House of Commons
|Session 2007 - 08|
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General Committee Debates
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
John Benger, Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerks
attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 27 November 2007
[Ann Winterton in the Chair]
Burial grounds: removal of human remains and monuments
Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 60, in schedule 14, page 210, line 24, at end insert
( ) If the remains were interred less than 25 years ago, the nominated undertaker shall make every reasonable effort to identify the relatives or personal representative of the deceased, and consult those people as to how the nominated undertaker proposes to carry out its functions under this Schedule with respect to the disposal of the remains or monument..[Stephen Hammond.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): Schedule 14 deals with moving human remains and monuments from burial grounds and re-interring or cremating the remains necessary to construct Crossrail. Before that happens, under the Bill the nominated undertaker, as it were, must publish the proposal twice in a local newspaper and erect a site notice unless the remains were interred more than 100 years ago and the Secretary of State considers that no relative or personal representative is likely to object. That will give relatives and personal representatives the opportunity to re-inter or cremate the remains themselves.
The provisions have a precedent in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, and have not proved controversial. Under the amendment, if the interment took place less than 25 years ago the nominated undertaker would have to seek out relatives or personal representatives, which would place substantial additional burdens on the nominated undertaker. In addition, the requirement in the amendment is open-ended, so that if no personal representative were found, every relative would have to be sought, which I am sure was not what the hon. Member for Wimbledon intended. Lawyers look at the exact wording of such proposals with great care, and it would be difficult to establish whether sufficient steps had been taken in any particular case and thus at what point the nominated undertaker could proceed with his work.
The amendment is also unlikely to have any substantive effect. As reported in the Crossrail environmental statement, Cross London Rail Links has carried out an archaeological assessment of the land affected by the project, expected scheme impacts and appropriate mitigation measures. The assessment indicated that the project is not expected to affect any interments made within the past 25 years. For those reasons, I do not support the amendment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.
I am not sure that I agree with the Minister that the amendment would place a substantial burden on the nominated undertaker. I was interested to learn that the Ministers favourite profession advised him that we would have to try to identify every relative. Clearly, that is not my intentionperhaps the amendment should have said a relative rather than the relatives.
Stephen Hammond: There is a lot of gallows humour this afternoon. I did not intend that the amendment should impose considerable burdens on people, but as drafted it would do so. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 14 agreed to.
Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Disposal of Crown land
after consultation with the Chief Executive of the Royal Parks Association and any other relevant interested parties.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 63, in clause 51, page 31, line 41, leave out appears to the Secretary of State and insert
the Secretary of State has determined.
No. 62, in clause 51, page 32, line 2, leave out appears to, and insert has been proven by.
Stephen Hammond: There was some confusion about the amendments. There was initially some transposition of their wording, but that problem has been corrected on the amendment paper. The Minister was quick to spot the transposition, and I congratulate him on doing so. I have also made an error in amendment No. 61, which I am sure will cause him to make some other point. The amendment should state Royal Parks Agency, not Royal Parks Association.
Clause 51 looks at the disposal of land managed by the Royal Parks Agency or the Crown Estate Commissioners on behalf of the Crown. Under the clause, the Secretary of State may grant a lease, easement or other right over such land. The purpose of my amendment is to avoid any perceived conflict of interest resulting from the fact that, as the explanatory notes point out, the Secretary of State is also
the legal personality of the Royal Parks Agency.
It would require the Secretary of State to consult with the operational head of the Royal Parks Agency before exercising his powers in respect of the Crown land, and it would introduce a consultation process with other interested parties. It would also ensure that the basis of
Amendments Nos. 63 and 62 are designed to achieve the same effect. They would make a minor change to the wording of the clause, and would require the Secretary of State to demonstrate that the land in question was needed for Crossrail. A consistent theme of mine during our sittings has been to ensure that we provide accountability and responsibility while giving the Secretary of State the flexibility and the exceptional powers that he wants. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the amendments.
Mr. Harris: Clause 51 deals with technical constraints arising under the Crown Lands Act 1851 and the Crown Estate Act 1961. Because land forming part of the royal parks or the Crown estate belongs to the Crown, it does not need to be compulsorily acquired, but it may none the less need to be used if we are to successfully build and operate Crossrail. Clause 51 applies only to land within the limits of deviation for the scheduled works, and thus within the limits of land to be acquired or used. Its provisions have effect only where the body responsible for managing the landthe Secretary of State in the case of royal parks and the Crown Estate Commissioners in the case of Crown estate landconsiders that it is required for Crossrail. It might be helpful if I gave an example to explain why we need clause 51.
To comply with safety requirements we intend to build a shaft in Hyde park. The likely significant impacts of the shaft were assessed in the environmental statement that was deposited with the Bill and those affected had the opportunity to petition against our proposals. Naturally, we discussed our plans with the Royal Parks Agency. In addition, some land required to provide the subsoil land for the Crossrail tunnels is owned by the Crown Estate Commissioners. Amendment No. 61 would require the Secretary of State to consult the chief executive of the royal parks association and any other relevant interested parties before granting a lease, easement or other right over a royal park. However, as I have explained, our proposals for Hyde park have already been the subject of extensive consultation during proceedings on the Bill.
