Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Mr. Spellar: Our amendment simply deals with the concerns expressed by the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that Henry VIII powers should generally be exercised only by affirmative resolution. However, if powers under secondary legislation are not used to change primary legislation, regulations are most effectively be made by negative resolution, and we have clarified that in Government amendment No. 25.

Amendment No. 20 would go much beyond that. As the hon. Lady rightly said, she is trying to change all procedures to affirmative resolution. Our proposal that that should be the case only for the area that we have outlined takes account of the concerns of the Lords Committee.

Miss McIntosh: I hear what the Minister is saying, but he still has not satisfied us. There is not a great deal that we can do about that at this stage, but I would like him to respond to the specific question of which issues the Government would seek to advance by means of negative resolution. We remain deeply uneasy about Government amendment No. 26, and I imagine that the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee will be uneasy too.

The Chairman: Is the hon. Lady withdrawing her amendment or pressing for a vote?

Miss McIntosh: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Establishment

Mr. Foster: On a point of order, Mr. Hood. I would be grateful for clarification of your intentions. I noticed that on clauses 1 and 2 you proceeded immediately to a vote on clause stand part. As I wish to raise several points about the generality of clause 3, would you indicate whether you want me to refer to them during debates on the various amendments or whether you will allow a separate debate on clause stand part?

The Chairman: I probably will allow a debate on clause stand part for clause 3, assuming that there are not long debates on the amendments. That being the case, there will be a stand part debate.

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 15, in

    clause 3, page 2, line 19, at end insert—

    '(3A) The Rail Accident Investigation Branch shall make an annual report of its proceedings to each House of Parliament.

    (3B) The Rail Accident Investigation Branch shall present its audited annual accounts to each House of Parliament.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 3, in

    clause 8, page 5, line 41, at end add—

    '(6) The Secretary of State shall place a requirement upon the Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents to publish an annual progress report on the implementation of recommendations which he makes.'.

Miss McIntosh: My understanding is that the present arrangements allow the Health and Safety

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Executive to publish an annual report, which is debated. It emerged very clearly on Second Reading that there is a desire among hon. Members of all parties that the work of the rail accident investigation branch should be scrutinised closely once that work has commenced. As with other bodies set up under primary legislation, we believe that the most traditional and effective method of scrutiny would be by way of an annual report of the proceedings of the rail accident investigation branch to Parliament, in which case it would be laid in the normal way before the relevant Select Committee of each House and debated. If appropriate, it could even be debated on the Floor of the House or in the confines of Westminster Hall.

The rail accident investigation branch will have an important and, I hope, effective function in securing a perception of safety on the railways. The new branch would gain much credibility if an annual report were to be made and scrutinised by the House, particularly given that we shall later consider, notably under clause 7, what the branch's powers will be.

10 am

I propose that the rail accident investigation branch present its audited annual accounts to each House of Parliament. You reminded us at the outset, Mr. Hood, that the Bill carries both a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution, which is extremely important for the scrutiny of the branch's work, as the Minister said. For example, there are currently no tramways in Scotland. Not so long ago, perhaps a century ago, there were tramways in Edinburgh and other cities in Scotland. It is not inconceivable, if the Minister does not discount it, that there will be tramways in the future.

It emerged clearly on Second Reading that there is deep concern on the Minister's own Benches about the relationship between the reserved and devolved powers. I had an opportunity to question the Advocate-General for Scotland on this point. The most vexed issue in relation to the balance between the reserved and devolved powers lies in the field of transport. The compiling of such an annual report and an audited annual account will be an opportunity for us to explore any potential conflict between the reserved and devolved powers.

Most agencies set up by primary legislation report to the relevant Select Committee—in this case, the Select Committee on Transport, on which I have the honour to serve. I believe that it is highly appropriate to consider the possibility of the branch both making an annual report and presenting audited annual accounts, as amendment No. 15 seeks.

The purpose of amendment No. 3 will be for the hon. Member for Bath to explore. I would prefer a full annual report. I do not think that there is too much daylight between my intentions and his. I would prefer the normal mechanisms of an annual report to be presented to the Select Committee on Transport and audited accounts to be presented to the Public Accounts Committee.

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Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the explanation of her amendment. We support it. Our own amendment does not seek to be an alternative to hers, but would add significantly to it, were both amendments to be accepted by the Government either in their current form or in a revised form.

The hon. Lady is right to stress the need for the new body set up under clause 3, the rail accident investigation branch, to present annual reports in the way she describes. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that there is no similar requirement in legislation on two similar bodies. The aviation accident investigation branch was established under regulations made under section 75 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Those contain no reference to a requirement to produce such annual reports. The marine accident investigation branch was established under section 267 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. That also has no such reference, yet, as the Minister will point out, in both cases such reports are produced, even though there is no requirement on the bodies to do so.

Nevertheless, our amendment goes a stage further. It would be helpful to have a requirement for there to be such a report, but I am particularly conscious that we are establishing the rail accident investigation branch in the light of Lord Cullen's recommendations. It would be sensible to follow all his recommendations in relation to the establishment of such a body.

Part 2 of his report on the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, which was published in September 2001, stated:

    ''I accordingly recommend that the responsibility for the investigation of accidents should be entrusted to an independent body which is set up for the purpose. The body would be similar in constitution to the AAIB and the MAIB. For convenience I will refer to it as the RAIB.''

However, in coming to that conclusion, Lord Cullen said:

    ''Against this I have to weigh the potential disadvantages, the most significant of which is the loss of direct connection between the investigator and the regular contact with the operation of safety systems.''

Amendment No. 3 would make it possible to resolve that difficulty. Many Committee members will be aware that over many months I have been concerned that we have not had regular reports from anybody about the progress that has been made in following the recommendations made by Professor Uff and Lord Cullen. The Committee will be well aware that 33 recommendations are now long past the recommended implementation date. With the sole exception of the European railway traffic management system, we have not heard from the Government or any other body about the intentions in relation to the remaining recommendations.

As I have said on several occasions, I am firmly of the opinion that some of the recommendations cannot necessarily be sensibly followed. In some respects, Lord Cullen's recommendations would not improve safety on our railways. For example, there are his proposals on easier access to drivers' cabs on trains and putting roof lights on carriages, which could damage their structural integrity. Nevertheless, it is

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important that there be clear reports on the progress that has been made on the recommendations.

Amendment No. 3 has two effects. First, it gives us a body that will formally report on the progress of recommendations on railway safety. Secondly, it gives that responsibility to the RAIB so that it will have that close interconnection of, as Lord Cullen puts it,

    ''regular contact with the operation of safety systems.''

The amendment would add neatly to the one moved by the hon. Member for Vale of York. The amendments would mean that we had a regular report of the RAIB's work, together with its report on how it believes other bodies have responded to its recommendations and, in particular, to the implementation of those recommendations. I hope that the Minister will accept both the hon. Lady's amendment and the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and I have tabled. If he does not, I hope that he will at least give us an assurance that the Government will deal with the issues in their own wording, later in the Bill's passage.

 
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