Previous SectionIndexHome Page


The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


34. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If he will make a statement on the work of the archbishops' review group on bishops' needs and resources. [53995]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): The archbishops' review group published a report last year, "Resourcing Bishops", which the archbishops commended for reflection and debate. It concluded that the range of resources made available to bishops is broadly right, but recommended changes in how they are provided.

Michael Fabricant: I have the document here, and it is interesting to note that its foreword states:

That makes a pleasant change.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the burden on archbishops, and in particular of the worldwide role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. What further consideration is being given to the future of the archbishops of the United Kingdom? The hon. Gentleman will know that in the eighth century, there was a third archbishopric, based in Lichfield. There needs to be more than one archbishop based in the United Kingdom while another spends much of his time looking after the interests of the Anglican dioceses abroad. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that, if there is to be a third archbishopric, there is a precedent, and it is Lichfield?

Mr. Bell: There was a television catch phrase years ago, "Give us a job!", and that might apply to the bishopric to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I am grateful to him for pointing out that the report states that there is neither waste nor profligacy in the Church Commissioners' books or in the Church of England. He will also be aware that Lord Hurd of Westwell's report on the work of the Archbishop of Canterbury found that the archbishop had no fewer than six major national and international roles. Lord Hurd made a number of

13 May 2002 : Column 501

recommendations on archbishoprics. He did not recommend a third archbishopric, but I shall be glad to add my own tuppence on that.

Ordination (Church of England)

35. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): How many (a) men and (b) women the Church of England has ordained in the last year. [53996]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Two hundred and eighty two men and 214 women were ordained as deacons during 2001.

Mr. Bryant: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, last year, one third of the curates employed by the Church were women, that one in 20 vicars were women and that only one in 110 archdeacons were women? When does he think that the Church of England will manage to achieve parity between men and women in its employment practices, and when does he expect the first female Archbishop of Canterbury to be appointed?

Mr. Bell: As I have already said, the choice of the future Archbishop is not—God be praised—in the gift of the Church Commissioners. On my hon. Friend's important wider point, the gender of candidates is not an issue when they are considered for ordination. However, the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993 contains provisions for those in the Church of England who have objections on the grounds of theology and conscience to accepting the priestly ministry of women.

Spending Plans

37. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If he will make a statement on the Church Commissioners' spending plans for 2002 to 2004. [53998]

Mr. Stuart Bell (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): As a result of the commissioners' good long-term investment performance, they have been able to increase the level of their ongoing non-pension support for the Church's work to £60 million in 2002, rising to £63 million in 2004. This includes an additional one-off commitment of £10 million to parish ministry and mission over the period in question.

Sir Sydney Chapman: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that proper asset management is crucial if the Church Commissioners are to meet the Church's needs? In spite of the figures that he has just given, will he confirm that the commissioners propose to allocate £160 million a year over the next three years, more than 60 per cent. of which will go to meet clergy and widows' pensions?

Mr. Bell: I confirm the points made by the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for allowing me to say that the administration of the Church Commissioners is in excellent hands, and has achieved an excellent record over many years. He will be aware that the needs of

13 May 2002 : Column 502

today's Church are great indeed, and demand greater flexibility in the use of the commissioners' funds. We are grateful for his question. There will be flexibility in the allocation of our funds, and we also take into account the need to pay the clergy and to pay the pensions.


The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

Public-Private Partnerships

38. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): What assessment he has made of the resources the National Audit Office would need to enable it to conduct pre-contractual analysis of PPP proposals. [53999]

Mr. Alan Williams (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission): In the past four years, the NAO has reported on the value for money achieved by more than 25 public-private partnership projects. The resources made available to the NAO will continue to include provision to enable it to continue its work in that important area, but the NAO does not envisage conducting pre-contractual analysis of PPP proposals. That would involve it in departmental decision-making processes and compromise its independence.

Mr. Marsden: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but it is a pity that the NAO is not prepared to reconsider, not least in view of the welcome statement of the future head of the civil service on openness in that area. Does my right hon. Friend think that there would be value in the NAO being involved in that ongoing monitoring with the civil service? That might, on occasion, enable doors to be shut before rather than after the horse has bolted?

Mr. Williams: That view is based on a misunderstanding of the NAO's role. The NAO's independent status is guaranteed by its non-involvement in policy. If it were to be involved in policy, that would be against its remit and would deprive it of its impartiality in carrying out its audit and value for money functions. Statutorily, the NAO is not allowed to do what my hon. Friend asks.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): Although the NAO will not look into bodies such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), extra-Executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies will have to be audited by it. What further resources will the NAO have for that?

Mr. Williams: In fact, as a result of the Government accepting the Sharman committee report, which makes all quangos susceptible to NAO audit, I have invited the NAO to submit a supplementary programme to me for us to consider in June or July so that we can increase the monitoring of quangos and Government companies.

