HL Deb 13 March 1992 vol 536 cc1517-42

12.35 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Parts I and III of this Bill have their origins in the findings of a Joint Committee of this House and another place chaired by my honourable friend the Member for New Forest. The report was published in 1988. The committee was set up because there was dissatisfaction with the way in which the Private Bill procedure was operating; and there was some resistance in the other place to sitting on Select Committees which dealt with matters which these days are mostly subject to planning inquiries. I think it is fair to say that that dissatisfaction is felt by some Members of your Lordships' House, although perhaps it is characteristic of the reflective way in which we conduct our proceedings that there has never been difficulty in persuading noble Lords to serve. Indeed, we have people of some experience who are well capable of making judgments on planning matters. That said, the Joint Committee reported in favour of a new system of ministerial orders based on the procedures for light railway orders which have been with us since 1896 and of changes to the Harbours Act 1964 to enable more proposals to be dealt with by harbour revision or empowerment orders.

This House discussed the proposals on 17th May 1989 in a debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, who was a member of the Joint Committee. The House generally felt that the Government should consult more widely on the issues raised by the Joint Committee and gave us some useful guidance. In particular, some noble Lords thought that Parliament should influence the very largest schemes. The Government duly published a consultation document called Private Bills and New Procedures in June 1990. Well over 100 responses were received. While there were reservations about the details of the new orders system proposed in it, most respondents favoured the sort of changes which the Joint Committee recommended. The Government announced their conclusions in May 1991 and they are embodied in this Bill.

During the work on the new procedures, which included studies of the content of recent Private Bills, it was discovered that legislation on railway and tramway safety matters was inadequate and that, consequently, Private Bills had included powers for the Secretary of State to supervise new works and operations of modern tramways in particular, which are a far cry from the trams which the Tramways Act 1870 sought to control—which were of course drawn by horses. At the same time we had the Hidden and Fennell reports on the accidents at Clapham Junction and King's Cross. Both reports recommended changes in railway safety legislation. Part II achieves this. It also introduces a new code on drink and drugs. Regrettably, there have been a few incidents in recent years of railwaymen who have operated trains while under the influence—or where there was a strong suspicion of it.

I shall now describe the Bill, picking up as I go along some of the issues which arise from it. I shall not attempt to describe every clause but I shall try to deal later with specific questions which noble Lords may have.

Part I of the Bill provides a new order-making power for the Secretary of State in most of those cases where none exists at present; and as a consequence powers have had to be sought by Private Bill. There are two major groups. Those in Clause 1 deal with systems like railways and tramways where vehicles travel along rails or other means of guidance or can work only with external equipment, like trolleybuses. In Clause 3 we cover inland waterways and works which interfere with navigation.

There was a lot of discussion in the other place about inland waterways, partly because the consultation process with waterways interests before the Bill was introduced did not work well. There are positive advantages in this Bill for the restoration of canals and that safeguards now built in—I shall come to them —prevent some of the abuses of the powers which they feared.

Clause 5 deals with the subject matter of orders. It introduces Schedule 1, which illustrates the sort of powers which might be given by order. We thought it right that there should be some indication on the face of the Bill of what might go in orders. The subject matter is of course limited by the broad definition of the objects in Clauses 1 and 3. We cannot hope to be comprehensive and definitive. Any attempt at complete coverage will run the risk of leaving outstanding minor matters to be dealt with by Private Bill.

In Clause 5(7) we have, by amendment in the other place, provided that the sections of the Transport Act 1968 which deal with closure and other matters concerning waterways should be preserved. This means that if works require the closure of a waterway, that closure would have to be approved under the 1968 Act. An order under this Bill could not displace it. Clauses 6 to 14 provide for procedures for making orders, and the lead clause is Clause 6. It provides that the Secretary of State may make rules about the way in which orders are to be applied for. We have already circulated a first draft of the application rules to interested bodies, and many have responded. A revised draft, taking into account these comments, is being prepared.

The remaining clauses—other than Clause 9 to which I shall refer later—lay out the rest of the procedure to be followed for all applications. After the applicant puts in his draft order, according to the rules under Clause 6, and using model clauses, if appropriate, for which Clause 8 provides, objections will be made under Clause 10. The Secretary of State then decides whether a public inquiry is necessary. The local authority or any person whose land is to be compulsorily acquired may insist on one. But it is as likely as not that a public inquiry will take place anyway if there are lots of objections and one or more come from other statutory bodies whose expertise is particularly relevant. Anyone may object. There will be no equivalent of the locus standi rules. But objectors must comply with the rules to be made under Clause 10.

Clause 13 provides that the Secretary of State may make the order applied for, refuse it, or make it with modifications. If he wants to make modifications he must give persons affected the opportunity to comment. Clause 14 deals with publicity for the order.

Clause 9 is, however, unique. It arises because there were those in both Houses who felt that major schemes should come to Parliament for approval in some form, but they did not want to carry out the inquiry themselves. The clause provides that if the Secretary of State decides that a scheme is of national significance he submits to the House a resolution about it before the local inquiry. The resolution will not approve the order. It will endorse it in principle and may equally endorse some aspect of it. The Secretary of State may not make an order inconsistent with the resolution. But the Secretary of State will still be able to refuse the order after the local inquiry and, if he is minded to, ask Parliament to adjust the resolution if, for example, a particular problem is identified by the public inquiry, a facility built in by amendment in the other place. This should give ample scope for a proper inquiry, but give Government and Parliament an opportunity to make clear what their policy view is. This is a reversal of the proposal in the consultation document, but we were convinced by a number of respondents that the alternative—a decision after the inquiry—was wrong. Developers said that if Parliament was going to say no, they would prefer to know early rather than late. Perhaps more significantly, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Council on Tribunals also opposed it. The council thought that the local inquiry process might be brought into disrepute if it were overturned by a single vote in Parliament. The RTPI thought that strategic policy issues ought to be decided in advance of a local inquiry. The Council for the Protection of Rural England has been anxious about this. I think that the Bill as amended ought to allay their anxieties about procedure. I know that they think that the principle should be decided after the detail. I think that, in the case of these very few strategic questions, they are wrong.

