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31 Mar 2003 : Column 672continued
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary in his place and I am grateful to him for his kind words. I refer the House to my interests as declared on a number of occasions, most recently in Committee. I congratulate the Under-Secretary on tabling a number of new clauses and amendments. His sometimes harsh words in Committee were compensated for by his generous invitation to visit his constituency and have a journey on a chain ferry. I am sure that before Royal Assent is granted, we will have time to compare our diaries and find a suitable occasion.
On Government new clause 6, we welcome the provision for the chief inspector to report once in each calendar year on the branch's activities. What changed the Government's mind, after the Under-Secretary so forcefully rejected our version of the new clause in Committee? We requested that the rail accident investigation branch make an annual report of its proceedings to each House of Parliament, and that it publish and present its audited annual reports. We asked that the report be not merely presented and published but also debated by each House of Parliament.
David Cairns: The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically ungracious. It is my clear recollection that she withdrew her amendment after receiving assurances from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the Government would table amendments on Report to address the points in the amendment that she and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) proposed in Committee. Is that not the case?
Miss McIntosh: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the response of the Minister of State, Department for Transport on 4 February, in column 22 of the Standing Committee report. The Minister did not go quite as far as the hon. Gentleman suggests; in fact, the right hon. Gentleman was quite harsh in his rejection of our amendment. However, we are an open, enlightened party so we welcome the Government's change of heart. We question what prompted that change and request that the report be published and debated, not least by the Select Committee, and that each House should have the opportunity to discuss it.
Mr. Foster: As the hon. Lady is so keen on studying the Hansard reports of the Committee debates, may I strenuously urge her to look at the numerous occasions on which she rightly referred to the growing alliance between our parties? That indicates that we were being supportive, as she rightly was of many of our amendments.
I am delighted that, to some extent, Government amendment No. 11 answers our request about the actual designation of work on reporting accidents and that accidents in the channel tunnel will be investigated separately. It is important to record our gratitude to the Government; they appear to have listened to our concerns and to have found a way forward.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): Will the hon. Lady clarify something for me? Her amendment states that the branch should investigate "any railway situation", whereas the Bill refers to accidents and incidents. Will she explain what she means by "situation"? If a rail passenger committee or other representative body expressed concern about a particular safety issue, would she envisage them having the power to ask the branch to investigate that incident, or situation?
Miss McIntosh: I most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which is obviously very significant. In Committee, we tried hard to establish circumstances relating to the terms "accident" and "incident". It must be said that we did so with some support from the Liberal Democrats[Interruption.] The issue arose very early in the proceedings, so we were delighted to recognise their support at that stage.
I would be happy with the terminology in relation to "accidents" and "incidents". However, it is important to record that, presumably, as the Under-Secretary has said that the Government want the railway accident investigation branch to lend assistance to the other boards in certain circumstances, we must be specific about the responsibilities of its inspectors and investigators. We believe that the potential for or occurrence of fatality or injury are the most specific circumstances in which inspectors and investigators would act.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I wish to speak to the amendment that appears in my nameamendment (b) to the new clause. I should like to preface my remarks by saying that I was not a member of the Committee, although I am certainly a member of the coalition of the willing who want to see the Bill through the House as speedily as possible.
My interest rests on these factors: Brian Cooper, my constituent, was one of the drivers killed in the Paddington disaster; the Southall disaster was literally one mile from my constituency and its victims included some of my constituents; and on the night of the King's
I welcome the new clause which is critical to the operation of the Bill and could set the annual benchmarking of progress regarding railway safety in this country. Amendment (b) seeks to make the point that when the regulations are introduced, we need to maximise the openness and transparency with which the critical annual report is prepared. The Bill is an attempt not only to deal with the practical matters of rail safety, but to restore the confidence of the British public in the rail industry and in a Government who are acting on their behalf to ensure their safety. That is why emphasis should be given to ensuring maximum transparency and openness in preparing the annual report.
For that reason, amendment (b) suggests that the Secretary of State should be more directional in the preparation of the report. I look forward to seeing the regulations, although I would prefer it if the negative resolution procedure were not followed, as a positive discussion should take place in which the House can come to a decision on the detail of the regulations. In some instances, the negative resolution procedure does not afford the opportunity for such discussion.
The amendment would also cover some of the aspects raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, because it would allow bodies to comment on the information that would become available as a result of the publication of a report. In other words, they could say what statistics should be included in the report while it was being prepared.
The amendment would also provide the opportunity for consultation with all the other individuals and organisations concerned about rail safety in recent years. In particular, I refer to employers and trade unions. Trade unions would be enabled to have an input in sections of the report that deal with such issues as ASLEF's concerns about hours of service and the reduction of the safety role of guards, which has been taken up by the RMT. Trade unions would have an input in the report at an earlier stage and thus it could address those issues. People would also be able to suggest what chapters of the report should cover. Such people would include victims' representative bodies, victims' legal representatives and representatives of