Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)
The purpose of the motion is to enable the private Bills that were before the House at the end of the last Parliament, or that originated here in the last Session of that Parliament before going to another place, to be revived and taken automatically through the stages that they had passed in this House. As a result, the Bills will be in exactly the same position as they would have been if the previous Session had not been brought to an end as a result of the general election.
When a Session of Parliament is brought to an end by a Dissolution, it is the practice of the House to enable those private Bills that were before it to resume their passage in the new Parliament, although I have read the thoroughly learned speech on the history of those matters by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who I see in his place, on 27 October 1982. I am indebted to him for the history that he set out.
The promoters of a private Bill and, where relevant, any petitioners concerned about the Bill or any aspects of it, are entitled to expect Parliament to consider that Bill individually and to reach a decision on the merits of each case. The revival motion will enable that process to be completed in the case of the six private Bills to which it applies.
Some of the Bills affected by this motion—for example, the King's College London Bill, which emanates from my constituency—have been the subject of careful consideration, both of the promoters' and petitioners' cases. Others, including the Imperial College Bill, with which I am also concerned, contain proposals which, though important, are uncontroversial. In both sets of cases, however, it would be unfair and quite unreasonable to refuse to pass the motion, thereby killing all the Bills 71 en masse, without any consideration of their respective merits. Having already incurred significant expense in promoting their Bills, promoters would have to start once more from scratch. That would be unfair not only to promoters but to petitioners who would have to present their cases all over again.
I have already adduced, in the last Parliament, the reasons why it is important that the King's College London Bill should be passed. The Imperial College Bill is an important piece of draft legislation, which affects not only my constituency but, like the King's College London Bill, the future of medical education in London. The Bill would provide for the Royal postgraduate medical school and the Charing Cross and Westminster medical school to be united with Imperial college, thereby establishing what we expect will become a world-class teaching and research facility, both complementing and benefiting from the world-class science teaching and research already carried out at Imperial college. The Bill is not party political or controversial. It passed all its stages in the House unopposed between January and March this year. When Parliament was dissolved, it was awaiting a Reading in another place.
There is considerable urgency in the case of the Imperial College Bill because the merger is due to take place on 1 August this year. Any delay in meeting that target will involve the college in considerable expense which, like all such public bodies, it can ill afford. I have spoken before of the need for the King's College London Bill.
I am aware that hon. Members have delayed the passing of the motion and caused it to be debated tonight because they are concerned about particular private Bills. It would, however, be quite wrong to refuse to pass the motion for those reasons. As I said, each private Bill should be individually scrutinised by the House and should pass or fail on its merits. That is what promoters and petitioners are entitled to expect. It is a practice which the House has long followed and it is why you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means, have seen fit to table the motion which I commend to the House.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and support the revival motion. I support it in order to breathe life into the Bill of which I am now the sponsor—the Southampton International Boat Show Bill. That Bill is about as uncontroversial as a Bill could be. Indeed, in the last Session, it passed all its Commons stages, received a Second Reading in another place in March 1997 and was awaiting an Unopposed Bill Committee when the Session ended.
The aim of the Bill is to amend the facility for the closure of the Mayflower park in Southampton each autumn as originally set out in the Hampshire Act 1983. The park is next to the waterfront and that is, of course, an integral part of the Southampton international boat show, which is now Europe's largest show involving more than 500 exhibitors, 120,000 attenders and more than £40 million of business transacted during the show itself.
The closure of a public park for more than six days requires permission by way of a private Bill. The Hampshire Act 1983 gives permission only for nine days' 72 closure. The variation between the closure to provide for public access to the show and park closure for the preparation and dismantling of the exhibition is therefore sought in order to allow an extra day of public showing.
The boat show is very much a part of Southampton. It is welcomed by the city's population, but its international reputation means that it receives visitors from across the world and provides an unrivalled showcase for the UK boat building industry, securing many export orders for that element of the nation's industry. It is therefore very important for the UK as a whole, not just for Southampton or the surrounding region.
The Bill, however, provides not an alteration in the overall numbers of days that the park is closed or partly closed but a variation in the days that it is open to the public to cater for the changing patterns of attendance at exhibitions of this type. The Bill will allow the show to open to the public over two full weekends—two Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The 10-day opening envisaged in the Bill is now typical of the Southampton international boat show's competitors. Increasingly, visitors wish to extend their visits to such shows over more than one day and book hotels in the vicinity to that end. The provision of two full weekends therefore allows for the maximisation of the facility and brings the boat show into line with its overseas competitors. That is especially important for international visitors seeking to place orders for boats. Indeed, some sections of the UK boat industry, especially the power boat industry, export up to 90 per cent. of their production to overseas visitors.
As I said, the variation will in no way adversely affect the public's general right of access to the park since improvements in efficiency in the setting up and dismantling of the exhibition will mean that the additional day's public opening can be compensated for by less time spent on those activities.