Before I leave these procedural matters I should deal with timescales. It was almost inevitable that we should come under pressure to build into these procedures on the one hand the widest possible consultation and opportunity for objections and on the other the shortest possible timescale for making decisions. Both have been urged on us, in some cases by the same people! The purpose of this Bill is not principally to reduce timescales, but we have looked carefully at what its effects might be. By way of preface, I should say that Private Bills are now taking longer than they were when the Joint Committee reported. The committee said that between 1979 and 1985 more than 60 per cent. of Private Bills received Royal Assent within 12 months and only 5 per cent. took more than two years. In the years 1986 to 1990 153 Bills were deposited of which only 29 (or 19 per cent.) were enacted within 12 months and 11 (or 7 per cent.) took over two years. Thirty-three Bills were withdrawn or lost and 25 have yet to be enacted. Of those not yet enacted, seven have already taken more than two years and the remaining 18 have been in Parliament for more than 12 months.

Since we announced this Bill in the Queen's Speech some of the more automatic blocking of Bills has ceased, but timescales are still long. We think the new system will be quicker for small schemes and no worse for most others. There were debates in the other place about putting timetables on the face of the Bill, but it is difficult to find an amendment which is flexible enough to allow enough time but also tight enough to be enforceable. We have said that we will put pre-inquiry time limits into secondary legislation and publish guidelines about timetables for decisions. The Secretary of State is, of course, under a general obligation to exercise his functions reasonably. There must not be unreasonable delay; but there must not be unreasonable haste either. The important thing is the right decision.

I come now to harbours—but not yet alas into port —which are dealt with in Clause 63 and Schedule 3. As recommended by the Joint Committee, we have extended the purposes for which harbour orders can be sought and removed the facility which harbour authorities have to come to Parliament for a Bill even if it is not necessary. We have also taken this opportunity to put beyond doubt one or two other matters which, while they have been included in harbour orders, have no specific enabling provision attached to them.

I turn next to safety and first to the provisions in Clauses 26 to 40 about drink and drugs. It has been an offence since 1842 to operate a railway while drunk. Drugs were not then a problem. But that provision is inadequate now. There have been very few incidents but any such incident is disturbing. The last, the Cannon Street crash, led to the Coroner for the City writing to the Secretary of State to say that in his view the law was unsatisfactory, especially because there were no compulsory medical testing powers. The clauses in this Bill are based on the well tested road traffic legislation. The railway jobs which are to be subject to them are in Clause 27. We have provided for the same breath, blood and urine limits as in the Road Traffic Act. Clauses 41 to 46 provide a new regime for the approval of work on railways and similar systems as regards safety and the reporting of accidents.

This is the first time since 1871 that the legislation in this area has been looked at properly. As I have said the Hidden and Fennell Reports and the work on this Bill have exposed weaknesses in our arrangements. These clauses provide for the expansion of jurisdiction of the Railway Inspectorate to all railways and similar systems. The Secretary of State is given power to make regulations about the approval of new works and rolling stock. The scope of accident reporting is expanded to incidents which may have led to accidents.

This measure commands a wide degree of support. Some will be sorry to see the Private Bill procedure go for railway works. But all those with whom we have been in touch are now anxious to get on with the new system. I hope therefore that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and a speedy passage. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

12.48 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the care he has taken in setting out the purposes of the Bill and for describing in some respects the detail underlying it. Undoubtedly the cross-party support which the Bill enjoyed in another place created the opportunity to ensure that the Bill was improved both at Committee and Report stages. I believe that the Opposition were positive and constructive in that regard—that has been recognised by the Government—and the Government were receptive to the need for some change.

It is possible that further scrutiny of the Bill in this place might have led to even further improvement. There is no doubt that a number of organisations are worried that we are proposing to truncate the proceedings here. Indeed only a moment ago I received a letter from the Inland Waterways Association expressing concern that the matter was not receiving the care and attention that it thought was appropriate. I shall certainly deal with that aspect.

The dilemma that confronts the House, and which has confronted the Opposition and the Government in respect of the issue, is essentially the following. Having regard to the fact that the House will be prorogued on Monday, were we to insist on the Bill undergoing the scrutiny which this Chamber would undoubtedly prefer in normal circumstances, the Bill would be lost. That is the clear and inescapable truth. On the other hand, should we—as, indeed, we sought to do—seek a compromise with the Government that in consideration of their acceptance of some important amendments, subject of course to the approval of the House, or an undertaking to include other significant matters in the rules under the legislation, the Bill would complete all its stages today so that it has every possibility of being enacted by Monday.

That is not a happy choice. I believe that the Minister will be the first to recognise that fact. It is not unknown for Ministers to decide on second thoughts to introduce their own amendments to a Bill. However, it is a Bill which is essentially technical. While I think that it is right that the House should always be cautious about truncating its ability to exercise its powers as a revising Chamber, I believe that it was right to adopt the second course that I described.

At this stage, I should like to pay tribute to the Minister for being so prepared to accept the dilemma of the Opposition and for being helpful and forthcoming in seeking to resolve it by accepting two amendments (which I and the noble Baroness, Lady White, have tabled which will of course be dealt with later) and for agreeing to another matter being referred to in the rules. Indeed, other matters may be picked up from those discussions which may find their way into the rules.

The concessions with which I am sure the Minister will deal later are substantive. However, perhaps I may summarise what was at stake from our point of view, as the Minister has already described some of the background.

The Bill responds to proposals made in the report of the Joint Select Committee on Private Bill Procedure, following very considerable study on its part of the issues involved. Private legislation authorising public transport schemes and work support at ports have imposed an increasingly heavy burden on Parliament and on parliamentary time. The queue of Private Bills awaiting parliamentary consideration was outlined by the Minister's honourable friend Mr. McLoughlin who is the junior Minister dealing with such matters in another place. On Second Reading he said: Private Bills used commonly to be passed in a single Session. The average time for Bills that have now passed" — and this point was dealt with by the Minister— was 19 months. At the beginning of this Session, no fewer than 23 transport or other works Bills were still before the House from previous Sessions, including one that started in 1988. I understand that some 23 new Bills were deposited last Wednesday —that is, prior to the 2nd December— 16 of which would involve works".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/91; col. 40] Of course, that is a very serious state of affairs. There can be absolutely no certainty that either of the main parties or—to acknowledge his position—that of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, could possibly give an assurance to the House that the reintroduction of the Bill could be given priority in the new Parliament. There are so many other issues that would have to be dealt with, especially—as I hope it will be—by an incoming Labour Government. Therefore, we face a rather desperate situation in that regard.

The Bill was accorded very detailed scrutiny in another place. It was substantially amended or undertakings were given that significant issues would be dealt with in the rules. Perhaps I may say in parenthesis, although not wishing in any way to diminish its importance, that I believe it is right that tribute should be paid to the work of the rights of way review committee which also made a substantial contribution. Consultations with relevant authorities have taken place albeit, in some respects, rather late. It is right to say that one learns from mistakes. The Government in their dying days are also learning from their mistakes. They now know that consultations have to be meaningful. Of course, as a result of the situation, any party would be prepared to give an undertaking that consultations must be effective if the Bill is to stand any chance of being worth while.

