Clause 23 [Duty of ORR to publish reports]:
1: Clause 23, page 15, line 16, leave out “from time to time publish” and insert “publish every 12 months or from time to time”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a slightly modified version of the amendment that I tabled in Committee. I have opted to modify, rather than to drop, the amendment because I was not satisfied with the reasoning that the Minister gave for allowing total freedom to the ORR in relation to frequency of reporting.
For the sake of time, I will not repeat all I said in Committee. However, it is not unreasonable to expect the Office of Rail Regulation to produce an annual report detailing its past, present and future activities in relation to the Crossrail project. I understand that the ORR may need to report on certain incidents or matters of importance more regularly, and this amendment would not prevent that. It is imperative that an annual report is provided, so that it can be scrutinised by all interested parties and, if necessary, by this House and the other place.
The benefits of annual reporting are clear. Twelve months is a long enough period to assess performance accurately; the reports can be used as benchmarks for future performance expectations; and an annual report will simplify comparative studies with other key documents. I imagine that the Minister will refer us to his comments in Committee on why he does not agree with this amendment. However, I believe that this is a fair compromise and I am optimistic that the Minister and his noble friends may be more open to this approach.
After receiving letters from the Minister on a different issue, I am grateful for his comments, particularly on the requirement that Cross London Rail Links will publish financial information on an annual basis, subject to protecting commercial interests. I am disappointed that the Minister did not add this to the legislation by accepting my amendment. However, I am pleased that the Government and the Minister have decided to adopt our thinking, and I hope that they repeat that logic today.
I received a letter dated 10 July from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, regarding the impact of construction of Crossrail on the Great Eastern Main Line. The Minister explained the impact of the construction in great detail and emphasised the need for a consistent approach to planning and consultation across the network. The Minister went on to offer me, in my other capacity as leader of Essex County Council, constant information on the subject. I am pleased to accept his comments.
I apologise for dealing with these two small issues, but there was probably no other opportunity to mention them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for tabling this amendment. It enables me to reiterate one or two arguments that we rehearsed at an earlier stage of the Bill. It also gives me the opportunity to thank him and his colleagues—and colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches—for the spirit of co-operation and support that the Government have enjoyed throughout the deliberations on the Bill in your Lordships’ House. It has been a model. Since the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is here, I thank him for his very helpful engagement with the Bill during the special Select Committee procedure. I have no doubt that it resolved many problems and difficulties that people encountered with the Bill, and discussions were conducted in a spirit of constructive amity—that is perhaps the nicest way to put it. My heartfelt thanks go to him and to all colleagues who have been involved in this. It has been a very useful process.
Amendment No. 1 is moved with good spirit. Clause 23 would require the Office of Rail Regulation to produce a report on what it has done or proposes to do to meet its new Crossrail construction-related objective, as provided by new Clause 22, and on how it has exercised or proposes to exercise any of its functions in relation to the operation of Crossrail services. The ORR must do this from time to time, when it considers it to be appropriate. I assume that the noble Lord’s amendment is intended to require the ORR to produce reports no less frequently than annually. However, the amendment as I read it would not achieve this. It says that it must,
“publish every 12 months or from time to time”.
My guess is that the rail regulator could carry on producing reports from time to time. It would not have to do so within a 12-month period, so the amendment is defective in its intent. Whether that was deliberate on the noble Lord’s part, I do not know, but I might give him the benefit of the doubt, particularly as I am in a generous mood.
The purpose of the clause is to make transparent how the ORR exercises its functions in relation to Crossrail. Clearly, reports need to be sufficiently frequent to fulfil this purpose. The frequency may sensibly vary depending on the stage of the project to reflect the peaks and troughs in decisions that the ORR needs to take. As I said in Grand Committee, I doubt whether a report produced less frequently than annually would be satisfactory, at least until the Crossrail services are running at the required frequency and, importantly, punctuality.
The clause already contains the safeguard that the Secretary of State can at any time require the ORR to produce a report. She might exercise this, for example, if there was a particular issue on which she wished to ensure that the ORR will publish a timely report. However, she could equally well use the power if she felt that the frequency chosen by the ORR was inadequate, and she could proactively ensure a particular frequency of reports. Therefore the clause provides the necessary flexibility to ensure that the timing of reports can be tailored to what is most useful for the particular stage of the project; yet it has the necessary safeguard against the frequency dropping too low.