Last year, the UK boating industry's turnover topped £1.75 billion. Overall, it represents a favourable balance of trade to the UK of £291 million a year. It is fair to say that it is a great success story for our country. The Southampton international boat show also provides an unrivalled opportunity for the business to show off its wares and for the public to get a taste of what is on offer and, in many instances, to place orders for the boats on display. I hope, therefore, that the House will find it possible to support that showcase and assist that public success story. By reviving the Bill and allowing it to continue and complete its passage through its various stages, the House will be assisting British industry in a positive manner.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The motion before the House appears straightforward, but it is actually one of the more arcane and esoteric segments of the House's business. I notice in passing that we are debating this subject at the same time as the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons is meeting in Committee Room 20. In addition, the Tory party is having its hustings tonight—
§ Mr. Hughes
Some of us are spared having to attend that particular meeting.
73 I have a few things to say about the procedure and then about the Bills themselves. I own up to being one of those who has, by blocking the motion, forced this debate and I think it right that we should have this debate. I shall support the passage of the motion—my objective in forcing in the debate was to have the debate, not to block the motion. Therefore, like the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), I hope that, at the end of the debate, the House will vote for the motion and allow the Bills to go through.
A few years ago, the private business of the House reduced considerably after both an inquiry into private business and the changes that, by and large, took transport and works business out of the private Bill procedure. Private business remains a difficult area for the public to get to grips with and understand and I want therefore to comment on how we as the House of Commons might do more to make sure that it is not a hidden corner of legislation. To be honest, the electorate rarely get to know about it or participate in the process.
Private business is, by definition, business that does not affect the whole country, but affects only a specific area or institution. I hope that, as Parliament devolves powers to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, in time, to London and the other regions of England, we shall get rid of this sort of business from this place. There may be a national interest in the Bills—as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Whitehead) said, there is a Southampton interest, a south coast interest and a national interest relating to the Southampton International Boat Show Bill—but the reality is that whether the boat show is open for nine or 10 days is very much a Southampton issue and it is better debated by those with a local knowledge and interest, rather than in this place. The same is true of the other Bills that are affected—and, in a sense, hidden—by the motion. If we are contemplating taking democracy out to the people, as the Prime Minister did on Friday, I hope that, by the end of this Parliament, private business will have gone out to the people as well.
My second point is that we must get away from the nonsense of never knowing whether private business is going to come up. It can, in theory, come up on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, but never on a Friday, for some reason that I have never looked into.
§ Mr. Hughes
There will be lots of people here on a Friday to debate fox hunting, so I am sure they could come for other private business.
It is a nonsense that, on a Thursday when the business statement is made, all that the Leader of the House says is, "The Chairman of Ways and Means may set down private business to be considered next Monday," without telling us what that business is, without it ever getting into the public record and, potentially, without anybody apart from those in the know knowing about it more than four days in advance.
Let us take two of the examples relevant to the motion: the Bills relevant to the south-west and Cornwall—I see the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) is present—the Tamar Bridge Bill and the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill. Those are both important pieces of legislation, especially in Cornwall, but it seems to me that, if they were to have come up in tonight's 74 slot, it would have been helpful for some sort of public notification to have been given to the people of Cornwall, and not only to the promoters, who clearly have an interest, and to those in the know.
We must get away from a procedure that is nobody's fault, but that means that private Bills are an activity that is carried on between consenting adults in private and only occasionally emerges at the last minute into the public domain. The Clerks are extremely helpful and I make no criticism of them, but a sort of loop that means that one does not know when or how to petition means that the great British public might be shut out. I hope we can, as the House, make private legislation much more accessible to the public.
The Library fact sheet states:Private Legislation is a very complex subject, and the idea of these notes is no more than to provide an introduction for the layman.I checked with the Clerk and discovered that "Erskine May", which is in the process of being updated from its 1989 edition, has pages and pages on the subject of private Bills and all the things that one can do with them and how one can object to them.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, had he been in the House 100 years ago, he would have spent more time on private Bills than on public ones?
§ Mr. Hughes
Indeed, I am aware that the business of the House used to consist almost wholly of private Bills-the building of the railways meant that little else came to Parliament for years and years. I am glad that we have moved to a system of local inquiry, although I have some reservations about the powers of the Secretaries of State under the Transport and Works Act 1992 and believe that the balance may have been moved the wrong way.
I am keen that, as part of the modernisation process of this Parliament, we look for ways to make timetabling, fixing of dates and notification in advance of the proceedings of private Bills far more accessible to the public. The Leader of the House is not in her place, but I hope that, even in the next few weeks, we arrive at a system whereby private business is announced in the business statement so that people have notice of when it is coming up. I know that Government timetabling of business is always difficult, but we now have a system whereby we know in advance about private Member's Bills days and non-sitting Fridays. I hope that the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons will come up with clear fixed dates for the parliamentary session, so that we know in advance about holidays, not because I want more holidays, but because those with young children need to know such things in advance—indeed, parliamentary Sessions should fit in school holidays. It seems to me that we could timetable private business as well.