The Minister dealt with Part I of the Bill; indeed, he dealt with it at considerable depth. There is therefore no need for me to go into a number of matters as I would otherwise have chosen to do. In summary, from our point of view, it provides an improved method of examining technical details. It enables inquiries to be held locally rather than in London. One should not underestimate the inconvenience and cost to which the public who wish to petition against Bills may be exposed in attending parliamentary committee hearings in relation to any specific Bill.

The Minister also dealt with some of the objections which were either met or to which he felt answers were appropriate and adequate. I am not happy that the timetabling of inquiry hearings has been appropriately dealt with. But that is a matter that only time will decide and may, as the Minister said, be picked up at least in part in the rules. I am convinced that the Minister has an open mind about that. However, the value of that over the next few days remains to be tested.

The preference for holding the inquiry first and the parliamentary consideration subsequently, rather than the other way around as prescribed in the Bill, continues to give many people some concern. However, at the end of the day it is a matter of fine judgment. Only experience will tell whether the apprehension of some developers such as Eurotunnel and Trafalgar House, who have written to me about such matters, will prove to be accurate or whether in fact the procedure will not, as they feel, slow up the deliberations. As I said, it is a matter which only experience will enable us to judge. We need time to determine how the procedure works and to decide whether it will require review after a reasonable period.

There is then the question of environmental impact assessment and environmental duties. The Government have stuck to the last of their view about environmental impact assessments. I should have preferred them to be more forthcoming. It is an argument that we have had in regard to many pieces of legislation in this Parliament. Indeed, we are very familiar with the Government's position on the matter. Again time, and above all the law, will indicate whether they were right or wrong. But an important concession is to be made on the environmental duties of harbour authorities. I believe that will be thoroughly worth while.

There is also the question about the criteria concerning schemes of national importance. It is a matter which has given rise, and which continues to give rise, to anxiety on behalf, for example, of the Association of Municipal Authorities and many other organisations. It is not an easy matter. The Government feel that this is not a matter which is susceptible to legislative change. I believe that it requires further investigation.

The question of consultation with the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council has proved to be a problem which could have been obviated by the Government. I believe that they recognise the error of their ways. But at least, belatedly, actions were taken by the department which—it is to be hoped—have mitigated those difficulties. I am confident that those mistakes will not be repeated.

I shall refer briefly to Part II of the Bill. By its regulatory provisions, it should materially assist in enhancing the safety of passengers on rail and on other transport systems. The question of levels of alcohol in the blood on the part of train drivers proved to be a problem in another place. However, the Minister recommended that the situation should be left as it is in the Bill and, with some concerns, I agree that that is the right course to take.

It is therefore with some apology to the House that the Opposition felt that it was incumbent upon them to go along with this truncated procedure. It is not something to be recommended and I hope that the Minister acknowledges that. Having said that, however, I hope that the Bill will pass and that it will prove to be an effective piece of legislation in dealing with an issue that has caused great concern to both Houses of Parliament over a long period.

1 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the details of the Bill so clearly and to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for filling in some of the gaps. We have heard an interesting double-headed exposition of the Bill this morning. There is no doubt that considerable amounts of thought, consultation and effort have gone into putting the Bill into the state in which we now find it. We all know that there is a problem and that the Private Bill Committees have faced difficulties for a number of years. As the convener of a group considering accommodation in this place, perhaps I may say that not the least difficulty has been finding places in which those committees can meet. Perhaps my task in terms of accommodation will be made easier when the Bill passes.

Nevertheless, there is obviously still a considerable amount of worry in various parts of the transport industry and in related industries about the efficacy of the Bill. I have heard it said that it will prolong proceedings rather than shorten them. There are those who believe that the restrictions in the Private Bill Committees on the locus of the petitioners is much more closely drawn than will be the case when the Bill is enacted. I do not know whether the Minister can give us any reassurance on that point. It is clear that people connected with the waterways still feel that the Bill enables an abuse of power. I am sure that my noble friend Lord McNair will speak on that point later.

My honourable friend in another place, the Member for Southport, Mr. Ronnie Fearn, has made it plain that he is far from satisfied about the Bill's provisions on alcohol abuse. He is concerned that the alcohol levels allowed in the Bill are still too high and that particular responsibility lies with the drivers and with other people working in public transport. The levels should be drawn as low as possible in practical terms. Clearly, however, the moment has gone when we can do very much about that. As I have said, the other place has done an unusually good job on this Bill. Generally speaking, it is now in a workable form.

However, I feel hesitant about the procedure we are allowing in this House today—especially on a Bill that contains 72 clauses and four schedules. It seems to me that to allow such a Bill to go through your Lordships' House, which is supposed to be a revising chamber, in a matter of minutes—or, at most, in an hour and a bit—is an abuse of what this Chamber is supposed to be for. This is a complex and technical Bill. Noble Lords whom one would have expected to be present to participate in our deliberations on this Bill are not present today. I am sure that their contributions would have been valuable if they had had more time to peruse the Bill and to examine some of its more detailed provisions and if we had had more time to deliberate upon it.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said in the last debate that too many amendments tend to be tabled to Bills. Although that may sometimes be the case, there have been many occasions when when this House—in Committee or on Report—has discovered problems in Bills that others have not. Some Bills can be pushed through quickly without any regrets, but the history of Bills that have been rapidly forced through Parliament is not a happy one. The Official Secrets Act is a classic case. It was pushed through by a Liberal government in 1911 and we have regretted it ever since. I do not put this Bill into quite the same category, but the ability of this House to scrutinise Bills should be jealously guarded.

I was not consulted about whether the Bill should be included in the wrapping-up proceedings—that is not necessarily anybody's fault, but I was obtainable if people had looked a little harder than they did. I am not saying what I have just said because I was not consulted but because I feel that, on behalf of the House as a whole, one must protest about this abuse. I hope that when future governments come to their last year in office they will consider the amount of business for that last year. There has been far too much business in this last Session of Parliament for the Government to have any hope of getting it all through. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, about the difficulty for the next government, of whatever flavour or mixture, to be able to guarantee that this Bill, if not passed today, could still reach the statute book. However, I imagine that this House would have a fair amount of time in the first few weeks of the new Parliament in which it could deal with a Bill such as this—

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I should like to pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, both in this and the previous debate. He referred to a "mixture" government. Is that the level to which the Liberal Party now seeks to ascend?