I share the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, to see sufficiently timely reports from the ORR, but the clause will achieve this objective. We, like him, want to see timely information in the right place at the right time. It should be produced in a form that people can understand and to a specification that is transparent, so that people are well advised and understand the nature of the project and its progress, and the right elements of financial accounting and audit are properly in place. We think that we achieve that in the legislation. Although I think the noble Lord shares that aspiration, I rather suspect that his amendment does not achieve it.
My Lords, I think we all share the same aspiration to make certain that there is enough information on this enormous project and that the ORR issues regular reports, so could not the Government give in a little on their wording? The phrase “from time to time” is very ambiguous. I am sorry if the wording of my amendment is not exactly right, but everyone knows that I want to make certain that we get at least an annual report. Could not the wording be slightly firmer? We all agree that we want the information. There is no disagreement about this or about the policy or philosophy behind it; there is simply a difference as to whether or not it will happen. Could not the Government make certain that that happened?
My Lords, I am impressed by the noble Lord’s humility, but it strikes me that we cannot afford to slip into legislative ambiguity of the sort that he seeks to put into place with his amendment. I give this simple assurance that, so far as we are concerned, “from time to time” means that the information will be provided in a timely fashion and reasonably regularly so that people can feel updated. I do not want to put ambiguity into the Bill, which is why I must ultimately resist the amendment.
2: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—
“Disability equality scheme
(1) The Secretary of State shall take steps to ensure that the nominated undertaker is subject to the duties provided for by section 49A(1) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50) and the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005 (S.I. 2005/2966).
(2) In fulfilling the requirement to involve disabled people in the preparation of a disability equality scheme, the nominated undertaker shall in particular consult—
(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisor Committee, established under section 125 of the Transport Act 1985 (c. 67);(b) persons that seem to it to comprise or represent disabled people from the areas covered by the scheduled works.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to ensure that Crossrail is subject to the disability equality duties in the Disability Discrimination Acts and associated regulations, in particular the duty to have a disability equality scheme in place that involves disabled people in its preparation. Proposed subsection (2) would in particular require Crossrail to consult DPTAC—the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee—and persons representing disabled people from the areas covered by the scheduled works.
Crossrail is a splendid project. As a result of the building and rebuilding works it necessitated, many stations will become properly accessible to disabled people for the first time, and disabled people will benefit tremendously from the project overall. However, we need clear and committed leadership to ensure that things happen as they should and that, during the construction phase, people with mobility difficulties are not disadvantaged. That is what the amendment seeks.
I know from my own experience that confidence is vital to the mobility of blind and partially sighted people, as it is to the mobility of disabled people generally if they are to go out and about in their area, let alone further afield. For some people, especially older people, blindness can amount to house imprisonment. The impact on confidence is real, as is the danger from construction sites that suddenly appear or practised routes being cut off; blind people are even often injured by carelessly placed obstructions on the highway.
If Crossrail is not to bring years of such problems, a number of things must be in place. First, problems need to be thought through in advance. Secondly, adequate information needs to be available. Thirdly, alternative routes and mobility support need to be available where necessary. It is not always obvious in the Bill that they will be available. Schedule 3, for example, permits the closure of highways at very short notice. In a four-week consultation period, blind people will often not be able to get the information that they need about these works in advance and in an accessible form that they can read. Schedule 7 permits ancillary developments but has a high threshold for refusing permission and no provision for considering the impact on disabled people.
I had a helpful meeting with Crossrail, which subsequently met the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association at my request. I am absolutely sure that Crossrail is sincere about trying to solve these problems, but it would be helpful to have in place a written plan, which is what a disability equality scheme amounts to, devised in conjunction with disabled people, particularly from the localities affected by Crossrail construction, so that the issues can be thought through before they arise.
I note that the Department for Transport equality scheme deals with policy issues rather than the practical problems to which I have referred, so I am not sure that it is really the answer to the issues that I am raising. Work already done on the construction code of practice and the planning memorandum will obviously be helpful, but the greatest benefits for disabled people would come from a disability equality scheme which has at its heart the involvement of local disabled people in its preparation. A recent survey of government departments was conducted to see what the impact of disability equality schemes introduced in December 2006 had been. These have now been in operation for about 18 months. Already, within the first year, government departments reported how helpful they had found disability equality schemes to be in focusing people’s minds on the issues that needed to be addressed. The aspect of disability equality schemes that they found most valuable was the involvement of disabled people, those likely to be affected, in their preparation.
I believe that there is a precedent for such a scheme in a similar case, that of the Olympic Delivery Authority. It has a disability equality scheme and a senior person working on these issues. If the Minister is not able to go all the way in accepting the amendment as drafted, it would be good to have an assurance that the Government will consult further with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and others in drafting the documents that I have referred to, namely the planning memorandum and the construction code of practice. If we could have an assurance that that would happen, it would go some way towards meeting the need that this amendment seeks to address. The greatest benefit would accrue if the need for a disability equality scheme could be written into the Bill.
