Railways and Transport Safety Bill

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Tom Brake: I shall make two brief points. First, subsection (3) refers to

    ''(a) pending the commencement of an investigation, or

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

Is it likely or possible that the regulations will require some action, such as monitoring a site, to be taken or not taken after an investigation?

Secondly, I want to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Vale of York about the discretionary function conferred by subsection (4)(b). What will be the range and remit of that function, and who will exercise it?

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Mr. Jamieson: This has been an interesting debate, in which a considerable number of questions have been raised, and I shall endeavour to answer them.

The Government have no wish to add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the system of accident reporting. Subsection (2) simply allows the Secretary of State to add the rail accident investigation branch to the list of organisations to which accidents on the railway must be notified. I hope that that clears up one point raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York. Other organisations include the Health and Safety Executive, the police and, in some circumstances, the other emergency services. The Government intend to ensure as far as possible that the additional notification requirement to the rail accident investigation branch will operate in much the same way as existing notification requirements placed on the train companies.

The hon. Lady mentioned the European rail traffic management system. In the margins of Tuesday's sitting, we drew to the attention of the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats the fact that a statement would probably be made this week. We felt that that information should be available to the Opposition. There is no link between the Bill and any decision or announcement made by the HSE, but because this is a safety issue, we felt that it would be helpful at least to say in the debate that such a statement would be made.

Miss McIntosh: That was most helpful. The Minister implied that the issue that formed part of yesterday's statement was of only marginal interest, but the Secretary of State devoted three columns of Hansard to it on Second Reading. I am mindful of your strictures, Mr. Hurst, but given that the Bill relates primarily to railways, yesterday's announcement should not be underplayed. The potential of the ERTMS—I recall, Mr. Hurst, that I am not allowed to use acronyms, so it is the European rail traffic management system—to prevent accidents is huge, so I hope that we will have some opportunity to debate its contribution. I seek guidance on what will be the appropriate stage to discuss that.

Mr. Jamieson: The hon. Lady rightly says that the implications of rail traffic systems are huge. Alas, they are not relevant to the clause, but I hope that we may find an opportunity—with your permission, Mr. Hurst—to discuss them. The issue was discussed on Second Reading. There was also discussion of the difference between speed on the road and speed on the railways. That was also irrelevant to the Bill, but there was quite an interesting exchange.

The hon. Lady will know that clause 7, which we have passed, creates an offence of failing to disclose evidence or otherwise obstructing an investigation. Clause 10(3) will allow regulations to ensure that people do not tamper with or destroy evidence before or during an accident investigation—for example, by deleting a record—so that an investigator cannot use it later. Similar restrictions could be placed on a railway company, so that it would not be allowed to move a carriage that was involved in an accident until the

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RAIB inspectors had finished examining it. The detail of what is reported and by whom will not change. It is just that people will now tell the RAIB as well as the HSE.

The time scale to which the hon. Lady referred would depend to some extent on the severity of the incident. For example, a lesser time may be expected for a minor incident. The normal expectation will be that reporting takes place within 24 hours. The hon. Lady asked what would be reported. That will be in reference to accidents and incidents, which will be defined in regulations under clause 2. The hon. Lady will recall my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport saying that the regulations will be commensurate with European Union regulations.

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The hon. Lady asked about clause 10(4)(b), which provides for a discretionary function. An example of that function would be if the chief inspector agreed to allow a train operating company 36 rather than 24 hours to report. The court or tribunal provision in paragraph (c) is a routine measure. She also asked about the staffing for the regulator. The figures in the impact assessment are indicative. The actual numbers will be a matter for the chief inspector to determine, but we have made an effort to indicate what we expect those figures to be. She asked about the offence in subsection (4)(a). That will be for failing to notify the rail accident investigation branch of an accident or incident.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) made a good point that some of the information that will be gleaned could be used to monitor a site by those who have responsibility. I hope that I have covered all the points that were raised.

Tom Brake: The Minister did not touch on the conferring of a discretionary function or set out the range of those functions. Will he indicate the remit and who may take on the functions?

Mr. Jamieson: I mentioned what the discretionary function was. I said that it would give the chief inspector a small discretion over some issues and gave the example of the length of time that a train operating company had to report an incident. That is the type of discretion available.

I hope that I have been able to satisfy the Committee and that clause 10 will stand part of the Bill.

Miss McIntosh: I was interested in the Under-Secretary's remarks about the European element of the regulations. He will be aware of my long-standing interest in matters European, and I am fortunate enough, Mr. Hurst, to serve on the European Scrutiny Committee under the distinguished chairmanship of your co-Chairman, Mr. Hood.

The Minister for Transport said earlier in Committee, and the Secretary of State for Transport has said elsewhere, that if the Europeans came up with regulations that the Government deemed to be a better system of safety provision for railways, we would

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adopt them. Will the Under-Secretary confirm that such regulations would be subject to the European Scrutiny Committee and could be referred for debate to one of the European Standing Committees? The contents of those regulations could have—

The Chairman: Order. I do not think that that is a matter on which the Under-Secretary should comment in debating clause 10.

Miss McIntosh: I will stick to what is within his competence, limited as you say it is, Mr. Hurst.

I understand the Minister's comment that the purpose of clause 10 is simply to add the rail accident investigation branch to the list of bodies to which accidents will be reported. I am still unclear who the person under clause 10(2)(a) would be, and about the fact that it would amount to an offence if the time limit before which the accident should be reported were not respected. Should the limit be 24 hours, three months or a year? Will that person be told what severity of accident would apply, to enable him to realise that he is that person and that there is that time limit?

Mr. Jamieson: Let me cover a few of those points. The European Union regulations will be a minimum; some countries may decide, as we have, that standards should be higher. It would be nonsensical for our regulations not to be in line with, or at least commensurate with, those elsewhere in the EU. As for the European Scrutiny Committee considering the matter, I have to say that I do not call that Committee; it calls me. The train operator or Network Rail would report the accident.

The hon. Lady asked about delays in reporting. It would depend whether those organisations were unreasonably delaying or denying information. As a lawyer, she probably understands that expression, but I think that that is how it would be defined.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Crown application

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

Miss McIntosh: I rise to satisfy my curiosity. The clause relates to

    ''property irrespective of whether it belongs to or is used for the purposes of the Crown or a Duchy.''

Will the Minister for Transport elucidate what the property of the Crown might be? For instance, the royal train springs to mind. I wonder which duchies might be involved. I am aware that the Duchy of Cornwall has extensive interests; I presume that the Duchy of Lancaster has, too. It would be immensely helpful to know.

Is clause 11 a standard clause that applied to the accident investigation branches that were set up in 1982 and 1986? What are the implications if, God forbid, the royal train is involved in an accident? I presume that the royals would not be able claim royal

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prerogative, saying that they did not wish the train to be subject to investigation. What property belonging to a duchy is covered by the Bill? Is it a standard clause, or was it dreamed up for the purposes of the Bill?

Mr. Spellar: My understanding is that it is a standard clause, to which the Queen's consent has to be obtained. Indeed, it has been obtained. It therefore means that wherever in the country an accident happens, the accident investigation branch will be able to work without fear or hindrance. Obviously, some railway lines run through royal lands, but inspectors would still need to investigate them. My suspicion that the royal train is not Crown property has been confirmed. It is provided by the rail industry, but it is owned by Network Rail.

The provisions will have been covered by existing clauses, but for the sake of clarity we have included the standard clause to enable the RAIB to go about its business.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
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