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we shall abide by the decision of the electorate. If the electorate has the good sense to return a Liberal Democrat government we shall be ready to provide one for the country. Apart from that, we are interested in participating in any other mixture in which we can participate. However, that is not a matter for this House or for this debate.

The Bill will pass on its way. I very much hope that it will improve the planning procedures and that we are not throwing any babies out with the bath water. I hope that the environment will not be damaged at any stage as a result of the Bill and that procedures are improved, but I have the gravest doubts about that. Above everything else, I have the gravest doubts about the procedure that we are adopting this morning.

1.7 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for introducing the debate and the Bill so clearly. I was hoping to be able to welcome the Bill absolutely because I thought that it would speed up the procedures governing the very necessary orders that enable the works that are covered by the Bill to get underway speedily.

That leads me to address an issue that is causing considerable concern to many current promoters of Bills in Parliament. This issue relates to the seeming lack of time limits for the determination of an application for an order under the proposed new procedure. Quite clearly, the rules applying to the new procedure will set a timetable for the giving of the relevant notices of application for an order, for the lodging of objections, and so forth. The inquiry procedure will no doubt run along the lines of a highways inquiry and the inspectors will do their job in their usual professional and efficient manner.

It is the period after an inspector has made his or her report to the Secretary of State about which the promoters or, as they will probably be called, the applicants are concerned. Once an inspector has made his report, there is no compulsion on him to make a final determination of the matter. This situation could last a long time.

The promoter's concerns are threefold. First, the Secretary of State acts in a dual capacity. He acts in a quasi-judicial role in deciding on the merits of the application, having taken into account his inspector's report. However, together with the Department of the Environment and the Treasury, he is or may also be responsible for decisions on the funding of such projects as may be the subject of an application for an order. It is felt that there may be a danger that such financial considerations may interfere with what should be a separate judgment of the merits of the scheme in question.

The second point is that these days one always expects, and perhaps even requires, significant investment from the private sector as well as the public sector. Naturally, a promoter would seek to ensure, so far as is possible, that he has the funding for a project before he embarks upon the costly exercise of applying for an order. He would seek commitments from investors. Obviously those investors would wish to know the extent of their commitment in terms of cost but, what is equally important, in terms of how long that commitment must last. Without an investor being able to have the certainty of knowing when a decision was to be made it will be difficult to get him to commit himself. That applies equally to public bodies which need to be able to plan ahead and to have a clear indication of the level of funding and when it will be needed.

The third and final reason relates to changes in respect of blighted property. Under the present Private Bill procedure and planning procedures, a property is blighted legally only once the Bill is enacted or planning permission is granted. It is recognised that that can cause unfairness. The Bill provides that land is blighted when an application for an order is made. That may well remedy an existing wrong, but it would put bodies such as the passenger transport executives, which are likely to be the users of the new procedures, under great financial strain. They may well have to buy properties long before a decision on their application for an order is made. No scheme funds will be available, and so purchases would have to be funded from the executives' existing resources which, in today's financial climate, are already being squeezed.

The result would be that other sectors of public transport will suffer. That situation could arise in respect of a scheme which may not even be approved, and the executives could well be left with a great deal of property on their hands which they may not be able to dispose of easily. For that reason alone, it is important that decisions on schemes are made as quickly as possible.

I have heard the arguments that aggrieved applicants could always seek redress from the courts by way of an application for mandamus, but why should they have to? Besides which, I hardly see that that would make the proposition any more attractive to investors. It would merely mean greater unnecessary expense. Surely, good government means that decisions are made in a timely fashion.

Finally, I ask your Lordships to bear in mind the fact that applicants will be paying a fee for the process and should therefore be entitled to have the process dealt with expeditiously. I should be grateful if my noble friend would answer those points.

1.13 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I agree that the Bill is a desirable one for the purposes for which it was originally intended: primarily to expedite much needed work on railways and other forms of guided transport, docks and harbours. Despite some of the difficulties adumbrated by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, there is general support for it. It is not a party matter even in an election period, although my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis does not seem to believe that.

We all recognise the parliamentary stresses of the current Private Bill system and acknowledge, as did the Joint Committee, that some action is required. But the late inclusion, without due consultation, of the inland waterways is another matter, and in my opinion that inclusion was possibly misjudged. Some of the waterway interests are in danger of being sacrificed to the necessities of the railways, docks and harbours.

I am not speaking of the designated commercial waterways. There the problems are comparable with those of other forms of transport and they are concerned mainly with unsuitable or conflicting rights of navigation; for example, which authority is to control river navigation. Should it be the NRA or the British Waterways Board? But the management of the cruising and so-called remainder waterways belongs to another world. They affect a host of personal and highly individualised interests. Unless one has had close experience of it, it is difficult—especially, if I might say so, for civil servants—to understand.

We concluded, late in the evening of 4th March, consideration by the House of a Private Bill promoted by the British Waterways Board. Most of us hoped that that Bill would be taken to another place rather than dropped and subsumed in the Bill now before us. Of course, we appreciate the reasons for pushing the Transport and Works Bill through all its stages today. They were described adequately by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. We acknowledge fully the efforts made by the Government, and especially the Minister, to co-operate and so far as possible to meet proposals and suggestions.

At noon yesterday I received a helpful letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It came of course from the Department of the Environment and not from the Department of Transport. Co-ordination between the two departments does not seem to be complete. Her letter was helpful. It had clearly been drafted a week ago, but she has been so much preoccupied by other matters, including education, that I in no way blame her for not being able to send it earlier. Nevertheless, the other place has been working on the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, since 2nd December. A major change in parliamentary procedure is before us. Much of it is desirable but much of it is dauntingly legalistic for any non-legal person to understand, and that covers the great majority of users of this country's noncommercial waterways.

A number of amendments have been tabled, even as late as today, which indicate some of the general worries that still remain in the minds of noble Lords. This morning I spoke to the senior executive officer of the British Waterways Board at its headquarters in Watford. He had received no information that the Bill was to be taken through all its stages today. He confirmed that the British Waterways Board intended to revive its present Private Bill after the election and to take it to its conclusion in another place. He added that the British Waterways Board hoped that the inland waterways provisions of the Transport and Works Bill would, in practice, be used in a few special situations only where the Bill's provisions could be helpful, but he hoped that it would not be a matter of general administrative application.

It is only right to inform the House that, although this was an off-the-cuff judgment given in a telephone conversation, it is quite clear that the British Waterways Board does not wish to use the provisions in this complicated Bill more than it has to in order to obtain the desirable development. We clearly have to accept the situation today. There is all-party agreement to get the Bill through, but this underlines the belief of some of us with experience of the inland waterways that possibly a more thorough review of the legal position may be desirable. Legislation passed in 1968 or earlier, together with various successive Private Bills, may not adequately meet the changed conditions of today.