Generally, it is vital that a senior officer of Crossrail should be responsible for making sure that the necessary steps are taken as the project goes on, thinking through new activities and their implications in advance, and dealing with specific issues as they arise. Disabled people, too, have lives to lead, jobs to go to and friends to visit. The barrier created by closing a local station will be much greater for them than it would be for ordinary members of the public. We owe it to them to make sure that they do not suffer disproportionately from all the Crossrail works that will take place over the next—I think—nine years. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me that Crossrail will have strong leadership in place to deal with the questions that I raise.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Low. I have raised several times the amount of disruption that the years of construction will cause everyone, both on rail and road. Everyone needs to be given adequate notice. I moved an amendment along those lines in Committee. Obviously, disabled people will suffer far more. They need adequate notice and a lot of planning is needed for this enormous project, which will take some years, as the noble Lord said. I hope the Minister can give some assurances and help to everyone, particularly disabled people, on this subject. This is along the lines of the amendment that I moved in Committee. I very much support it.
My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, that while hearing petitions, including some from local authorities specifically about issues relating to disabled people, committee members spent a good deal of time probing promoters to ensure that the maximum was done to meet the interests of people with disabilities, both during construction and as part of the overall programme. We were convinced in many instances, almost against out better judgment, that we had to give way on a number of issues. In particular, we vigorously pressed the promoters to contemplate introducing lifts at Manor Park. We then discovered that that would require building virtually a whole new platform and that for many months trains would have to be redirected. The total cost of introducing such changes ran into millions of pounds. The likelihood was that, if this happened in one or two other places, overall there would be a substantial additional cost.
The other side of the coin is that Crossrail will deliver many benefits for people with disabilities. In many areas there will be brand new stations and brand new, easier access, with no problem of having to step up in order to board trains. I think we are all—certainly in this House—of the view that it is vital to move forward and try to get this legislation in place so that the real business can begin fairly soon after Royal Assent. I do not know the intricacies of this, or the consequences of this legislation for the Crossrail project. Is there any chance that it would mean further delays or further requirements for consultation, and possibly even substantial additional costs? Ultimately, I would hope that, one way or another, we could spend that money, but in the short term there is a finite amount of money available for the development of Crossrail.
With all that has been happening lately, including the credit crunch and so on, many of us who are keen to see Crossrail go ahead must, increasingly, as each week goes by, worry a little more about whether the money will be there to see this project become reality. I would like to ascertain, before taking a decision on this, whether there is any possibility of delays in enacting the legislation and, in turn, delivering the benefits in many other areas for disabled people that Crossrail will produce. That apart, if a mechanism can be found to enhance and increase consultation between representatives of people with disabilities, the promoters and the department, I would be happy—as I am sure would other members of the Select Committee—to add all the weight I can in support of that.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has spoken about this. He and his colleagues sitting behind him, who were valuable members of the Select Committee, listened to a good deal of evidence about this. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will say about formally including provisions of this sort in the Bill. In Select Committee we discussed the involvement of local groups, which would discuss all the time how people would be affected as these matters proceeded, particularly during construction, which is what my noble friend Lord Low was talking about. That will be one of the most critical issues. Some local groups will be there, and are there already. I only hope that the Government and the promoters of this legislation will encourage other areas to set up functioning local groups to do exactly the sort of thing that my noble friend has been talking about: give notice of what is going to happen, and advise on how to get around obstacles and all the other problems that might arise from a temporary construction that may not be all that temporary. If the Government give a little encouragement to the setting-up and maintenance of local groups that involve themselves in these issues, it might almost be a better answer for my noble friend than anything in his amendment.
My Lords, I am pleased that we have an opportunity to discuss this subject, because I generally take the view that we do not spend enough time focusing on the practicalities and nuts and bolts of how people are variously affected by hard-nosed, practical and crunchy bits of legislation like this. It is a refreshing opportunity to be able to do that and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for bringing forward this amendment.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke for alighting on an issue that has been of considerable concern to me throughout our consideration of the Bill: delay. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and I have both been concerned to ensure that no unforeseen delays arise, but during the process we have taken careful account of the important issues. This is one of those pleasant occasions where one can say that we have managed to make the progress that we needed to achieve—indeed, we have made rather better progress than I thought that we might at one stage—and the costs in delays, which are perhaps unquantifiable, even though people have said that they could be as much as £50 million a week, have been avoided. With that in mind, this is a timely issue to draw out.
