Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate, which, Mr. Hurst, must have tested your patience. I shall, of course, stick with your stricture and focus firmly on the issues under debate.

Clause 10 is not about the rail accident investigation branch report itself. That is covered elsewhere in the Bill. The clause concerns the reporting by industry to the rail accident investigation branch that an accident or an incident has occurred. It is then the responsibility of the rail accident investigation branch to analyse the data from those reports.

Mr. Foster: I apologise to the Minister for intervening so soon, but a further question has just occurred to me. We know that, very shortly, the rail safety and standards board will be set up. That will in part replace Railway Safety, which currently gathers the statistics and carries out the analysis. Will the Minister confirm that, in future, the rail accident investigation branch, and not the rail safety and standards board, will compile that information?

Mr. Jamieson: I am reliably informed that RSSB will gather information and give it to the rail accident investigation branch. I hope that that addresses the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Foster: It is clear from the clause that the regulations will require a person to notify the rail accident investigation branch. Will there be an equal requirement on people to notify the RSSB?

Mr. Jamieson: The requirement in the clause is to inform the rail accident investigation branch.

The hon. Member for Vale of York made some interesting points, but sadly many of them were not relevant to the Bill. She made the good point that the importance of saving a life is just as relevant in one form of transport as it is in another. I accept the premise of that argument.

We have one of the best records on road safety in the world. Sweden also has a very good record in that area. The hon. Member for Bath went to Sweden, but he did not tell us what he did there other than look at road safety.

Mr. Foster: Would the Minister like the details?

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Mr. Jamieson: This may be testing your patience, Mr. Hurst, as well as that of the Committee.

Mr. Foster: I am delighted to tell the Minister what I did in Sweden, because a number of issues that I discussed there will come up later in the Bill. I discussed with the Swedish Ministry of Transport the improvements that it has made in dealing with road safety issues. I then met the police and was given a very nice Swedish police baseball cap. I discussed enforcement with the police, and will return to that matter when we discuss the British Transport police.

Mr. Jamieson: I am sure that the Committee is endlessly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us that, and I am sure that an account will appear in a ''Focus'' leaflet shortly.

The hon. Member for Vale of York made an important point about transparency, which we should address specifically. The rail accident investigation branch will carry out its investigations openly and transparently and will be required to keep all those affected by the accidents—the industry, regulators, owners, manufacturers and, importantly, the bereaved and injured—informed of the progress of the investigations. Following an accident, the rail accident investigation branch will publish a report as quickly as possible within 12 months on the accident and its causes. I assure the Committee that if urgent safety lessons emerge immediately, the rail accident investigation branch will publish interim reports so that the lessons can be shared with the industry as quickly as possible. If it became clear within days or weeks that a particular aspect of the track or a carriage had caused the accident, the branch would make an interim report to ensure that immediate action was taken, rather than wait for the final report to come out.

10. 15 am

The hon. Member for Vale of York spoke about roads to say that investigations into rail accidents will continue to be conducted in much greater detail than the investigations that currently take place into road accidents. Most accidents on the road are not investigated at all, because the police are not called to those incidents. They may involve injury and considerable damage, and lessons could be learned from them, but many are not investigated at all. Indeed, it could be argued that it would be impractical to do so.

The rail accident investigation branch will gather all the relevant data and use them to inform safety recommendations. The hon. Lady gave the example of the state of the road or the weather, and the hon. Member for Bath asked whether the branch will analyse data fairly and draw lessons from them. The simple answer is yes. If a particular piece of rolling stock or line has a problem, it will be up to the branch to make the relevant report. I hope that hon. Members can draw comfort from that response.

I do not want to be drawn too much on helicopters, and I can say only that whether at sea, on road or on rail, we endeavour to ensure the maximum safety

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commensurate with the standards set out in the relevant regulations. The hon. Lady will appreciate what I am saying.

The rail accident investigation branch will establish the root causes of rail accidents and incidents and publish detailed reports as soon as possible. That is designed to create the maximum possible transparency and security by sharing all safety lessons with the industry.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): On the point of transparency, will the Minister clarify whether the statistical information to which he referred will be available publicly rather than just to the industry, and whether the information will be broken down by train operating company, so that people can compare the safety record of each company?