The considerable growth of interest in the quiet enjoyment of inland waterways, which I have observed since I first became involved as a Minister more than 20 years ago, is perhaps a response to the increasingly stressful aspects of our modern life. With that, I leave the matter until consideration of the amendments.

1.21 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his clear explanation and also to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for her comments. This is a useful and necessary piece of legislation in respect of roads, trains and tramways. It could also be useful in respect of the inland waterways. However, I understand that the people who framed our timetable for this Bill also prepared the British Waterways Bill with its general powers. In view of all that has gone before on relations between the British Waterways Board and its customers, I am sure that the Government will understand the real fears of the navigational users of the canals when considering the Transport and Works Bill. It appears that it seeks to reduce the influence of those directly involved with the waterways. That seems to be at variance with the Citizen's Charter. The Government must be beginning to wish that they had never invented the charter because it keeps being cast at them.

Nevertheless, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, impressed upon your Lordships last week in the Third Reading debate on the British Waterways Bill, waterways legislation needs consolidation and clarification. I believe that if the Transport and Works Bill is applied to waterways, it would only serve to complicate matters still further.

This House gave clear markers to the other place last weekend that the general powers Bill would benefit from considerable amendment before it became acceptable to the main user organisations whose constructive views had been passed with considerable emphasis to many of your Lordships. I believe that the process of clarification and simplification should be carried out as soon as possible. For preference, waterways would not be included in the Bill but should be dealt with in further legislation.

As your Lordships know, no opportunity was given to the user organisations involved with the canals for consultation on the Transport and Works Bill before its publication. That was said to be a simple mistake, but canals were not included in the original draft of the Bill. Although the Government have made several concessions, many users still feel that inland waterways do not sit easily with the other operations for which this Bill was originally designed. While the users see some advantages in the Bill in respect of new or newly restored waterways, we need strong assurances from the Minister—possibly stronger than the off-the-cuff remarks to which the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred—in respect of the waterways provisions in the Bill. We feel that the Bill has not given sufficient consideration to the waterways and certainly the consultation process in advance of its publication was inadequate.

I do not believe that I am allowed to refer to officials by name, but an official at the Department of Transport took part in a meeting where canal user interests were represented. He said that a local public inquiry would be held where the objections were substantive. Who is to say whether the objections are substantive? I can see that this would be fruitful ground for complex disagreements. Ground rules need to be laid down and bodies such as IWAAC should be statutory consultees under a provision on the face of the Bill in respect of works relating to the canals.

An assurance has apparently been given that IWAAC will be involved in drawing up new procedures and rules for applications and objections. However, I repeat that IWAAC should be a statutory consultee.

I refer your Lordships to comments I made in our debate on the general powers Bill, and I apologise for constantly referring to it. On the Motion that the Bill do now pass I mentioned the attitude of the British Waterways Board to consultation. Its tactics and strategy in regard to consultation are quite clearly aimed at downgrading the process of consultation in general and the importance of IWAAC in particular.

I welcome the addition of Clause 5(7) which I am sure will meet some of the anxieties expressed by the navigational interests. But on the subject of consultation in general, both in relation to this Bill and the general powers Bill, it happens too often and in too many policy areas for comfort or confidence that those directly affected are not consulted in advance of proposals being drawn up. Apart from being more democratic, that would save time, taxpayers' money and effort in changing proposals at a later stage.

If I may be permitted to develop the thought a little further, this unsatisfactory state of affairs is a direct result of the climate of secrecy and the "closet" government that all Administrations have operated since time immemorial. After the election, the new Government will, of course, rapidly introduce comprehensive and effective legislation on the freedom of information.

1.28 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend and Members of the House for not putting down my name but I shall be brief. First, I wish to congratulate my noble friend on the clarity with which he introduced the Bill. I am sure we are all grateful for that.

I am afraid I cannot add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who used the expression "abuse" about 12 times. He was keen to show that this was an abuse of procedure and one understands the argument, but he is an experienced parliamentarian and I am surprised that he does not accept this as a practical parliamentary procedure.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I accept that perhaps there was an overuse of the word "abuse". However, I think that the noble Lord will agree that the Minister himself said that the matter had rested unchanged since 1870. Here we are completely revising the statute on these important matters in an hour and a half. That seems to me to be something of an abuse.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for interrupting me since he now says "something of an abuse". I accept that it is an unusual procedure and that this is a sensitive Bill. However, my purpose in speaking on Second Reading is to express the concern which has been put to me.

One could not help thinking, with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that he seemed to be happy over the dilemma about whether the Bill should be lost because he won two amendments in association with the noble Baroness. We all await our turn to see whether we have won any amendments or concessions on our amendments.

My purpose in speaking on Second Reading is to express the general worry about the future of the consultation procedure. The Crossrail Bill, for example, involves the interests of something like 1 million people. It is a Private Bill. Would a Bill of that size come under the procedure that is being used for the Bill we are discussing? If that is the case, how can my noble friend be assured that all private individuals will have the same rights of protection as regards consultation as they would receive under the Private Bill procedure?

The noble Baroness, Lady White, is an eloquent speaker on the subject of inland waterways. I believe she is a custodian, in parliamentary terms, of the inland waterways. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, is also deeply interested in the inland waterways. The noble Baroness mentioned the concerns that have been expressed by the Inland Waterways Association. As she said, there are thousands upon thousands of users of the canals. Those users largely come under the representation of the inland waterways, although in a fairly loose form. I congratulate the representatives of the inland waterways on the work they have done in another place. I also congratulate my noble friend and his department on taking a great deal of trouble to try to allay the genuine fears people have, particularly as regards the consultation procedure.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to environmental assessment in one of his amendments. I hope my noble friend will say whether the duty of environmental assessment in the draft directive which I believe Brussels has issued conflicts with our position.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, regrettably the amendment to which the noble Earl refers is rather more limited than that. I wish it were otherwise. If the noble Earl studies Amendment No. 15, he will see what it spells out.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I am grateful for those comments. I was asking my noble friend to clarify the position between the Brussels interest in environmental assessment and the Government's.

1.32 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful for the general support that this Bill has received in the House. I of course recognise that it is not entirely satisfactory that we should take all the stages of the Bill through the House in one day. It is a large Bill and it changes the Private Bill procedure which has been in place for well over 100 years. However, as I said in my opening speech, the Bill has involved a good deal of consultation and a good deal of work by the Joint Select Committee of both Houses which considered this procedure. Therefore it is not a matter of considering entirely new ground.

