I beg to move amendment No. 26, in schedule 2, page 63, line 39, leave out from ‘arbitration’ to end of line 40.
These amendments and their purposes are identical. Amendment No. 26 deals with disputes over highway access and amendment No. 27 deals with disputes over the discharge of water. Amendment No. 26 proposes that the relevant subsection should read:
“Any dispute with a highway authority under this paragraph shall, if the parties agree, be referred to arbitration”.
That would remove the ultimate power for dispute resolution from the hands of the Secretary of State. Disputes should be referred to arbitration, the process of which should be designed to ensure that a solution is reached. It seems that there is no need for a provision to be written into the Bill that will allow decisions to be made by the Government, rather than by someone charged with arbitration. There is a risk that the Government will not only be one of the parties in the arbitration, but the arbiter as well, which seems to be an inequitable position. Therefore, I look forward to the Minister accepting these sensible and reasonable amendments.
I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. Does the Minister not also understand that, in a sense, the Secretary of State’s power is imposed only when the parties disagree at the outset? The danger is that the Secretary of State will get involved in what could be a very difficult political debate between parties that disagree about arbitration. Given the amount of compulsory purchasing and the other elements in which either the Secretary of State is potentially a final arbiter or state bodies own part of the land concerned, it seems the worst of all worlds for the Secretary of State to take on that power. However, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, the parties should be obliged to go to arbitration whether or not they agree.
As the hon. Member for Wimbledon knows, paragraph 1 of schedule 2 grants the nominated undertaker general powers to carry out ancillary works additional to the scheduled works. Paragraph 2 allows the nominated undertaker to provide highway accesses, whether permanent or temporary, at the points marked on the deposited plans, except when the highway authority objects on the specific grounds provided. Such access may be similarly provided with the consent of the highway authority—such consent not to be unreasonably withheld—at any other point within the Bill limits. Any disputes about the provision of highway accesses are to be determined by the Secretary of State unless the parties agree that the matter should be referred to arbitration.
Paragraph 8 allows the nominated undertaker to make use of sewers and watercourses for removing water in connection with the construction or maintenance of Crossrail. Any disputes about making use of sewers and watercourses are to be determined by the Secretary of State unless the parties agree that the matter should be referred to arbitration.
The amendments would remove the Secretary of State’s ability, as the hon. Gentleman said, to determine disputes about highway accesses or the discharge of water, meaning that they would in all cases go straight to arbitration. Giving the Secretary of State the ability to determine disputes about various matters is well precedented in projects of national significance such as Crossrail. The provisions are modelled on identical provisions in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, and the Bill contains many other provisions whereby the Secretary of State, sometimes acting jointly with another Secretary of State—for example, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—will be able to determine disputes.
Arbitration can be a rather time-consuming and costly experience, particularly when both sides do not feel that it is necessary, and the Bill’s approach is to allow for arbitration only when both sides agree. The amendments would ensure that arbitration occurred even when both parties did not want it. The provisions in the Bill worked well in legislation for the channel tunnel rail link, and Ministers are well used to exercising such functions. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
I have listened very carefully to the Minister, to his comments about precedent in other legislation and to the point that the amendments would refer people to arbitration even if they did not want it, which in some cases is extremely helpful. I hope that he has taken on board the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, who made the point that, in relatively minor cases, the Secretary of State may be drawn into political disputes that he would not wish to be drawn into. Nevertheless, given the precedent in other legislation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.