Mr. Jamieson: Yes, the aviation and marine accident investigation branch reports are public. I see them on a regular basis, and RAIB reports will be available publicly to all those who need to respond to them.

I hope that I have answered the questions of the hon. Member for Vale of York, and on that basis, I urge her to withdraw her amendment.

Miss McIntosh: Subject to any later developments, I must say that it is nice to see the Under-Secretary returning to better health. I am most grateful for his reply. The amendment was designed to prompt debate and to elicit the information that we have had. If it emerges from the root causes report and from the information that will be shared with the industry that there is an accident black spot on a particular line or stretch of line, that will be useful for the industry. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for the chance to talk about the background and thinking behind the clause. It allows the Secretary of State to make regulations that would allow requirements to be made in the reporting of accidents and incidents to the rail accident investigation branch so that it may investigate them. We are told that such provision would not affect existing obligations to report accidents to the Health and Safety Executive.

In a written ministerial statement—one of the curious new instruments that have replaced the old ''Gardeners' Question Time'' planted written question—the Secretary of State said yesterday:

    ''In April of last year my predecessor asked the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) for advice on the report of the rail industry's European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) programme team on how best to take forward the recommendations from the public inquiry on train protection systems jointly chaired by Professor Uff and Lord Cullen. I have now received the Commission's advice, in a letter to me of 5 February from the Commission Chair. I have placed a copy in the Library.''

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I do not yet have a copy of that letter, but when I do, I shall read it with great interest. It would be helpful, Mr. Hurst, if we could make use of your good offices to make representations on behalf of the Committee that what is probably quite a short letter should be published in Hansard for the benefit of hon. Members rather than our having to snaffle off to the Library to find our own copy.

The Secretary of State continued:

    ''The Commission says that the present programme of fitting the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) 'is already delivering real safety benefits'. The Commission 'accepts that the Uff/Cullen timetable for installing ERTMS is not viable' and that 'the current state of technology means that at the moment further use of health and safety law to mandate ERTMS is not appropriate'. They endorse Level 2 as the best system for this country, although the Commission's consultants describe Level 2 as still at an early stage of development, and accept that Level 1 will reduce capacity. The Commission recommends that the Strategic Rail Authority take the lead in developing a single national programme for ERTMS development. I have accepted the HSC's advice.'' —[Official Report, 5 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 14-16WS.]

The Committee will recall that, in columns 769 and 770 on Second Reading, the Secretary of State helpfully set out the relevant merits and the state of play of each level.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady's remarks are ranging much too widely. The clause is narrowly drawn, and I would be obliged if she could contain herself to it.

Miss McIntosh: I hear your strictures, Mr. Hurst, and will follow them to the letter.

The Ministers told us on Tuesday to expect an important announcement from the Health and Safety Commission that would have a bearing on the clause. In the absence of any further advice from the Ministers, I understand that that statement was released in the letter to which the Secretary of State referred, and which has now been put in the Library. The notes that the Library prepared refer to the role of the Health and Safety Executive:

    ''Clause 10 allows the secretary of state to make regulations which would allow requirements to be made for the reporting of both rail accidents and incidents to the RAIB. Currently all accidents are reported to the HSE and BTP when they occur and all incidents are reported to the HSE. The government proposed in the consultation document that the industry added another body, the RAIB, to the list of those who need to be reported to when an accident occurs. It did not propose the separate reporting of incidents to the RAIB and HSE but thought that the RAIB would have the right to obtain that information from the HSE as well as industry and HSE reports.''

I merely ask what bearing that work by the Health and Safety Executive will have on future work on the European rail traffic management system. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can confirm that the statement that we were expecting from the Health and Safety Executive is the one that has now been placed in the Library. That would be most helpful.

Subsection (2)(a) gives the Secretary of State far-ranging powers to make regulations that may

    ''require a person to notify the Rail Accident Investigation Branch of a railway accident or railway incident''.

