Clause 43

Crossrail Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 27 November 2007.

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Transfer of functions relating to works

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in clause 43, page 29, line 1, leave out subsection (2).

This is very much a probing amendment. Clause 43 is necessary and, as I am sure the Minister will point out, it repeats almost word for word what is in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996. However, just because there is a precedent does not mean that we should not examine the powers or redefine them.

The clause refers to the transfer of statutory powers and duties relating to works on land acquired by the Secretary of State for the purposes of Crossrail. It makes perfect sense that if the Secretary of State acquires such land he should also acquire any related statutory powers. I want to probe the Minister about exactly what subsection (2) adds to that process. It provides for

“the further transfer...of a power or duty transferred under subsection (1) or this subsection.”

Can he explain exactly what that is intended to mean in practice and what are the further transfers that he anticipates he needs the power to cover? In the spirit of this probing amendment, I hope that he can clarify that matter for me.

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

Again, to set the amendment in context, when the Secretary of State acquires from a railway operator land on which there are works that have been  authorised by a previous statute, clause 43 allows for the transfer to the Secretary of State or the nominated undertaker any statutory powers or duties relating to those works and previously exercisable by the railway operator. The clause, oddly enough, is precedented in the 1996 Act—a fact of which I would not be so dismissive as the hon. Gentleman is tempted to be.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

There is great danger that we get bad drafting if we allow too much legislation simply to consider precedent. I say that as someone who practised briefly as a solicitor in the early 1990s. Whenever a novel problem arose there was a temptation to ask, “Where’s the precedent?” We are joking about this to a certain extent, and I accept that there are similarities between the two pieces of legislation that make it logical at least to keep an eye on how the clauses are drafted.

There is an issue to consider about parliamentary drafting if the draftsman’s first instinct is, “Let’s look at the precedent and see how we can mess around with it,” when thelegislation is 11 years old. That is not a terribly sensible approach. Our approach should be to ask what we are trying to achieve to ensure that this is robust legislation for decades to come. We should not simply justify it by looking at precedent. It might be easy to draft and slightly easier for the Minister to justify certain clauses, but we need to look much more sensibly at what the Bill is trying to achieve.

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

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would not be appropriate or justifiable simply to say that because the clause has a precedent that alone justifies its existence in subsequent legislation, which is why I want to explain why we wish to follow that precedent.

The 1996 Act is the closest legislative comparison we have to the Crossrail project. It was a hybrid Bill that introduced a multi-billion pound infrastructure project that was, at the time, the largest civil engineering project in Europe, as Crossrail will be when it is under construction. It is therefore justifiable to consider the precedent of the 1996 Act. It was robust legislation that, crucially, worked, which is what we want the Bill to do. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that precedent alone is not justification.

Subsection (2) allows the Secretary of State further to transfer to herself or a nominated undertaker any of the powers or duties previously transferred from a railway operator. If subsection (2) were deleted, as proposed by the amendment, those powers or duties, after being transferred, could not be transferred again. That would adversely affect cases in which the same land was needed for works by different nominated undertakers, which is entirely possible—I would say likely—especially in relation to construction sites.

The result would be that when the first nominated undertaker handed back land so that the second nominated undertaker could undertake his work, the Secretary of State would not be able to ensure that the powers and duties of the original railway operator transferred with the land. That would be an unsatisfactory outcome, to say the least. It would not be in the interests of the continued proper management of the railway. I hope that that is explanation enough for the hon. Member for Wimbledon.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 44 and 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.