§ Amendments made: No. 49, in page 41. line 16, column 3, leave out '40' and insert '24'.
No. 50. in page 41, line 20, column 3. at end insert—
'In section 25, the words from the beginning to "surface of the road" (except as incorporated in, or otherwise applied by, any Act of Parliament or Provisional Order).
In section 25, the words "and shall not be opened" onwards.
Sections 26 to 40 (except as incorporated in, or otherwise applied by, any Act of Parliament or Provisional Order).'.
§ No. 90, in page 41, line 22, column 3, leave out '64' and insert '47'.
No. 91, in page 41, line 26, column 3, at end insert—
Sections 49 to 64 (except as incorporated in, or otherwise applied by, any Act of Parliament or Provisional Order).'.
No. 93, page 42, line 23, column 3, at end insert—
'In section I3(1)— the definition of "railway of the nature of a tramway";
the definition of "tramcar";
the words "and references to" to "Road Traffic Act 1960".'.
No. 97. in page 43, line 10, column 3, attend insert—
'Section 124 (except as it applies in Scotland).'.
No. 80, in page 44, line 26, column 3, at end insert—
1n section 57(1), the definition of "large-scale".'.
§ No. 53, in title, line 2, leave out operation or use' and insert 'or operation'.—[Mr. McLoughlin.]
§ Order for Third Reading read.— [Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent, signified.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. McLoughlin.]6.26 pm
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
The speed with which the Bill has just proceeded through the House shows how foolish the Conservative Whips were in failing to move the business motion when the Bill was last under consideration. The only purpose is to speed it through.
We support the Bill. It was improved in Committee, and I am pleased that the Minister has accepted a number of amendments tabled by the Opposition to ensure that in some instances—although not in a satisfactory number —the order-making powers come back to the House through the negative procedure. I am delighted that the Minister saw the good sense in that and that the Bill has been so improved.
The Bill was also improved in Committee as a result of ensuring that the powers to obtain light railway orders in Scotland are not made more complicated as was originally the case. The Minister accepted representations which ensured that light railway-making provisions are the same in England, Wales and Scotland.
The Bill also ensures to some degree—although not entirely satisfactorily—that the waterways provisions are modified. Consultations were undertaken, again as a result of proper consideration in Committee. The Committee proceedings on the Bill were a model of how the Opposition can ensure that there is proper and adequate scrutiny and can produce improvements.
The examination of the Bill has been worth while. It is a relatively minor Bill but it contains a number of important provisions because it replaces the method used previously—the private Bill procedure—which was often lengthy, cumbersome and unfairly expensive for British Rail.
It was an historical quirk that railways were authorised by private Acts of Parliament promoted in the House by outside bodies. All the railways across the country have been so promoted, with the exception of those promoted through orders under the Light Railway Acts which are now repealed by the Bill. However, the vast bulk of railways were constructed under private Bills. The Bill will streamline matters, and rightly so.
We must be cautious about handing powers to Ministers. That was the theme of many of my contributions in Committee and on Second Reading, and it is a theme now. We must be cautious, because a huge 365 number of powers are handed to Ministers but there is very little opportunity for them to be debated on the Floor of the House. We are reaching the stage when we need to re-examine the accountability of Ministers to the House for the subordinate legislation that they have the power to produce.
The Bill simplifies matters and speeds things up. In a complicated society we need to give Ministers such powers —there is no quibble about that—but the question is how, when controversy arises, it can be focused, on the Floor of the House if necessary. If we as a House provide the Minister with powers not subject to any further parliamentary procedure, that opportunity will be denied to future Members of Parliament. That is wrong. That is why I regret that the powers in clauses 1 and 3 are still not subject to the negative procedure instruments that I proposed
However, the Minister can rest assured that he and his successors—he will have a successor very soon—will be subject to careful scrutiny. Of course, hon. Members now sitting on the Opposition Benches will be sitting on the Government side of the House later next month—
§ Mr. Cryer
I shall continue, despite rude interruptions from the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), who is such a bane that I remember the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) criticising her severely for shouting out so often. That is not something that I do myself, so I hope that the hon. Lady will not keep up her tirade.
The Minister and his successors should be subject to the scrutiny of the House, and I hope that they will be, whether or not they are specifically required to bring an instrument before the House.
