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I assure the noble Lord that normal, arm’s-length, fair value transactions that swap an asset for cash or another asset and have, or are likely to have, no materially detrimental effect on scheme security, are not a target of the regulator’s activity. However, I draw attention to the fundamental issue of the mitigation of material risks to the security of scheme members’ benefits, to the Pension Protection Fund and to those responsible employers who pay the Pension Protection Fund’s levy.

Current powers enable the regulator to take action where, for example, business and asset sales from the employer or the wider employer group are realised, particularly where the transaction is not at arm’s length or fair value, or the sale proceeds are not retained; or where part of the operating business is sold at fair value for the assets, but all the pension scheme liabilities are transferred to a weaker covenant with the sold part of the company. Therefore, in a situation where companies from a group are sold, the regulator’s powers currently are—and need to remain—such that they permit action if pensions liabilities were avoided through the sale. The noble Lord’s amendment would change this and make fair value a defence. I do not think that that was the intent. This would place the regulator in the inappropriate position of arguing about whether something was fair value or not. The regulator’s proper focus should be on the effect on the scheme. I hope that I have clarified the issue.

6 pm

Baroness Noakes: I return to my example of a fair value transaction coming into the group, followed by a merger, followed by the failure of that merger. The Minister talked about assets leaving the group, about sales and mitigation. This is a different situation. I am trying to tease out the impact of that type of fair value transaction.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: If the merger was undertaken at fair value, taking account of the protection of the scheme and the covenant to the scheme, and the merger subsequently failed, it is difficult to see how that failure could be taken into account as part of the judgment on the original merger. When these transactions take place, as long as the position of the scheme is considered and properly protected, the fact that the beneficial effect conceived for the merger does not result should not be the subject of action by the regulator. We have to look at what happens when the merger is put together. The fact that subsequently it may fail is a separate issue.

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Baroness Noakes: I agree with the Minister that it should not be the subject of regulatory action. My question is whether the new powers will allow the regulator to go for that sort of transaction.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I think not. However, we will put this on the list of things to clarify over the next couple of months.

Lord Lucas: Again, I am grateful for that answer. It seems that these sorts of transactions will have to go for clearance. When you swap a business for cash, you are getting into the situation that the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, described in relation to buy-out schemes. That involves a substantial reduction in security, and therefore has to be washed through the Pensions Regulator. That is a sustainable position if it is understood. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 130FE, as an amendment to Amendment No. 130EW, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 130FF, as an amendment to Amendment No. 130EW, not moved.]

Lord Tunnicliffe: I remind noble Lords that the Committee stage of the Pensions Bill will resume tomorrow. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Crossrail Bill

6.05 pm

Report received.

Clause 23 [Duty of ORR to publish reports]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a slightly modified version of the amendment that I tabled in Committee. I have opted to modify, rather than to drop, the amendment because I was not satisfied with the reasoning that the Minister gave for allowing total freedom to the ORR in relation to frequency of reporting.

For the sake of time, I will not repeat all I said in Committee. However, it is not unreasonable to expect the Office of Rail Regulation to produce an annual report detailing its past, present and future activities in relation to the Crossrail project. I understand that the ORR may need to report on certain incidents or matters of importance more regularly, and this amendment would not prevent that. It is imperative that an annual report is provided, so that it can be scrutinised by all interested parties and, if necessary, by this House and the other place.

The benefits of annual reporting are clear. Twelve months is a long enough period to assess performance accurately; the reports can be used as benchmarks for future performance expectations; and an annual report

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will simplify comparative studies with other key documents. I imagine that the Minister will refer us to his comments in Committee on why he does not agree with this amendment. However, I believe that this is a fair compromise and I am optimistic that the Minister and his noble friends may be more open to this approach.

After receiving letters from the Minister on a different issue, I am grateful for his comments, particularly on the requirement that Cross London Rail Links will publish financial information on an annual basis, subject to protecting commercial interests. I am disappointed that the Minister did not add this to the legislation by accepting my amendment. However, I am pleased that the Government and the Minister have decided to adopt our thinking, and I hope that they repeat that logic today.

I received a letter dated 10 July from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, regarding the impact of construction of Crossrail on the Great Eastern Main Line. The Minister explained the impact of the construction in great detail and emphasised the need for a consistent approach to planning and consultation across the network. The Minister went on to offer me, in my other capacity as leader of Essex County Council, constant information on the subject. I am pleased to accept his comments.

