Clause 37

Crossrail Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 27 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Closures

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in clause 37, page 26, line 6, at end add—

‘( ) Before the Secretary of State exercises the power under subsection (1), he shall consult the Office of Rail Regulation and such other persons as he considers appropriate.’.

Here we go again on consultation. The clause deals with closures and, in essence, commits the Secretary of State to close railway lines where he sees necessary. At least, that is my understanding of it. It gives the Secretary of State such a power by means of allowing him to direct that certain provisions of the Railways Act 2005 will not be applicable. Again, I am sure that this is an absolutely necessary step, but it must be done in the right way.

The discontinuance of a railway service, however temporary, can cause a great deal of disruption for an operator and for passengers, and I am sure that the Minister will say that adequate consultation will be carried out, but we need to be clear that it will be, so that the affected parties can also adapt as they see fit. The consultation should include, but not be restricted to, the Office of the Rail Regulator.

I am trying to ensure that the Secretary of State has the freedom to decide who else it might be appropriate to consult, but I certainly want to ensure that the powers of consultation are clear and defined in the Bill, and that passenger groups, the appropriate train operator and those who might be affected are also consulted. The amendment is perhaps slightly different in tone to the last one, but it provides for the sensible and responsible thing to do. I hope that the Minister will agree.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I rise to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The purpose of clause 37 is to ensure that the closure provisions of the 2005 Act do not apply when such a closure is required in connection with the construction or maintenance of the Crossrail works, or as a consequence of Crossrail passenger services. That disapplication does  not apply to Crossrail services or facilities themselves. To deliver the Crossrail project, it will be essential to alter track and stations and to reorganise suburban services and much of that has the potential to be classed as closures. Even quite small changes can be classed as closures

If the Secretary of State decides whether to apply closure procedures—it is a function that she cannot delegate—the clause provides that she would consider the closure proposals by, or on behalf of, the nominated undertaker, and challenge them as necessary in reaching her decisions.

There is nothing to prevent the Secretary of State from consulting when she thinks that it would be appropriate, especially given that she would consider the proposals in the context of her duties to the national rail network, not just the Crossrail project in isolation. She might, for example, look at the extent to which the interests of others had been taken into account in the process, where possible. She might also decide that a closure merits being subject to the closure procedures in the 2005 Act with the consultation process that that entails. However, I think that she needs some flexibility to do what is appropriate in each case rather than to have a blanket requirement to consult.

This issue gets to the nub of our opposition to the amendment. What concerns me about the blanket requirement is that it risks creating false expectations of what the Secretary of State would be able to do in the light of consultations. For example, if a consultation on a small scheme resulted in arguments opposed to the closure, it would still have to go ahead to enable Crossrail passenger services to proceed. A few closures, such as of services and parts of stations are central to, and part of, the project proposals before Parliament. As I have said, the Secretary of State would be duty bound to consider those in the wider context of the UK railways.

Finally, the finer details of closure requirements are likely to emerge in the detail design process. Network Rail is likely to undertake most of the network works and will play a major part in the detail design process. It will be in Network Rail’s interest to ensure that the wider interests of the network and its other users are taken fully into account from the outset. I hope, perhaps in vain, that following this explanation, the hon. Gentleman will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

Again, I listened carefully to the Minister, and again, I could not understand a lot of what he said. Even after consultation, it may be necessary to close certain things, even if the people who are consulted disagree with that. That is in the nature of consultation. I do not see how the amendment, other than in the very clearest way, is a major imposition on the Secretary of State. It does not say that they must consult with any or every person as would wish to be consulted with. It refers to

“and such other persons as he considers appropriate.”

The Minister has said that it is inconceivable that the Secretary of State would not consult such people. Why, therefore, does he not wish to see that in the Bill? I find this extraordinary. We have accepted all the way through that this is an exceptional project requiring exceptional powers and exceptional discretion, but when we can put in the Bill a definition of those  powers, it would seem appropriate to do so. I am not sure that the he has reassured me on why he wants the amendment to fall.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I said in my original remarks, I am happy to expand on them. Under the 2005 Act, a closure has a wide definition. If part of a platform on a station had to be closed, I would see no benefit in triggering a consultation process on such a very small closure. The effect of the amendment would be that such a process would have to commence on every single closure as defined by the 2005 Act.

I accept that in most peoples’ minds, a closure means that of a railway station or a line. I accept that that is a concern. With regard to the wider responsibility for the rail network, it is frankly inconceivable that any Secretary of State would not consult on a major closure. However, the amendment would end up defining very many restrictions and very small closures as closures and would trigger a consultation system that would not be warranted in many cases.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I listened to the Minister, but that is not entirely what the amendment says. It refers to

“and such other persons as he considers appropriate.”

If, under the 2005 Act, it was a minor closure, in those circumstances it would not be appropriate to consult with everybody. The amendment gives the Secretary of State exactly the flexibility that the Minister requires. I am tempted to withdraw the amendment, but at this stage I would like to test the will of the Committee, if for no other reason then to ensure that we are all awake.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Rhif adran 5 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 37

Ie: 5 MPs

Na: 8 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 38 and 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.