I should like the first occasion on which the Bill is used to be a link between the two stations in Bradford. I once introduced an Adjournment debate on the subject, but at the time the then local authority did not seem to have much enthusiasm for such a link. However, since then, land that was apportioned and planned for further retail development in the old Bradford Forster square station has become fallow. The retail development has fallen through, as a result of the enormous, deep and long-lasting recession created by the Government's economic policies.
It would be helpful if the Bill could be used to provide a link between the Bradford interchange and Forster square station. Such a plan has been suggested in Bradford for at least 100 years. It would enable through trains to be operated, rather than there being two termini, with branch lines to Bradford. The present situation causes all sorts of operating difficulties. I imagine that that is exactly the sort of project that could be carried out effectively, cheaply and efficiently under the Bill.
There will be no need for the complicated business of promoting a private Bill, as there would have been under the old system. Such a scheme would hitherto have come under one of the general British Railways Bills which tidied up a number of projects promoted by BR—a siding here, a loop line there, a connecting junction at the other end of the country, and so on. That was all perfectly legitimate, but it was expensive for British Rail.
366 The project that I have mentioned would be of enormous benefit to the people of Bradford, and it would be the ideal subject for a city grant. A few million pounds would help to create jobs and enable a viaduct to be built, joining the two stations by going round the newly built court house—incidentally, that cost £1 million per court; it was an expensive venture. That would provide through trains for the first time in the history of Bradford, and it would help develop inter-city connections and the railway network in and around Bradford. Clearly, that would be a beneficial effect of the Bill.
The Bill represents an improvement. It places British Rail in a position more squarely comparable with the procedures and costs of promoting road improvements via motorways, bypasses and so on. That is only fair. If there is to be a better deal for railways, if we are serious about moving traffic from roads on to railways, British Rail should not be handicapped, compared with motorways. Road improvements should not have the advantage. The Bill changes things a little in British Rail's favour, while retaining that important degree of accountability.
I want to see British Rail develop in future, and provide a better service. I hope that it will be a cheaper service, so that more people use it, and I hope that this relatively minor Bill will help to reduce the burden of congestion and pollution on the roads.
I believe that it will take a Labour Government to put some real drive behind the policy of better rail facilities, rail use and rail development—in contrast to the lamentable policies that have been pursued by the Government. None the less, because the Bill represents a minor improvement in facilities, I shall vote for it if there is a Division tonight—especially bearing in mind the number of Opposition improvements that have been incorporated in the Bill.
In spite of my reservations about going through the Lobby to vote for a Government Bill, I want to demonstrate that when we see an opportunity, we take it —such opportunities have been very few, I might say to my deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). These have been fallow years; we have had a desert of 13 years of Tory rule, and there has been little that we could support. But I think that my hon. Friend will agree that this is a legitimate occasion to vote for a Government Bill, especially when we bear in mind the part that he played in Committee, helping to organise the manifold improvements in the measure. Voting for the Bill will really be voting for the numerous Labour improvements to it—[Interruption.] In the midst of those turbulent and mischievous comments—
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will support the Government after the general election, too?
§ Mr. Cryer
I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that, when I was on the Back Benches between 1974 and 1976, the then Government Chief Whip often used to stand in the entrance to the Lobby and ask me whether I was voting Labour again tonight. But I must also point out to anyone who might be in doubt that, as I voted more often than most hon. Members, I voted more often than most for the Labour Government as well. After the next general election, it will be my pleasure to vote more often than most for the next Labour Government.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
What a pity that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) was drawn back into reminiscences of the previous period of Labour Government, during which he was a Minister. At one moment he waxed eloquent, with all his optimistic and unrealistic thoughts about there being another Labour Government. He even said that such a Government would put more money into railways, although he must remember the times when he went into the Lobby to support a Labour Government who cut investments in the railways.
However, I do not wish to remind the hon. Gentleman of such sad circumstances—
§ Mr. Moate
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) says that the Labour party has seen the light. Well, hope springs eternal, and the hon. Member for Bradford, South was diverted into flights of fantasy. It was a pity, because until then I agreed with everything he said —even his strictures about what the Government Whips did the other evening. They usually behave with great sensitivity and perfect judgment, but on that occasion they misunderstood the bipartisan nature of the proposals and the great investment made by hon. Members from both sides of the House in improving the Bill.