Nevertheless it would have been useful if this House could have scrutinised the Bill further. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, succinctly described the dilemma we face. I believe that most noble Lords and most Members of another place would like to see this Bill on the statute book. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the large number of schemes coming forward at the moment which would otherwise have to be dealt with by the Private Bill procedure. This new procedure will be better because it will save the time of Parliament in dealing with those schemes. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that some of the schemes were only of local importance. I believe it is much better that they should be dealt with locally.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said the history of all stages of Bills being pushed through the House in one day has not always been a happy one. I should add, however, that we have lost Bills such as this at the end of a Session. Their loss has been regretted and it has not always been possible for an incoming government to bring them back into the legislative programme very quickly. Therefore there are two ways of looking at that point.

The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord McNair, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and my noble friend Lord Kinnoull referred to the inland waterways and particularly to consultation with the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council. As I said in my opening speech, it is common ground that that body was inadequately consulted before the Bill was published. Be that as it may, since the Bill was published the department has met IWAAC and other inland waterway interests on three occasions. On one occasion my honourable friend the Minister responsible for shipping was present. The Bill was carefully explained at those meetings and it was also explained in writing.

Amendments have been drawn up which in effect prevent the closure, or alteration of status, of an inland waterway. IWAAC is among the bodies which are being consulted about the rules to be made under Clause 6. There will be a further meeting with IWAAC about that and other matters as the secondary legislation is developed. The normal process of consultation is taking place and any fears about a future lack of consultation are totally unfounded. I shall deal with the matter of other inland waterway concerns in Committee.

The question of an environmental impact assessment was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. I can assure the House that an environmental statement will be required under the rules for all but the most trivial works projects. That is not mentioned on the face of the Bill because the requirement already exists in European law. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will know that directives must be transposed into national law correctly. It would not be sensible to put the whole directive into primary legislation. There is no point in merely stating that environmental assessment is required. We shall therefore he doing what is necessary in the rules under Clause 6. That has the advantage that if further directives arise we can change the rules without disturbing the primary legislation.

The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Tordoff, referred to the alcohol limits mentioned in another part of the Bill. As I said in my opening remarks, the limits are the same as those in use in road traffic legislation. We gave a great deal of thought to this matter and we concluded there was no evidence that lower limits were justified by the greater level of skill involved in driving a train or a heavy lorry. It would be unjust to discriminate against railwaymen, and in the case of tram operators the relevant personnel would be on the road. Different limits would be quite unjustifiable in those circumstances. We debated this matter during the passage of the road traffic legislation. The limits themselves can be changed by a statutory instrument subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses so that if it is decided in future that all limits should be lower, that can be achieved without the need for new primary legislation.

My noble friend Lord Teviot raised several points. As regards timetables, administrative guidelines on timetables will be issued but it is not possible to set hard and fast limits for decisions by the Secretary of State. He must of course make the right decision as otherwise a judicial review might lead to an even longer timescale.

My noble friend also referred to the mix of financial and planning considerations that face the Secretary of State. I take his point. The Secretary of State must separate in his mind financial and planning considerations. I can assure my noble friend that there is nothing new about that.

My noble friend also referred to funding certainty and to blight. We certainly take his point about the certainty of funding. While blight payments do not have to be made when a Bill is deposited, it has become the custom to do so to relieve hardship.

I shall now discuss the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord McNair, as regards the British Waterways Bill. I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that the British Waterways Bill is the Bill of the British Waterways Board and the Government are not responsible for it. This Bill is of course a Government Bill and is framed by different people. The inland waterways were mentioned in the consultation document and they always formed part of the Bill.

The greater part of the British Waterways Bill is concerned with general duties. The Bill we are discussing concerns procedures for approving works and ancillary matters. Orders under this Bill will not be capable of setting aside general powers permanently as Clause 5(3) ensures that orders under the Bill may repeal only local legislation. Therefore the provisions of general public and private statutes such as the constitution and duties of the British Waterways Board and the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council may not be changed without recourse to Parliament.

In particular, if the general duties of the board as drafted in the British Waterways Bill which we have just passed become law they, too, cannot be set aside by an order. Equally, if the board wishes to seek the kind of powers provided in the British Waterways Bill parliamentary sanction will continue to be required. Given the Bill's extremely laborious passage through this House I know that that is unlikely to please all our colleagues, but the Transport and Works Bill is very much designed to apply to the consideration of essentially local works schemes.

Finally, I think that I have answered most of the points raised by noble Lords, but I should like to pick up the question raised by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull as to whether Crossrail, for example, could be dealt with under this procedure. The answer to that question is yes. That is an example of the type of Bill which might very well be dealt with under the procedure. I suggest that it would be the sort of scheme on which Clause 9 would have effect. There would be parliamentary approval in principle for such a large scheme. However, I cannot accept that there would be any less opportunity for the public to make representations than at present under the Private Bill procedure. In the case of a scheme such as Crossrail there would be a major public inquiry just as there is at present for a major road scheme or power station scheme, for example.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's reference to the Crossrail Bill. Can he give an assurance that the Crossrail Bill will proceed as a Private Bill and will not be withdrawn and swept up under this new procedure?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, that assurance is not for me to give. The Government are not promoting the Crossrail Bill. It is a British Rail Bill. As I understand it, that Bill has started its progress and let us hope that it is completed.

I hope that I have answered most of the points which were raised by noble Lords. Of course we shall deal with others during the Committee stage. In the meantime I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Then, Standing Order 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of 12th March):

1.40 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The VISCOUNT OF OXFUIRD in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Orders as to inland waterways etc.]:

Lord McNair moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 5, after ("State") insert ("after satisfying himself that proper consultation with any authority, organisation or individual who will be affected has taken place,").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 and 5 to 14. The amendments emphasise the need for consultation generally, and I shall not repeat laboriously what I said at Second Reading.

In so far as concerns Amendment No. 2, I am a little puzzled as to why the procedure is established only for tidal barrages. I should very much like to know why that procedure cannot be the same for inland waterways.

Turning to Amendment No. 3, the Secretary of State has the power to dispense with the procedure and simply make an order. I should like to ask the Minister why that is necessary. If one is making rules, surely the point of having those rules is that they should be complied with. Consultation, a vital part of the democratic process, is important and is likely to result in better legislation. I do not wish to speak for long on the amendments, and I beg to move.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 13. As we discussed earlier at Second Reading, the question of consultation under the new procedure of public inquiry is clearly vital to the Bill. Everyone knows and trusts the well-tried Private Bill system which allows a right to attend and allows people to feel that they have been given a good and sensible hearing. What we do not know—and here I speak on behalf of associations—is whether the obligatory rights which the Secretary of State will have under the Bill will cover not only the people who would normally be advised but also those who have a statutory right under the Transport Act 1968. Amendment No. 5 seeks to embody that right and to ensure that the Secretary of State, when he receives an objection, will be obliged to hold a public inquiry. I hope that my noble friend can give an assurance that at least no body will lose its consultation rights as a result of the new procedures.

