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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, in reply to my noble friend's point about the Holyhead light maintenance depot closure, I understand that, far from wanting to close the entire depot, North Western Trains has applied to the rail regulator to close the end of three sidings, ranging from 20 metres to 80 metres long. Under Section 39 of the Railways Act, the operator is required to give notice of the closure to the franchising director. The latter must then form an opinion on whether the proposed closure should be permitted to go ahead and, if he agrees that it should, publish a notice to that effect.
In this case, the franchising director has supported the proposed closure on the grounds that the Welsh Office had compulsorily purchased the land on which the network stands in connection with the construction on the A55 trunk road, and the National Assembly for Wales has refused a licence to enable North Western Trains to continue to occupy it. I understand that North Western Trains believes that the consequent shortening of the sidings will not interfere with its stabling of rolling stock at the depot. It is now for the rail regulator to consider any objections to the closure application, which may be made to him by 9th November. Having said that, I commend the amendment to the House.
However, when I studied the clause I found that it allows the Secretary of State to create new offences by regulations, which could attract unlimited fines, and that these regulations would be implemented by the negative resolution procedure. Although this is generally in order as far as concerns the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, the clause, as drafted, is far too wide. Apparently, the regulations will be about "technical specifications for interoperability", emanating from the EU. However, these are technical engineering standards so there is no need for the usual suspects to start frothing at the mouth.
We need to examine the merits of the clause. The technical interoperability standards are clearly a matter for regulations. A good analogy is the construction and use regulations for road vehicles laid under Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act. The regulations are highly technical and frequently relate to EU technical directives. However, the actual offences are created by Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act which involves no delegated powers. I believe that we should be doing something similar to achieve the Minister's objectives for Clause 245. There will be important matters of evidence and defences to be considered. For instance, there will almost certainly be computer software involved in the interoperability standards. It will no longer be a matter of a few technical drawings specifying, for example, draw-bar arrangements and air brake couplings. We are much more likely to see, or be aware of, millions of lines of software code being transferred electronically.
Presumably the unlimited fines would be appropriate where the accused person has had a management failure. But these offences and penalties are covered elsewhere, perhaps in the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act.
I do not intend to press the amendment today. My intention is to return at Third Reading with some substantive amendments. But the Minister should note that I shall suggest avoiding the need for regulations requiring a parliamentary procedure. I am, of course, referring to the technical regulations not the offence-making regulations. I beg to move.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I define the noble Earl's approach as somewhat strange. The main purpose of the clause is to allow the transposition of an EU directive on interoperability which the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, was pressing to have in place as rapidly as possible. I agree with him. The high-speed rail directive came into force in 1996 and should have been transposed at the latest by last year. So we are already behind and the Commission has already started infraction proceedings. The only way we can comply is through the proposed new clause because there are limitations on using the European Communities Act in this context.
Technical harmonisation, to which the noble Earl rightly refers, is very important. It is not an end in itself; it is a means to achieving the kind of interoperability and liberalisation of the rail markets to which the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, referred. These powers will allow for the transposition of the conventional rail interoperability directive when it comes into force. As the noble Earl says, it will give extensive powers to make regulations because the scope of the 1996 directive is wider than the existing high-speed directive and includes a wider range of matters such as staffing, operational and telematic aspects as well as the technical standards which the noble Earl had in mind for infrastructure and rolling stock. So we need a wider regulation-making power than we would have done under the previous directive.
We envisage that the provision will set penalties at a similar level in respect of offences created under regulations made under this clause to those which are available for enforcement of railway safety, in particular the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. As the noble Earl will be aware, existing legislation already provides for unlimited fines to be imposed in certain cases. At this time it must be apparent that the Government consider it essential that similar offences should continue to carry the same penalty irrespective of which legislative route there is to that penalty. I believe, therefore, that the noble Earl's attempt to delete the clause would lead us not only into serious trouble in complying with our European obligations but also would dilute the current regime as regards safety on the railways. I hope that he will think again about returning to the issue at a later stage, let alone pursuing it today.
Earl Attlee: I agree the need for the clause and that my amendment to delete the clause was rather clumsy. When I studied the matter the other day I had not realised the technical difficulty, which is that the clause refers only to standards; it does not refer to technical standards and certainly does not refer to technical interoperability standards which is the objective of the clause. Perhaps I can suggest to the Minister that he studies my comments in order to understand my position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I have tried hard to make this interesting, but I cannot. This is a group of four minor drafting amendments that all relate to the British Railways Board and they are consequent upon its wind up and abolition. They are the fruit of a summer spent checking that we have caught everything!
Amendment No. 290 removes an amendment that we made to the Transport Act 1980 which would have incorrectly removed a reference to the BR pension scheme administrators and substituted a reference for the SRA. Amendment No. 293 corrects a cross reference. Amendment No. 333 removes a repeal in the Post Office Act 1953 which is no longer necessary as it is down for repeal in the Postal Services Act 2000 which was introduced after this Bill. Amendment No. 334 removes a reference to any subsidiaries of the BRB from the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. I beg to move.
("( ) In subsection (2), omit paragraph (b).
( ) After that subsection insert--
"(2A) If such an application is made in relation to a provision of an order requiring the payment of a sum in the event of a contravention and the sum would be payable before the time when the application is determined, it need not be paid until that time.
(2B) Where such an application is so made the court, if satisfied as mentioned in subsection (2) above, may (instead of quashing the order or the provision of the order) make provision under either or both of paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2C) below.
(2C) The provision referred to in subsection (2B) above is--
(a) provision substituting for the sum, or provision for determining a sum, specified in the order such lesser sum, or such other provision for determining a sum, as the court considers appropriate in all the circumstances of the case; and
(b) provision substituting for the date by which the sum is to be paid specified in or determined in accordance with the order such later date as the court considers appropriate in all the circumstances of the case.
(2D) Where the court substitutes a lesser sum, or different provision for determining a sum, it may require the payment of interest on the new sum at such rate, and from such date, as it determines; and where it specifies as the date by which the sum is
Page 319, line 17, leave out ("212") and insert (" 213").
On Question, amendments agreed to.