In welcoming the Bill's Third Reading, I should like to place on record our thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Mr. Walker), who was in the Chair until a moment ago, for the tremendous effort that went into the reform of the private Bill procedure. The Bill is very much a reflection of that. We should not be here today had you and your colleagues not made considerable efforts to ensure that the matter was examined.
I should like to record, too, our thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson), who chaired the Select Committee. A number of us served on that Committee which first sat almost five years ago. It has taken five years to get where we are today.
I also record our tribute to the co-operation that we have received from hon. Members of all parties who have ensured that the Bill has been thoroughly scrutinised. That is as it should be. I disagreed with the hon. Member for Bradford, South when he said that the Bill was a minor piece of legislation. It is of immense significance. A system that has grown up over almost 150 years or perhaps even longer is to be changed by the Bill. It is of tremendous importance and will be of great convenience to Parliament. It will reduce the number of private Bills by 50 per cent. and it may reduce the time taken on private Bills by 75 per cent.
I venture to suggest that the time saving would not have been enough of an argument to persuade the House to accept the proposal if there were not other powerful arguments. One is the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Bradford, South. I believe that the Bill will help genuine promoters and will help the construction of railways. That is as it should be. We are also introducing a system that is fairer to petitioners and objectors. Fundamentally, we are making it easier for local objectors to go to local inquiries and to put their case more 368 effectively and more efficiently. That sense of fairness has driven hon. Members to help to get the Bill on to the statute book.
The Bill is tremendously important. I feel proud, as other hon. Members do, to have taken part in the changes which will ensure that we have a much better and fairer system for dealing with public works. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister who has taken the Bill through with great charm and skill. I also pay tribute to Opposition Members who have been so constructive. I also give rare praise—I say "rare" because it does not happen often—to the civil servants and staff who have created a clever Bill which deals with complex matters. They have engaged in an exercise in open government by being prepared to listen to representations in a way that is not often achieved in our legislative process.
I hope that the legislation will reach the statute book by getting through before the election. Just as importantly, that would ensure that we have all the rules in place so that promoters will know this autumn that they can go through the new procedure and will be in no doubt that they will not have to use the old private Bill procedure instead. I hope that the Bill will receive its Third Reading and that this important piece of legislation will reach the statute book.
§ Mr. Fearn
On the whole, I welcome the Bill which could provide a mechanism through which to build, maintain and operate the public transport system that this country so desperately needs. There are one or two concerns, which came out time and again in Committee, about the power that will be wielded by the Secretary of State. Of special note to me was the fact that "matters of national significance" were not explained. We still do not know the criteria that define such matters. Perhaps that will be taken up in the other place.
I admit to some satisfaction that my concerns about the procedural matters in clause 9, as expressed in my admendment in Committee, have been met halfway by the Government, in tabling amendment No. 85, which was agreed. The conservation bodies must now decide whether they want to pursue the matter further in the other place.
I am especially disappointed that hon. Members who would like the permissible levels of alcohol for drivers to be reduced were unsuccessful in all the attempts to lower the permissible level for train drivers and related personnel. We were cheated out of the amendments tabled on the subject; they were never debated. The issue is important in ensuring the safety of the travelling public and I am sure that their Lordships will have something to say on the matter. I wish the Bill well on its way, especially as I succeeded with amendment No. 98 this evening.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) mentions the amendments that were not considered on Report. I do not comment on the selection of amendments, which would be improper.
Anyone who reads the debate in Committee and who read the report of the Second Reading debate will expect the Government to use the powers and regulations to drop the drink limit for train drivers.
It is unacceptable that a professional:driver of a train, of a bus, of a coach or of a taxi should be able to take a 369 bottle of wine, to pour away one glass, to drink the other five and, if the driver were of a reasonable size, be below the criminal limit for driving a train or any other form of transport available to the fare-paying public.
People may argue that it is difficult to have rules for train drivers which are different from the rules for the drivers of trolley buses. What happens if a tram hits a trolley bus? Can one driver be prosecuted at one level and the other driver at another? There are answers to that.
Some may ask why a train driver, a coach driver or a cab driver should be prosecuted at a level that would be all right for an amateur driver. The answer is that people who are paid to exercise their profession should accept levels for crime and for health and safety at work regulations which are different.
§ The Minister for Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels on the matter. Many people drive professionally for their living, such as salesmen. They professionally use the roads as a means of earning their living. My hon. Friend must explain how we could expand the legislation. There is the possibility of inconsistency, which worries us.