My last point is that, as part of the procedure, we should make sure that all those with a potential interest in a private Bill should be formally notified, alerted and briefed, rather than the system allowing for people to find out by being tipped off. To take the example given already—the Southampton International Boat Show Bill—notification should be given to Members of Parliament for the county and the city, Members of the 75 other place with an interest, local bodies such as the city council and people who are known to have an interest in the subject of boating and marine affairs. There should be a procedure that ensures that notification is not some sort of accident and that briefs all those concerned at the beginning of a Parliament. These days, there are few private Bills—only half a dozen are affected by the motion and, in the last Parliament, there were only about a dozen. It is not too big a task and I hope we can address the matter and become more effective in dealing with it.
I shall deal now with the substance of the Bills. There are the two Cornish Bills—I call them Cornish, but that is like saying the Scottish play. One is clearly Cornish, but the other affects two counties—
§ Mr. Hughes
The other side of the Tamar cannot be called Greater Cornwall. The Bodmin Moor Commons Bill and the Tamar Bridge Bill are supported by my hon. Friends and they wish them good speed. The first Bill would secure the better management of stock on Bodmin moor and the second would allow improvement of the Tamar bridge, which is the gateway to Cornwall. That improvement is much desired—although in summer the people of Cornwall may wish that fewer people could cross the bridge—and needs to be facilitated. I agree with the hon. Member for Test that the Southampton International Boat Show Bill is the most modest of Bills. I hope that it passes through the House quickly. In fact, it shows the nonsense of the system when a Bill has to be brought to this place in orderto amend section 60 of the Hampshire Act 1983 to permit the closure of Mayflower Park in Southampton or the restriction of public access to it for 10 rather than 9 consecutive days each year for the purposes of the Southampton International Boat Show; and for connected purposes.It may be a private sector enterprise, but it strikes me that using private legislation to extend the Southampton boat show for one day is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
There is a northern Bill to match the southern Bill. The Lever Park Billprovides for the extension and adjustment of the boundaries of Lever Park…in the boroughs of Bolton and Chorley".I admit to the House that I know zero about that proposal. No doubt, colleagues in both those parts of the north-west know about the proposal and have an interest in it and in North West Water and North West Water Heritage trust.
The two London Bills to which the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred are academic Bills. They form a natural pair because they are part of the general proposals to consolidate academic and teaching medicine in quadrants around London. The Imperial College Bill is the latest in a series of actions that has brought together a considerable number of medical and dental teaching schools in London. The Bill will bring together the Charing Cross and Westminster medical school—where there were originally two hospitals and two medical schools, which I remember on my Universities Central Council on Admissions form—and Imperial college. In general terms, all the advice that I have received suggests that that is a good idea; it brings 76 cross-faculty and cross-specialist improvement. It means that medics are not simply with other medics or dentists with other dentists. It is also meant, I have been told by those who are slightly less pro-medic and pro-dentist, to civilise them so that they have to spend more time with other people.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not know about that.
I am not sure whether I regard all the faculties at the Imperial college of science, technology and medicine as the most earthly and wide ranging in their interests. We always used to think that the least exciting people at college were the engineers and there are plenty of those at Imperial college. However, the idea is a good one and, clearly, if all parties—academics, boards of governors, undergraduates and postgraduates—want it to go ahead, it is right that it should. I heard what the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said—that there is a deadline and the merger is wanted by 1 August. That may be a reason for knowing timetables in advance and for fixing things—it would prevent uncertainty.
The last Bill that I have blocked is one that, at the end of the last Parliament, was awaiting its Third Reading: the King's College London Bill, which is jointly promoted. It is promoted by King's college London—a highly esteemed and valuable institution that is an important part of the university of London. King's college is based north of the river in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency and has outposts all over the country, which will also be consolidated. It is also promoted by the united medical and dental school of Guy's and St. Thomas's. There was a merger between two great teaching hospitals over the river and their medical and dental schools.
The Bill will bring together King's college, King's college medical and dental school, which is currently at Denmark Hill, and the united medical and dental school, which is currently principally on the Guy's hospital site in my constituency. It is a great medical and dental school which, I think, has the highest number of research gradings of any academic institution in the country. It is clearly pre-eminent and is of worldwide renown.
I have blocked that Bill: I wanted to use this opportunity to ensure that we did not simply let it go through on the nod. This is the first opportunity that I have had to send out the important message to the new Government that, although the merger does not necessarily threaten the united medical and dental school, there are still some residual concerns involving the present student body—concerns that I trust are now being addressed.