This was a matter which was discussed in another place, as were the issues raised by my other amendments. However, those who are affected were not entirely happy with the assurance that was given. I hope that my noble friend will be very firm in giving his assurance.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 relate to Clause 15 which deals with assimilation of procedures. That will be more apt when the regulations are published. Once again I am seeking an assurance that no one will lose their right to notification, under the Transport Act 1968.

The final amendment to which I should like to refer is Amendment No. 13 which relates to Schedule 1. The bones of the Bill will be formed by the regulations which will follow. Those ministerial orders will authorise railways, tramways and inland waterways under this fast track procedure. It is a minor amendment, but it reflects the anxiety that it is not clear that land under water is included. The purpose of the amendment is to seek clarification.

Baroness White

Amendment No. 14 is included in the grouping. The only purpose of Amendment No. 14 is to draw attention to the astonishingly wide powers which it is proposed to give to any Minister dealing with the matters falling within Clauses 1 and 3 of the Bill. I put down the amendment as an example of a matter which bewilders any lay person reading a Bill of this kind. The 18th item of Schedule 1, which is obviously preceded by 17 other items—or at least 16 other items since the first paragraph is explanatory—concerns: The alteration of the powers of any body established by or under an Act of Parliament". Surely it is taking matters a little wide to give the Minister such discretion. He might be able to get it within either Clauses 1 or 3 for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with the main purposes of the matter. This was an exclamation mark rather than an amendment. I treated it as such. I cannot help thinking that any person with a little boat on one of the canals can suddenly see all this happen. If there is any operation of any kind provided for in Section 3 it might be used as an excuse for altering the powers of any body established by any Act of Parliament.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to noble Lords for their exposition of these amendments. I am also grateful that they have agreed to put the amendments together in a group and to the noble Baroness, Lady White. Perhaps I may deal with them briefly but, I hope, conclusively.

Amendment No. 1 is unnecessary. The requirement to be placed on applicants relating to consultation and notification of draft Clause 3 orders will be set out in rules made under Clause 6. Under those rules anybody will be able to object to a draft order. If there are objections from statutory objectors—local authorities and landowners whose land would be compulsorily acquired—which are not withdrawn, the Secretary of State will have to give them an opportunity of giving evidence to an inquiry or hearing. In practice, an inquiry would almost certainly be held where statutory bodies such as IWAAC oppose the order. However, once the inquiry had been held, and the inspector has presented his important recommendation, the Secretary of State must make a determination on the evidence before him. Further consultation at that stage, whether with the applicant or objectors, would suggest that he is ready to consider fresh evidence. He could not do that without giving other interested parties an opportunity to comment on the new evidence. Otherwise he would be acting contrary to the principles of natural justice. It is unclear what purpose Amendment No. 1 would serve other than to delay the decision-making process.

Turning to Amendment No. 2, the power in Clause 4 to prescribe description of works is limited to orders relating to works which interfere with navigation, because the nature of these works are potentially many and varied and by dealing with the matter in this way we can ensure that all cases can be covered without the need to resort to the Private Bill procedure. This is not a problem with inland waterways, the works for which do not necessarily need to be prescribed in that way. Therefore, I submit that the amendment is unnecessary.

I am sure that the noble Lord did not intend the undesirable effect which will result from Amendment No. 3. By removing subsection 6(6) the Secretary of State would be prevented from promulgating the application rules relating to orders under Clauses 1 and 3. Without such rules we would be unable to implement the order-making system. The omission of subsection 6(5) would prevent the Secretary of State from making rules providing for fees for processing orders.

If subsection 6(4) were taken out, a useful provision enabling the Secretary of State to dispense with certain rules relating to the form of the application or the consultation and notification requirements would be lost. For example, an environmental impact statement would not be needed for penalty fare schemes, nor would it be necessary to consult the railway inspectorate about an inland waterway scheme. But this amendment would mean that both might be required. In exercising his powers under subsection (4) the Secretary of State would be bound to act reasonably because his decisions would be subject to judicial review. I can give an unqualified assurance that we shall consult about the rules that have been made under Clause 6.

Amendments No. 5 to 7 seek to expand the protection afforded in this Bill to the interests of inland waterway users. I fear, however, that the amendments will not in practice have that effect. I start with Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 to Clause 15. Following amendments to this clause in another place, it will simply not be possible to do in regulations what paragraph (b) of new subsection 3(A) seeks to prevent. Regulations under Clause 15 will be able only to assimilate two procedures so that the process of giving notice and public inquiries can be run in parallel. It cannot oust the rights of anyone. Paragraph (a) is positively undesirable. It would mean that we could not line up Schedule 13 of the 1968 Act with the procedure under this Bill. We have explained in detail to IWAAC what is proposed and will of course consult them on a draft of the regulations which are subject to the enrolment procedure. There are positive advantages for IWAAC in being able to adapt Schedule 13. For example, we shall be able to provide a longer period for lodging objections. Amendment No. 5 is consequently unnecessary. I might add that it should refer to Section 5(7) and not to Section 5(6).

Schedule 13 of the 1968 Act already gives in substance the rights which the amendments would confer. Since the regulations to be made under Clause 15 cannot displace those rights, organisations representative of waterway organisations will still be able to insist on an inquiry.

Amendment No. 8 runs counter to Clause 3(1) (a), the provision which would enable orders under the Bill to authorise the construction and operation of inland waterways. I can see no good reason why works to inland waterways should not be included in the scope of the Bill. If they were not, they would continue to have to come to Parliament for approval.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 12 are designed to give a level of protection to inland waterways' land which is not accorded to any other statutory transport undertaking. The effect of these amendments is undesirable, as it would mean that any proposed transport system which intersected with an inland waterway could only be approved by Parliament. I am confident that the Bill already provides perfectly adequately for the protection of inland waterway interests.

Amendment No. 13, too, is unacceptable, the purpose of paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 is to make clear that orders under Clauses 1 or 3 can adjust or rescind private agreements or contracts relating to land affected by the proposed works. If the Secretary of State were to sanction a provision of that sort he would be bound by the rules of natural justice to ensure that proper arrangements had been made for protection of the interests affected by this provision and, where necessary, for financial compensation. I can see no reason why inland waterways should be excluded from such provisions. The effect of the amendment could be very undesirable. For example, it could fetter the ability of the Secretary of State to authorise an order for a new railway under the River Thames, or any other inland waterway for that matter.