§ Mr. Bottomley
1 have no problem at all with inconsistency. We should start with professional paid drivers who are carrying passengers, as trains, trams, trolley buses, coaches and cabs do. We have a definable group. We could then discuss whether heavy goods vehicle drivers are in a similar position because of the weight that they carry. Our misjudgments when we are affected by alcohol have greater consequences then.
The question where the dividing line should come is different from the question of whether in primary legislation we set a limit at which a professional driver is up to five times more likely to be involved in a crash or collision, or to make a mistake. I will not speak at length because the matter would have been more suitable for debate on Report.
There is no justification for the present limit in the Bill. The House of Lords may not change it.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consult colleagues in the Department of Employment and to talk with the Health and Safety Commission which has the advantage of being a tripartite body. I ask him to see whether they will set up a steering group, including trade unionists, employers and representatives of the fare-paying public, and to have urgent consultation to see whether such a group will suggest a way in which to reduce the limit for public service professional drivers. If we did that, we should be able to use the powers in the Bill and to see which other powers should be used.
My hon. Friend may say that we are here to talk only about the criminal law and that, under health and safety at work legislation, employers should be able to impose lower limits. I accept that.
I declare that most train drivers would not dream of taking alcohol before driving. One reason why trains are so safe is the professionalism of the staff on the railways, which have a long and worthwhile tradition.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, even if the number of deaths on the roads comes to a record low for the year, 370 about 4,500 people will still die. If that traffic was on the railways, the number would be only 150. That gives the scale of the change in safety.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I will tempt my hon. Friend. Does he agree that, if we wanted simultaneously to reduce deaths on the roads and to make British Rail the most profitable operation in the world, all we should have to do would be to introduce a one-clause Bill to apply the rules for safety and signalling on the roads which we apply on the railways? Is it not because we expect, as my hon. Friend has said, so much higher standards on the railways that we are willing to cast away human lives and to maim hundreds of thousands of people by being so lax about what happens on our roads?
§ Mr. Bottomley
My hon. Friend makes a point in support of the argument which is shared across the House. The amendment, which was not selected on Report, had all-party support. My hon. Friend's point is that there is a good argument for having a lower limit for professional drivers. That is why trains have higher safety standards.
I remember the six people who died and the more than 100 who were injured at Eltham Well Hall about 19 years ago in a crash in which the train driver was well above the limit in the Bill. I do not pretend that a significant number of train drivers take alcohol before driving, and the same applies to the drivers of coaches and cabs. The public deserve an assurance that the criminal law is there to protect them. The Health and Safety Commission could organise consultations in which the unions and other representatives of those involved in such work could come together and give their views. I suspect that their views would be the same as mine, but it is for them to speak for themselves.
§ Mr. Snape
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the topic was debated extensively in Committee? Reference was made to the accident at Eltham Well Hall. Does he accept that the behaviour of the driver was so uniquely appalling on that occasion that, even if the limit had been set at the lower level that the hon. Gentleman proposes, that behaviour would have been exactly the same and that it was also the result of some supervisory errors? The hon. Gentleman accepts that such behaviour is a rare occurrence.
The Committee felt that it would be invidious for public service vehicle, train or metro drivers—that is the only group to which the Bill refers—to be breathalysed and arrested even though he or she had a lower level of alcohol than a bus driver perhaps involved in exactly the same accident. We want a lower limit for everyone.
§ Mr. Bottomley
That is helpful. It is good guidance for my hon. Friend the Minister. I do not ask him for a detailed response because I suspect that it would not be different from the response that he gave to the Committee. I agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich. East (Mr. Snape) that the professional limit should be the same, whether one is on rails or on tyres.
I wish to make a few remarks on the other provisions of the Bill. It is important to ensure that, under the new procedure, the promoters of private legislation for both roads and railways reach the same standard that the Government ought to achieve more often on roads.
I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to the unsatisfactory decisions behind the answers that I 371 received today about Oxleas wood. I hope that private legislation on roads will not disregard a 400 m cut-and-cover tunnel, which would make a great deal of difference to those historic woods.