We must ensure that those who applied to and entered a specific institution, graduate from it. That may be a traditional and nostalgic approach, but I believe that if someone applies to Guy's hospital medical school, he or she will want to graduate from it. Guy's medical school is a different institution from a big amalgam of different schools. I hope that we can establish that principle. I have been encouraged by my conversations with the school secretary and with the principals of the two institutions. I hope that we can ensure that those who entered as students of one institution, graduate with that same institution on their degree certificates.
The proposal to merge is a good one, but it is still threatened by some of the implications of the previous Government's plans to move some of the activities from 77 the Guy's hospital site to the St. Thomas's hospital site. I know that at least one person in the House will not agree with that—my neighbour, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who represents St. Thomas's.
The most intensely fought local issue during the general election campaign in my part of Southwark, and one about which then shadow Ministers made promises, was the survival of Guy's hospital. For it to survive as a teaching and research hospital, it needs in-patients as well as out-patients. For it to survive as a credible entity, it needs a minimum number of in-patients. The best advice that I have received suggests that there must be a minimum of 400 in-patient beds. We therefore await with great interest the Government announcement—already considerably delayed—about the moratorium on hospital closures in London. I have made no secret of the fact that I have sought to persuade Ministers that the moratorium should apply not just to hospital closures, but to any rundown of services from the date of the election.
I am asking not for the clock to be stopped, but that we take account of the fact that the first review was based on information that was clearly inaccurate and factually out of date when Tomlinson made his report. We must also take account of rising demand in accident and emergency provision and rises in the number of patients. Above all, we must not agree to something without an assurance that, by the time the Bill reaches the statute book, there will be a viable academic teaching and research institution on the Guy's hospital site.
I have a letter from the principal of King's college and the principal of the united medical and dental school that makes it clear that the viability of the institution in its new format would be threatened if there were an insufficient number of beds. We are about to have the best out-patient facilities in the world in the new Thomas Guy house into which the first patients went earlier this month. It was budgeted to cost £50 million and actually cost £150 million. One can have wonderful out-patient facilities, but I do not think that any hon. Members would say that the real definition of a hospital was something with only out-patient facilities. Once in-patient facilities and casualty units are removed from a hospital, there is only a remote chance of anyone thinking that it is a real and fully functioning institution.
When, last year, I talked to people about the health service and academic medicine in some of the greatest American hospitals, they expressed concern that we should do nothing to undermine some of the best academic institutions in this country. I am privileged to be the Member of Parliament who represents one of them, but there are great hospitals all over the country—in Nottingham, Birmingham and elsewhere. I do not pretend that the one that I represent is the greatest hospital, but I know that it would be wrong for Parliament to legislate to undermine excellence or to take away the things that we do well—such as the Southampton boat show.
If the Government are to honour their implied commitment to the people at the general election, before the Bill returns they must make an announcement about the moratorium on the health service changes in London; they must include the changes at Guy's hospital and at St. Thomas's hospital in that review; they must look again at the issue; and at the end of the debate on those subjects, we must have a guarantee that there will be, for the foreseeable future at least, 400 beds on the Guy's hospital site in addition to all the other facilities.
78 The case is clear. I hope that the House, and especially the Government, will take it to heart. I hope that we shall proceed to deal with the Bills in the order of whatever is the most urgent in the next few weeks. I hope that, by next year, we shall have a more modern system for private Bills, which will allow the House and the world outside to know what we are doing and will allow all the people who want to participate to do so.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak relatively briefly on the carry-over motion, but the House should not treat it as a routine matter.
Traditionally, the idea is that a carry-over motion should be passed after a general election, to allow private Bills that are in the pipeline to continue. I understand the arguments in favour. If money has been spent on drawing up petitions and if evidence has been heard, it is unfair if, through no fault of the promoters, they are obliged to start the process again. However, in my opinion that places some onus on the promoters to try to ensure that the Bill passes in a reasonably short time.
Increasingly, in recent years, it has been assumed that it does not really matter if not much progress is made in one Session; the Bill can be carried over into the next Session and the Session after. I notice that the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill has been knocking around in Parliament for more than four years. That is not a good way to deal with legislation. I believe that Bills should be carried over only once, and that there is a strong onus on the promoters to reach compromises—common in the history of private Bills—to ensure that their legislation passes in a reasonably short period.
Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I believe that the private Bill procedure needs urgent reform. We went a long way to do that with the Transport and Works Act 1992; many of us believed that these sessions at 7 o'clock of an evening in the House would disappear when the 1992 Act came into force. On the whole, it is working well. On Thursday 12 June 1997, the House passed the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Stratford Station and Subsidiary Works) Order 1997, which enabled one of the inquiries into the Stratford terminal to start, under that procedure.
