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Cullen Inquiry

8. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): What steps are being taken to implement the recommendations of the Cullen inquiry. [658]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): The Health and Safety Commission published part 1 of Lord Cullen's report into the Ladbroke Grove train crash on 19 June. I have asked the commission to ensure that the 89 recommendations are acted on, and to report back to me within six months. The chair of the HSC has asked the industry to tell him within a month how it intends to take forward the recommendations.

Ms Drown: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. My constituents who were bereaved or injured in the Southall and Ladbroke Grove crashes want the recommendations of the Cullen inquiry to be implemented. Will he give all hon. Members access to reports at the six monthly intervals outlined in the Cullen report, so that we can give our constituents the assurances that they are asking for: that safety is a priority, that safety issues are being actioned, and that safety on the railways will always remain a priority?

Mr. Spellar: Understandably, my hon. Friend has been assiduous in pursuing issues arising from those two horrific incidents. We firmly believe that improvements in safety and the implementation of the various recommendations must be done, and must be seen to be done. I am pleased to provide the very necessary reassurance to commuters from her constituency and from across the country.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in supporting the call of the Select

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Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs to hold an independent investigation of every rail accident, as happens for civil aviation disasters?

Mr. Spellar: In all honesty, I must tell the hon. Lady that we would have to define the nature of incidents. Such practice in the nuclear industry fell into disrepute when even minor incidents that had no relevance to nuclear safety were subjected to greater investigation and action than was required. I am in no way underestimating the need for safety, but there must be proportionality. As she knows, there have been public inquiries into major accidents on the railway system. Safety monitoring is on-going, not least by the Health and Safety Executive, which is doing a good job and is monitoring the outcome of the Cullen inquiry. We await part 2 of the Cullen inquiry, and the implementation of its recommendations.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Will my hon. Friend give us an assurance that he will consider the Cullen recommendations to the Association of Train Operating Companies and the Railway Safety group where there may be room for Government action? I am thinking specifically of driver training, which was at the heart of the problem in that incident. The Cullen report shows how poor the standard of training was in Thames Trains. Cullen hinted at the need for a national curriculum and national standards for driver training. Will my hon. Friend try to lead the industry towards taking such action to make our trains safer?

Mr. Spellar: I await an early report from the Health and Safety Commission. I take my hon. Friend's point, which applies not just to the railways, but to other transport systems. There is a need for rationalisation, for improvement in the training of drivers and other operatives and for the maintenance of standards. We are very keen on that. It is important for the industry and for public reassurance, and it is also important in view of our overwhelming desire, across Government, for the re-skilling of the country and the maintenance of high skills and technical standards.

Local Government Elections

9. Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): If he will introduce a system of proportional representation in local government elections. [659]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): We have consistently made it clear that we have no proposals to change the voting system for local government, other than the introduction of the supplementary vote system for the election of directly elected mayors which is provided for in the Local Government Act 2000.

Mr. Kirkwood: Is that not a complacent answer, given the current levels of participation in elections to local authorities throughout the United Kingdom? If the Minister does not propose to consider the possibility of reinvigorating local democracy by introducing proportional representation, what other proposals has he? Now that executive structures are being created in authorities all over the UK under the new cabinet system,

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is there not a powerful case for using PR to ensure that a broader spectrum of back benchers is elected to scrutinise them?

Mr. Raynsford: Mr. Mayor—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker: It is normally "Provost" where I come from.

Mr. Raynsford: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.

We are not complacent. We have an ambitious agenda for the modernisation of local government, but we believe that such modernisation involves far more fundamental processes than simply changing the way in which people vote.

In anticipation of the hon. Gentleman's question, I asked my officials to look into the matter. They assured me that they were unable to identify any reliable data suggesting that the introduction of PR has had any effect on turnout.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): I hope that my right hon. Friend will go on resisting the continual cooing and wooing of the Liberal Democrats—and that of some of my hon. Friends—in regard to proportional representation. Does he agree that PR leads only to deals being done by politicians—perhaps, nowadays, in smoke-free rooms—and the presentation of policies that no one voted for?

Mr. Raynsford: I must initially disappoint my hon. Friend by reminding him that, when the Greater London Authority was introduced, I was responsible for the system of proportional representation for its assembly. He will appreciate, however, that the Government believe in solutions that are appropriate to different circumstances.

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We do not believe that one size fits all, and I have made it clear that we have no proposals to introduce PR to local government.

House Improvements (Lancashire)

10. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): What additional resources he is making available to housing authorities in east Lancashire to help them tackle decaying private sector housing. [660]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): We recognise the very significant problems with private-sector housing in east Lancashire, and £9.7 million has been allocated to the six east Lancashire local authorities this year to improve housing through the housing investment programme. Nationally, housing capital resources will rise to some £2.6 billion in 2003-04, and east Lancashire should benefit from that increase.

Mr. Prentice: That £9.7 million sounds like a lot of money, but it is not enough. In my constituency, 6 per cent. of houses are empty; across east Lancashire, one in five are unfit. The task is huge and daunting, involving not just Pendle but Burnley, Hyndburn and Blackburn.

Housing is the major policy issue that has not been adequately addressed by this Labour Government. I call on my hon. Friend, her colleagues in the Cabinet and the Prime Minister to recognise that east Lancashire's housing is uniquely appalling, and to ensure that we are given special help to remedy some of the problems that are staring us in the face.

Ms Keeble: The problems in my hon. Friend's part of the country are well recognised, in particular, those of empty homes and abandoned properties. The Government are considering some of those issues and will produce policy proposals to deal with them.

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Orders of the Day

European Communities (Finance) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.30 pm

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is just the thing for a warm and soporific July afternoon. The Berlin European Council in March 1999 was an important step forward for the European Community and the United Kingdom. It initiated several important reforms to help to prepare the European Union for enlargement. It was also a negotiating success for the UK, securing no increase in the own resources ceiling, bringing EU spending under control and protecting the UK abatement. By making a shift away from the traditional own resources basis towards the gross national product basis the Council made contributions fairer and less vulnerable to fraud.

The Bill will carry into effect the financing decisions of that Council. I commend it to the House and I hope that Conservative Members as well as Labour Members will support it. It will be something of a test of Conservative Members' readiness to listen to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and to engage sensibly with the serious realities of Europe. We will all be interested to see how they get on—[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is giving us a taste of how they will get on. High though my regard is for him, I am disappointed that, yet again, I am denied the opportunity to debate with the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin)—[Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] My hon. Friends might well ask that. Every time that I challenge him to a debate he seems to be gagged and to have disappeared.

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