I ask the Government to reconsider the decision that they appear to have made to disregard the inspector's report. It seems important that, when an inspector is convinced after a long inquiry, the Government should also be convinced.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) has reminded us of the tragedy that took place in his constituency. The whole House will agree that an anomaly is being introduced into the law of this country. It is that the driver of a train or public service vehicle carrying up to 1,000 passengers is subject under the criminal law to only the same law that applies to a person driving alone on the road. I do not understand, and I did not understand in Committee, why the Government could not have said that the limit for drivers of public service vehicles was nil. I do not see who could possibly object to that.
§ Mr. Spearing
Perhaps zero in precise scientific terms, which is the limit to which my hon. Friend refers, is impractical. But my hon. Friend knows the general drift of what everyone would wish in practical terms. I do not want to go hack into a Committee debate but the point illustrates—with learned Clerks and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at hand—what appeared a rather unusual selection.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman has put into words what I would not dare to say. I make it plain that the amendment that was not called and which was supported by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, and the Labour Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), would have set a limit one quarter of that which applies to drivers on the road. That is virtually indistinguishable from a zero limit. It allows for the practicalities to which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred. It is virtually a zero limit.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. But we are dealing with part I of the Bill. Although in some respects part II is consequential to part I, I suggest that it is a series of provisions which are not necessarily all contingent on part I.
With another constituency example, the hon. Member for Eltham has shown us the dangers of transmitting powers to Whitehall and to one Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can turn down the recommendation of a long, thorough public inquiry. The inspector's report —in this case on Oxleas wood—can be disregarded virtually in the twinkling of an eye. Under that provision, unless the matter is of national significance, an inquiry can be disregarded. Important as Oxleas wood is for London, it cannot be regarded as other than a precedent. However, it shows the dangers inherent in the Bill.
372 You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or my colleagues will, that throughout the Committee stage and subsequently, I have expressed doubts about the method that has been adopted to get round the difficulty illustrated by Oxleas wood. The method is to hand to Whitehall powers which were formerly in the hands of Members of Parliament and thereby the representatives of the public. Previously, such matters were not simply left to the Government's discretion.
Any Member of this Parliament or the next Parliament, and in particular of the next, who complains about loss of power of the House must examine what happened in respect of the Bill. Of course there were difficulties. Many of the private Bills that came before the House on Second Reading and in Committee should never have been private Bills. Many were contentious Bills which involved matters of public policy and would perhaps have been better dealt with as either hybrid or public Bills. With due respect to the Select Committee's thoroughness, it did not sufficiently look into possible ways of eliminating such Bills as private legislation from the Floor of the House.
As we all know, the result of the private Bill procedure was often that individual Members of Parliament who had good cases, often hacked up by their hon. Friends, either saw to it either that there was a logjam to delay the progress of Bills coming up behind another measure or used the threat of time when speaking on private Members' legislation as a lever for something else. That brought the private Bill procedure into disrepute.
In addition to that, there were genuine anxieties about private Bills, which I shared. A constituent of mine was told that, to progress a petition on the London Underground (Jubilee) Bill, he would have to expend £70,000. That is an enormous and ridiculous figure, but I saw it in writing. People in wigs and gowns take up the time of Members of Parliament in front of expensive counsel. That was criticised in respect of certain matters, including, for example, the Dartford crossing. That should never have happened, but the question that was not asked and certainly was not answered was how those abuses arid difficulties could have been avoided without handing over so much power to an individual Secretary of State and, in effect, officials who have to do a great deal of work.
Make no mistake, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Bill will erect inside Whitehall a new bureaucracy in the Department of Transport. I have no doubt that the Department is preparing it all now. Unlike the Department of the Environment, the Department of Transport has not been primarily involved in public inquiries before.
We all agree that the local inquiry on planning matters has many advantages, but no one has asked whether we should not say that no private Bill can be deposited before the necessary equivalent planning permissions have been acquired through the planning process. If that had required a change of statute to extend the time available, we could have done it in respect of matters on which private Bills were necessary. That was not sufficiently investigated. If we had done that, we would have created a new template and a new gateway into the private Bill procedure, but it would have meant that there was thorough local consideration prior to receipt of a Bill in the House.
All the issues which understandably might deter petitioners could be dealt with at a more local level, but there would also be a secondary and more important 373 effect. It would mean that details of the required legislation could be discussed and conciliation could take place before the Bill was drafted. In practice, someone takes a chance, produces a Bill which other people think outrageous, and there is a long-drawn-out struggle.
