—if he would accept my amendment and if they were included—I would be happy to ask leave to withdraw it and allow him to bring it back as a Government amendment next week. However, if he is telling me that that creates too wide an opportunity, why is he including passenger services providers in the Bill? The Minister cannot have it both ways, but that is what he is trying to do. He is wriggling, because he does not want to be tempted into accepting one of my excellent amendments this afternoon.
Mr. Harris: I should point out that passenger service providers are there: they can be counted and identified and there is no question about who they are. There may be a question about which passenger groups—they are many and diverse— should be included in the list.
Stephen Hammond: I am afraid that the Minister is trying hard but failing to convince.
Mr. Field: I very much agree. Would not my hon. Friend agree that he included in his amendment the words “as he considers appropriate” to give the Minister the opportunity to suggest that it may not necessarily be appropriate to include some newfangled or unrepresentative passenger group? I cannot understand why, other than simply to hold the line, the Minister does not accept the amendment. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that he should do so forthwith.
Stephen Hammond: I certainly agree. I cannot see why the Government will not accept the amendment and include in the Bill this requirement to consult, which is sensible. It is important that this group be consulted. I take the Minister’s point, which is that he thinks that any reasonable Secretary of State would consult that group. However, why not put that on the face of the Bill? I have heard no argument not to do so. I am afraid that I would like to test the will of the Committee on this amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.
Division No. 4 ]
Binley, Mr. Brian
Field, Mr. Mark
Hammond, Stephen
Kramer, Susan
Scott, Mr. Lee
Wright, Jeremy
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Brown, Lyn
Cruddas, Jon
Harris, Mr. Tom
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Watson, Mr. Tom
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26

Amending pre-commencement access contracts: construction of Crossrail
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 43, in clause 26, page 17, line 19, after ‘State’, insert
‘and such other persons as the Office of Rail Regulation considers appropriate’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 47, in clause 29, page 20, line 15, after ‘State’, insert ‘and other interested parties’.
Stephen Hammond: The wording of the amendment means that we might be about to rehearse the same argument as has just been articulated. Its purpose is to ensure that appropriate consultation and an appropriate consultation process are carried out. In the present context, that should be prior to the adjustment by the Office of Rail Regulation of the pre-commencement access contracts. Clause 26(4) gives the ORR power to require concerned parties to submit proposals on how they should amend such access contracts, and the Opposition welcome that. Giving the parties to agreements the power at least to contribute to the decision-making process of the regulator will greatly improve the chances of effective modifications to such agreements.
Subsection (5) says that the ORR must consult the Secretary of State as part of that process. We welcome that too, especially as it puts the ORR under no particular obligation to abide by the Secretary of State’s directions. The requirement is one of consultation only. However, the consultation procedure ends there, and it seems short-sighted to presume that no one else will be affected at that stage by the changes to pre-commencement access contracts. The amendment is intended to ensure that the ORR is open to the concerns of other appropriate and relevant parties and that it consults them in a relevant and appropriate fashion.
Mr. Harris: The amendment would require the ORR to invite representations from parties other than the Secretary of State when it considered that an access contract needed amending if use of the railway facility to which the contract related would be affected by the construction of Crossrail.
The amendment is not strictly necessary, but I accept that it might have some merit, so I would like to consider it with officials in the Department. The ORR does not need authority to consult as widely as it considers appropriate, because nothing in clause 26 prevents it from doing that already. The ORR would in practice need to consult at least the parties to the affected access contracts before it could decide whether and how the contracts needed amending. Subsection (4) enables the ORR to require the parties to propose the directions that should be given. The ORR has established consultation policies and a track record of facilitating a very open process on access matters, so the decision on what is appropriate consultation can be trusted to it. I have explained my position on the amendment. However, if the hon. Gentleman insists on pressing the amendment, I shall have to ask my colleagues to vote against it.
Stephen Hammond: If one is on the Opposition Front Bench for any Committee stage of any Bill, one knows that any minor victory is to be celebrated. This is potentially the second minor victory today in which the Minister has agreed to take back two of my amendments to look at with his officials. I shall probably celebrate with a Martini later this evening. I am therefore delighted to withdraw the amendment and I look forward to talking to the Minister about it in future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
3.15 pm