My response will take a little time, as it should, because I want to go through how disability issues will be resolved during the process of the Crossrail development and I want to provide the sort of reassurance that I know the noble Lord, Lord Low, seeks. As he says, things should happen in a way that helps those who are most vulnerable and disabled both in the construction of the project and in terms of the services that it will provide. Historically, people with physical disabilities have not necessarily been best served by sub-surface rail lines. I suppose that the Jubilee line extension, as the most recent addition to our Underground network, is probably better designed than most. Much has been learnt from that experience, which will count for a lot in the way in which Crossrail develops.
The noble Lord made several other points that bear careful thought: the importance of disability equality schemes; the continuing importance of consultation with organisations such as Guide Dogs; and the need to appoint project managers who have a direct role in dealing with disability issues as and when they arise during the project development. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, asked that all reasonable steps be taken, which is an important point. My noble friend Lord Brooke told us that, when the Select Committee looked at the detail of the project, it spent some considerable time rehearsing many of the disability issues, which has greatly aided us.
The amendment would ensure that the Crossrail- nominated undertaker—the body to be appointed under the Crossrail Act for the purpose of constructing and maintaining the Crossrail system—is subject to the general duty imposed on public authorities that was inserted in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. The purpose of Section 49A(1) is to ensure that bodies that exercise public functions promote disability rights issues when exercising those functions. The amendment would also ensure that the nominated undertaker produces a disability equality scheme under the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005, which is predominantly a statement of how the public authorities listed in the 2005 regulations are satisfying their Section 49A(1) duty. No one could disagree with the commendable purpose of the noble Lord’s amendment, but in fact it is unnecessary. I shall explain carefully why that is by addressing both elements in turn.
It is currently envisaged that Cross London Rail Links will be appointed as the nominated undertaker for the majority of the works. CLRL is already subject to the provisions of Section 49A(1) in the 1995 Act. It has carried out and will continue to carry out its functions with due regard to its duties under that provision. As with any other public authority subject to Section 49A(1), a senior manager has overall responsibility for disability rights issues within the company. That is one of the purposes behind the amendment of the noble Lord. He has made an important point by stressing that that post must be used to ensure that there is effective connection and liaison with local groups; the point was also made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. I echo that wholeheartedly and agree that it is essential.
What has impressed me most about this project, certainly during the time that I have been involved with it, has been the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by the Crossrail project team to work at issues raised by local groups and organisations. Many came before the Select Committee to make their case. The Mayfair Residents’ Association is one that comes to mind, as does the residents’ organisation in Spitalfields. The project team should be congratulated on spending the time that it did on trying to resolve the issues that such groups brought before it. I have every confidence that that process will continue through the project development and on to construction. It is essential, and noble Lords have been wise to address the issue.
CLRL is not a listed public authority under the 2005 regulations. However, the Secretary of State for Transport and Transport for London are both listed in the regulations and both produce their own disability equality schemes, which have previously covered CLRL and the Crossrail project. Once CLRL becomes a fully owned subsidiary of TfL, it is expected that it will continue to be covered by TfL’s disability equality scheme in the same manner as any other TfL Group company, such as London Underground. It is therefore unnecessary and potentially inappropriate for CLRL to be required to produce a separate disability equality scheme in the terms sought in the noble Lord’s amendment. Indeed, in December 2006, CLRL undertook a disability impact assessment of its policies and procedures, which formed part of the Department for Transport’s disability equality scheme in January of last year.
The disability impact assessment was an assessment of CLRL’s policies and procedures as a company. Impacts of the Crossrail project, including construction, were identified in the Crossrail equality impact assessment, which was published in January 2006. The EqIA considered seven priority groups, which included disabled people with mobility or sensory impairments, learning difficulties or mental health problems, and proposed mitigation to adverse impacts on these priority groups at policy level. As the project develops and progresses towards the design stage, it is anticipated that an update of the EqIA will take place. I can therefore assure the noble Lord that disability and equality assessment, monitoring and review will continue throughout the design, construction and early operational life of the project and that mitigation will continue to be developed. This will be done in consultation with relevant groups, including Guide Dogs and others as appropriate. Of course, some will be more appropriate at different stages, particularly once CLRL has a suitable level of design and detail to consult on. CLRL has also confirmed that it will indeed be working with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, as the amendment anticipates.