I do not know whether you recall the Ginns and Gutteridge Leicester (Crematorium) Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which was debated for either six or 12 hours in the House on Second Reading. I shall tell hon. Members about that Bill if they do not remember it. It authorised a private company to establish a crematorium in the basement of undertaker's premises in the middle of a midlands city. That should never have come to the House as a private Bill, but it took up a lot of our time and added to the disrepute into which this type of private procedure has brought itself. Had planning permission been required before the Bill was submitted I do not believe that such permission would have even been sought, because under existing general law relating to crematoriums such an application would have been prohibited.
§ Mr. Moate
In fact the Ginns and Gutteridge application went before the Leicester planning authority and was approved. It should not have come here; the hon. Gentleman is right. If someone wished to dispute it, it should have been revoked in the usual way. He is right in principle, but wrong in detail.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am always open to correction and I am grateful for that intervention, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it does not destroy the principle that I was enunciating. I shall not comment on the Leicester planning inquiry into the matter.
Let us hasten on. Many of the problems that we were concerned with in Committee would have been solved if those possibilities had been considered. By granting those powers to the Secretary of State of the day, we are probably storing up a great deal of trouble for ourselves.
Clause 5(3) (a) contains the extraordinary provision that an order mayapply, modify or exclude any provision of an Act of Parliament (or of an instrument made under an Act of Parliament) which relates to any matter as to which an order could be made under section 1 or, as the case may be, 3Note the word "relates" in the Bill, rather than "necessary for the completion or. Those are enormous powers and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has reminded us, as the Bill stands, unless the matter is of national significance an order will not even be subject to the negative procedure.
§ Mr. Cryer
I think that my hon. Friend would accept that that is some qualification. I am delighted that he is as concerned as I am about the powers in delegated legislation. The so-called Education Reform Act 1988 contains much wider powers. For instance, there are 18 occasions when the Secretary of State can repeal, modify or amend, as he chooses, primary legislation. Although my hon. Friend is concerned about this Bill, the powers are qualified. In what I might dare to term more major pieces of legislation, the powers have not been so narrowly defined.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out what might be regarded by some people as a precedent. He almost underlines my argument, because I 374 do not think that those powers are necessarily proper in the field of education. However, I suggest that the powers of someone in an education institution or within education are not comparable to the creation of such things as the channel tunnel fast link.
As the Committee agreed, during the next Session of the next Parliament the Secretary of State may well be able to approve the channel tunnel fast link from King's Cross to somewhere in the north downs after an hour and a half's debate—it might be longer but it need not be. That cannot be changed once it is put there, or not without enormous difficulty.
Secondly, there is a great deal of difference between authorising works by planning permission and authorising powers. Powers and works are not the same thing. The powers and obligations of a promoter or someone running a transport system are fundamentally distinct. We are giving powers to undertakers of transport organisations to do all sorts of things, including the creation of byelaws and of their own police forces, in schedule I of the Bill.
No, we are handing too much to the Government, to any Government and to any Secretary of State in this Bill. I am sorry that alternative measures were not considered more thoroughly by the Select Committee.
When you put the Question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if a single voice says no, I am sure that you will collect the voices in your particular manner. I shall not divide the House, but I want to put it on the record that I disapprove of the Bill. Its complications and the powers that we give to the executive are too great and time will show that I am correct. I hope that I am wrong, but in view of the way in which the Minister has dealt with the inland waterways —he did not even inform the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council—we do not have a happy precedent for the way in which Secretaries of State may use the powers enshrined in the Bill.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Adley
This is a constructive, unglamorous, uncontroversial and doubtless untelevised piece of legislation, which typifies in its own way many of the things that are wrong with the way in which the media operate. All they ever show is Parliament in aggravated dispute across the Floor of the House two or three times a week, which makes good television. The media rarely show the way in which many of us try to improve and to change legislation with agreement across the Floor of the House, with fundamentally no problem, no hassle and no aggravation.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the way that he listened to our representations when I approached him with a colleague from the Opposition, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). We had the full panoply of the Minister's civil servants alongside us and made two recommendations to change the Bill. The Minister proposed the relevant Government amendments in Committee, and it is important to put that on the record.
I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will not mind my saying that I took advantage of the opportunity to speak on Second Reading and managed to escape from the Committee. When I saw him and the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)—to name but three members of the Committee—I thought that my 375 private discussions with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Selection had been thoroughly worth while. Nothing this evening has caused me to change that view.
