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31 Mar 2003 : Column 682—continued

Mr. Clapham: My hon. Friend alluded to the relationship between overlapping bodies—for example, the rail accident investigation branch, the Health and Safety Executive, the Health and Safety Commission, Her Majesty's rail inspectorate and the new rail safety and standards board. Does he agree that the role that the rail accident investigation branch will play, as an independent body, may act as a catalyst in pulling together the other bodies to facilitate greater co-operation in relation to the way in which their work overlaps?

4.30 pm

Mr. Hopkins: If the investigation branch discovers that those other organisations are perhaps not doing their job, I hope that it will be able to report to Government so that something can be done. From my own inquiries and discussions with many who work in the railway industry, I know that some of those

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organisations are not doing the job as well as they should be. I do not want to go into detail on that, but I will report to my hon. Friend the Minister in due course.

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) mentioned the transport police. The transport police do an excellent job. Hon. Members who saw the recent documentaries on the rail transport police will know that they are a first-class body that does a good job and should be listened to and supported. When the transport police find things that are not right, the Government ought to take them seriously and, if necessary, introduce further legislation to strengthen the existing arrangements.

I have a number of other points to raise but I may be able to raise them later.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I want to speak in favour of new clause 12, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). The new clause relates to contacting or sub-contracting matters that were discussed in the Standing Committee. Hon. Members who were present will remember that we tabled a straightforward amendment, which was slightly shorter than the one that we are considering today. It said simply:

It is worth recalling why we tabled that amendment. We did so because Lord Cullen, for instance, thought that it was paramount that the RAIB should be independent; and because of the answer to a parliamentary question that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath asked about the role of contractors. That answer was:

It is only fair to point out that the Under-Secretary then went on to explain exactly what he meant. He said that the Government's view was that it would be appropriate to call as witnesses the maintenance companies in relation to a particular investigation. However, by that he did not mean that contractors could not be used as consultants if needed in a particular investigation.

In Committee, the Under-Secretary gave us an example in relation to the marine accident investigation branch. He said that he received lots of reports about marine accidents after which salvage experts were used to lift wreckage from the sea bed. Clearly, it is entirely appropriate for salvage experts to be used in that capacity. However, did not give the example of a ship manufacturer working as a consultant in an inquiry into a vessel that had been split in half in bad weather but that had been manufactured by the same ship manufacturer. It is exactly that sort of conflict of interest that we want to avoid. That is the purpose of new clause 12.

We heard the concerns of the Health and Safety Commission about various safety contractors who were involved in railway works and safety cases.

Mr. Hopkins: I endorse the hon. Gentleman's concern about the plague of contracting that has overtaken the industry since privatisation. Does he accept that a problem has been that many people with skills are now

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working with the sub-contractors, making it difficult to do anything without using sub-contractors in some fields? Would it not be a good idea to redevelop expertise in the core part of the industry and in the new bodies, so that those skilled people are genuinely public servants and are not compromised by commercial interests?

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Clearly, there is a role for contractors and sub-contractors—that will always be so—but I agree with the point that he makes. Indeed, Network Rail has recently announced that it is bringing back in-house some contracting work, to enable it to develop not only expertise, but a point of comparison with contractors working in the private sector so that it can find out whether the costs quoted are appropriate.

As I have said, we have concerns about contractors who have a dual role in investigations and in carrying out work. Although the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) did not believe that sub-contractors would never be asked to work on investigations, he argued that they should not lead them and only assist in them.

Under new clause 12, we seek to incorporate some of the views that hon. Members expressed in Committee, so it reads:

should not be used during that investigation, and I hope that hon. Members, including the Under-Secretary, would concur that that is very sensible. I hope that, if the Under-Secretary already thinks that that is covered by the certain clauses or regulations, he will confirm that fact and, therefore, it is an issue about which we should not be concerned. However, if that is not covered, it would be appropriate for him to take on board our compromise suggestion.

I should like to give the Under-Secretary some time to consider our proposal—perhaps he will do so in the next few days—so we do not intend to press new clause 12 to a vote. We will listen carefully to his response, and I hope that he will recognise the need to do away with the possibility of any conflict of interest.

Mr. Jamieson: May I thank the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) for the broad welcome that she gave the Bill? I shall not join the discussion between the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative parties about which was the most supportive, but I dare say that a reading of Hansard would indicate that to anyone who had an interest.

If the hon. Lady wants to visit my constituency—to go on the chain ferry or otherwise—nothing that she has said so far now or in Committee has negated that invitation, and she is always very welcome. I saw the chain ferry in my constituency on Friday, and I can assure her that it is working well.

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[Interruption]. I did not hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said.

Mr. Bercow: What about the workers?

Mr. Jamieson: Yes, well, what about the workers indeed? My hon. Friend could come and see the people who are working very hard on the ferry and providing many services in that area.

Mr. Don Foster: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way given that, from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) says, "What about the workers?"—[Interruption]—as did the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The crucial thing is that I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell his hon. Friends that, in light of amendments proposed by the Liberal Democrats, the Government now intend to ensure that the workers are properly represented on the various bodies that we have discussed today.

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich has shown more interest in the workers over the years than the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) or the Liberal Democrats ever have.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jamieson: I have sparked the hon. Gentleman into action. Of course I will give way, so long as he wants to make a serious point.

Mr. Bercow: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's instinct—indeed his thirst—for badinage, but may I simply advise him that, if he traduces my record on such matters in future, I will do my best, within order, to highlight that proportion of my 5,000 written questions that relate to the interests of the working people of this country.

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Gentleman always looks as if he has bags under his eyes. He must have been sitting with the bedclothes over his head and using a flash lamp to read past copies of Hansard. He has done that too often and, these days, he reads his own contributions. I strongly recommend against that. He should get a life, go out at night and do something else. That might be of great benefit to him and give him a broader perspective on life.

The hon. Member for Vale of York suggested that we had changed our minds. However, when we concluded our debate in Committee on this part of the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport said that we would return to the issue. He said that we would take note of the debate in Committee, and that is why we have returned to the issue tonight.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) raised important questions about the content of the annual report. I emphasise that it will show the progress of recommendations and take an overview of the

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investigations that have taken place. It will provide detail of the safety recommendations and, most important, it will show the industry's progress towards the implementation of those recommendations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend will accept that strong reassurance.

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