I apologise for dealing with these two small issues, but there was probably no other opportunity to mention them. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for tabling this amendment. It enables me to reiterate one or two arguments that we rehearsed at an earlier stage of the Bill. It also gives me the opportunity to thank him and his colleagues—and colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches—for the spirit of co-operation and support that the Government have enjoyed throughout the deliberations on the Bill in your Lordships’ House. It has been a model. Since the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is here, I thank him for his very helpful engagement with the Bill during the special Select Committee procedure. I have no doubt that it resolved many problems and difficulties that people encountered with the Bill, and discussions were conducted in a spirit of constructive amity—that is perhaps the nicest way to put it. My heartfelt thanks go to him and to all colleagues who have been involved in this. It has been a very useful process.

Amendment No. 1 is moved with good spirit. Clause 23 would require the Office of Rail Regulation to produce a report on what it has done or proposes to do to meet its new Crossrail construction-related objective, as provided by new Clause 22, and on how it has exercised or proposes to exercise any of its functions in relation to the operation of Crossrail services. The ORR must do this from time to time, when it considers it to be appropriate. I assume that the noble Lord’s amendment is intended to require the ORR to produce reports no less frequently than annually. However, the amendment as I read it would not achieve this. It says that it must,

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My guess is that the rail regulator could carry on producing reports from time to time. It would not have to do so within a 12-month period, so the amendment is defective in its intent. Whether that was deliberate on the noble Lord’s part, I do not know, but I might give him the benefit of the doubt, particularly as I am in a generous mood.

The purpose of the clause is to make transparent how the ORR exercises its functions in relation to Crossrail. Clearly, reports need to be sufficiently frequent to fulfil this purpose. The frequency may sensibly vary depending on the stage of the project to reflect the peaks and troughs in decisions that the ORR needs to take. As I said in Grand Committee, I doubt whether a report produced less frequently than annually would be satisfactory, at least until the Crossrail services are running at the required frequency and, importantly, punctuality.

The clause already contains the safeguard that the Secretary of State can at any time require the ORR to produce a report. She might exercise this, for example, if there was a particular issue on which she wished to ensure that the ORR will publish a timely report. However, she could equally well use the power if she felt that the frequency chosen by the ORR was inadequate, and she could proactively ensure a particular frequency of reports. Therefore the clause provides the necessary flexibility to ensure that the timing of reports can be tailored to what is most useful for the particular stage of the project; yet it has the necessary safeguard against the frequency dropping too low.

I share the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, to see sufficiently timely reports from the ORR, but the clause will achieve this objective. We, like him, want to see timely information in the right place at the right time. It should be produced in a form that people can understand and to a specification that is transparent, so that people are well advised and understand the nature of the project and its progress, and the right elements of financial accounting and audit are properly in place. We think that we achieve that in the legislation. Although I think the noble Lord shares that aspiration, I rather suspect that his amendment does not achieve it.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I think we all share the same aspiration to make certain that there is enough information on this enormous project and that the ORR issues regular reports, so could not the Government give in a little on their wording? The phrase “from time to time” is very ambiguous. I am sorry if the wording of my amendment is not exactly right, but everyone knows that I want to make certain that we get at least an annual report. Could not the wording be slightly firmer? We all agree that we want the information. There is no disagreement about this or about the policy or philosophy behind it; there is simply a difference as to whether or not it will happen. Could not the Government make certain that that happened?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am impressed by the noble Lord’s humility, but it strikes me that we cannot afford to slip into legislative ambiguity of the

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sort that he seeks to put into place with his amendment. I give this simple assurance that, so far as we are concerned, “from time to time” means that the information will be provided in a timely fashion and reasonably regularly so that people can feel updated. I do not want to put ambiguity into the Bill, which is why I must ultimately resist the amendment.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. For today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 pm

Lord Low of Dalston moved Amendment No. 2:

(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisor Committee, established under section 125 of the Transport Act 1985 (c. 67);(b) persons that seem to it to comprise or represent disabled people from the areas covered by the scheduled works.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure that Crossrail is subject to the disability equality duties in the Disability Discrimination Acts and associated regulations, in particular the duty to have a disability equality scheme in place that involves disabled people in its preparation. Proposed subsection (2) would in particular require Crossrail to consult DPTAC—the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee—and persons representing disabled people from the areas covered by the scheduled works.

