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Session 1999-2000
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Railways (Safety Case) Regulations 2000

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 27 November 2000

[Sir David Madel in the Chair]

Railways (Safety Case) Regulations 2000

4.30 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Railways (Safety Case) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000, No. 2688).

Given the concern over rail safety during the past few years, I make no apology for the fact that the Opposition prayed against the regulations, because that has given us a useful opportunity for the Minister to put them in context. This is one of the best attended Standing Committees on a statutory instrument that I have seen, and the attendance of so many Labour Back Benchers shows either that the Government Whips are on form, or that there is great concern about many important issues among Labour Members.

I do not intend to speak for long, because I suspect that what the Minister has to say will enlighten us rather more than what the Opposition may have to say on the matter. The original 1994 regulations related to privatisation, and were introduced with the benefit of a great deal of consultation and advice from the Health and Safety Executive. The new proposals are sensible, and are based on the rail safety policy review recommendations. The review's analysis states that the arrangements do not have sufficient clarity to provide assurance about the management of safety. These regulations are about tightening things up. The Opposition certainly welcome that and most of the Government's proposals.

The railway safety case regulatory impact assessment states that the proposed regime will extend the safety case to the safety of the internal design of rolling stock. Given that most rolling stock is now provided by specific companies and leased to the train operators, and it is often a long time before rolling stock is turned over, can we be confident that the improvements to its design will occur in a fairly short period? Rolling stock is not regularly replaced, so it is important that we have some idea of what improvements can be made over a short period.

I welcome the establishment of Railway Safety. However, when examining the likely cost of independent assessment of the Railtrack safety case, I note that annual expenditure on research and development is expected to be between £15 million and £22 million. Given the scale of the industry, I wonder whether that is sufficient. It has been suggested to me in other forums that the aerospace research people at Farnborough are good, and that more safety research could be done there.

By and large we welcome the Government's proposals. It is important that the Minister makes a statement setting out in more detail what the Government are doing, and I hope that I may be called to speak again if there is something in his statement to which I wish to respond.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I am grateful for the tone of the introductory remarks of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), and also for the welcome that he gave to the regulations. I understand why he thought it proper to pray against the regulations and give us an opportunity for an exposition of their purpose. The hon. Gentleman asked me two questions, and I hope that he will bear with me if I make my statement first and then deal with them in my response to the debate, in anticipation that other questions will be forthcoming.

The Committee should be in no doubt about the importance of the new regulations. They were proposed to the Government by the independent Health and Safety Commission and will strengthen the safety of the railways. I want to explain their background and purpose. The previous Government privatised the railway industry, which split control of the industry into fragments, the largest part falling to Railtrack as the main network's infrastructure controller. The fragmentation created new interfaces, management of which was essential if safety were to be adequately protected.

As the hon. Member for Poole pointed out, a new set of regulations—the Railways (Safety Case) Regulations 1994—was deemed necessary in response to the changed situation on the railways. They were intended to maintain existing standards and encourage a co-operative culture in the newly fragmented industry. Their lynch pin was the requirement on Railtrack and others to prepare and work to safety cases. Safety cases were not new-fangled notions dreamt up for the railway industry, but were tried and tested tools for managing risk in other high-hazard industries. Indeed, they have been used successfully in the nuclear and chemical industries for many years.

The 1994 regulations are still in force. They established a cascade system of safety case assessment and acceptance. Railtrack's safety case is assessed and accepted by the Health and Safety Executive, and train and station operating companies' safety cases are assessed and accepted by Railtrack. Under the previous Government's scheme, Railtrack has to police the rail network.

We have identified two fundamental difficulties with that system. First, it provides Railtrack with a safety regulatory role and, secondly, its safety cases deal only with importation of risk on to the network, not with the full range of health and safety risks associated with train and station operators' activities. The Health and Safety Commission decided that the system was wrong and proposed regulations to change it. The Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs had also recommended that the system be changed.

We accept that Railtrack has a pivotal role in controlling access to the network, and has wide-ranging safety obligations. However, we do not accept that Railtrack should have a safety regulatory role. The Health and Safety Commission therefore recommended—and we have made—regulations to replace those passed in 1994. The commission did not make its recommendations thoughtlessly, but as a result of a thorough review of the existing arrangements.

The devastating train collision and fire at Ladbroke Grove on 5 October 1999 caused us to ask fundamental questions about the railway safety arrangements put in place by the previous Government. Without pre-empting the public inquiry led by Lord Cullen, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister asked a senior official in our Department to review Railtrack's role in the cascade model, especially the role of Railtrack's safety and standards directorate. The review group included members from the Office of the Rail Regulator, the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, the Health and Safety Executive and the Civil Aviation Authority, and an independent member with safety experience.

The review raised concerns about the safety and standards directorate's quasi-regulatory role in the cascade model and the lack of transparency in Railtrack's role in that model. We accepted the recommendations in the report. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement to the House on the report when it was published in February.

We asked the Health and Safety Commission and the rail regulator to work together to take steps to remedy the defects identified in our review report. That resulted in the Health and Safety Commission's recommending the regulations to the Government. The rail regulator has sought to amend Railtrack's licence to allow the establishment of a new company in the Railtrack group to take on many of the functions now carried out by Railtrack's safety and standards directorate. The new company is to be known as Railway Safety, and is to be a non-profit-making company free of Railtrack's commercial interests.

The regulations, which will come into force on 31 December, will remedy the defects in the 1994 regulations by transferring the duty for accepting train and station operators' safety cases from Railtrack to the Health and Safety Executive. They will require Railtrack to procure an independent assessment of its own safety case, and those of train operators. Railtrack will have to secure independent annual audits for its own safety management and that of train operators. The Health and Safety Executive will be given powers to require revision of safety cases. Railtrack will be under a transparent duty to ensure that train and station operators comply with their safety cases, and will be required to notify the Health and Safety Executive of any non-compliance and the action it proposes to take as a result. The regulations will prescribe what should be covered in a safety case.

We may need to amend one aspect of the regulations, although they are not yet in force. They currently require Railtrack to obtain safety audits on the control of its infrastructure and stations; that requirement should also apply to the train operations of other infrastructure controllers such as London Underground. We also need to amend several small drafting errors. I apologise to the Committee that those errors were not spotted before the regulations were made.

The measures will enhance the role of the railway safety case. The 2000 regulations provide for a more rigorous and proactive regime for safety case assessment and acceptance than has been followed in the past. Of course, we recognise that the measures are interim and that a fuller overhaul of safety regulation for the rail industry may be necessary in the light of Lord Cullen's reports, which are expected next summer. We are taking care not to act in such a way as to pre-empt Lord Cullen's recommendations, but we have acted in the interests of safety. The 2000 regulations will provide an essential springboard for the safety of our railways in the immediate future.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): Would the Hatfield disaster have been better anticipated if these regulations had been in force?

Mr. Hill: I am pleased to respond to my hon. Friend. We await the publication of the findings of the Health and Safety Executive with regard to the tragic crash at Hatfield. However, we anticipate that the regulations will introduce a more rigorous safety regime, encouraging much closer attention to potential sources of risk.

 
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