I am aware that the noble Lord has particular concerns about the impacts of construction of the project on disabled people and I hope that I can offer some further reassurance on this issue. As set out in the Crossrail construction code, the nominated undertaker will, where reasonably practicable, ensure that people with reduced mobility and other forms of disability as specified in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will continue to have access to services and buildings where such access and services are temporarily disrupted during the Crossrail construction works. Where the normal means of access has to be diverted or blocked off, alternative safe routes for people with reduced mobility will be identified, taking into account existing hazards and obstructions such as pavement kerbs and street lighting poles.
The first draft of the Crossrail construction code and the planning memorandum were published by CLRL in December 2005. A number of bodies, in particular local authorities that have a duty to ensure that the issues of disabled people are promoted, have raised matters that are addressed in these documents. The terms of these documents are now agreed with local authorities and have valuably been finalised.
Under Schedule 7 to the Bill, the nominated undertaker will have to obtain the approval of a local authority for specific construction arrangements. When considering such requests for the approval of construction arrangements, the authority will be able to take account of the effects that the proposals would have on people with reduced mobility. During construction, the nominated undertaker and contractors will be required to provide community relations personnel to communicate to all those who may potentially be affected. They will be focused on engaging with the wider community to provide appropriate information and will be the first line of response to resolve issues of continued concern. The nominated undertaker will seek to engage with residents of ethnic minority backgrounds, residents with disabilities or other priority groups that may be differentially affected at different times by construction.
In summary, the Department for Transport is committed to working closely with TfL and CLRL to ensure that Crossrail is in a stronger position to develop its design, construction and operational planning, both to meet statutory requirements and to deliver a railway fit for the purpose of serving the needs of the whole community. I hope that that answers the main points offered.
CLRL met Guide Dogs in January of this year. Guide Dogs raised many of the issues that have been raised in your Lordships’ House this evening. It did not express at that stage any dissatisfaction with the answers that it received, particularly as there was a commitment to continued dialogue. It will of course have the opportunity to comment on the Crossrail construction code, the planning memorandum and documents such as the equality impact assessment.
Finally, there will be a local group for every area. I understand that the Paddington group and the Tottenham Court Road group are already up and running. The Bond Street and Whitechapel groups are to be set up and run from next month. The anticipation is that all areas will be covered by the end of the year. The focus for that local liaison is firmly in our minds and is, as we debate and deliberate, being put in place. I am grateful to all those who are party to that.
I hope that I have answered and given reassurance on the main points. I certainly understand the spirit in which the amendment was moved. Crossrail stands ready to receive other approaches as are necessary to ensure that this project, which is important for the mobility of everyone in the capital but particularly those who suffer a disability, is greatly enhanced in the future and that we have an addition to our railway network that provides better access than any other part of the network has done hitherto. I am sure that your Lordships’ House will want to hear more on this in due course. I undertake to do all that I can to ensure that people are kept informed and up to date as is necessary on the way in which this project develops. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for this opportunity to offer the reassurances that I have been able to give this evening.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his full and careful reply to all the issues raised. I am most grateful to all other noble Lords who have spoken, who all made relevant points.
I should say unambiguously, as I hope I did in my earlier remarks, that I am in absolutely no doubt about the great benefits that will accrue to disabled people as a result of the construction of Crossrail. As I hope will have been clear, my amendment was in no sense moved in a spirit that this is a bad-news development. Overall is it good news for disabled people if we can just handle it in the right way. The Minister has gone out of his way to reassure me that that will be the case. I certainly hope that making appropriate provision for disabled people will not cause any undue delay to the project; indeed, I hope that it will not cause any delay at all. It is obviously to the public good that the project should go ahead with all due dispatch.
On works undertaken to meet the needs of disabled people, any legal requirement would require only that reasonable adjustments be made. No undertaking would be expected to go to unreasonable expense. I hope that there are no continuing worries on that score. I express my gratitude to the Select Committee for the depth with which it probed these issues and the concern that it showed for them.
As I said, the Minister responded extremely fully. I am most grateful to him for that. He covered all the bases and went out of his way to explain how the needs of disabled people would be covered without a disability equality scheme. CLRL has a disability equality duty, as its activities are covered under parent schemes. That point is covered. I was grateful to hear the Minister say that there is an expectation that the arrangements will need to be reviewed and updated. We can all take comfort from the Minister’s reassurance that that review and updating, and indeed the examination of everything as the project goes along, will be done in full consultation with relevant groups—not just Guide Dogs, which the Minister kindly mentioned, but other relevant groups, particularly local groups, some of which, as he was able to tell us, have already been set up.
The Minister has given us a full reassurance, for which I am grateful and which I am sure all noble Lords were glad to hear. I agree with him that it is good that we have been able to give this issue a full airing this evening. Now that we have done that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.