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Is that provision the same as those for, say, a serious road accident, when the drivers of the vehicles are obliged to report the accident to the police. Does subsection (2) create a new requirement for a person to give notification of such an accident? That raises the question of who that person might be. By implication, will the clause enable regulations to describe who that person should be? The clause is limited and could go much further by detailing what the regulations will specify. We are not assisted by the Library, which informs us that certain consultations took place, but does not report them in any detail.

Subsection (2) further says that the regulations may

    ''make provision about the timing, form and content of notice given by virtue of paragraph (a).''

It is important to elicit from the Government an indication of whether, for example, there will be a 24-hour period in which a person—again, it will be interesting to know who that person should be—should inform the railway accident investigation branch of a railway accident or incident. The Under-Secretary indicated that there are certain circumstances in which a person is not obliged to report a road accident. It is my clear understanding that a road accident must be reported if there is a fatality or a person is injured, even if only slightly. I seek an assurance that the regulations will specify that, because we are still in the dark about whether every accident will be deemed to be a railway accident or incident when a person is killed or seriously injured.

10.30 am

Can the Minister confirm that the regulations will specify the severity of the accident or incident and will state that precise circumstances? He alluded to circumstances in which an accident needs to be reported and there is substantial damage to property—presumably the carriage, the railway station or dwelling houses adjacent to or abutting the station. We need more information about the precise scope of the regulations.

Subsection (3) says:

    ''The regulations may, in particular, require a person to take or not to take specified action following an accident or incident—

    (a) pending the commencement of an investigation, or

    (b) during the process of an investigation.''

The Minister may like to draw on the experience of the other two branches of investigation, the marine and aviation accident investigation branches, to help us this morning. Subsection (3) is not sufficiently clear and we need further information.

Subsection (4) states that the regulation may create an offence. I imagine that it will be a new offence, but we are told that it would not be an offence

    ''punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding the maximum term which may be imposed by a magistrates' court in accordance with section 78 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000''.

It would be helpful to know what the terms of the offence are, even in the broadest outline. I am sure that the Minister must have some idea of that. When are the Government going to produce these regulations? The clause is illuminating up to a point but leaves huge scope for the enabling regulations. The Minister for Transport indicated earlier that the regulations would

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be produced shortly after the Bill receives Royal Assent and he must have more detailed knowledge that could help us to understand the clause better. The Under-Secretary may be in a position to share that with us.

I am particularly concerned about subsection (4)(b). It confers on the Secretary of State ''a discretionary function''. I always shudder when I hear that expression, although less so when it applies to the present Secretary of State than when it applied to his predecessor. What will that discretionary function be? What is the purpose of conferring a discretionary function by regulation, rather than specifying it in the Bill? What is the remit of the function? Who would exercise it on behalf of the Secretary of State? We know that the present Secretary of State is a very busy man.

Can the Under-Secretary confirm that clause 10(4)(c) is the normal format for conferring jurisdiction on a court or tribunal? Obviously, the situation will be different in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland and Scotland, but will he confirm whether the clause will apply to all parts of the United Kingdom? As the explanatory notes do not specify anything else, I can only assume that it will.

The explanatory notes also say that the additional staffing needed by the Department for Transport for the rail accident investigation branch is identified in table 1 of the regulatory impact assessment. It is anticipated that 14 professional staff and eight support staff will be needed. I assume that those are the inspectors and investigators that were referred to earlier. Will the Under-Secretary put my mind at rest and assure me that clause 10 will not lead to further employment, but that the functions of clause 10 will be carried out by those who already work for the Department?

To recap, we believe that clause 10 is misleading and does not go far enough. We need to know who will be required to notify the rail accident investigation branch in the case of a fatality or serious injury and what the timing will be. Will it be 24 hours, three months or a year? We also need to know the content of the notice given under subsection (2)(a) and whether it will be published in the usual way or in the form of a letter, leaving it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, to the vagaries of the Post Office. Finally, I seek guidance on who will discharge the discretionary function, and would welcome a little more information about the offence created by the clause.

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