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31 Mar 2003 : Column 669—continued

'(1A) The Rail Accident Investigation Branch may investigate any railway situation which it judges to have the potential for fatality or injury.'.

Mr. Jamieson : I am delighted that the House can return to considering the Bill. I see that some old friends from its consideration in Committee are in their places. I am sure that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) will speak with her usual commendable economy of words, as I am sure will the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and others.

The new clauses and amendments refer to part 1, which would establish the rail accident investigation branch. New clause 6 would place a duty on the chief inspector of rail accidents to publish an annual report on the activities of the RAIB. The clause is being brought forward in response to concerns that were raised in Committee. A number of the amendments that stand in

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the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are responses to matters that were properly raised in Committee.

The regulations will give details of what will be in the annual report and when it will be published. We intend that the RAIB's annual report will let everyone see what the branch has been doing in the previous year. Not only will it provide an overview of investigations made in the preceding year and give details of safety recommendations that have been made, but, crucially, regulations will also specify that the report should show industry progress towards implementation of recommendations made by the branch, so that it can be seen that lessons are being learned. I hope that that addresses some of the concerns of the hon. Member for Bath, as expressed in amendment (a).

The rail industry will be responsible for the implementation of safety regulations in line with recommendations made by Lord Cullen. The rail safety and standards board will maintain a single record of recommendations made by the RAIB, as well as industry investigation recommendations, so that the state of industry progress towards implementation of each and every recommendation can be checked. The publication of annual reports by the branch will draw on that and place a discipline on everyone involved to ensure that recommendations are implemented.

Government amendments Nos. 11 and 12 have been tabled to ensure that the RAIB's responsibilities in relation to the channel tunnel are clear and work well. Our intention has always been that the investigation of accidents and incidents in the channel tunnel would not automatically be for the RAIB. Such matters would be for the channel tunnel intergovernmental commission and the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority to decide.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so soon, but the matter that he has just raised is a very fraught one. He will be aware that the channel tunnel organisation does not always provide full and detailed information about its own workings, so it is extremely worrying that the matter may, rather unhelpfully, come under its aegis. Can he assure us that, as a result of the amendments, it will be made clear on the record that the available statistics will be printed clearly so that the general public and the House of Commons can have access to them?

Mr. Jamieson: I am not sure whether the amendments will do so, but the new clause ensures that should the tunnel authorities call on the expertise of the rail accident investigation branch, it can be used. The authorities' information would, of course, be made public.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that new clause 6(2) is strikingly broad in scope and lacking in specificity, can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether we will at least have the benefit of advance sight of the draft regulations before the Bill's final passage? Irrespective of the answer to that question, can he advise

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the House whether the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure of the House or its negative counterpart?

Mr. Jamieson: The regulations will be dealt with in the normal way, and their publication will be dealt with in the normal way in the House.

Mr. Bercow: That answer was spectacularly uninformative. For the hon. Gentleman to say that the regulations will be dealt with in the normal way tells us everything and nothing that we need to know. The question is specific—given that there is normality about the use of both the negative and positive procedures, which are the Government opting for?

Mr. Jamieson: There is never normality about what the hon. Gentleman raises in the House, but there is always predictability. In this case, the statutory instruments will be subject to negative resolution, but many other statutory instruments relating to the Bill will be subject to positive resolution. That was thrashed out very thoroughly by the hon. Member for Vale of York in Committee.

Government amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15 strengthen the wording describing the aims of the rail accident investigation branch. As Lord Cullen recommended, the fundamental aim of the rail accident investigation branch must be to improve the safety of railways and prevent railway accidents and incidents. The rail accident investigation branch will establish the root causes of railway accidents and incidents, and share safety lessons with the industry as quickly as possible so that safety can be improved and future accidents prevented. However, there may be circumstances in which the rail accident investigation branch could, for example, help a marine or air accident investigation by providing specialist assistance. For that reason, we do not want the aims of the rail accident investigation branch in clause 4 to be so narrow that it could only work on a rail accident investigation.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): Has the Minister given any thought to the question of whether the rail accident investigation branch will, in certain circumstances, be able to carry out surveys or studies of potential dangers? For example, he will be aware that at present the union ASLEF is pressing for a reduction in hours. Is that something that would come under the remit of the rail accident investigation branch? Would it carry out a survey and report back?

Mr. Jamieson: I am not sure that that particular issue would come under the branch's remit, but certainly under the Bill there is an ability to look both at incidents that may lead to increased risks and risks that might lead to incidents. We want the branch to have freedom to investigate such things—they may not be actual events or incidents, but things that might lead to a serious event. I am sure that the branch's chief inspector will look at each issue, just as the marine accident investigation branch and the air accidents investigation branch look at each issue to see whether there is a risk that could cause danger.

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3.45 pm

Mrs. Dunwoody: I apologise for intervening again, but the wording that my hon. Friend used implies that the rail accident investigation branch will intervene in the other accident branches. Would it not be sensible to follow one of my Committee's recommendations—that the Government should set up a truly independent safety authority capable of covering all forms of transport, using the expertise of the existing bodies but bringing them together in such a way that they would be independent of their individual industries and capable of delivering much better, much stronger and much more imperative results?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend's argument has much merit. The air accidents investigation branch and the marine accident investigation branch have specific expertise and have proved to be singularly capable in their work. The counter-argument to my hon. Friend's suggestion is that because those branches of our Department operate as they do, with the expertise that they have, it is considered at present that they are better as separate branches operating with own their levels of expertise. However, we may return to the matter in the future. I should add that the Bill allows for a sharing of expertise between branches, should that be required. It is not expected that the branches would regularly investigate each other's cases, but they may have certain expertise that they can share with one another.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I understand that the air accidents investigation branch occasionally helps in other countries where there has been an air crash and it uses its expertise there. Does my hon. Friend envisage that the rail accident investigation branch could fulfil a similar role? If so, I recognise that the House will not want to examine great reports on accidents that happened throughout the rest of the world, but if lessons can be drawn from incidents that happened elsewhere, will they be able to form part of the content of the report?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. I do not think that it would happen frequently, but there may be cases in which the rail accident investigation branch would be asked to investigate, help investigate or provide expertise in respect of some incident that had happened outside the country. Should that happen, I would anticipate that if there were any lessons to be learned that were appropriate to our circumstances, we could benefit from such information. My hon. Friend's suggestion was not made in Committee and is a powerful point.

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