Clause 27

Amending pre-commencement access contracts: principal Crossrail services
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 44, in clause 27, page 17, line 43, at end insert—
‘( ) Where the Secretary of State makes no objection to the contract, he must indicate who he has consulted in formulating his decision.’.
If the Minister wishes to take this amendment back to his officials, I will be happy to withdraw it. The clause also relates to pre-commencement access contracts, but those that affect the operation of principal Crossrail services, as opposed to those that concern the construction of the Crossrail network itself. It gives the Secretary of State the power to object to any perceived conflict between the specified minimum operating levels of Crossrail set by him and any existing access contracts as identified by the ORR. That is my understanding, at any rate. That effectively puts more power in the hands of Government and the purpose of my amendment is merely to introduce some accountability into the process.
The Secretary of State should consult affected parties before deciding whether to object to the contract identified by the regulator. He should then be happy to indicate exactly whom he has consulted in the formulation of that decision. Does the Minister agree that that puts no particular extra or undue burdens on the Secretary of State and that the Secretary of State, whoever it might be at that time, should be happy to indicate whom he or she has consulted in the formulation of that decision?
Mr. Harris: I fear the hon. Gentleman might be drinking Martinis on his own tonight. I do not think that I will be able to join him. If I offered him the same concession that I offered previously, he might start spreading the rumour that I am a soft touch. The aim of his amendment is somewhat puzzling. It requires the Secretary of State to indicate whom she has consulted when she makes no objection to an access contract that conflicts with the operation of the principal Crossrail services, but it makes no similar requirement when she does object.
I do not see a requirement to consult being necessary in any case. The ORR is already likely to be in touch with the parties to access contracts and to establish what would prejudice the operation of the principal Crossrail passenger services. The Secretary of State would decide whether she objects to that contract. If she does object, the ORR would be in touch with the affected parties anyway and regulations would provide for the carrying out by the ORR of its functions, which could involve consulting interested persons. If she does not object, I am not clear what use the ORR would have for information on whom, if anyone, she consulted in reaching that decision. At the risk of disappointing the hon. Gentleman, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I know from the Minister’s debating here and in the House that he is not a soft touch. I cannot believe that anyone would think that of him. I have listened carefully to his rationale. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman: We now have a repeat performance by Mr. Hammond.
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 45, in clause 27, page 18, line 7, leave out subsections (7) to (9).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 17, in clause 33, page 23, line 22, leave out subsections (6) to (8).
Stephen Hammond: Thank you, Lady Winterton. I do feel a bit like the ITV autumn schedule, I must say.
This is a probing amendment. I seek to delete subsections (7) to (9) of clause 27. The two preceding subsections give the Office of Rail Regulation the power to enforce the decision of the Secretary of State as to the amendment or cancellation of any existing access contracts that are perceived to be in conflict with the Government’s specified minimum operating levels for Crossrail. Subsection (7) enables the Secretary of State to
“make provision in relation to the carrying out by the Office of Rail Regulation of its functions”
as set out in the preceding subsections. That appears to me to be vague, ambiguous and in need of clarification. I hope that my amendment will allow the Minister to clarify exactly why these subsections are relevant and need to be included in the Bill.
Mr. Harris: Clause 27 deals with existing access contracts that may affect the operation of the principal Crossrail passenger services. After all, some access contracts that would have such an effect may still be in existence at the time of Royal Assent, and the clause enables them to be modified. Clause 33 also deals with the modification of access contracts. In both cases, where such modification was required, there would need to be an extensive process corresponding broadly to that set out in paragraphs 3 to 6 of schedule 4 to the Railways Act 1993. It is desirable to provide for that by means of secondary legislation, rather than adding further to the Bill. It would be subject to the annulment process in the House.
Amendments Nos. 45 and 17 would delete both provisions that enable secondary legislation to be made. That could result in an unsatisfactory, inflexible position in which existing statutory procedures may not be entirely established or transparent. If there were concerns about provisions in the secondary legislation, there is parliamentary protection, as I have described. I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon is satisfied with that explanation.
Stephen Hammond: As I said, this is a probing amendment. I wanted the Committee to understand why the subsections are necessary and I thank the Minister for his explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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