All the evidence suggested that the 1992 Act was working well—until today, when I received a note from the Ramblers Association about the Welsh highland railway and the fact that some of the provisions of the 1992 Act were not being observed regarding footpaths. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, will draw to the attention of the Department of Transport the fact that it must ensure that the 1992 Act is used fully and not abused. Otherwise, that method may come into disrepute and more private Bills may end up being debated on the Floor of the House.
As I said in an intervention, private Bills were used a tremendous amount in the 18th and 19th centuries for projects such as canals, railways and reservoirs, and almost always there was much wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. It was fairly common for bargains to be struck. I think I am right that Northampton worked hard to ensure that the railway from London to Birmingham did not go anywhere near Northampton, and then Northampton, having witnessed the benefits of the railway, had to work very hard to try to get a loop line added to it.
79 In the 19th century, various great landowners used the blackmail of blocking a Bill in the House of Lords to get their own personal station and to guarantee that express trains stopped there. The tradition of the argument, manipulation and manoeuvring that goes on during the passage of private Bills has a long history.
Legislation should no longer be passed in that way in this country. All private Bills should be dealt with through the Transport and Works Act 1992 or as agreed measures. I should have thought that the wheeling and dealing relating to the Southampton International Boat Show Bill had been done outside the House and all that we needed was a parliamentary Act to give it a rubber stamp, but one or two of the other Bills do not come into that category. The sad history of the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill reveals the way in which the parliamentary procedures do not work well, and need reform.
The Bodmin Moor Commons Bill started as an agreed measure combining three interests—conservation of Bodmin moor, access to the moor and better management of the moor. That would benefit those people who had stock, in that if numbers were limited, grazing would be better and the return from farming activities would be improved.
Had the Bill continued in that vein, it might well have passed through Parliament—this House, at least—without argument, but the Bill was mugged in the House of Lords. People said, "Let us have the sections that give management of the moors, but let us get rid of the access."
I have been unable to discover why Cornwall county council agreed to a deal in the House of Lords that removed all the access provisions from the Bill, destroying the initial compromise agreement. Some of the Labour county councillors for Cornwall, whom I spoke to, were amazed that that deal had been done. I am still waiting to be told on what authority from the county council its agents in the House of Lords removed that clause. One cannot expect the people who originally agreed to the compromise of access, conservation and management, to be happy if a third of the platform was torn away in the House of Lords. That is where the Bill has run into considerable difficulty.
During the past 12 months, when I have been opposing the Bill, I have been asking only that we reinstate the access provisions, to achieve the original compromise. However, the arcane procedure of the House says that a private Bill can only be narrowed. I find that an amazing concept.
If one were promoting a railway and the relevant railway Bill originally said that the line would go from London to Liverpool, I can understand that the last-minute addition of provision for the railway to continue to Preston would be an expansion of the Bill and would be unreasonable. However, if one starts with a Bill that has access in it, balancing conservation measures, it is odd that if access is removed in the House of Lords it cannot be reinstated in the Commons. That is an anomaly. What was narrowing for one group of people was widening for another group. What was widening the rights of the commoners was narrowing the rights of the people to access.
We must get round that. Fortunately, in relation to the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill, there was a way round for the county council, because instead of returning to the 80 House and inserting access clauses into the Bill, it was easy for it to set up access agreements to the moor. I have been arguing that the county council should have got on with that.
Access agreements exist frequently in the Peak district and other parts of Britain. Often they exist by agreement between a county council, a national park and the landowner, but there are examples of access agreements that are arranged by county councils in spite of the opposition of the landowner, and there is a process by which the landowner has a right of appeal but eventually the access agreement can be put in place.
It would have been perfectly possible for Cornwall county council to remedy the problem that it had created. It dropped the access proposals in the House of Lords. Having made a mess of things, it might have put them back in place by using normal legislation for access agreements, and while doing so, might have suspended action on the Bill in the House. By now, the council could have returned to the House and said, "We have binding access agreements in place. May we have the Bill for the management parts?" I would then have been happy to let the Bill go through. But no: the county council did virtually nothing for six months. Then, just before the election, the council again tried to rush the Bill through. Not surprisingly, it was blocked.
One or two people in Cornwall have put it to me that we should let this management Bill go through because the Labour Government are committed to right-to-roam legislation, so by the time the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill is on the statute book that right to roam will nearly be in place. I never count my chickens before they hatch. I think it quite possible that the legislation will take some time to go through Parliament. I therefore believe that it would be wrong to allow the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill to go through before access has been sorted out.
I strongly urge Cornwall county council to get back to negotiations with the landowners and to put access agreements in place.
Interestingly, not far away in the south-west is Dartmoor, for which an agreed access measure was produced allowing for management and access. That private Bill went through the House with no problems and is working well. The farmers enjoy grants for their agriculturally sensitive farms, and access is also in place.