On the question of the royal parks association, as the hon. Gentleman has already pointed out he meant the Royal Parks Agency, which is an executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The status of the agency may change from time to time, so it would be inappropriate to write the Departments internal management structures into the Bill. That has some relevance, given our earlier discussion about whether to name Network Rail in the Bill. Furthermore, a requirement to consult
any other relevant interested parties
would give rise to uncertainty as to who they were. After listening to the hon. Gentleman I am not clear what other interested parties he has in mind.
Amendment No. 62 would require the Secretary of State to prove that land within a royal park is needed for, or in connection with, the construction of Crossrail before he or she could grant any lease, easement or other right in relation to that land. The Secretary of State granting a lease, easement or other right will, at
Amendment No. 63 would limit the effect of clause 51(3) to cases in which the Secretary of State has determined that land within the Crown estate is needed for, or in connection with, the construction of Crossrail. Under the Bill, it would be for the Crown Estate Commissioners to be satisfied that part of the Crown estate was needed for, or in connection with, Crossrail. For the purposes of the provision, we think that it is right that that approach should be maintained and that it is the Crown Estate Commissioners who should take a view. I hope that that has clarified things for the hon. Gentleman and that he will consider withdrawing his amendment.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): As the constituency Member for Hyde park, among other royal parks and landmarks of this great city, I should like to confirm what the Minister said. There was extensive consultation on the building of the new site at the edge of Hyde park, close to the border with Bayswater road. A number of concerns were raised by my constituents, many of whom voiced ongoing concern about the increasing commercialisation of Hyde park. The issue was used as yet another cause cĂ(c)lĂ¨bre, but it is important none the less.
I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon. It does not strike me that other relevant...parties in the context of this issue are an extensive group of bodies. There is a well regarded list of amenity societies and residents associations in central LondonI am sure the same applies to any other part of the UK covered by the measureand the provision would apply to Friends of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and perhaps to the Marylebone Association and the South East Bayswater Residents Association. It would therefore apply to a very small and defined group. Westminster city council gives status to certain residents groups for the very purpose of their being consulted before planning changes are made, and they have locus standi in such matters. I do not expect that to be a particular problem.
Mr. Harris: I urge the hon. Gentleman to use his legal background. believe he trained as a solicitorI am sorry about thatso does he accept that the catch-all phrase,
any other relevant interested parties,
suggests a level of ambiguity that is not helpful? He is right that there is a very specific list of organisations that I am sure would be appropriate, but the proposal does not necessarily point the way to those people.
Mr. Field: I am happy to assist the Minister by suggesting that there must be something in the channel tunnel rail legislation along those lines. The world did not become a much worse place when I ceased to be a lawyer. Some of my constituents might argue that the
I accept what the Minister said. We need clarity, and I am not suggesting that the proposal is 100 per cent. ideal. However, it does make an important point about Crown estate land. The royal parks are very close to the hearts of countless millions of peoplemany of them are constituents of mine, but many of them are notwho value the wonderful amenity they provide. I would point out to the Committee that there are many royal parks outside central London, and it is with that in mind that we tried to target a particular concern.
I do not think that there is any likelihood of the royal parks soon leaving the hands of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is important to remember that in relation to compulsory purchase, particularly in central London, large tracts of Crown estate land are outside the scope of the Bill unless we protect them individually. I hope that the Minister has taken account of what we have said, because it is an important point. It would be a crying shame if, given the importance of much Crown estate land throughout the country, we bypassed the interests of residents and amenity groups in the vicinity by not giving credence to their concerns. It would be perverse in many ways if the Secretary of State had cartĂ(c) blanchĂ(c) to develop those areas, which are regarded by many people almost as common land, given that we rightly have all the safeguards in place for the compulsory purchase of privately owned land.
Stephen Hammond: I thank my hon. Friend for that valuable contributionnot least the clarification with regard to his own constituency and the shaft at Hyde park, for which there might be relevant interested partiesas it offered a clear indication of what relevant interested parties might be. I am disappointed that the Minister will not accept that the term relevant and interested parties, while it may cause minor ambiguity, would not give cartĂ(c) blanchĂ(c) for interest groups with no particular local or relevant interestthey would be ruled out. The amendment makes it quite clear which groups would be relevant.
As the Minister rightly pointed out, the thrust of a number of our amendments has been concern to ensure appropriate consultation. We are worried that there has not been enough consultation with outside parties throughout.
The other issue is the limiting of discretionary powers. I hear the Ministers points, but I hope that he will think carefully about whether there is some suitable wording that he could accept and that we could consider. However, I do not wish to press the Committee and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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