§ Mr. Adley
I am hoping to become a Conservative Member who is made an honorary member of ASLEF. I put on record one of my few unfulfilled political ambitions. Then I am sure that, in spite of the fact that we might be affilitated to different trade unions, we shall work together, as we always have done, to promote what we see as the railway interest. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman.
Having listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Bradford, South. I cannot help but be struck by the difference between the Labour party's propaganda and the reality. No one would accuse me of not taking an interest in the welfare of railways, and supporting the retention of lines and so forth. However the reality is that this legislation has come from a Conservative Government. In contradistinction, one of their Labour predecessors closed the Waverley route and the Somerset and Dorset line, under the tutelage of the noble Lady, Lady Castle—I am not sure what Barbara Castle is called now, but I think that that is what she should be called legally. She was Minister of Transport when those lines were closed.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) was Secretary of State for Transport, he achieved something that has never been given its proper recognition—the retention of the Settle to Carlisle railway line. That represented a huge change in policy and reversed a generation of rural railway line closures. They were closed because, judged on purely commercial criteria, they appeared incapable of sustaining themselves. It is worth recording that achievement, which, although it had a minor effect on the main railway lines of British Rail, was an important one.
At some stage after the Conservative Government have been re-elected, as they will be shortly, I hope that we will consider the problem of so-called redundant track. We now properly boast about the number of stations that have been reopened and the number of lines that have been restored to passenger service. That happened only as a result of sheer chance because those lines were not closed and the track-beds sold off. The hon. Member for Newham, South mentioned the docklands light railway. He will know that that railway would never have been built had it not been for the sheer chance that the so-called redundant track on which much of it runs was not sold off. It was lucky that British Rail did not succeed in following the strictures of successive Governments, who wanted it to sell off such redundant track.
We must recognise that there is some redundant land in British Rail's ownership, but fashions, transport policy and circumstances change. However, if we sell off track, we prevent options for change, if I can use a current military-related phrase, being acted upon.
376 My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) spoke about drinking while driving a train and about the need for consultation with the trade unions about that problem. When the Government are re-elected, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise that there have been substantial personnel changes within the trade union movement. That welcome change is almost entirely due to the legislation which the Government introduced and which was fought tooth and nail by the Labour party. That legislation has meant that, for the first time, the election of the deputy general secretary of ASLEF is subject to the general vote of that union's membership.
It is about time our party made more of an effort to bring trade union representatives back into the discussion process, especially as those in positions of authority have been elected by a genuine process of secret ballots and votes. There is much to discuss about the future shape of the railways, and the fact that there have been no direct links between trade union leaders and Ministers is a waste of talent, experience and ability.
Many of those in the unions have given a lifetime of service to the railways. They believe in them. They have a great deal more experience and knowledge about what might be done to improve services than some of the administrators who have been employed in the past few years. I know that those remarks are out of order, but I hope that we can look forward to further debates on railway policy in the not too distant future.
§ Ms. Walley
Given what the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) said, it is clear that he is making a claim for honorary presidency, or whatever, of ASLEF.
§ Ms. Walley
In Committee, I suggested that we needed two days for the Report stage, but everyone looked at me as though I was not serious. However, the fact that it has taken two days, for whatever reasons, shows how much could be said about the Bill.
I do not want to delay the passage of the Bill unduly, but it is important to consider the way in which it has changed. When it was introduced, the Opposition accepted it in principle, but we believed that many changes had to be made to it. Our Whips were wise in their selection for the Committee, because my hon. Friends, together with the Minister, who has been amenable to many of our amendments, have caused the Bill to be altered.
We have tried to be constructive and positive to bring the Bill into the 20th century. In that way our procedures will match the need for changed transport infrastructures. I wish that the Government had the same approach to all other business in the House. Much of our business is conducted in an archaic manner. Many of our practices need to be brought into line with the 20th century—not least in relation to women Members of Parliament. I accept that some progress has been made in that regard, but I know that I am now straying miles from my brief.
Change was important because neither the Department of Transport nor the Department of the Environment understood why it was important that the commercial waterways should meet transport needs. The hon. Member for Christchurch spoke about the need for co-operation and consultation with the trade union movement, but he is 377 13 years too late. When the Bill was first presented to us, it was not even possible for the Government to have proper consultation with their own statutory bodies. I am grateful that we have had the opportunity to discuss, post haste, the various concerns that have been expressed. We have received many letters from those who care about our canals and inland waterways, and I welcome the changes that have been made to the Bill.