I plead again with Cornwall county council to put access measures in place before returning to this House. We have lined up about 100 amendments to the council's Bill. Neither I nor my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) wants to spend a lot of time arguing the case for those amendments when, if the county council were prepared to negotiate, something could be done much more quickly.
Another Bill on the list is the Lever Park Bill. I was delighted to see it, because it solved a small constituency matter for me—namely, the fact that there are proposals to develop the reservoirs owned by North West Water at Audenshaw. I was pleased to see the company promoting a Bill for the area; it came as confirmation that, if it wants to develop anything at Audenshaw, it will have to go through the private Bill procedure. As I keep assuring my constituents, getting a private Bill through the House is no easy matter.
I began objecting to the Lever Park Bill simply to show North West Water that I was capable of making a fuss about private Bills dealing with reservoirs. The trouble is 81 that one gets drawn into the process. I warn anyone listening of the snags: showing the slightest inclination towards or knowledge of private Bill procedure induces people to start pressurising an hon. Member and asking him various questions.
The Lever park Bill is designed to introduce a management scheme to the old Bolton reservoirs and the Lever park area around them. That would appear to be a very good idea. I know that the former hon. Member for Chorley was particularly keen on the development of a visitors centre close to the hall, which would improve public access. Equally, some local people do not want more visitors in their back yards.
In order to come up with a management plan, North West Water wanted to get rid of the rights of way running through the area. I can appreciate that the company might find it difficult to negotiate with one or two people who do not want more visitors in their back gardens, but North West Water could and should have entered into detailed negotiations with the Ramblers Association, the Peak and Northern and various other footpath and conservation groups in the area so as to sort out the problems to do with the Bill. Had the company done so, the Bill could have gone through quickly.
I stress again that private Bill procedure should be embarked on as little as possible in the House. Whenever possible, private Bills should be agreed measures that can go through without taking up time. Whenever possible, the Transport and Works Act should be used. If people want to introduce Bills, they must demonstrate that they are prepared to negotiate and arrive at compromises, removing any controversial issues.
I hope that Cornwall county council will get down to serious negotiations if it wants the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill to progress; the access problems must be solved. I also hope that North West Water will talk to the people concerned about access under the Lever Park Bill so that that issue, too, can be solved.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
I do not oppose the carrying over of private Bills described in the motion, but I want to comment briefly on a glaring anomaly in the procedure. It concerns the Transport and Works Act; I am sure that both the shadow spokesman and the Minister responsible will deal with the matter in their speeches later this evening. Perhaps the usual channels, or a Select Committee, or a brief consultation document issued by the Government will resolve the issue. In any event, some urgent procedure is required to deal with the anomaly.
The Transport and Works Act works well—if the works take place solely in England or in Wales. But a company called Border Transport Futures proposes to build about 16 miles of railway line between Scotland and England in part of my constituency and part of that of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). The company has decided to use the private Bill procedure instead of an alternative. Such an alternative is available, but it is slightly more complicated because the works are partly in Scotland and partly in England.
82 Last year I checked with the Department of Transport and the then Minister wrote to me to say:I can confirm that this railway could be authorised either by Private Bill or a combination of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936 and an Order made under the Transport and Works Act. I can see, however, that the promoters are likely to favour the private Bill procedure"—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but I am having some difficulty spotting the connection between the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about a future Bill and a motion for the continuation of six current Bills.
§ Mr. Maclean
I certainly believe, Sir Alan, that those Bills should be carried over into this Parliament, but I am expressing reservations about the procedure. It could allow—unjustly—some Bills to be carried forward which, while they should complete all their stages in one or two Sessions at most, may in fact take three or four years to complete. That will give their promoters an unfair advantage, while protesters against such Bills would incur a great deal of expenditure over a long period of time.
There would, moreover, be much uncertainty if the promoters of such a Bill were lackadaisical. The promoters of the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill may be slightly lackadaisical about getting their measure through Parliament. I am worried about a loophole in our procedures that could allow a lackadaisical company such as Border Transport Futures to exploit the anomaly and to go for a private Bill procedure that would be rather complicated because it relates to both countries in the Union. Such a measure, if proceeded with, might be carried over from Session to Session—even beyond another general election.
I was going to conclude, Sir Alan, by saying that these procedures could apply to any of the Bills under discussion this evening—
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
Another element of this procedure is blight. Some of these Bills are used to promote serious construction works—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) should sit in his place while another hon. Member is speaking.
§ Mr. Maclean
That is correct. Blight has already been caused in my constituency by the prospectus that BTF issued saying that it intends to go for the private Bill procedure. That has caused considerable concern to landowners and householders in my constituency. One reason why the company wants to do that is that it hopes to get compulsory purchase powers in the Bill so that it will not have to pay the full market value of the land.