13 May 2002 : Column 503

Potters Bar Derailment

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the tragic rail derailment at Potters Bar on Friday 10 May, when coaches of the West Anglia Great Northern 12.45 train from London King's Cross to King's Lynn came away from the tracks immediately to the south of Potters Bar station when travelling between 80 and 90 mph.

I understand from the police that the train was carrying about 150 people. Seven were killed as a result of the derailment, and about 40 injured. Two remain on the critical list. At a time like this, our thoughts must be with the families and close friends of those who lost their lives. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to the bereaved and in wishing a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

Once again, the bravery, courage and professionalism demonstrated by our emergency services—fire, police, medical and health and safety staff—were outstanding. The reaction of the emergency services and the railway staff concerned was the product of constant training and planning, enabling them to perform in a way that the whole nation can be proud of.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited the injured and staff in Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals on Saturday, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is visiting the same hospitals this afternoon. I am grateful that the local Member—the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)—was able to join me when I visited the scene on Saturday. We also visited the local fire station to thank members of the fire service who attended the crash.

Potters Bar station is in the centre of the town, and a notable feature of this appalling event is the reaction of local people who came rushing to aid those involved in the crash. In the midst of horror, their selfless behaviour, care and compassion were remarkable. The people of Potters Bar can take pride in their response. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to them all.

The investigation into the cause of the crash began immediately. British Transport police and Hertfordshire police are working in partnership with Her Majesty's railway inspectorate from the Health and Safety Executive. Early indications are that a set of points south of the station were the cause of the derailment.

The railways inspectorate believes that the points in question moved as the rear of the third carriage of the train passed over them, and as a result deflected the fourth and final carriage towards the left. That happened because nuts on two stretcher bars were detached. The locking bar connecting the tips of the points was then subject to forces normally shared by the stretchers, and it broke. The rear carriage derailed and slewed sideways, detaching from the rest of the train. It skidded along the track, passing over a bridge and came to rest on its side, wedged under the station canopy. The rear bogie was torn off by the collision with the bridge superstructure, and came to rest on the down slow line, causing severe damage.

The investigation is now pursuing the question of the circumstances surrounding the nuts being detached from the two stretcher bars, causing the points to fail. The nuts

13 May 2002 : Column 504

that were detached have now been removed for forensic investigation, and a major portion of the points is also being removed for examination by the Health and Safety Executive.

The HSE will publish its interim report in the next few days, and we must await its findings. That interim report will be made public. In addition, I can inform the House that, exercising powers under section 14(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission will tomorrow recommend that the commission direct the Health and Safety Executive to conduct an immediate formal investigation into the circumstances of the train derailment. A report will be made public as soon as possible. The Health and Safety Executive intends to announce further details of the scope and arrangements of the investigation in due course.

Railtrack acted quickly to inspect 800 sets of points across the country and found no similar defects. Her Majesty's railway inspectorate has since examined other points in the Potters Bar area. It, too, has found no similar defects. I have been advised by the railway inspectorate that there are no indications so far of any problem that would require speed or other restrictions elsewhere on the network.

Railtrack's chief executive told me this morning that, although the company's initial investigation had led it to believe that the points in question had been replaced in December, it now knows that to be incorrect. Railtrack now confirms that the points are in fact about eight years old. It has also informed me that the normal lifespan of a set of points on this type of track is between 20 and 25 years.

Gauge corner cracking had been identified on rails in the vicinity in September 2001, and as a result a temporary speed restriction had been put in place until grinding to treat the gauge corner cracking had been completed. The speed restriction was lifted on 24 December. Neither Railtrack nor the Health and Safety Executive has any reason to believe at present that gauge corner cracking is linked to the causes of this accident.

The response to this incident by the emergency services, the industry and the railway inspectorate has been marked by the closest possible co-operation between all concerned. That co-operation continues as the focus shifts to recovery of services and investigation of the points failure. It is clearly essential that the on-site investigation be undertaken as quickly as possible, provided that it is concluded with complete thoroughness.

Clearance of the site has begun. Once the investigation of the site has been completed—it is hoped that that can be done over the next few days—it can be handed over to Railtrack for repairs to be completed. At this stage, it is impossible to say precisely when the entire site will be returned to normal use, but in the meantime the train operators are putting in place alternative services. The rest of the network is unaffected.

In this tragic incident, lives have been lost, and we must not forget those who survived but who will be mentally and physically scarred for the rest of their lives. That is why it is vital that we discover not just what happened at Potters Bar but how it happened. We owe a responsibility to all involved in the Potters Bar derailment—

13 May 2002 : Column 505

a responsibility to identify exactly what took place and then to take the necessary steps in response. That is a responsibility that we will discharge.

Next Section

IndexHome Page