The concerns reflected in these amendments have been fully discussed by officials of the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment and with representatives of inland waterway users. As my noble friend Lord Kinnoull said, many of them were debated in another place as well. In answer to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, land under a waterway is land by virtue of the Interpretation Act 1978. If that is a little legalistic, I am afraid that that is the way things are.

I turn lastly to Amendment No. 14, tabled in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord McNair. The purpose of paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 was to put beyond doubt the Secretary of State's powers by order to make small adjustments to an applicant's own or another body's statutory powers in connection with an order under Clauses 1 or 3. For example, an order for a new privately operated transport system might include a provision to extend the remit of the London Regional Passenger Committee to that new system. However, on reflection we agree that paragraph 18 might just be perceived as going too far in its application and that the sort of limited changes that might be required as part of an order can be achieved by virtue of the provisions in Clause 5(3). I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord McNair, after what I fear has been a rather lengthy but I hope a useful explanation, to withdraw his amendment. I hope that Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 and Amendments Nos. 5 to 13 will not be moved. When we reach it, I shall advise the Committee to accept Amendment No. 14 to which I have just referred.

Lord McNair

I am grateful to the Minister for that very full reply. I am particularly pleased that the Government have decided to accept Amendment No. 14. As others have said, we shall look at the way in which the Bill works in practice and reserve judgment on it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

2 p.m.

Clause 4 [Description of works for purposes of section 3]:

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Applications for orders under sections 1 and 3]:

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clauses 7 to 10 agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 4:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Objections to route of certain works

.—(1) Where the objections to the making of an order under section 1 above are to be the subject of a local inquiry, the Secretary of State may by notice served on the persons making such objections or by the notice announcing the holding of the inquiry, direct that any person who intends at the inquiry to submit that any transport system or proposed transport system to which the order relates should follow an alternative route, shall send to the Secretary of State within such period as may be specified in the notice, being a period not less than 14 days and ending not less than 14 days before the date fixed for the holding of the inquiry, sufficient information about the alternative route to enable it to be identified.

(2) Where the Secretary of State has given a direction under subsection (1) above in relation to an inquiry, the person holding the inquiry and the Secretary of State may disregard so much of any objection as consists of a submission in which the direction applies unless the person making the objection has complied with the direction.").

The noble Lord said: The Bill already makes provision for the Secretary of State to ignore objections where they are deemed to be frivolous. However, it seems appropriate that the power should be extended so that the Secretary of State can ignore objections to the principle of a project where that principle has already been debated and approved by Parliament.

There seems no justification for public inquiries in those cases to consider the principles of projects. The ground rules would be clearly established if the principle is written into the legislation. However, although the Bill could be improved on in terms of clarity—if such provision were included in the legislation it would avoid debate on whether or not a particular objection was frivolous—I shall be content for the situation to be dealt with in the rules if the Minister were so inclined. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I have some sympathy with the principles that lie behind the new clause put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. The purpose of a public inquiry is to examine the merits of the development set down in the draft order. Certainly it would not be conducive to effective and expeditious decision making if inquiries were to become bogged down in debating the merits of alternative schemes or alignments which neither the inspector nor the applicant had been notified about beforehand. It would be particularly unhelpful if objectors were able to put forward fanciful alternative routes at an inquiry merely as a delaying tactic. Having said that, we think that the noble Lord's objective would be achieved rather more effectively in the inquiry rules. The proposed new clause might make it more difficult for the inspector to disallow evidence relating to alternative routes where the objector has complied with the none too onerous requirement of identifying the alternative route 14 days before the start of the inquiry. That would be counter-productive.

It is our intention to make rules under Section 11 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1971 based on the Compulsory Purchase by Non-Ministerial Acquiring Authorities (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1990. These fix a timetable for pre-inquiry procedures. In particular, statutory objectors and anyone else who says that they want to appear at an inquiry can be required to produce a statement of their case within four weeks of being asked to do so. Objectors who produce such a statement are entitled to appear at the inquiry; otherwise the inspector has discretion to refuse an appearance, although that is not unreasonably withheld. At the inquiry itself the inspector can refuse to hear irrelevant or repetitious evidence.

We are satisfied that these rules provide a useful model for the inquiry procedures for Clauses 1 and 3 orders and that we can adapt them to meet the spirit of the noble Lord's proposals. We shall, of course, consult widely on the rules and they will be subject to the annulment procedure. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

In the light of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Inquiries and hearings]:

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Assimilation of procedures]:

[Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]

Clause 15 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Matters within sections 1 and 3]:

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 13 not moved.]

Baroness White moved Amendment No. 14: Page 36, line 32 leave out paragraph 18.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Amendment of Harbours Act 1964]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 15: Page 43, line 31 at end insert: ("5A. After section 48 (service of documents) there shall be inserted.—

"Environmental duties of harbour authorities.

48A. It shall be the duty of a harbour authority in formulating or considering any proposals relating to its functions under any enactment to have regard to—

  1. (a) the conservation of the natural beauty of the countryside and of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest:
  2. (b) the desirability of preserving for the public any freedom of access to places of natural beauty; and
  3. (c) the desirability of maintaining the availability to the public of any facility for visiting or inspecting any building, site or object of archaeological, architectural or historic interest;
and to take into account any effect which the proposals may have on the natural beauty of the countryside, flora, fauna or any such feature or facility.")".

The noble Lord said: The amendment takes the legislation beyond that which was agreed in another place. The amendment speaks for itself. It is an important amendment dealing with the environmental duties of harbour authorities. I hope that it will be regarded as a great improvement to the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

The amendment seeks to impose on harbour authorities a general duty to have regard to environmental and conservation issues when carrying out any of their statutory functions. It is a theme which noble Lords may recall came up during the passage of the Ports Act 1991. While there is a wide range of measures already in place which impose environmental and conservation requirements on harbour authorities, we accept that the duty which this amendment imposes could be seen as supplementary to the raft of existing legislation dealing with these matters. In particular, the general duty (which, indeed, some harbours already have in their local Acts) would pull together these various requirements and plug any possible gaps in the existing framework, so as to ensure that these important matters are given proper attention in the way the harbour authorities carry out their functions. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for having moved the amendment. I recommend that the Committee accept it.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am grateful to the Minister for that concession.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments; Report received.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Transport and Works Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.

Read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.