The Transport and Works Act 1992 was passed by the House to avoid new railways legislation, for example, going through the House as private Bills. At that time, 83 the House had no thought whatever that someone might come along one day with a railways Bill that would apply partly to Scotland and partly to England. It should not be beyond the wit of the House, a Select Committee or a Minister to issue a short consultation paper, which would find favour on both sides of the House, suggesting that the House does not wish to see another private railways Bill before it next year or the year after. Such a Bill would bog up Committees and take up time in the House whereas it could be dealt with either through an amended Transport and Works Act or by some procedure agreed with the Scottish Office, which would apply the same procedures in principle as the Transport and Works Act.
That is the plea that I make tonight. I appreciate that I cannot expand the point properly because I would be discussing a Bill that is not before the House, but I shall have no other opportunity in the foreseeable future to raise the general point of principle about that little anomaly in our procedure, which, with good will on both sides, could easily be plugged.
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
It is with great reluctance that I rise to speak to this motion, which revives six Bills—as hon. Gentlemen have already said, there is a great deal of good in many of them. The House should examine private Bill procedure; we are making a decision that affects all the Bills as a group, so if we want to object to the revival of just one, under the terms of this motion, we must object to them all. That is not a sensible way to proceed. We should consider the notion of linkage in the future.
I want to object to two of the Bills because the promoters are at fault in two respects: first, they have been dilatory—they have not made progress with the Bills; secondly, they have shown a gross reluctance and inability to consult and compromise. I particularly wish to discuss the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has already mentioned it and I want forcefully to support one of the points he made. I am surprised that, under the private Bill procedure, a Bill can be narrowed but not widened.
When the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill first came to the other place, it contained access provisions, but they were quickly dropped. When it came before this House, many of us wanted to argue that cause but were told firmly that the Bill had been narrowed and that we could not add to it. A third of the original Bill was about access, but that provision had been dropped in the other place and we were unable to argue for its inclusion. That procedure is wrong and needs reviewing.
I am reluctant to oppose the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill as it contains many good provisions. I criticise it for sins of omission rather than sins of commission, which is a bit like arguing about a Jane Austen novel from a Marxist perspective. Marx would argue that the novel contains nothing about the Napoleonic war; I argue that the provisions of the Bill are good but that what is left out ought not to be.
The promoters, particularly Cornwall county council, should hear the voices that want access on Bodmin moor. The Bill could do a great deal of good in Cornwall. 84 I admire its conservation aims and believe that the promoters are right to want better husbandry on the commons, but they disregard other voices. We are now in an age in which people should listen to all the voices and try to compromise.
The promoters argue that those of us who object to the Bill are urbanites. They try to characterise the argument as rural versus urban communities. That is old politics and they would be wise to listen to all the voices, because those of us who love and care for the countryside know that it can develop only if the right balance is struck between all its needs and the different demands on it. That is where the Bill is fatally flawed. It was good in its original form. I remind the House that it received its Second Reading on 7 June 1994 in the other place. It has had more than three years to make progress.
I have been surprised at the promoters' stop-start attitude. They have sought to make progress when that suited them but, despite pleas from many of us and meetings that we set up to make progress, they have not consistently tried to take the Bill forward. They deserve criticism for that; it is a fundamental reason why the Bill should be opposed tonight—the promoters have had more than three years to get it through the House.
The most damning criticism of the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill is the lack of consultation and Cornwall county council's inability to compromise and listen to other voices. The Bill's history speaks for itself. Prior to its publication, a number of organisations such as the Ramblers Association and the Open Spaces Society wanted to talk with the promoters, the county council, about the Bill's progress so that it could be put into practice quickly. The county council ran away from those talks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish and I attended a meeting in the Palace of Westminster earlier this year at which members of Cornwall county council were surprised that the access element of the Bill had been withdrawn in the other place. They had not been told. A decision had been made somewhere within the county council which had neglected to tell a proportion of its members. That cannot be good practice.
Several of us have set up meetings with the county council to explain that, although the access provisions were withdrawn in the other place, the Bill allows the setting up of a commoners council which, within two years, must produce a management plan. The county council has made no progress in getting people round the table to try to build up an access plan. Various organisations, such as the Ramblers Association, have offered to start those meetings and provide a facilitator. I am surprised that the county council has not taken the matter forward.
If the Bill is to make progress—I wish it well and want it to succeed—the promoters must listen to other voices. The Bill could do much for Bodmin moor, Cornwall and those of us who love the countryside.
Another Bill before the House is the Lever Park Bill. That, like Bodmin moor, is an area that I know well. Things need to be done at Lever park. North West Water is right to try to bring about management changes. Once again, it must heed the voice of local people and use its own resources. The company is not short of money to make improvements at Lever park. I note that one of the objectives of the Lever Park Bill is to bring national 85 lottery money into Lever park. The Lever Park Bill would make progress if the promoters were to consult and look for consensus, and if they gave an undertaking to use their own resources to better Lever park, which does, indeed, need betterment.