I pay tribute to the work of the rights of way review committee. I appreciate that the changes made to the Bill are not the result of discussions that lasted a few months only—many people behind the scenes have contributed to the changes, which had a long gestation period.
The Minister has promised that adequate consultation will take place. After the election, whether it is on 2 or 9 April, we shall honour that commitment to consultation. It is important to ensure that the necessary regulations are put in place.
We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about environmental assessments. It is still necessary to consider those procedures with a fine-tooth comb. Although some amendments have been accepted tonight, we still need to include proper environmental assessment procedures in the Bill. The speech of hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) proved that that was necessary.
We have sought to ensure that those who have the right to make objections retain the opportunity to do so. That must be counterbalanced by the introduction of necessary timetables, so that, when the order-making procedure is triggered, those who have an interest know when that procedure is due to complete.
We welcome the safety improvements that have been made in respect of railways. The issue of alcohol safety limits will not go away. We feel strongly that those limits should apply across the board. We should have proper consultation about that soon as it is in the interests of public safety.
It might be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether the Bill will receive its Royal Assent before the general election. I accept that that is out of his control, but we are now in a race against time. We have always supported the Bill in principle, and I believe that we have helped to make it a more constructive one.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
Tonight will go down in history, and we shall often look back to the Official Report of this debate, because the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) admitted that he was about to cross the Floor and join the Conservative party. He said that he would be looking forward to sitting on this side of the House after the general election. The only way that he will do that is if he changes parties, and that will depend on him holding his seat—his majority is not all that good. I had to say that, because hon. Members have expressed their views about what may or may not happen in the forthcoming election.
Everybody has accepted that this is an important Bill that makes some important changes to the way in which the railway system is developed. I thank all hon. Members who served on the Committee, which explored the Bill thoroughly. We debated many amendments, some of which had been tabled by the Government because we were prepared to listen. Some of the debates were long. It will not surprise many to hear that we always failed to convince the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. 378 Spearing), no matter how far we took the changes we were prepared to make. I am sorry that we failed to convince him, but on this issue he is a lone voice because most members of the Committee wanted to see progress.
By removing the locus standi, the Bill will expand people's rights because that will enable them to make representations direct to the public inquiry, which is the preferable way to do these things. Normally, the other place is regarded as a revising Chamber, but we can rightly claim that we have already done a good job on the Bill, and not many issues will need revising. Most of the changes to the Bill that were requested have been made. I take it that that is the general view of all hon. Members who would like to see the Bill make progress.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) asked about alcohol limits. I know that he welcomes the general thrust of the Bill to cover these issues, because there has been the loophole that people could not be tested for alcohol levels. This was particularly drawn to our attention after the Cannon Street crash, when the coroner wanted the Government to take action. I agree with my hon. Friend that the best rule is for no one to work on the transport system when under the influence of drink. A zero limit is already required in the operators' rule book.
We do not believe that that could provide the basis for a criminal offence. We considered the options carefully and felt that there was an overriding case for consistency with the criminal sanctions in the road traffic legislation. It would be unjust to discriminate against the railwayman, and in the case of a tram the relevant personnel would be on the road. Differing limits would be unjustifiable in those circumstances.
My hon. Friend said that a number of professional people use the roads, including not just those in vehicles carrying the public, but those driving heavy goods vehicles which, as he rightly said, can be lethal weapons if the driver is over the alcohol limit. I know the keen interest with which my hon. Friend has pursued this matter on a number of occasions.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
If my hon. Friend were to say that he will send the report of this debate to the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, and see whether that is the right body to get the views of the unions and others involved, such as passengers, I should regard this part of the debate as satisfactory.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We consulted the commission when we started to draft the Bill, and it responded to the Government's consultation paper, welcoming the drink-drugs provisions which back up the operators' measures. I take my hon. Friend's point, and I am sure that the commission will look at this matter. It will also be possible under the Bill, as it is under the road traffic legislation, as he knows, to change those levels by affirmative order. I think that we have the right framework. If the case is made and it is decided at some future stage to change those limits, it will be easier to do so than it has been up to now.
I thank all hon. Members who served on the Committee and all the officials who served in preparing the Bill. As has been shown by the debate, the Bill is generally welcomed, and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.