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Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right to express the support shared by all Members for the way in which, once again, the emergency services and the public services more generally, discharged their responsibilities on Friday and during the weekend in relation to the accident at Potters Bar.
The whole question of the industry's infrastructure and its safety was addressed by Lord Cullen's second report. The Government have accepted all those recommendations and we are now seeing their implementation. That will mean changes in the way in which safety is dealt with in the
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): The Secretary of State has referred to the fact that the accident took place just outside my constituency in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) but that a number of the seriously injured were sent to Barnet general hospital, Chase Farm hospital and two other hospitals. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that after news of the accident broke, an accident and emergency unitwhich had undertaken many practiceswas immediately activated and that the response, not only between the emergency services but within each service, was magnificent.
The incident took place near a county boundary and I refer to the co-operation between two ambulance trusts, between the Hertfordshire police and the Metropolitan police, and between local hospitals in Barnet and the nationally renowned neurosurgical unit at the Royal Free. Will he accept that, to local people, the community response was magnificent? We are particularly grateful that the Prince of Wales visited Barnet general and Chase Farm hospitals on Saturday morning, and that the Secretary of State for Health completed a visit to those two hospitals today.
Mr. Byers: The way in which emergency procedures went into place on Friday is a real commendation to those who have been planning for the worst. We saw on Friday how effective they were at putting in place those procedures. There are always concerns, when people are working across boundaries, that bureaucratic layers will get in the way of response. What is notable about Friday, however, is that that did not happen at all. People put aside all those constraints and got on with the job, irrespective of boundaries or budgets. That is exactly how it should be.
I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the Prince of Wales for his visit on Saturday, which was a great boost to the injured and to the staff in the two hospitalsBarnet general and Chase Farm. He is also right to say that the Royal Free, which we have not mentioned and which is my local hospital, played an important role with some of the most seriously injured people. I am sure that we are all praying that those people who are fighting for their lives are successful in doing so.
There are lessons to be learned, and part of that is the way in which emergency services can act in a co-ordinated and responsive way. They did themselves proud on Friday, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether, in his earlier meeting with representatives from the railway inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive, they indicated that any investigation into the tragedy at Potters Bar would include not only a review of the methodology and frequency of track inspections, which are varied and many, but a review and an audit of enforcement action that may result
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend has a wealth of experience in these areas from his occupation before he was elected to the House. In my meeting with the railway inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive, it was made clear to me that there will be a thorough and full investigation. Such an investigation will want to take into account all those relevant matters in relation to what happened at the point south of Potters Bar, and that is appropriate in the circumstances.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Will the Secretary of State accept that, in my constituency, which has five stations on the affected line and thousands of commuters, there is deep concern about this crash? May I express my and my constituents' condolences to the families of the bereaved and our best wishes to those who are seeking to recover in hospital at present? Does the Secretary of State understand that, after Hatfield, my constituents endured many months of delays on the line caused by speed restrictions and engineering works? It was thought that that was to ensure that there would not be another significant crash. Yet, months later, we face this dreadful crash. Does he understand that there is a need for great reassurance among my constituents about the safety of this line in the future? What reassurance can he give them today, based on the briefings that he has had?
Mr. Byers: I fully understand the concerns of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. It is an absolutely natural reaction to what happened on Friday. As I said in my statement, Railtrack has checked about 800 points and they have not been found to have similar defects. The railway inspectorate has specifically looked at points near to those at Potters Bar to check whether there was a particular problem with maintenance there and it has not identified any similar defects. The fact that the railway inspectorate has not imposed any speed restrictions as a result of this accident is a clear indication that it, as the independent safety expert, believes the network to be safe. I think that we are looking at a particular set of circumstances affecting a particular set of points. If the investigation shows that that is the case, we need to find out the reason for what happened. However, that is something for the investigation and we will have to await the reports and recommendations that we receive as a result of the inquiries and investigations that are now taking place.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Will my right hon. Friend secure the publication of the representations that the railway trade unions have made over the past year to Railtrack, the Health and Safety Executive, his Department and the railway inspectorate about the safety of track generally? Will he review the mechanism by which the views on safety issues of workers within the industry are heard and listened to?
Mr. Byers: The views of the trade unions and those with day-to-day experience of the network are important and need to be taken into account. Although I do not wish to draw conclusions about this incident, such people are often able to identify quickly and at first hand any
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): The Secretary of State will be aware that my constituents were among those killed and injured in this terrible tragedy. I wish to take this opportunity to express on behalf of my constituents our condolences to those who suffered bereavement and our deepest sympathy to those who were injured and to their families. Along with other Members of the House, I also wish to express our appreciation to the emergency services, the hospital services and the people of Potters Bar for the support and help that they gave in tending to the injured.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) have said, there is a sense of shock among those who use this railway line regularly. They suffered lengthy delays after the Hatfield crash and they thought that they were doing so in pursuance of a safer railway. Notwithstanding the outcome of the investigation into this incident, is it not right that an account is given to them of how safety has been secured on this line and how it will be maintained in the future? There should be the fullest possible disclosure of all relevant information about the safety features of this railway.
Mr. Byers: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I fully understand the shock that must be felt by his constituents and all those who use the line regularly given that the incident took place so close to the one in Hatfield. He is right to say that people need to account for what happened. I have made it clear since Fridayover the weekend and, indeed, again todaythat all the relevant parties will have to make a full disclosure of exactly what happened and about the issues for which they have responsibility. Confidence will be re-established only if people receive a proper and coherent explanation of exactly what took place. All the bodies involved recognise the importance for the industry of doing precisely that. There is now probably a greater acknowledgment in the railway industry that, if it is to secure the confidence of the travelling public, openness and transparency will be key factors.