The private Bill procedure is out of date and out of time, and needs review, but it is what we have at present. Those of us who are accused of being urbanites are disregarded and given bad press reports. My plea to the promoters of both Bills, which are about enhancing the environment and lifting the landscape, is to listen to our voices, too. The countryside is for all of us. We aspire to leave a better environment for our children. The promoters of both Bills should listen to our voices, consult and compromise. Then we can all go forward to leave to our children the legacy that we so desire.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)
I apologise for not having been in the House for the whole of the debate, but I have been serving the House in the Select Committee on the revision of the management of the House. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping). Having been Chairman of the Procedure Committee for the past 14 years, I hope that he will not cast any of his aspersions on me, because the Procedure Committee is allowed to deal only with public business and has no control over the aspects of private business that the hon. Gentleman criticised.
I ought to declare an interest at the start. Although I do not believe that I have to, I always like to do so. I am the chairman, entirely unpaid, of the National Asthma Campaign, which has some obvious interest in the National Heart and Lung Institute referred to in the Imperial College Bill.
I want to say a few words about the procedure and the Imperial College Bill. I think that the procedure is right. A great deal of time, effort and money is put into the promotion of such Bills, but they are often cut off as time cannot be found for them in the legislative timetable, usually because Government business has left insufficient time for private business. It is therefore only right and proper that there should be an opportunity to carry those Bills forward into a new Session, as proposed.
§ Mr. Bennett
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Chairman of Ways and Means has the absolute right to name time for private business? My experience is that he takes no notice of Government pressure, and names time. Any dilatoriness about the Bills is entirely down to the promoters, not to the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I cannot speak for all the Bills, only for the Imperial College Bill. I do not believe that that is a fair assessment, as I have watched with interest as the Bill has come to the other place and then to this place.
I have some connection with the Charing Cross and Westminster hospitals and I have seen the training carried out in them, often under the leadership of Professor Roger Greenhalgh, who has been the dean and professor of surgery at Charing Cross hospital and who has done so much to bring about the amalgamation of the Westminster and Charing Cross hospitals into the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, which I believe will 86 in due course become the leading centre for training of medical personnel in the whole of London. A new building is being constructed for it.
It is only right and proper that the Charing Cross and Westminster medical school and the National Heart and Lung Institute should be brought together, as the Bill proposes, to create that centre of learning. It would be a tragedy if the Bill were further delayed. After the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), I need say no more other than to point out the interesting fact that under clause 10 nobody may pick up the names of the Charing Cross and Westminster medical school, the Royal postgraduate medical school or the National Heart and Lung Institute until 25 years have lapsed, without the approval of Imperial college.
At this late hour, to allow hon. Members to go to dinner, I shall sit down—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If hon. Members say that, I might go on too long. With the support of the House, which I see will readily be given, I am sure that we can proceed properly and fully.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)
I rise after a little more than five years of oratorical abstinence in the Chamber, due to my time doing good by stealth in the Government Whips Office. Now, in my capacity as the acting deputy shadow Leader of the House, may I say that we entirely endorse the motion, not because we necessarily support any of the Bills that are being revived, but simply because we believe that it is right and proper that each of the Bills should be judged on its merit and properly scrutinised in this Session.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was right to say, in a fascinating speech, that we should review the possibility of allowing a Bill to be revived only once through one Session, and that there should be penalties if the promoters are unduly dilatory. With that proviso, the Opposition entirely support the motion.
§ 8.9 pm
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)
I rise to express the Government's hopes that the House will agree to the motion. However, we believe that the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) suits the role of a Trappist rather more than that of a preaching black friar.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Whitehead) and for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) raised proper constituency or party political interests on the back of this motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was as erudite as usual on this subject, regarding both the history and the practice of procedural matters. I undertake to pass on his comments to the appropriate Ministers. I make the same pledge to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who raised an anomaly that I am sure will be of great interest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe)—who is not in his place—made a rather curious intervention about blight, which left me in mind of what is occurring in another place regarding the leadership of the Conservative party.
87 The purpose of the motion is to allow the revival of the private Bills that were before the House at the end of the last Parliament, as the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) said, and which fell automatically at the Dissolution of Parliament. The motion will enable them to be proceeded with in this Session at the stages they had reached at the end of last Session. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there are many precedents for carrying forward private Bills in this way in order to avoid unnecessary expense and delay.
The motion is concerned solely with procedure. Those hon. Members who wish to make points of substance about any of the Bills to which this motion applies will have every opportunity to do so when the legislation that they are concerned about comes to the House for its next stage. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.