Crossrail is a splendid project. As a result of the building and rebuilding works it necessitated, many stations will become properly accessible to disabled people for the first time, and disabled people will benefit tremendously from the project overall. However, we need clear and committed leadership to ensure that things happen as they should and that, during the construction phase, people with mobility difficulties are not disadvantaged. That is what the amendment seeks.

I know from my own experience that confidence is vital to the mobility of blind and partially sighted people, as it is to the mobility of disabled people generally if they are to go out and about in their area, let alone further afield. For some people, especially older people, blindness can amount to house imprisonment. The impact on confidence is real, as is the danger from construction sites that suddenly appear or practised routes being cut off; blind people are even often injured by carelessly placed obstructions on the highway.

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If Crossrail is not to bring years of such problems, a number of things must be in place. First, problems need to be thought through in advance. Secondly, adequate information needs to be available. Thirdly, alternative routes and mobility support need to be available where necessary. It is not always obvious in the Bill that they will be available. Schedule 3, for example, permits the closure of highways at very short notice. In a four-week consultation period, blind people will often not be able to get the information that they need about these works in advance and in an accessible form that they can read. Schedule 7 permits ancillary developments but has a high threshold for refusing permission and no provision for considering the impact on disabled people.

I had a helpful meeting with Crossrail, which subsequently met the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association at my request. I am absolutely sure that Crossrail is sincere about trying to solve these problems, but it would be helpful to have in place a written plan, which is what a disability equality scheme amounts to, devised in conjunction with disabled people, particularly from the localities affected by Crossrail construction, so that the issues can be thought through before they arise.

I note that the Department for Transport equality scheme deals with policy issues rather than the practical problems to which I have referred, so I am not sure that it is really the answer to the issues that I am raising. Work already done on the construction code of practice and the planning memorandum will obviously be helpful, but the greatest benefits for disabled people would come from a disability equality scheme which has at its heart the involvement of local disabled people in its preparation. A recent survey of government departments was conducted to see what the impact of disability equality schemes introduced in December 2006 had been. These have now been in operation for about 18 months. Already, within the first year, government departments reported how helpful they had found disability equality schemes to be in focusing people’s minds on the issues that needed to be addressed. The aspect of disability equality schemes that they found most valuable was the involvement of disabled people, those likely to be affected, in their preparation.

I believe that there is a precedent for such a scheme in a similar case, that of the Olympic Delivery Authority. It has a disability equality scheme and a senior person working on these issues. If the Minister is not able to go all the way in accepting the amendment as drafted, it would be good to have an assurance that the Government will consult further with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and others in drafting the documents that I have referred to, namely the planning memorandum and the construction code of practice. If we could have an assurance that that would happen, it would go some way towards meeting the need that this amendment seeks to address. The greatest benefit would accrue if the need for a disability equality scheme could be written into the Bill.

Generally, it is vital that a senior officer of Crossrail should be responsible for making sure that the necessary steps are taken as the project goes on, thinking through

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new activities and their implications in advance, and dealing with specific issues as they arise. Disabled people, too, have lives to lead, jobs to go to and friends to visit. The barrier created by closing a local station will be much greater for them than it would be for ordinary members of the public. We owe it to them to make sure that they do not suffer disproportionately from all the Crossrail works that will take place over the next—I think—nine years. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me that Crossrail will have strong leadership in place to deal with the questions that I raise.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Low. I have raised several times the amount of disruption that the years of construction will cause everyone, both on rail and road. Everyone needs to be given adequate notice. I moved an amendment along those lines in Committee. Obviously, disabled people will suffer far more. They need adequate notice and a lot of planning is needed for this enormous project, which will take some years, as the noble Lord said. I hope the Minister can give some assurances and help to everyone, particularly disabled people, on this subject. This is along the lines of the amendment that I moved in Committee. I very much support it.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, we, too, sympathise entirely with the sentiment and wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Low. I ask the Minister to assure us that every reasonable step is being taken to meet the needs of the disabled traveller.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, that while hearing petitions, including some from local authorities specifically about issues relating to disabled people, committee members spent a good deal of time probing promoters to ensure that the maximum was done to meet the interests of people with disabilities, both during construction and as part of the overall programme. We were convinced in many instances, almost against out better judgment, that we had to give way on a number of issues. In particular, we vigorously pressed the promoters to contemplate introducing lifts at Manor Park. We then discovered that that would require building virtually a whole new platform and that for many months trains would have to be redirected. The total cost of introducing such changes ran into millions of pounds. The likelihood was that, if this happened in one or two other places, overall there would be a substantial additional cost.

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